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Irish Surname - Nolan

The surname Nolan is among the forty most frequently found in Ireland and is derived from the 12th century Gaelic O'Nuallain sept who were located in County Carlow.

Nolan is an anglicised form of O'Nuallain, 'nuall' meaning 'famous' or 'noble'. In pre-Norman times the sept held power in the barony of Forth, in County Carlow, where they were known as Princes of Foharta and held high hereditary office under the Kings of Leinster. But that power was greatly diminished after the arrival of the Normans, although their surname is still strongly linked with the area to this day.

In the 16th century a branch of the family secured large amounts of land in counties Mayo and Galway and there was a major migration to that area, in which counties the name is not uncommon to-day. A smaller branch settled in Corca Laoidh (south-west Cork) and here the name appeared as O'Huallachain meaning 'noble'.

This name was noted as Knowlan and Knowland in the census of 1659 in Longford and in the adjacent baronies of Westmeath.

Today the great majority of people with the Nolan surname are to be found in Carlow and its main stronghold is in Leinster.

Famous People

Captain Lewis Nolan (1818 - 1854), was the foremost exponent of Light Cavalry tactics, and it was he who carried the famous order for the charge of the Light Brigade. Owing to a misunderstanding between Nolan and Lord Lucan, the charge resulted in the total destruction of the Brigade, and the death of Nolan himself.

Lieutenant-Colonel John Philip Nolan (1838-1912), of the Galway Nolans, is remembered not so much as a soldier but for his political career, during which he sided with Charles Stewart Parnell at the split of the Irish Parliamentary Party.

The most famous modern bearer of the surname was Brian O'Nolan (1911-1966), who was born in Strabane, County Tyrone. He was better known under his two pen-names of Flann O'Brien and Myles na Gopaleen, whose genius for comic invention has only been fully appreciated since his death. A senior civil servant by day, he wrote the satirical Cruiskeen Lawn column for The Irish Times and a number of books, including The Third Policeman, The Dalkey Archive and At Swim-Two Birds.

Sir Robert Sidney Nolan (1917-92), born to Irish immigrant parents in Melbourne was a famous Australian painter.

Researching Irish Surnames

We have researched many sources for the origins of Irish surnames and extracted a fair representation of the origins of each. As there are many variations we have compiled a representative, but by no means exhaustive, selection.

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