Carroll Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Carroll Surname Meaning

Carroll is an Irish sept name, derived from the Gaelic personal name Cearbhall. The name comes from the Gaelic word cearbh meaning “slaughter” and possibly described a fierce and warlike warrior.  The O’Carrolls of the Ely O’Carroll clan claimed descent from Olioll Ollum, a third century king of Munster, and Sadhbh, the daughter of Conn Cétchathach (Conn of the Hundred Battles).

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Carroll Surname Ancestry

Ireland.  The Carroll clan is best known for its ties to the region known as Ely O’Carroll country, an area comprising mostly of county Offaly and North Tipperary. Locations such as the Slieve Bloom mountains and towns such as Birr in Offaly and Roscrea in Tipperary have had close links to the Ely O’Carrolls. There were many castles associated with them, the most famous or possibly the most notorious being Leap Castle.

The Ely O’Carroll clan, also known as the Ely and Clan Cian, may have begun with Cearbhaill, the King of Ely, who fought with Brian Boru at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. Donald O’Carroll was King of Ely at the coming of the English under Strongbow and was the forebear of the main lines of the family.

There was much internecine bloodshed within the O’Carroll clan
during the first half of the 16th century. With the arrival of the English, the O’Carrolls were out of favor and then in favor. Roger O’Carroll was ousted from his estates by Cromwell. But Charles O’Carroll later found support from Charles II and James II. They were not able to restore him to his paternal estates. James II did grant him tracts of land in Maryland and he emigrated there to prosper in 1688. Two years later his brother Thomas died in Ireland fighting for King James at the Battle of the Boyne.

There have been Carroll lines elsewhere. Donough O’Carroll, the
Prince of Oriel, left his mark with the refurbishment of St Mary’s
Abbey in county Louth in 1148. The O’Carroll name later became common in the Dundalk region. P.J. Carroll started a tobacco shop in Dundalk in 1824 which was the forerunner of Carroll’s, Ireland’s oldest tobacco manufacturer. His line has been traced back to James Carroll who was born in nearby Drumgoolin in 1699.

Today the Carroll name is fairly well spread across Ireland.


America. Charles Carroll, the forebear of the Carrolls in Maryland, arrived in Maryland in 1688 in what was then a Catholic colony. Although his royal patron James II soon lost his throne and Catholicism came to be repressed in Maryland, the Carrolls endured and prospered as one of the first families of the New Republic. The main Carroll lines in Maryland descended from Charles the settler and his brother Kean. Their family story was told in Ronald Hoffman’s 2002 book Planters of Maryland: A Carroll Saga.

There were other Carroll families in America. One Carroll line began with Burton Carroll, born in South Carolina in 1808, who ended up in Suwannee county, Florida after the Civil War.

Other Carrolls, some of whom claimed a relation to the Maryland Carrolls, headed for Texas:

  • Benjamin Carroll brought his family from South Carolina first to Mississippi and then to Texas in 1848. They settled there in Navarro county.
  • Benajah Carroll, a Baptist minister, came to Burleson county from Arkansas in 1858. His son James became one of the leaders of the Baptist community in Texas.
  • Colonel Ferdinand Carroll arrived from Virginia after the Civil War to Hopkins county where he helped found the town of Carroll Os Prairie (which later became Como). Son Tom Benton Carroll and his wife Emily lived at Carroll Os Hill until they died in the 1920’s.
  • while George Carroll came with his father Frank to Beaumont, Texas from Louisiana in 1868. His father started a lumber mill there.  He himself lucked out as an investor in the Spindletop oil gusher of 1903. He subsequently ran on the prohibition ticket for Governor of Texas and as Vice President of the United States, but in both cases was unsuccessful.

Canada.   Joseph Carroll was a saddler from county Down in Ulster
who fought on the British side in the American Revolutionary War and then was shipwrecked off the coast of New Brunswick. He later
settled in York (Toronto) where his wife Mollie ran a boarding house. Their son John grew up to be a Methodist minister who became better known for his literary writings.

James O’Carroll meanwhile had apparently been banished from his hometown of Armagh and settled in Newfoundland sometime in the 1780’s. His son Patrick, born in Newfoundland, died in his old age on his way to the Mormon colony in Salt Lake valley.

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Carroll Surname Miscellany

The Ely Carrolls.  The Ely O’Carrolls were described as follows (in translated form) from the poet O’Heerin in 1395.

  • “Lords to whom the hazelnuts stoop
  • Are the O’Carrolls of the Plain of Birr.
  • Their chief is Prince of Ely as far as the Slieve Bloom,
  • Most hospitable land in Ireland.
  • Eight tribes, eight chiefs there are
  • Under the Prince of Ely – land of cattle herds.
  • Fearless in enforcing their tributes
  • Are the forces of the flaxen hair.”

Leap Castle.  Leap castle lies near Coolderry in county Offaly (formerly Kings). It was originally built in the 15th century to guard the pass from Slieve Bloom into Ulster.  It had from the start a bloody reputation.

In 1532, after the death of the O’Carroll chieftain, a fierce rivalry erupted within the family, with the bitter fight for power turning
brother against brother.  One of the brothers was a priest. He was holding mass for a group of his family in the chapel of the castle when his rival brother burst into the chapel and plunged his sword into his brother, killing him.  The chapel is now called the Bloody Chapel.

Because of this bloody history Leap Castle has always had a reputation for being haunted, a reputation so strong that people avoided the place at night.  Locals have described seeing the windows at the top of the castle ‘light up for a few seconds as if many candles were brought into the room.’

A hidden dungeon was discovered off the bloody chapel.  It was a small room with a drop floor.  Those who were forgotten within this room suffered unimaginable pain and misery until their death. Prisoners would be pushed into the room to fall through the floor and land on a spike eight feet below.  Around 1900 workmen hired to clean out the dungeon made a hideous discovery.  Human skeletons were laid piled on top of each other.  It took three full cart loads to remove all of the bones.

The castle was burned down during the troubles in 1922.  Completely gutted by fire, Leap Castle was boarded up and its gates were padlocked for over seventy years.  However, its fortunes seem to have changed in recent years with new owners.   In 1991 the Bloody Chapel was used for the christening of the new owner’s baby daughter. For the first time in centuries the chapel was filled with music again.

Carrolls in Ireland Today.  A telephone directory survey in Ireland in 1992 revealed 3,800 Carrolls, 700 O’Carrolls, and a small number of McCarrolls. Dublin, because of Louth’s proximity to the capital and internal migration over the years, accounted for about a third of these numbers.

Elsewhere the Carroll name was surprisingly evenly spread across the country.  Carrolls appeared in Offaly and Louth and surrounding counties, but also in Kilkenny, Leitrim, and Sligo where there had been Carroll septs at one time but they have long since disappeared.

The Carroll Dynasty in Maryland.  The Carroll dynasty in Maryland began with Charles the settler who arrived in 1688.  The main lines were as follows:

Charles Carroll the settler (1661-1720)

– Charles Carroll of Annapolis (1702-1782)

– Charles Carroll of Carrollton (1737-1832), signer of the Declaration of Independence

– Charles Carroll of Homewood (1775-1825)

– Charles Carroll V (1801-1862)

– John Lee Carroll (1830-1911), Governor of Maryland

and Kean Carroll (1663-1701), brother of the settler

– Daniel Carroll (1696-1751)

– Daniel Carroll of Rock Creek (1730-1796), first US Senator for Maryland

– Father John Carroll (1735-1815), Archbishop of Baltimore (the first Catholic thus ordained).

Other related although more distant Carrolls were:

– Charles Carroll (1723-1783), a prominent barrister of his day who
converted to Anglicism

– Thomas King Carroll (1793-1873), Governor of Maryland in 1830

– and Samuel (Red) Carroll (1832-1893), Union general during the
Civil War.

Tom Benton Carroll During the Civil War.  Tom Benton Carroll was a soldier in the Confederate Army, joining the Southern forces when he was about 14 or 15 years old.

An interesting incident of the war told by him to his grandchildren in one of his reminiscent moods, was that, when stationed near Galveston, he and another young soldier were sent out on scout duty one morning. Suddenly a short distance away, they spied what looked like to them the entire Union Army marching toward them.  Being pressed for time and there being no timber of brush in which to hide, they were forced to find a way out at once or be captured.

His cool daring was shown here when he instructed his companion what to do and at once began it, that of hulling out a hollow place in the sand, crawling in, and pulling some brush and weeds hastily over them.  Here they spent several hours, while 18,000 Yankee troops passed by and all around them. 

O’Carrolls in Newfoundland and New Brunswick.  It was said that Captain James O’Carroll had had his property confiscated and been banished from his hometown of Armagh in
Ulster.  He ended up in Newfoundland where he was hired by an English nobleman to marry Margaret Pottle who was about to have a child out of wedlock.  Her son became known as Terrance O’Carroll.  James and Margaret did have their own son Patrick who was born in St. Johns in 1789.  Afterwards James seems to have vanished from Newfoundland.  There were reports that he had been banished again.

Patrick grew up, married, and lived most of his life in New Brunswick.  In 1854 his three sons – William, Charles and Patrick – first heard the preachings of the Mormon church and decided to leave for Salt Lake valley.  Patrick was left alone after the death of his wife Nancy in 1858.  He decided then to follow his sons. Sadly he never made it to Utah.  He got as far as Pikes Peak in Colorado where he died.

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Carroll Names
  • Donald O’Carroll was King of Ely at the coming of the English under Strongbow and the forebear of the Ely O’Carroll
    clan. 
  • Charles Carroll was the first of the Carrolls to come to America. He settled in Maryland, the forebear of a prominent
    Catholic family there. 
  • Father John Carroll was the first Catholic Archbishop in America and a founder of Georgetown University.   
  • P.J. Carroll founded Carroll’s, Ireland’s oldest tobacco manufacturer. 
  • Lewis Carroll of Alice in Wonderland fame was the pen name of the Victorian writer Charles Dodgson.
Carroll Numbers Today
  • 26,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 49,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 44,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)

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