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Irish Surname - Walsh

The surname Walsh is among the four most numerous surnames in Ireland, behind Murphy, Kelly and Sullivan. It is found in every county and is particularly strong in Mayo, where it has first place, and also in Galway, Cork, Wexford, Waterford and Kilkenny.

The name originated to describe the Welsh people who came to Ireland during the Anglo-Norman invasions and simply means the 'Welshman', or in Irish 'Breathnach'. The name is often pronounced 'Welsh' in Connaught and Munster. The first use of the surname is said to have been Haylen Brenach, alias Walsh, son of 'Philip the Welshman', one of the invaders of 1172. He is recorded as being with Strongbow, earl of Pembroke, in his initial invasion of Ireland in that year. The Walshes in the south-east of Ireland are mostly descended from Philip the Welshman and also from his brother David. Many of this family established themselves as landed gentry at Castlehowel (Kilkenny), Ballykileavan (Laois), at Ballyrichmore (Waterford) and also at Bray and Carrickmines near Dublin.

According to Lawrence Walsh who compiled the pedigree of the Tirawley (Mayo) Walshes in 1588, the Walsh family in the west of Ireland are believed to be descended from Walynus, a Welshman who came to Ireland with Maurice Fitzgerald in 1169. This man's brother, Barrett, was also believed to be the ancestor of the Barretts of Tirawley.

The surname Walsh has lent itself to many place names throughout Ireland and is to be found in at least 13 counties as far apart as Mayo, Down, Kilkenny and Cork. Examples of this are Walshtown, Walshpark, Walsh Mountains in Kilkenny etc. Under its Irish guise the name can be found in counties Carlow, Down, Cork and Kerry, in place names such as Ballybrannagh and Ballinabrannagh, amongst others.

In Griffiths Valuation c1850s, there were 9,843 households with the surnames Walsh/e, Welsh, Welch or Brannagh, the largest concentration of which were in Kilkenny, Cork and Mayo.

Famous People

In Irish history the Walsh family name had some noted authors including Rev. Peter Walsh (1618-1688) who wrote 'The Loyal Remonstrance' for which he was excommunicated and expelled from the Franciscan Order; John Walsh who, in 1604, wrote the beautiful Gaelic 'Lament for Oliver Grace'; poet John Walsh (1835-1881), national school teacher in Waterford and Tipperary; poet Edward Walsh (1805-1850), a hedgeschool teacher who collected Irish traditional tales and poetry, contributed to nationalist journals and published songs and translations of Irish poetry, 1844-7. Judge John Edwards Walsh (1816-1869), was the author of a well-known book 'Ireland Sixty Years Ago' published in 1847. For anybody interested in the history and antiquities of the capital of Ireland, this book should be a source of continuing interest.

Maurice Walsh (1879-1964) was probably one of the most popular Irish novelists in the 1920s and 30s. Born in County Kerry he worked for 20 years in the Customs and Excise service in Scotland and northern England. He later transferred to the Irish service and wrote a novel, 'The Key Above the Door', which was first rejected and then accepted by another publisher for £100. The book went on to sell thousands of copies and was the beginning of a stream of very popular novels from him, eventually culminating in 'The Quiet Man', later made into a hugely successful film.

A large number of Walshes were prominent in church and religious life: Nicholas Walsh, Bishop of Ossory, the son of the Protestant Bishop of Waterford, was consecrated in 1567. He introduced Irish type so that church services could be printed in Irish.

In very troubled times, Most Rev Thomas Walsh (1580-1654), a Franciscan, was Archbishop of Cashel in County Tipperary, once the seat of the Munster kings.

Robert Walsh (1772-1852), a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, was both a clergyman and an author. He was chaplain to the British Embassy at Constantinople and this inspired his many travel books. For a brief period he was a chaplain at St Petersburg. Following a visit to Rio de Janeiro, he sat on a committee of the Society for the Abolition of Slavery. He returned to Ireland and was rector at Finglas vicarage in Dublin. He collaborated in writing the book, 'History of the City of Dublin'.

John Walsh (1830-98), was born in County Kilkenny and became the first Catholic archbishop of Toronto, Canada. He promoted the Irish Race Commission, with the idea of healing the political rift caused by Parnell's liaison with Katherine O'Shea.

Most Rev William John Walsh (1841-1921) was one of the most distinguished of all the Archbishops of Dublin and was the first chancellor of the National University of Ireland.

Alternate Surname Spellings

Walshe, Welsh, Brannagh and Breathnach are all variations of the name.

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