Byrne Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Byrne Meaning
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.

Resources on

Byrne Ancestry

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

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

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

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

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
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
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.


Select Byrne Miscellany

The O’Byrne Clan.  By the beginning of the 14th century there were two distinct
branches of the O’Byrne clan.  The branch ruled land to the east
from Delgany to the outskirts of Arklow.  A semi-autonomous branch
held the mountainous country east of Imaal, between Glendalough and
Shillelagh and was known as Ghabhal
Its territory centered round the chief’s principal
residence at Ballincor.

In the 16th century the O’Byrnes of the plains submitted to
English rule.  However, the mountain O’Byrnes under Hugh McShane
O’Byrne refused and aggressively pursued a policy of resistance to the
Anglicization of Ireland.  Hugh was succeeded by his son Feagh
McHugh O’Byrne as leader of the Gabhal Raghnaill sept in 1579.

Follow Me Up To Carlow – Chorus

Curse and swear Lord Kildare!

Feagh will do what Feagh will dare

Now FitzWilliam, have a care

Fallen is your star low

Up with halbert out with sword!

On we’ll go for by the Lord!

Feagh MacHugh has given the word,

Follow me up to Carlow!” 

Billy Byrne’s Lament.  Billy Byrne was an influential and well-regarded gentleman among his
peers in Wicklow in 1798.  But he was convicted and hanged on the evidence of informers after the rebellion of that year was
quashed.  The ballad Billy
Byrne’s Lament
appeared soon afterwards.  The tune was
played by itinerant musicians in Dublin and was well known and
extremely popular in the southeastern counties.  A longer version
of the ballad gave the names of the infomers who testified against

Daniel Byrne and His New Money.  Daniel Byrne from Ballintlea in south Wexford saw his opportunity when
Cromwell invaded Ireland in the 1640’s.  He was a clothier who
supplied clothing to Cromwell’s forces.  He was said to have
employed an enormous workforce in Dublin and to have supplied 40,000
uniforms on credit.  He did eventually get paid and the profits on
this business made him a rich man.

The money allowed him to acquire the O’Kelly estate at
Timogue in county Laios and to purchase an English baronetcy.  The
seller was a young squire named Whitney who represented old
money.  Byrne apparently left Whitney the castle on the estate as
a residence.

The story goes that Whitney invited Byrne to dine with
him there and contrived that Byrne got neither knife nor fork.
When Whitney told him to help himself, Byrne replied that he had plenty
of meat but nothing to cut it with.  Whitney answered: “Why don’t
you draw out your scissors and clip it, sir?”  For this affront,
Byrne ordered him to quit the castle the next morning.

Byrne Traditions in South Wexford.  The Muchtown Byrons seemingly have a tradition that
“there were four brothers from Wicklow; one went to Doowooney and one
went to Grallagh, a third married into the family of Shepherd at
Ballinaleigh near Ballamitty, and the fourth went into Nash.”

This is reminiscent of a Newtown Byrnes tradition that “the brothers
came down from Wicklow; one married into Bonagrew near Brittas Bay, one
married into Doowooney near Adamstown; and in the next generation there
was a son who went to Grasscur and another into Ballylibernagh.”

Both traditions stress Doowooney in county Wexford and include the
notion of “marrying into” a place.  The two stories cover
generations radiating out into south Wexford and both mention a Wicklow

Byrne and Name Variants in England in 1851.  The table below shows the Byrnes (and variant spellings)
from county Wicklow that were recorded in the English census for 1851.

Head of Household No. in family County Place
Matthew Byrne     1 Cheshire Monks Coppenhall
Michael Burns     1 Lancashire Liverpool
John Byrnes     4 Liverpool
John Byrne     7 Ulverston
Sarah Byrns     7 Lancaster
David Burn     6 Yorkshire Horton
Hanry Byrne     1 Hampshire Portsmouth

The census also included six Byrne soldiers, two female
servants, and one prisoner.

Moses Byrne, Wyoming Pioneer.  Early in 1860, Moses Byrne took a contract from
the Overland Stage Company in Denver to build stage coach stations on
the old emigrant trail through western Wyoming and Moses and his wife
Catherine then moved to Wyoming.

These stations were built every fifteen miles
beginning at Point of Rocks, Wyoming and going westward into
Utah.  He built the cabins mostly of logs which he got from the
forests many miles away.  He would go to the timber and cut and
fit the logs on the spot so that there would be no waste material to
haul.  He used mostly ox teams to haul with.

He did considerable trading of horses, ox and
supplies with the emigrants while he was at the toll bridge which he
had erected on the Muddy Creek.  He would often trade one strong
fat animal for two that were leg weary and played out.  He would
also go to the natural meadows through the country and cut hay with
scythes and hand raking it and piling it he would leave it there until
winter and then haul it to Fort Bridger where he would sell it to the
US Government for use there at the Fort.

Just before the Union Pacific Railroad came
through Moses moved three miles father up the Muddy where he built the
store, started a town, and named it Byrne.  The name was changed,
however, at the request of Union Pacific because of confusion with the
town of Bryan farther east on the railroad.  The new name of
Piedmont was named in honor of the country in Italy where Catherine
Byrne had come from.

Piedmont was essentially in Shoshone territory;
but there were rarely instances of serious Indian trouble.  One
did occur while Moses Byrne was still running the Muddy Creek stage
station.  A small hunting party of Sioux had ridden by and
kidnapped Byrne’s two-year-old son Eddie while he was playing in the
yard.  The Indians moved swiftly and by the time the child was
missed, all chances of rescue were gone.  Heartbroken, Byrne gave
up all hope of ever seeing their son again.  One summer day two
years later, Chief Washakie rode into the station and handed the
stunned Moses his now four-year-old boy.  The chief would not tell
where he had gotten the child.  Eddie Byrne grew up to become a
mayor of an Idaho town where he was buried.


Select Byrne Names

  • Feagh MacHugh O’Byrne defeated
    English forces at Glenmalure in 1580 but was then killed in a skirmish
    seventeen years later.  He is commemorated 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 Byrne Numbers 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).


Select Byrne 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.




Click here for return to front page

Leave a Reply