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.

Resources on

Gallagher Ancestry

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
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
.  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.

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
Cup Final.  That same year, he became the first Scots-born player
to play for Ireland (his father had come from Donegal).

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

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

  • Neil Gallagher tragically lost his life in 1880 in a
    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
    ; 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

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.

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
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

Select Gallagher Miscellany

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

Gallagher Names

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
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)



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