Brophy Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Brophy Surname Meaning

The Brophy name was derived from the Irish Ui Broithe or O’Broithe sept of uncertain meaning. The ancestral seat of this family was Ballybrophy in present-day Laois in the Irish midlands.

Brophy Surname Resources on The Internet

Brophy Surname Ancestry

  • from Ireland (Leinster)
  • to England, America, Canada and Australia

Ireland.  The Brophy sept had its roots in the ancient kingdom of Osraige in Leinster. In the Brophy early history, this sept were driven north by the Anglo-Norman invasion in the late 12th century from Kilkenny to the territory of Upper Ossory in present-day Laois.

They made their family seat at Ballybrophy. The territory was held by the Fitzpatricks who had ingratiated themselves with the English during the 16th century but then had their lands forfeited after the Jacobite defeat in 1690.

In Griffith’s mid-19th century Valuation of Ireland, the two leading counties of Brophy households were Kilkenny and Laois. Significant numbers also existed in Dublin and Tipperary.

One Brophy family traces itself back to the Roscrea area in Tipperary around the time of the Great Famine. Some of these Brophys departed for England or America. Catherine Brophy was a young orphan girl who was sent to Australia in 1856. Dublin descendants have included the Brophy Brothers Ceili Band.

England. John Brophy came to Liverpool from Ireland with his wife Agnes sometime in the 1890’s. He worked on the docks and was later an earthenware dealer. His son John escaped his dull adolescence in that city in 1914.  

“At the age of fourteen (lying about his age), he managed to join the British army at the outbreak of war. His lie was never detected and he went on to serve four years in the infantry. In 1919 he was just eighteen when he was demobilized and walked out with a limp brought about by trench foot.”  

He became a writer. He was the author of some forty books, many of which were based on his experiences during the war. His daughter Brigid Brophy was an even more well-known writer and social critic.

William Brophy, a plasterer, and his wife Mary from Tipperary came to England in 1887 and eventually settled in Liverpool. Their son Francis Brophy enlisted in the Great War, but did not survive it.

America.  Brophy arrivals in America during the 19th century included:

  • Michael Brophy from Carlow who arrived in New York on the Dublin Packet in 1816.
  • James Brophy from Kilkenny who came on the Caledonia in 1843 and made his home in Wilmington, Delaware
  • Thomas Brophy from Dublin who arrived a year later and worked for the New York Central Railroad Company for close on fifty years.
  • Mathew Brophy who arrived from Ireland on the Albert Gallatin in 1850 and settled in Davenport, Iowa
  • Patrick Brophy from Carlow who came in 1877 and moved out to Butte, Montana four years later. There he started a successful wholesale and retail grocery business.
  • James Brophy from Laios who came to Iowa in 1883 before later moving to Colorado where he made his home in Yuma county.

The best known of them all was John Brophy from a family of miners in Lancashire.  He had came with his family as a young boy to the Pennsylvania coal mines in 1892. He started work there at the age of eleven and rose through the union ranks to run as President of the United Mine Workers of America by 1926.

Arizona.  Michael Brophy from Kilkenny had taken part in the Irish uprising of 1798 and been executed by the British. His descendants, however, ventured into the American southwest.

The first record of them there was in 1851 when Francis Brophy, who had enlisted in the US Army in Mexico, died at Cebolleta in New Mexico. Other Brophys followed from the 1860’s onward. Hank Brophy was a member of the John Kinney cattle rustling gang in southern New Mexico in the 1870’s.

William Brophy arrived in Arizona in 1881 and joined his brother successfully involved in a number of mining and banking ventures in Arizona before departing for France in 1917 to serve with the Red Cross during World War One. After his death in 1922 his widow Ellen founded Brophy College Preparatory, a Jesuit high school, in Phoenix.

William’s son Frank was a banker and rancher who acquired in 1935 the Babacomari ranch in southern Arizona where he bred and trained racehorses and raised Hereford cattle.

Canada. Brophy is a well-known name in the Maritime provinces of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. William Brophy was a local Newfoundland Assembly politician in the 1920’s. Brophy Lane and Brophy Place in St. John’s were named in his honor. More recently, Father Ed Brophy from St. John’s has become known for his short-story writing.

Much earlier, around 1818, there were Brophys attached to the Newfoundland Regiment. Thomas Brophy later moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia. John Brophy, the well-known ice hockey coach, was born in Halifax in 1933.

Australia and New Zealand. Some early Brophys were forcibly transported to Australia:

  • William Brophy was convicted for pig stealing in Limerick in 1828 and transported to Australia on the Governor Ready the following year. He received his certificate of pardon in 1835, but died in Sydney in 1844.
  • while Hugh Brophy, a leading Fenian agitator in Dublin, was transported for political reasons to Western Australia in 1868, the last year for convict shipment. Brophy was pardoned the following year. But he never returned to Ireland and died in Melbourne in 1919 at the grand age of 90 years.

Hearing about the gold boom, Kyran Brophy left the family farm in Laois and departed for Melbourne on the Constantine in 1859. He was unsuccessful at the Ballarat goldfields, but more successful two years later at the Otago goldfields in New Zealand where his party cleared £800 per man in twelve months. He settled to farm in Pleasant Valley, South Canterbury.  

Daniel Brophy from Kilkenny also made it to the Ballarat goldfields, in his case in 1855, and he stayed. He turned out to be a shrewd investor in local mining ventures and soon prospered. As a sincere Catholic and Irish nationalist, Brophy won high repute among his fellow Catholics. In 1868 he played a leading part in raising a fund to relieve the Irish political prisoners sent to Western Australia.

Brophy Surname Miscellany

Brophy Early History.  The Annals of the Four Masters recorded the death of Gilla Molua O’Brophy of Rath Tamnaighe in Kilkenny in 1069; while The Annals of Ulster noted that Connor O’Brophy, King of Ceann Chaille, was slain by the O’Moore’s in 1165.

Giolla na Naomh O’hUidhrin wrote in the 14th century that the earliest ancestor of the Brophys was Sedna, the great-grandson of the semi-legendary pre-Christian founder of the Kingdom of Ossory. Their territory comprised the level portion of the barony of Galmoy in the county of Kilkenny.

They were driven from the plain of Magh Sedna into Upper Ossory after the Norman invasion of Ireland.  Their chief settled at Ballybrophy near Borris-in-Ossory in county Laois.

William O’Brothe was appointed the prior of the Augustinian monastery of St. Tigernacius of Aghamacart in Upper Ossory in 1481. William is likely to have been the illegitimate son of Philip O’Brothe, abbot of Kilcooly Abbey in Tipperary, whom Pope Pius II had legitimized and instructed to be taken on as a monk at the abbey after his father’s death.

When Florence Fitzpatrick, 3rd Baron Upper Ossory, the son of the last person to have claim to the kingship of Osraige, was pardoned by Queen Elizabeth in 1601, his kinsmen, the Brophys and other “old tribesman of Upper Ossory,” were also mentioned in the pardon.

Francis Brophy in the Great War.  During a trench raiding party on November 9, 1916, Francis Brophy received gunshot wounds to the abdomen and died the same day.  A report on his death appeared in the Liverpool Evening Express on December 19.

“Sergeant Francis William Brophy, K.L.R. Signallers, aged 25 of 9 Carver Street, Liverpool, has been killed in action. Previous to the war he had been employed at Messrs. Nicholls, glass bevellers on Seel Street.   He had been a member of the 8th Territorials for a period of eight years.

After the outbreak of hostilities he joined up and during the two years he was in France he rose from the rank of private to sergeant. Three days before his death he gained the Military Medal for service in the field.  He was a member of St. Francis Xavier’s School and Boys Brigade.  He leaves a widow and child.” 

Daniel Brophy’s Early Life.  Daniel Brophy was born in 1832 at Castlecomer, county Kilkenny, the youngest son of William Brophy, farmer, and his wife Margaret. In the Irish rebellion of 1798 the family estates had been confiscated.  His father escaped to Newfoundland but returned after fourteen years and regained some of his property.

Daniel was educated in local schools including one run by Quakers. At 15 he went with his family to Quebec in a migrant ship whose passengers were decimated by fever.  His mother died on the voyage and his father soon after landing.  Daniel found work in a shipyard but did not like it and entered a grocery warehouse.

Attracted by the Victorian gold discoveries, he arrived at Melbourne in 1853.  With four Irish friends he set off for Bendigo on foot. The party was credited with the first discovery of payable gold at Taradale. But by 1855 they had moved to Ballarat. There Brophy proved himself a shrewd investor in many successful mining ventures.

Frank Brophy and the Babacomari Ranch.  When Frank Brophy acquired the Babacomari ranch in southern Arizona in 1935, he became the third owner of this historic ranch since the King of Spain, four hundred years earlier.

The Upper Pimas and their ancestors had lived there from prehistoric days until the marauding Apaches drove them into the interior during the 18th century. Then the Elias family took possession and built the old fort-like hacienda in 1833.  They too had to contend with the dread Apaches and in time were forced to withdraw into safer territory.  After the Americans established themselves in Arizona, Dr. Perrin and his brother arrived on the scene. But it took a legal battle that lasted for more than a quarter century before he was assured of its ownership.

In 1935, when the Brophys took over, some fifty years of uncontrolled open range operation in the area had led to serious overgrazing. As the grass disappeared and the water holes dried up, cattle died in the severe drought in such numbers that one account described the skeletons and carcasses extending over miles of country.

For decades a quiet war was waged against this erosion of the land.  Dikes and furrows were placed like companies of soldiers to stop or divert the attacking waters after the summer downpour sets in.  New grass varieties were seeded year after year.  Gullies were plugged and arroyos dammed.  Seeps were turned into water holes.  New wells were dug and drainage basins changed from millraces into ponds.

After years of conservation warfare, peace came again to San Ignacio del Babacomari. Frank Brophy was able to breed and train race horses there and raise Hereford cattle.

Reader Feedback – William Brophy from Limerick to Australia.  The William Brophy you mention was my great great great grandfather.  Research has shown that his original surname was Broggy and that he was tried in Limerick.  I’ve been trying to trace his origins by following back a Broggy family who have lived around Derrymore, Clare for many years.  I’ve traced them back to a Daniel Broggy and Bridget Finucane.  Daniel was married prior to 1832 and could have kinown William.

Addendum: William Brophy was tried in 1828 and arrived in Australia aboard the Governor Ready and died in 1844.  Further research has produced new information.

Around 1840 there were at least two William Brophys in Sydney.  The death record of William Brophy dying in 1844 and said to have arrived on the Governor Ready was in fact a William Brophy who had arrived on the ship Larkins 2. He was involved in a fight in Sydney and seriously injured and taken to hospital.

The Superintendent wrote a letter asking who was going to pay for his treatment.  He had obviously tried to connect how he arrived in the colony and on the correspondence recorded that he had arrived on the Governor Ready. When William Brophy died from the wounds it would appear that he has used that information to record his death certificate.  There was no William Brophy on board the Governor Ready but a William Broggy.

I thought this death record in 1844 had provided me with the answer why my forebear Mary White, who had been in a de-facto relationship with a William Brophy, had remarried in 1846 to a John Callinan in Maitland.

But Trove has now produced articles which show that Mary White and William Brophy were still in a de-facto relationship in 1845 in Sydney, as there was a court case in which they were involved, having had a house invasion.  I believe this William Brophy was a constable in Sydney around 1837-38.  But I can’t find what happened to him.

So Mary White remarried in 1846.  She was married in her maiden name.  Mary had two children to William Brophy and then three children to John Callinan.  I have followed their story right through.

Merv Webster (

John Brophy, Hockey Coach.  John Brophy is widely regarded as the inspiration for Paul Newman’s character Reg Dunlop in the popular 1977 film Slap Shot.

Born in 1933 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, he fought, clawed, brawled, stick fought, and bled with the toughest of his era in minor league hockey. In the almost twenty years that he played, he was suspended or fined more than seven times for physically and verbally abusing referees both as a player and as a coach.  He incited bench-clearing brawls, was arrested for assault and fought security guards.  When asked about assaulting officials, Brophy responded by saying that the incident was “nothing, just a load of bull.”

Brophy launched his lengthy coaching career initially with Long Island Ducks in 1967.   He will be remembered for guiding the Hampton Roads Admirals to three league championships and transforming the franchise into one of the most successful teams in the history of the East Coast Hockey League.

In 1984 Brophy joined the ranks of the National Hockey League as an assistant coach with the Toronto Maple Leafs and succeeded Dan Maloney as head coach in 1986.  He guided the Maple Leafs to two playoff berths in 1987 and 1988. When is career was done he ranked second only to Scotty Bowman in his victories as a professional ice hockey coach.

Brophy Names

  • William O’Brothe was appointed Prior of the Augustinian monastery of Aghamacart in Ireland in 1481. 
  • John Brophy was a leading American trade unionist, first with the United Mine Workers of America in the 1920’s and then with the CIO in the 1930’s and 1940’s. 
  • John Brophy was a well-known Canadian ice hockey player and coach, supposedly the inspiration for the Paul Newman ice hockey movie Slap Shot in 1977. 
  • Brigid Brophy was a 20th century British novelist, critic and campaigner for social reforms.

Brophy Numbers Today

  • 2,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 3,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 6,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)

Brophy and Like Surnames 

The Irish clan or sept names come through the mists of time until they were found in Irish records such as The Annals of the Four Masters.  The names were Gaelic and this Gaelic order was preserved until it was battered down by the English in the 1600’s.

Some made peace with the English.  “Wild geese” fled to fight abroad.  But most stayed and suffered, losing land and even the use of their language.  Irish names became anglicized, although sometimes in a mishmash of spellings.  Mass emigration happened after the potato famine of the 1840’s.

Some surnames – such as Kelly, Murphy and O’Connor – span all parts of Ireland.  But most will have a territorial focus in one of the four Irish provinces – Leinster, Munster, Ulster, and Connacht.

Leinster in SE Ireland covers the counties of Carlow, Dublin, Kilkenny, Offaly, Laois, Longford, Louth, Meath, West Meath, Wexford, and Wicklow.  Here are some of the Leinster surnames that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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