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History of Derry surnames: Are you a Quigley, Duffy, Barr or a Thompson?

In the final in a series of articles on the Top 20 most common surnames in Derry, local genealogist Brian Mitchell today writes about the history of the Quigley, Duffy, Barr and Thompson families.

History of Derry surnames: Are you a Quigley, Duffy, Barr or a Thompson?

Derry footballer Michael Duffy who currently plays for Dundalk.

16 - QUIGLEY

Quigley is common in all four provinces of Ireland but is most numerous in Ulster, particularly in Counties Derry and Donegal.

Ireland was one of the first countries to adopt a system of hereditary surnames which developed from a more ancient system of clan or sept names.

From the 11th century each family began to adopt its own distinctive family name generally derived from the first name of an ancestor who lived in or about the 10th century.

The surname was formed by prefixing either Mac (son of) or O (grandson or descendant of) to the ancestor’s name. Surnames in Ireland, therefore, tended to identify membership of a sept.

Quigley is derived from Gaelic O Coigligh, meaning ‘descendant of Coigleach’, the root word possibly being coigeal, denoting a person with unkempt hair. A number of Irish septs adopted Quigley as their family name.

The major Quigley sept belonged to the Northern Ui Fiachrach, i.e. descendants of Fiachra. Fiachra was the brother of the 5th century High King of Ireland, Niall of the Nine Hostages, who ruled from the Hill of Tara, County Meath. The septs belonging to the Ui Fiachrach were located in North Mayo and Sligo.

The homeland of this Quigley sept was the barony of Carra in County Mayo.

This sept, however, had become widely dispersed by the end of the 16th century as they migrated north to Sligo, Derry and Donegal, south to Galway and east to Louth.

The upheavals of the 13th century contributed to this dispersal as the power of Gaelic septs in Connaught was much reduced by the Anglo-Norman military incursions of that period.

The importance of Quigley as a surname in Derry city today, where it is among the top twenty names, is explained by the fact that there was an Ulster sept of the name in the Inishowen Peninsula, County Donegal. In the census of 1659 Quigley was recorded as the fifth most numerous name in Inishowen.

Today this name illustrates the very close links between the city of Derry and Inishowen, County Donegal. As Derry developed an industrial base in the 19th century in shirt making, shipbuilding and distilling it attracted much of its workforce from Inishowen.

The name is also well known in Fermanagh and Monaghan as a sept of O’Quigley were erenaghs, i.e. hereditary stewards, of the church lands of Clontivrin in the parish of Clones which straddled the borders of Counties Fermanagh and Monaghan.

Quigley is the most recognised form of the sept name of O Coigligh but it was also anglicised as Cogley, Kegley and Twigley.
In some instances Quigley was abbreviated to Quigg which is also the name of a distinct County Derry sept of, in Gaelic, O Cuaig.

17 – DUFFY

Duffy is among the fifty most common names in both Ireland and Ulster.

It is the single most popular name in County Monaghan and among the first fifteen in County Donegal.

The Duffy sept of County Donegal trace their lineage to Eogan, son of the 5th century High King of Ireland, Niall of the Nine  Hostages, who ruled from the Hill of Tara, County Meath. Eogan and his brother Conall Gulban conquered northwest Ireland, ca.425 AD, capturing the great hill-fort of Grianan of Ailech in County Donegal.

Eogan, styled ‘King of Ailech’, established his own kingdom in the peninsula in County Donegal still called after him Inishowen (Innis Eoghain or Eogan’s Isle).

His descendants, known as the Cenel Eoghain (the race of Owen), became the principal branch of the Northern Ui Neill (descendants of Niall of the Nine Hostages). The Cenel Eoghain in the next five centuries expanded to the east and south from their focal point in Inishowen.

Ireland was one of the first countries to adopt a system of hereditary surnames which developed from a more ancient system of clan or sept names.

The surname was formed by prefixing either Mac (son of) or O (grandson or descendant of) to the ancestor’s name. Duffy is derived from Gaelic O Dubhthaigh, the root word being dubh meaning black. O’Duffy literally means ‘descendant of the black one’.

The Duffys were one of the septs of Clan Connor Magh Ithe (Connor was a direct descendant of Eogan).

Magh Ithe is the rich countryside stretching southward from Inishowen, later known as the Laggan district in east Donegal.

In the 10th century AD the families of Clan Connor moved out from the cramped territory of Magh Ithe and established themselves in County Derry, in the kingdom of Keenaght, to the north of the Sperrin Mountains, from the Foyle to the Bann rivers.

In the process they ousted the Cianachta whose leading sept was the O’Connors of Glengiven in the Roe Valley.

In County Donegal the Duffys were erenaghs, i.e. hereditary stewards, of Templecrone in the diocese of Raphoe for eight hundred years. They were kinsmen of the patron of the church, the seventh century St Dubhthach, or Duffy. The O’Duffys were also erenaghs at Culdaff in the barony of Inishowen.

O’Dubhthaigh was also the name of other unrelated Irish septs.

As well as the Connaught Duffys who were centred at Lissonuffy, County Roscommon there was a sept of Duffys in County Monaghan who ruled the area around Clontibret.

The first of the name on record is Patrick O’Duffy, Chief of Teallach Gealacain (an area which equates with the parish of Clontibret) in 1296.

In Scotland the Duffys were a sept of Clan Macfie who trace their descent from Kenneth McAlpine, the 9th century King of Scots. The clan’s home was the island of Colonsay in the Inner Hebrides. With the decline of Clan Donald power the Macfies scattered at the beginning of the 17th century.

19 – BARR

This name, most common in Counties Down, Antrim, Derry and Donegal, is of predominantly Scottish origin.

This name was brought to Ulster in large numbers by settlers from Scotland in the 17th century.

In England the surname Barr may have a number of origins: as a name for someone who lived by a gateway or barrier; as an occupational name for a maker of bars; as a nickname for a tall, thin man; and as a place name.

In Scotland this surname, variously recorded as Bar, Barr and Barre, is derived from the placenames of Barr which are located in Ayrshire and Renfrewshire. Both placenames are derived from Gaelic barr, meaning ‘top’ or ‘height’.

The first recorded person of the name was Atkyn de Barr who was bailie of Ayr around 1340. In the 15th and 16th centuries references to the name can be found in both Edinburgh and Glasgow. Indeed the surname is most common today in the district around Glasgow.

Movement of Scottish settlers to Ulster began in earnest from 1605 in a private enterprise colonisation of counties Antrim and Down when Sir Hugh Montgomery and Sir James Hamilton acquired title to large estates in north Down and Sir Randall MacDonnell, 1st Earl of Antrim, to large tracts of land in north Antrim.

Further impetus came in 1609 when James I adopted the policy to encourage English and Scottish settlers to settle on the forfeited estates of the Gaelic chiefs in counties Armagh, Cavan, Donegal, Fermanagh, Londonderry (then known as Coleraine) and Tyrone.

Settlers came to Ulster, by and large, in three waves: with the granting of the initial leases in the period 1605 to 1625; after 1652 and Cromwell’s crushing of the Irish rebellion; and finally in the fifteen years after 1690 and the Glorious Revolution.

Scottish families entering Ireland through the port of Londonderry settled in the Foyle Valley which includes much of the fertile lands of counties Donegal, Londonderry and Tyrone.

The lands along the Firth of Clyde in the county of Ayrshire and the Clyde Valley were home to many of these Scottish settlers.

It is estimated by 1715, when migration to Ulster had virtually stopped, the Scottish population of Ulster stood at 200,000.

English settlers, mostly drawn from the northern counties of Cheshire, Cumberland, Lancashire, Northumberland, Yorkshire and Westmorland tended to favour settlement along the Lagan Valley, in the east of the Province, on lands straddling the borders of Counties Armagh, Antrim and Down.

During the famous 105 day Siege of Derry, from 18 April to 31 July 1689, Tom Barr’s exploits in the garrison’s first sortie against the Jacobite besiegers on 21 April are remembered in verse:
Tom Barr, a trooper, with one mighty blow
Cut off the head of an opposing foe.

In County Cork, Barr, in Gaelic O Baire, can be of Irish origin. This rare west Cork name was also anglicised as Barry.

20 - THOMPSON

Thompson is among the fifty most common names in Ireland and among the first ten in Ulster.

Three-quarters of all Thompsons in Ireland are to be found in Ulster. It is the single most numerous name in County Down, among the first five in County Antrim and among the first twenty in Counties Armagh and Fermanagh.

This name was brought to Ulster in large numbers by settlers from England and Scotland in the 17th century.

Thompson is the fourth commonest surname in Scotland, where the more usual spelling is without the ‘p’, and ranks among the fifteen most common in England.

Thompson, derived from the personal name Thomas, simply means ‘son of Thom’. The surname Thompson became widespread throughout England, particularly around Northampton, and the Lowlands of Scotland.

The first record of the surname in Scotland was of a John Thomson leader of the men of Carrick, Ayrshire in Edward Bruce’s invasion of Ireland in 1318.

In the Highlands of Scotland, and particularly in Perthshire and Argyllshire, Scots Gaelic Mac Thomais, meaning ‘son of Thomas’ and Mac Thomaidh, meaning ‘son of Tommy’ were anglicised to McTavish, McThomas and Thomson.

Clan MacThomas of Glenshee, a branch of Clan Mackintosh, were recognized as a clan in their own right by the end of the 16th century.

The Thomsons were also recorded as one of the lawless riding or reiving families of the Scottish Borders who raided, on horseback, and stole each other’s cattle and possessions.

These Thomsons lived in the Middle March on the English side of the Border. When the power of the riding clans was broken by James I in the decade after 1603 many came to Ulster, particularly County Fermanagh, to escape persecution.

Movement of Scottish settlers to Ulster began in earnest from 1605 in a private enterprise colonisation of counties Antrim and Down when Sir Hugh Montgomery and Sir James Hamilton acquired title to large estates in north Down and Sir Randall MacDonnell, 1st Earl of Antrim, to large tracts of land in north Antrim.

Further impetus came in 1609 when James I adopted the policy to encourage English and Scottish settlers to settle on the forfeited estates of the Gaelic chiefs in counties Armagh, Cavan, Donegal, Fermanagh, Londonderry (then known as Coleraine) and Tyrone.

These settlers came to Ulster, by and large, in three waves: with the granting of the initial leases in the period 1605 to 1625; after 1652 and Cromwell’s crushing of the Irish rebellion; and finally in the fifteen years after 1690 and the Glorious Revolution.

Scottish families entering Ireland through the port of Londonderry settled in the Foyle Valley which includes much of the fertile lands of Counties Donegal, Londonderry and Tyrone.

English settlers, mostly drawn from the northern counties of Cheshire, Cumberland, Lancashire, Northumberland, Yorkshire and Westmorland tended to favour settlement along the Lagan Valley in the east of the Province on lands straddling the borders of Counties Armagh, Antrim and Down.

Five Thompsons, including descendants of Hugh Thompson who was Sheriff of Derry as early as 1623, were recorded as ‘defenders’ of Derry during the famous Siege of 1689.

If you have a story or want to send a photo or video to us please contact the Derry Now editorial team on 028 7129 6600 for Derry City stories Or 028 7774 3970 for County Derry stories. Or you can email editor@derrynews.net or editor@derrypost.com at any time.


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