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  • This site is a project arising out of my interest in family history, origins and genealogy. With this in mind I have included information on the basics of heraldry and genealogy. These should help in understanding the various components of coats of arms and their explanations.


    Walsh is among the five most numerous surnames in Ireland, found throughout the country. There are concentrations of Walshes in Leinster in counties Kilkenny and Wexford, in Connacht in counties Mayo and Galway, and in Munster in counties Cork and Waterford. Walsh is a semi-translation of the Irish surname Breathnach, meaning ‘Welsh’ or ‘Breton’, also sometimes anglicised as ‘Brannagh’. This alludes to the Cambro-Gaelic origin of the Walsh families. The name came into use to describe the Welsh people who came to Ireland during the Cambro-Norman invasions. Very early their surname in Gaelic was Breathnach, the Irish word for Briton or Welsh, which was later to become anglicized as Brannagh and Walsh(e).

    The Walsh surname has the same historical origin as Wallace, but arrived at its present form by a more circuitous route. Wallace comes from the Anglo-Norman-French le waleis, meaning simply ‘the foreigner’ or ‘the stranger’, which was used in different parts of Britain to denote the Scots, Welsh or Bretons, strangeness obviously being in the eye of the beholder. In medieval Ireland the name Walsh was generally used to mean ‘the Welshmen’, who arrived in the wake of the Cambro-Norman invasion beginning in 1169 A.D., the first of the adventurers coming from Wales.

    Unlike most of the Anglo-Norman and Cambro-Norman families such as the Burkes, the Fitzgeralds etc, who can trace their ancestry to a small number of known individuals, the Walshes have many different origins, since the name arose independently in many different places in Ireland.

    Two exceptions should perhaps be mentioned; the descendants of Haylen Brenach alias Walsh alias 'son of Philip the Welshman', one of those who arrived from 1169 to 1174 A.D. They became very well known and prosperous in the south and east of the country, while ‘Walynus’, who arrived in 1169 to 1175, is said to have been the progenitor of the Walshes of Tirawley in County Mayo, and the brother of Barrett, the ancestor of Clann Barrett of the same county.

    Popular names in the Walsh Family during the first five centuries they lived in Ireland include Richard, Henry, William, Walter, Robert, Philip, David, Howell or Hoyle, Theobald, Edmund, Pierce, Thomas, James, John, Maurice, Oliver, and Simon.

    The origins of these names probably relates back to the early days of the Cambro-Norman invasion of Ireland (1169-1171). Richard came from Richard de Clare (Strongbow), Walter from Gerald FitzWalter, and Henry from Henry II. Theobald, Pierce and Thomas were Butler names. Edmund came through the Butlers from the Burkes. David and Hoyle were Welsh names, as were some of the very early Walsh names of Griffin, Meredith, Eynon and Owen. Oliver seems to have come from the Graces, and Maurice from the Fitzgeralds. Simon was peculiar to Kildare.

    Early Walshes in Ireland included the names of Walter and Robert Walsh who settled near Dublin. Later the names of Walter, Edmund and Robert ran in a series in the Castlehale family of (Kilkenny) Walshes over a period of two centuries. The Philips were most numerous in Kilkenny, but most prominent, perhaps, in Kildare. The Richards were always in evidence in Dublin and Kildare, and for a time, in Tipperary. The Henrys seem to have stuck to Dublin and Wicklow. The Howels, or Hoyles, were in Kilkenny, in Dublin, and in Wexford. Nicholas appears to have been a characteristic Waterford name, and is also found in Kildare. Gilbert appeared in Dublin and Cork in the thirteenth century. It was a de Clare name which in this instance came through the Desmond Fitzgeralds.

    The Walsh name in Ireland appears early in the records as Wallensis, then as Waleys and le Waleys, then in the Irish form as Brenagh and Bretnagh, and finally as Walshe, Walsh and Brannagh. Later the name varied further to the surnames of Walch, Welsh and Welch, particulary through families of Walsh emigrants.

    In the old latin documents the term Wallensis, or Walensis, was used to designate the Welsh, but in Scotland it was used more particularly to designate the Britons of Strathclyde who were of the same stock. From this word the name Wallace is derived. As a side note, an early "Wallensis" named Richard Wallace, in the 12th century, obtained extensive lands in Ayrshire, in the district now known as Riccarton. His son Henry Walays acquired lands in Renfrewshire and his descendant Sir Malcom Wallace of Elderslie was the father of one of Scotland's greatest patriots, Sir William Wallace (popularized in the movie "Braveheart").

    As mentioned above, the Walsh surname has its roots in the Welsh and Welsh-Norman clans who participated in the Cambro-Norman invasion of Ireland. They more than likely came from some of the leading houses of Wales. Some have placed their relation and descendancy to Owen Gwynned, Prince of North Wales, and his sons Ririd and David. Others see relation to some of the leaders of the Norman invasion including Robert FitzStephen, Raymond le Gros de Carew, Maurice FitzGerald, and Richard FitzGilbert de Clare. Other possible connections include Philip FitzRhys, son of Rhys, and Meyler FitzHenry.

    Over the centuries, the Walshes in Ireland built and inhabited many strongholds. They married with their Norman neighbors, the Butlers, Powers, Fitzgeralds, Graces, Purcells, Cantwells, Shortalls, Sheas, Archers, Comerfords, Denns, Walls, Furlongs, Devereuxs and others who came into the country with their ancestors. They often married into alliance with families of the old Irish inhabitants, the Kavanaghs, McCarthys, Brennans, O'Donnells, O'Connors, O'Rourkes and others. Of the first to enter into marriage alliances were said to be David and Philip Walsh, both to McCarthy's, late in the 12th Century.

    If you have any comments or recommendations, please me, e-mail me.

    This site was updated on Friday 28th January 2000

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    Many thanks to Dennis Walsh for a lot of the information.

    Copyright © Colm Walsh 2000. All rights reserved.
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