Select Byrne Surname Genealogy

The Irish clan O'Byrne claims descent from Bran, the king of Leinster in the 11th century.  Their name was more properly O'Broin (from bron meaning "raven").  The sept originated in county Kildare but were driven east to the mountains of south Wicklow by the Anglo-Norman invaders under Strongbow in the 1170's.

The English influence made O'Byrnes Byrnes.  And Byrnes also took on other Irish names such as O'Beirne and Beirne in Connacht.  When the Byrnes left Ireland, their names might subtly change from Byrne - to Byrns, Byrnes and the Scottish-looking Burn or Burns. 

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Ireland.  The O'Byrnes were - with their allies the O'Tooles - for three hundred years the most powerful forces in the country south of Dublin.  From their seat at Ballinacor in county Wicklow the O'Byrnes held sway over a territory between Ruthdrum and Shillelagh known as Crioch Branach. 

They particularly distinguished themselves by their persistent and largely successful resistance to English incursions.  This reached a culmination with Feagh MacHugh O’Byrne’s defeat of English forces at Glenmalure in 1580, a feat celebrated in song in Follow Me Up to CarlowFeagh was later killed in a skirmish in 1597. 

The O'Byrnes started losing their lands through legal shenanigans in 1628.  The celebrated Leabhar Branach or Book of the O'Byrnes was a collection of Gaelic poetry written in the 1660's to recount the old O'Byrne story.  After the Jacobite defeat in 1689 many O'Byrnes departed for France as part of the Irish International Brigade known as the Wild Geese

In the next century the O'Byrnes were prominent in the 1798 insurrection, notably the Ballymanus brothers Garrett Byrne (who was exiled) and Billy Byrne.(who was hanged).  Other Byrnes were banished to Australia as a result of their participation.

Not all the Byrnes were anti-English.  Daniel Byrne took the English shilling and clothed Cromwell's army in Ireland.  From the proceeds he was able to buy an English baronetcy.  And many Byrnes stood by the English in 1798, such as Matthew Byrne of Knockatomcoyle in county Wicklow.

"Matthew Byrne was a Protestant and was named as church warden along with Edward Byrne, Murtough Byrne and Richard Byrne for the Coolkenna Church of Ireland church in 1793."

Matthew was a tenant farmer with a large land lease which was inherited by his son Hugh.

Byrnes were also to be found in south Wexford, Kildare, and Dublin.  John O'Byrne established himself at Cabinteely near Dublin in the 1660's and this estate remained with the family until its loss in the late 19th century.  An O'Byrne of Cabinteely wrote the first reminiscences of the O'Byrne clan in 1843.  A more substantive tome The Byrnes and The O'Byrnes in three volumes were published by Daniel Byrne-Rothwell in 2009.

Today the surname Byrne is to be found throughout Ireland but is particularly prevalent in Dublin and county Wicklow.  Some five percent of families in Ireland have reverted to the older O'Byrne.

England and Scotland.  Many Byrnes crossed the Irish Sea for industrial Lancashire and the shipyards along the Clyde.  A number came to Liverpool, including the following whose families have traced their history:
  • James and Esther Byrne from Dublin who arrived in the 1840's
  • Michael and Catherine Byrne from county Kildare who came in the 1860's
  • Michael Byrne, a seaman from Wexford, and his wife Mary Ann who married there in 1904.
Denis Byrne started his specialist grocery store in Clitheroe, Lancashire in the 1870's and it still flourishes today.

America.  An early arrival was George Byrne who came from Wicklow in 1720 and settled in what is now Washington DC.  Later Byrnes were to be found in Bulltown, West Virginia.  William Byrnen arrived as a young man from Dublin in 1785 and ended up in Putnam county, Tennessee.  His descendants migrated to Texas. Another William Byrne, a patriot in 1798, left Wicklow as a Roman Catholic missionary and settled in Kentucky.

More Byrnes entered via New York and some contributed to the physical development of the city.  Edward Byrne oversaw the building of many of the city's bridges, most notably the Triborough, during the 1920's.  At the same time, another Byrne, James, was constructing several of Brookyn's municipal buildings (Byrne Park in Brookyn is named after him).  Many Byrnes joined the New York police and fire departments.  Edward Byrne, a policeman murdered in 1988 while on duty, is remembered by a street and a park in Queens named in his honor.

Moses Byrne was one of the early settlers in the West, having arrived in Utah in 1854 after converting to Mormonism in England.  He and his wife Catherine subsequently left the church and were pioneers in western Wyoming while it was still Indian territory.  Another Byrne (Frank), born of Irish immigrants in Iowa, pushed onto South Dakota and rose to become Governor of that state in 1913.

Australia.  Hugh Byrne of Ballyrogan was one of the Wicklow outlaws who were pardoned and subsequently exiled to Australia.  He and his wife Sarah settled in Campbelltown, NSW and raised fifteen children.  Another political exile with many descendants was Andrew Byrne, also from Wicklow, who arrived in 1800.   A third exile who came at the same time was James Byrne from Annamoe in Wicklow.

Joseph Byrne from Dublin was an early traveller in Australia in the 1830's.  He subsequently returned to England and promoted emigration schemes.  His Byrne settlers left England for Natal in South Africa in the late 1840's.  The scheme bankrupted him but he made another fortune in the Victoria goldfields before involving himself in a South Sea island resettlement plan.     
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If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

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Feagh MacHugh O'Byrne
defeated English forces at Glenmalure in 1580 but was then killed in a skirmish seventeen years later.  He is commemmorated as an early nationalist hero.
Garrett Byrne was one of the leaders of the Irish rebellion of 1798.
Alfie Byrne was ten times Lord Mayor of Dublin in the 1930's.  He was known as "the shaking hand" of Dublin.
Roger Byrne, captain of Manchester United, was one of the eight footballers of the team who lost their lives in the 1958 Munich air disaster
Gay Byrne, born and raised in Dublin, was presenter of the Late Late Show on Irish TV from 1962 to 1999. He is credited with helping the social transformation of Ireland in the latter half of the 20th century.

Select Byrnes Today
  • 32,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 18,000 in America (most numerous in New York).
  • 71,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland).

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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