Share This:

This month we looked at County Kerry, or The Kingdom as it's often referred to. It has some of the most spectacular sights on the Island from the Ring of Kerry to Skellig Islands, it's no wonder over 1.5 million tourists stop off there every year.

Naming expert Colin Shelley is back to take us through the meaning behind some of the most popular surnames there during the 19th century. We've also included some of the most memorable ancestor profiles written by our members as well as some handy information for anyone doing research in the county. 

County Kerry in Focus

The Kingdom as it's often referred to has some of the most spectacular sights on the island from the Ring of Kerry, Skellig Islands to the Dingle Peninsula it's no wonder over 1 million tourists stopped off there last year. 

Click the share button at the top of the screen to share this article on your social media!

Kerry (IrishCiarraí or more anciently Ciarraighe) means the "people of Ciar" which was the name of the pre-Gaelic tribe who lived in part of the present county. The legendary founder of the tribe was Ciar, son of Fergus mac Róich. It is one of six counties in the province of Munster and has 88 civil parishes and nine historic baronies including Clanmaurice, Corkaguiny, Dunkerron North, Dunkerron South, Glanarought, Iraghticonnor, Iveragh, Magunihy and Trughanacmy. 

The county's nickname is the Kingdom.

Top Surnames in County Kerry During the 19th Century

Colin Shelley, a genealogist who specializes in the origin and development of surnames from various sources in the English-speaking world takes us through the top 10 surnames in County Kerry during the 19th century.  His website, covers more than 1,000 of these surnames.

  • O’Sullivan -The Gaelic root of O'Sullivan is Suileabhan - with suil meaning "eye," dubh possibly "black" or "dark," and the diminutive "-an" acting as a suffix. Some think Suileabhan means one-eyed, others hawk-eyed.  Suileabhan, born in 862 and a descendant of the King of Munster, has been seen as the first of the O'Sullivan line. Many consider that the O'Sullivan clan represents the most senior bloodline of the Gaelic families.
  • O’Connor- O'Connor comes from the Gaelic O'Conchobhair (descendant of Conchobhair), meaning "hound of desire." In Irish legend Conchobhar was a king of Ulster who lived at the time of Christ. O'Connor clan members claim descent from later Conchobhars of the 11th century.  O'Connor comes out in a number of different forms today, the principal other ones being Connor, Conner, and Connors. 
  • O’Shea - The O'Shea name derived from the Gaelic O'Seaghda sept. Seaghda in Gaelic means "fine" or "stately." Segda was a chieftain of the Corcu Duibne, a western Kerry grouping on the Dingle and Iveragh peninsulas. O'Shea became Shea on its travels outside Ireland.
  • Murphy - A Gaelic raider took the title of "sea raider" in 1070 for his maritime exploits while king of Leinster.  Sea raider in Gaelic is Murchadh, composed of muir meaning "sea" and cath meaning "battle."  The spelling of the name eventually evolved to the more phonetic O'Murchu.  Today Murphy is the most common surname in Ireland.
  • McCarthy - McCarthy is the anglicized form of the Gaelic Mac Carthaigh or son of Carthach, a personal name meaning "loving."   There are several other forms extant, including Carthy and Carty. 
  • Moriarty - Moriarty is an anglicized version of the Gaelic Ó’Muircheartaigh.  This name can be translated to mean “navigator” or “sea worthy,” as the Irish word muir means “sea” and ceardach “skilled.”
  • Fitzgerald - The surname Fitzgerald is a translation of the Norman "fils de Gerald" or "son of Gerald," where Gerald is a Norman first name meaning "rule of the spear."  The name was brought to England at the time of the Norman Conquest and the Norman Maurice FitzGerald went to Ireland and established the Irish line.
  • Griffin - The Griffin surname in Ireland derived from the Gaelic word for gryphon, the mythical Celtic beast with the head of one animal and the body of another (normally an eagle and a lion). One powerful warrior was called Griobhan because he was feared in the same way as a gryphon. That name evolved as a clan into O’Griobhtha or O’Griofa. The anglicized version was first Griffey and then more commonly Griffin.
  • O’Connell - O'Connell is an anglicisation of the Gaelic Ó Conaill.  The personal name Conall was possibly composed of the elements con (from cú meaning "hound" or "wolf") and gal (meaning "valour").  The surname was first found in Limerick where O'Connell was the chief of Hy-Cuilean, a territory south-east of Abbeyfeale
  • Brosnan - The Brosnan surname comes from the Gaelic O’Brosnacháin, possibly derived from the place name Brosna in Kerry.

The Kerry Community on IrelandXO 

Did you know that our County Kerry Diaspora Community has over 1,000 members who have added close to 500 ancestors? Click HERE to join the County Kerry community or click HERE to explore the civil parishes of the county.

This week we are highlighting the stories of five Kerry ancestors written by our members. First, we have a short biography of Peig Sayers the infamous storyteller from Dunquin followed by the story of Tom Crean, narrated by best-selling author Tim Foley. Next, we have the story of Mrs. Ellen Hartnett who worked as a teacher to earn enough money for the passage for her siblings and finally, the story of  Bernard Dillion, the Derby-winning jockey narrated by his great nephew. 

Peig SayersTom CreanEllen HartnettBernard Dillion

5 Fun facts about County Kerry

#FACT 1 - Carrauntoohil in the MacGillycuddy Reeks is Ireland's highest mountain and mountain pass


#FACT 2 - County Kerry has the oldest thatched cottage in the country

Ireland's Oldest Thatched Cottage

#FACT 3 - Worlds' oldest footprints can be found in County Kerry on Valentia Island - Around 385 million years ago, a primitive amphibian-like animal known as Tetrapod left its' footprints on the shoreline when Valentia Island was a swamp land near the equator. The tracks record when vertebrates first moved onto land.

Valentia Island Tetrapod fossilised footprints

#FACT 4 - One of the greatest Antarctic explores - Tom Crean was from County Kerry - you can read his story here

Tom Crean

Image: Tom Crean with Edgar Evans

#FACT 5 - The Kerry rest motto is 'Cooperation, Help and Friendship'

Kerry Mott

Find out more about your Kerry Roots

Whatever stage you are at with researching your Kerry ancestry, we have the resources to help you find out more. Once you have tracked down your Kerry  Ancestors, be sure to add them to the IrelandXO Chronicles so that others can read their story. Who knows? You may even find a connection you never knew you had.

We highly suggest checking out our Kerry Message Board where our wonderful team of volunteers are waiting to answer your queries and help you to solve your family history mysteries. 

In the meantime here are some pages that we have put together to help you on your genealogy journey. 

  • If you're not sure where exactly in Kerry your Ancestors lived then CLICK HERE for information on how to Find Your Kerry Parish.

  • If you want to know how the Famine affected County Kerry CLICK HERE to read our handy guide

  • In 1837 the Lewis' Topographical Survey was published. This provides detailed snapshots of life in each Civil Parish just before the Famine. CLICK HERE for more information on Kerry County.

  • As always, your local library is an incredibly valuable resource. Contact the relevant Kerry County Library to see what resources they have.

  • Free Government Site, provides transcripts linked to scanned images for church records for the Roman Catholic Dioceses of Kerry as well as a subset of the Church of Ireland parishes in Kerry. 

  • A small number of resources have been digitized by the Kerry Local History & Archives Section and are available to view including the TaxPayers News and Kerry Related Fatalities in World War 1

Read More

Are you living in Kerry, would you like to be the local representative for your town/village? If so we'd love to hear from you, get in touch at or register your interest here



We hope you have found the information we have shared helpful. While you are here, we have a small favour to ask. Ireland Reaching Out is a non-profit organisation that relies on public funding and donations to ensure a completely free family history advisory service to anyone of Irish heritage who needs help connecting with their Irish place of origin. If you would like to support our mission, please click on the donate button and make a contribution. Any amount, big or small, is appreciated and makes a difference. 

Donate Now