Select Gallagher Surname Genealogy

Oral tradition has it that the Gallaghers can trace their lineage back to Niall Naoighiallach, Niall of the nine hostages, in the fifth century.  The earliest written reference is an 11th century Gaelic fragment which translates roughly as follows:

"For there was a son of this Maol Cabha that we have mentioned, helping the father's brother, i.e. the king of Ireland, do battle, i.e. Ceallach, son of Maol Cabha, from whose line are the descendants of Gallchubhair."

The Gaelic Gallchubhair incorporates the elements: gall, meaning stranger or foreign; and cabhair, meaning "help" or "support."  Gallchubhair was anglicized to Gallagher.  Variants are Gallaher and, for many in Scotland, Gallacher.

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Ireland.  The O'Gallagher sept was originally from Donegal on the west coast of Ireland. 

Donegal.  Their main base was the barony of Tin Hugh in south Donegal (near present day Donegal Town) and there were outposts in Banagh (east Donegal) and Raphoe (SW Donegal).  They were noted mainly for their churchmen and their soldiers.

In the 1590's the Rev. Redmond O'Gallagher befriended the survivors of the Spanish Armada.  He was forced to disguise himself as a shepherd in order to escape the Catholic persecution.  However, he was eventually captured and became one of Ireland's most prominent Catholic martyrs.  Some suggest that a little Spanish blood may have got into Gallaghers at that time.

The Gallaghers also acted as marshalls for the O'Donnell sept and contributed soldiers in their battles. Some ended up in county Cork after the battle of Kinsale.  Others were driven from their lands during the Cromwellian transplantations, to Mayo and neighboring counties.  A number found employment as mercenaries in various places. 

Even so, Gallagher remains the most common name in county Donegal today.  Donegal accounts for just over 30% of all Gallagher families in Ireland, with sizeable numbers also in neighboring Mayo and Sligo.

Donegal and the west coast of Ireland in general was worse hit by the deteriorating economic climate of the nineteenth century, culminating in the potato famine.  This led to mass emigration.  Many took the boat that plied from Derry quay to Scotland.  Others headed for Liverpool, or to America, Australia or New Zealand. As a result, there are now more Gallaghers living outside Ireland than within.

Elsewhere.  There was a Gallaher family prospering as corn millers at Templemoyle near Derry in the early 19th century.  From this family in 1840 came Tom Gallaher.  He opened his first business when he was 17 year old, selling Irish roll pipe tobaccos.  He subsequently built up the Gallaher tobacco empire and became known in later life as "the tobacco king."  His relatives continued to live in Glen House in the nearby village of Eglinton until the 1950's. 
England and Scotland.  As the Industrial Revolution gathered pace in England and Scotland, Irish immigrants - including many Gallaghers - came. 

The following family history may be typical of their experience.  Peter Gallagher brought his wife Anne and his trade, shoemaking, with him when he arrived in Liverpool in the 1860's.  They both sadly died young (Anne from smallpox from which she had not been vaccinated).  Their son Thomas married and became a stoker for the Navy.  The numbers of Gallaghers then multiplied.  And some of these later family members are to be found spread abroad in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

Celtic football club represented the focal point for Irish Catholics in Glasgow.  Some Gallaghers made this team.  Patsy Gallagher scored for Celtic in the 1912 Scottish Cup Final.  And Charlie Gallagher was part of the Lisbon Lions squad which won the 1967 European Cup Final.  That same year, he became the first Scots-born player to play for Ireland (his father had come from Donegal). 

Willie Gallacher was one of the leading figures of the shop stewards' movement in wartime Glasgow (the "Red Clydeside" period) and a founding member of the Communist party.  He served for two terms as a Communist MP.

America.  The earliest arrival may have been Barnabas Gallagher who came from County Down to Pennsylvania in 1770.  Hugh Gallagher was an early settler in Clearfield, Pennsylvania around 1800.  Many more Gallaghers arrived in Pennsylvania during the nineteenth century.  They were to be found in particular in the Hazleton and Wilkes Barre area of the state.

William Gallaher grew up in Illinois where he met with Joseph Smith and became one of the first members of the Mormon sect.  He made the long trek west with other Mormons to Salt Lake valley.  Other Gallaghers, attracted by the mining and other opportunities, also went West:
  • Neil Gallagher tragically lost his life in 1880 in a mineshaft accident in Nevada; while another Gallagher family headed later for the Butte copper mines in Montana. 
  • Father Hugh Gallagher, who had edited a Catholic paper in Pittsburgh, took up that work in San Francisco where he directed its first Catholic weekly, the Catholic Standard; while Eliza Gallagher and her five children arrived in Washington state from Canada in the 1890's
Edward Gallagher, born in San Francisco, was an vaudeville actor in the early 1900's, half of the Gallagher and Shean duo.  His wife Helen Gallagher, a former Ziegfield girl, co-founded the Gallagher's Steak House chain.

Caribbean.  The Gallagher name is known in Venezuela from the man who brought the first printing press to Caracas in 1808.  Matthew Gallagher from Ireland had been printing in Trinidad under Spanish rule and later under British rule.

Australia.  Penal transportation to Australia began in 1789 and the Irish, including many Gallaghers, suffered here.  The first to arrive may have been Elizabeth Gallagher on the Anne 1 in 1801.  Particularly harsh seems to have been the life sentence meted out to a 17 year old errand boy from Donegal, Charles Gallagher, for house stealing.

Earlier Gallaghers were joined by Gallagher free settlers seeking to escape the potato famine.  For some, a sense of injustice continued.  Norm Gallagher was a militant trade unionist during World War II and, like his namesake in Glasgow, a committed member of the Communist Party.

New Zealand.  The Gallagher name in New Zealand has been particularly prominent with the national rugby team.  Dave Gallaher had arrived with his family in 1878 from Ramelton in Donegal.  He became the first captain of the All Blacks.   Frank Gallagher played on the 1924 team.   And John Gallagher, who came to New Zealand as a teenager, represented the All Blacks in their winning 1987 World Cup team.

Select Gallagher Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

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Rev. Redmond O'Gallagher, who befriended the survivors of the Spanish Armada, became one of Ireland's most prominent Catholic martyrs.
Tom Gallaher, born near Derry, became known in the early 1900's as the "tobacco king" for his expanding tobacco empire.
Bill Callagher, founder of the New Zealand Gallagher Group, devised the first electric fence in the 1930's.
Rory Gallagher from Ballyshannon in Donegal was an acclaimed blues guitar player.
Noel and Liam Gallagher, born in Manchester, are the lead singers for the group Oasis which broke through in the 1990's.

Select Gallaghers Today
  • 43,000 in the UK (most numerous in the West Midlands)
  • 26,000 in America (most numerous in Pennsylvania) 
  • 32,000 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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