Corcoran Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Corcoran Surname Meaning

Corcoran is an Irish surname, the Gaelic version being O’Corcrain meaning “descendant of Corcrain.” The name corcair originally meant “reddish” or “ruddy,” but is now used to denote the color purple

Corcoran Surname Resources on The Internet

Corcoran Surname Ancestry

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

Ireland.  The Corcorans have an ancient history in Ireland.  They were known in Gaelic times as ecclesiastics, writers, chroniclers, and bards. In early Corcoran history they were based around Lough Erne in county Fermanagh in Ulster.  However, after the Norman invasion in 1170, several branches of the sept left the area.

In the Annals of the Four Masters, there was mention of thirty chiefs of the Corcoran sept in Fermanagh between 1250 to 1480.  Three of the learned and respected erenachs, lay ecclesiastics, were recorded as Daire O’Corcrain, Padraig O’Corcrain and Conn O’Corcrain.

In 1373 John O’Corcrain was the Bishop of Clogher in nearby Tyrone.  Brian O’Corcrain was the vicar of Cleenish and bard to the Maguires a century later.  He wrote the Celtic romance Eachtra Mhacaoimh-an-Iolair, which translates as “The Story of the Eagle Boy.”

In 1590 the English took control of Fermanagh and an Anglo-Norman family of Devenish took possession of the Corcoran lands. Three prominent Corcorans were executed at Newtonbutler during Cromwell’s time.  These developments prompted a larger out-migration.  Today there are very few Corcorans in Fermanagh or elsewhere in Ulster.

The distribution of the Corcoran name in Ireland is now very different.  The name had spread south and west – primarily to Tipperary, Mayo and Cork.  Some of these Corcorans originated from the Mac Corcrains of clan Ruiane in Offaly and north Tipperary that migrated south.  There developed a Corcoran enclave at Carbery in county Cork.

Many Corcorans emigrated in the 19th century.

England.  A number headed for England and particularly for Lancashire where there was work.  The 1851 census in Liverpool listed seven Corcoran families with men in the following trades – provision dealer, shoemaker, joiner, laborer, warehouse porter, and two dock porters.

John Corcoran arrived from Tipperary around 1860 and worked on the docks.  His son Dennis signed on for the Titanic in 1912, but sadly went down with the ship after it hit the iceberg.

Tony Corcoran, an Irish folk singer in England today, recalled his family background:  “I was born into an Irish family in Maudsley near Preston. My grandfather emigrated back in the late 1800’s from the village of Glen Hast in county Mayo.  Lots of Irish people came over then to work in the Lancashire woollen mills, particularly after the famine of 1879 which affected the west coast of Ireland fairly harshly.”  

America.  Corcorans in America made their mark in the nation’s capital, Washington DC.

Washington.  The first Corcorans of Washington DC owed their position to Thomas Corcoran Sr because, around 1750, he had married into the influential Anglo-Irish Wilson family of Limerick. His brother-in-law William Wilson arrived in Maryland in 1769 and soon became one of the biggest importers into Maryland. Thomas Corcoran Jr followed his uncle to Baltimore in 1783.

This Thomas then happened to be in the right place at the right time.

“In 1788 he went to Georgetown, now Washington DC, and was mayor when President Washington came with L’Enfant to lay out Washington City. He headed the welcoming delegate ation and gave the address.  He served as Adjutant of the 18th Maryland Regiment in 1794 and was named Magistrate by President Jefferson and Postmaster by President Madison.”  

His son William Wilson became a wealthy banker.  As a partner in Washington’s Corcoran & Riggs Bank during the Mexican War of the 1840’s, he was responsible for the sale of government war bonds to England, thereby establishing the American government’s credit abroad.

The Corcoran mansion off Lafayette Park enabled him to display his fine art collection.  It was also “the center of the most fashionable and distinguished society of the capital with his entertainments being of the most elegant and costly character.”

Another Corcoran, much later, who made his mark in the capital was “Tommy the Cork” Corcoran.  Born in Rhode Island in 1900 and the grandson of an Irish immigrant, he trained as a lawyer and came to Washington in the 1930’s.  He rose to power as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s personal trouble-shooter and fixer at the time of the New Deal.  

New York.  Michael Corcoran from Sligo emigrated to New York in 1849 shortly before his twenty-second birthday.  In the fourteen years that remained to him he became a highly popular leader of Irish troops in the Civil War.  Edward Corcoran who came to New York from Laois in 1863 also fought in the Civil War, although not under Michael Corcoran.  He later settled at Trumansburg in upstate New York.

James Corcoran from Dublin was in New York as well during the Civil War.  He became well-known after the war as a champion of working-class Irish immigrants in the city.  He started a squatter colony, known as Corcoran’s Roost, on Dutch Hill at the juncture of 40th and First Avenue.

Canada.  A Corcoran family from Crossmolina in Mayo provided many emigrants to Canada. Three Corcoran brothers – John, Patrick, and Thomas – were the first to arrive in 1811. They went to work for the Hudson Bay Company at its trading post along the James Bay.  They later settled in Quebec, first in Rawdon and then in Montreal. Over time siblings and their offspring arrived and the Corcoran numbers mushroomed across Canada and the States.

Thomas Corcoran from Kilkenny emigrated to Prince Edward Island in 1840 with his father.  His father returned to Ireland.  But he remained in PEI and raised a family in Kings county.

Australia.  Early arrivals were convicts.  There were no fewer than twenty-two Corcorans from Ireland who were transported to Australia between 1815 and 1830.  Among them were:

  • Roger Corcoran who was transported in 1815 for political offences.  After getting his ticket of leave in 1823 he ended up a successful farmer in the Burrowa district of NSW.
  • and Edward Corcoran from Kildare who arrived in 1819, married ten years later, and settled down in Sydney.

Winifred Corcoran, described as a solitary girl, was an assisted passenger who arrived in Sydney from Tipperary on the Constitution in July 1855.  Aged just twenty-one, she married an older man William Scanes three months later. He died in 1874.  But she lived on in Sydney another forty-two years.

Corcoran Surname Miscellany

Early Corcoran History.  John O’Hart in his 1892 work Irish Pedigrees had the following to say about Corcoran:

“This family derives its origin from Amruadh and were in Irish called O’Corcrain.  They were formerly chiefs of Munster Corcrain, a district in the county of Tipperary, co-extensive of the parish of Killenaule in the barony of Slieveardagh, and also in the territory around Cleenish in the barony of Clan-Awry. Several members of the house of Cleenish gave superiors to the famous abbey of Devenish on Lough Erne.

Some early records of these Corcorans were:

  • 1001.  Cahalan O’Corcoran, abbot of Devenish, died.
  • 1040. O’Corcoran, abbot of Iniscaltra, died at Lismore.
  • 1045. Cathasagh O’Corcoran, coarb of Glen-Uissin in Carlow, died.
  • 1055. Fiacha O’Corcoran died.
  • 1095.  The bishop O’Corcoran of Clonfert died.
  • 1163. Maolisa O’Corcoran died.

The O’Corcorans sank into obscurity at the period of the Anglo-Norman invasion and several branches of the sept removed into Cork, Kilkenny, and Waterford.  In Kilkeeny they obtained a settlement from the FitzWalters (or Butlers) who were in possession of their ancient patrimony.”

Following the Norman invasion, some Corcorans intermarried with prominent Norman families. One such marriage was recorded in 1490 when Isabella Corcoran married Hubert Butler, the son of the 10th Earl of Ormonde.

Corcorans in Ireland by County

Numbers 1850’s 1911
Griffith’s Census
Cork  179  13%  736  16%
Mayo  128  10%  602  13%
Kilkenny  128  10%  231   5%
Tipperary  124   9%  318   7%
Offaly  102   8%  343   7%
Roscommon   82   6%  290   6%
Elsewhere  593  44% 2,216  46%
Total 1,336 100% 4,736 100%

The Corcoran Mansion in Washington DC.  William Wilson Corcoran – banker, philanthropist, and patron of the arts – resided in picturesque splendor on the northwest corner of Lafayette Park, at the intersection of H Street and Connecticut Avenue, NW, from 1848 to 1888.

Originally built in 1828, Corcoran commissioned architect James Renwick Jr to transform Webster’s Federal-style townhouse into an Italianate palazzo.  Renwick added wings to the east and west of the original central block of the house, creating an imposing facade that stretched half a block down H Street facing Lafayette Park.   His bay-windowed library overlooked Lafayette Park. The room was praised for its collection of rare art works.  It was here that Corcoran orchestrated his philanthropy and art collecting.

Much of Corcoran’s day was dedicated to his voluminous correspondences. Corcoran was inundated with invitations, thank-you letters, pleas for financial assistance, and endless letters of introduction for a constant stream of visitors to Washington.

His gregarious nature, and not least his vast wealth, enabled him to make and maintain friendships.  According to a neighbor, his home was the “center of the most fashionable and distinguished society of the capital and his entertainments were of the most elegant and costly character.”

It was Corcoran’s weekly stag parties, the “chief rendezvous for distinguished men,” that achieved his true fame for hospitality. These were the most sought-after invitations to Corcoran’s house, with “the most grand with a file of Senators on each side of the table, or intermixed with the foreign or cabinet ministers,”

A close friend of President Buchanan and able to count many of the leaders in government as companionable dinner company, Corcoran was riding high during the last few years of the Buchanan administration.  He presided over one of the last great social events of antebellum Washington DC – the marriage of his only child, Louise Corcoran, to George Eustis Jr in 1859.

W.W. Corcoran resided at his palazzo on Lafayette Park until his death at the age of ninety in 1888.  The Corcoran house remained with the Corcoran family until 1922 when it was sold and demolished to make way for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce building.

Michael Corcoran, An Irish-American Hero.  Michael Corcoran, born in Sligo, emigrated to the United States in 1849 shortly before his 22nd birthday. In the fourteen years that remained to him he became one of Irish-America’s most popular and influential leaders.

He enlisted as a private in the Sixty-Ninth Regiment of the State Militia, a command composed of Catholics of Irish  birth or descent, and rose from rank to rank until he was elected colonel in 1859. The next year the Prince of Wales from England visited New York.  In the military parade given in his honor, Colonel Corcoran refused to order the 69th to join as a protest against the British role in the Irish Famine. 

With the advent of the Civil War he led the 69th at Bull Run and was captured there, becoming a hero of the Union for his involvement in the Enchantress Affair. Upon his release in 1862 he organized and led his own brigade, Corcoran’s Irish Legion, which he commanded until his death in December 1863.  When in camp in Fairfax, Virginia he was thrown from his horse and died the same day from the effects of the accident.

Roger Corcoran in Australia – from Unlikely Beginnings.  In 1815, for his part in a raid on a British army barracks in Ireland, Roger Corcoran – aged twenty-three from Tipperary – was sentenced to fourteen years in the penal colony of New South Wales.

He arrived at Botany Bay on Boxing Day 1816 aboard the Surrey and was assigned as a servant to settler Samuel Hassall at Parramatta.  He received his ticket of leave in 1823 and left Sydney to settle on the Burrowa river where he took up a holding at Bundowa near the present-day town of Boorowa.   He and fellow ex-convict Ned Ryan were among the first settlers there. By 1848 Roger’s holding had grown to 31,000 acres.

Roger’s choice of Boorowa turned out to be an astute one. Boorowa became one of the leading wool, wheat and cattle grazing areas in NSW.  He and his descendants had more than 160 years of productive occupancy of their land.

He initially ran cattle and horses on the property, building a capital base so he could later move into sheep production.  He died in 1859 at the age of sixty-seven, after having fathered eleven children from two marriages (five from the first and six from the second). He was buried at Galong cemetery.

His story and that of his descendants was told in Frances Corcoran’s 1992 book From Unlikely Beginnings.

Corcoran Names

  • Brian O’Corcrain was a clergyman and bard in Fermanagh and author of the Celtic romance The Story of the Eagle Boy in the mid-15th century. 
  • William Wilson Corcoran was a wealthy banker in Washington DC in themid-19th century.  His home was the center of Washington social life in the years preceding the Civil War. 
  • Fred Corcoran who died in 1977 was an American golf tournament director, publicist, and agent, known around the world as “Mr. Golf.

Corcoran Numbers Today

  • 6,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 8,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 14,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)

Corcoran 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.

Ulster in NE Ireland covers the counties of Derry, Antrim, Down, Tyrone, Armagh, Fermanagh, Cavan, Monaghan, and Donegal.  Here are some of the Ulster surnames (excluding the Scots Irish surnames) that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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