Daly Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Daly Surname Meaning

The O’Dálaigh was an Irish bardic sept which came to prominence early in the 12th century, with Cui Connacht O’Dalaigh, the first recorded of that name, in Westmeath. The Irish annals hailed him as “the first ollamh of poetry in all Ireland.”

O’Dalaigh means descendant of Dálach. It is thought that the name came from the same root as dáil meaning “assembly.” Dálach therefore probably meant “assemblyman” or “councillor.” The name later became O’Daly and Daly. In America it is also Daley and Dailey.

Daly Surname Resources on The Internet

Daly, Daley and Dailey Surname Ancestry

  • from Ireland (West Meath)
  • to England, Caribs (Puerto Rico and Jamaica), America, Canada and Australia

Ireland.  Cui Connacht O’Dalaigh, the first of that name, founded a bardic school in Westmeath in the early 12th century.

From county Westmeath and from the bordering parts of county Meath, the O’Dalaighs then spread to Clare. From Meath came the 13th century Donagh Mor O’Daly, called “the Irish Ovid,” who based himself at Kinvarra in county Clare.

Later they were resident bards with the O’ Reillys in Cavan and they were also to be found with the O’Neills in Munster and the O’Connors in Connacht. Diarmuid Og O’Daly was made the official poet of the MacCarthys of West Cork in the 16th century.

The end of the prominence of the Gaelic-speaking nobility of Ireland, epitomized by the Flight of the Earls in the early 17th century, meant the eclipse of bardic families like the O’Dalaighs that had depended on their patronage. The name O’Dalaigh also changed, becoming anglicized to Daly. With the subsequent loss of land in the wake of rebellions against English rule, most branches of the O’Dalaigh became, to a greater or lesser extent, impoverished.

One prominent exception to this trend was the Daly family of Dunsandle in Galway, starting with Dermot O’Daly in the late 16th century. They cut their cloth with the English and became part of the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland. Generations of this family served as mayors and MP’s of Galway.  Sir Dominick Daly served as a colonial Governor in Canada and Australia in the mid-19th century.

Some Dalys have more recently reverted to their ancient O prefix. Prominent among them was the Irish language devotee Cearbhaill O’Dalaigh. Born in modest circumstances in county Wicklow, he became a judge in the Court of justice of the European Communities and, for a short time, was President of Ireland. He resigned in dramatic circumstances and died shortly afterwards in 1978.

Today, the concentrations of Dalys, outside of Dublin, are in Westmeath and Cork.

England.  Matthew and Mary Daly, possibly from county Cavan, came to Salford in Lancashire sometime in the 1870’s.  Their descendants moved first to Stockport in Cheshire and later to the Derbyshire Peak District, which was where Tess Daly – the glamorous presenter of the TV program Strictly Come Dancing – was born in 1969.

Caribbean.  Colonel Tomas O’Daly, a Galway native who served in the Spanish army as an Irish exile, was sent to Puerto Rico in 1765 with the purpose of revamping the island’s defenses. He stayed and developed a sugar plantation. In 1781 he died and his brother Jaime took over the family property and helped raise his three children. One of these sons Demetrio rose to the rank of Field Marshal in the Spanish army

Peter Daly of the Galway Dalys of Dalysgrove came to Jamaica in the early 1800’s. His son James was a merchant and planter along the Black river. He is best remembered in Jamaican history as being the guardian of George William Gordon who was hanged by the British in 1865 and later made a Jamaican national hero. The Daley name is mainly to be found in St. Elizabeth parish today.

America.  Daly, Daley and Dailey are the three main spellings in America, their share today being approximately:

  • 37% Daly
  • 27% Daley
  • and 36% Dailey.

Many Dalys came to New York:

  • Charles P. Daly, born in New York in 1816, descended from the O’Dalys of Galway but was the son of poor immigrant parents. He managed to learn the law and, at the age of just 28, was appointed a judge. He held the position of Chief Justice in New York for 42 years.
  • Joseph Daly, the son of an Irish sea captain from Limerick, held a similar position of Chief Justice from 1870 to 1896. But it was his brother Augustin who was the more famous of the family. Drama critic, theater manager and playwright, he became the first recognized stage director in America. He formed a permanent company in New York and opened Daly’s Theater there in 1879.
  • while David Daly, the son of Dalys from county Mayo who came in the early 1850’s, was Clerk of the Superior Court in New York from 1891 to 1905. His family settled in Middletown, New York.

James E. Daley was a butcher in New York, the son of immigrant parents who had arrived from Waterford during the famine years. The family later moved to Chicago. Richard J. Daley, born there, was the founder of a Chicago political dynasty. He was mayor of Chicago for 21 years, his son Richard M. Daley for 22 years. 

Heading West.  Two enterprising Dalys/Daleys struck out west for California by ship in the early days before the overland route had been established:

  • John Daly had departed Boston for California in 1853 at the tender age of thirteen and later started a dairy farm in what became San Mateo county. The town of Daly City was named after him.
  • Robert Daley meanwhile came out from London in 1855 at the age of fifteen to live with his sister in San Francisco. In 1868 he moved to southern California and built a log cabin which became the Daley Ranch near what is now Escondido. The ranch still stands today.

Also heading west was Marcus Daly who had arrived in New York as a fifteen year old from county Cavan in Ireland in 1858. He too travelled by ship to San Francisco where he also had a sister. He learnt the mining business there and made his fortune from the Anaconda copper mine in Bute, Montana, which he bought with money from various backers in 1880. 

Canada. John Corry Wilson Daly, born in Liverpool but educated in Ireland, came out to Canada with the Royal Navy in 1834. He was the first Mayor of Stratford, Ontario and generally considered its founder. His grandson Thomas headed west and was the first Mayor of Brandon, Manitoba in 1882.  The Daly House there is now a museum.

Michael Daley and his family from Offaly were early settlers in Osgoode township near Ottawa in the late 1820’s. Many of the Dalys from county Cavan who settled in Rawdon in Quebec province were baptized at the Ste. Ambroise-de-Kildare church. No fewer than 42 were recorded there between 1830 and 1906.

Australia.  Jeremiah Daly, a farm laborer from Clare, arrived in South Australia with his two sons on the Sir Thomas Gresham in 1858.  According to the family story, Jeremiah left because he had to.  Otherwise he would have been transported there as a convict.   His descendants would be farmers in South Australia.

Daly Surname Miscellany

The O’Dalaigh Bardic Sept.  Members of the O’Dalaigh clan founded bardic schools throughout Ireland. This diaspora seems to have begun in the 12th century. The noble bards of Ireland were accorded great prestige and were counted as filid or “men of skill.”  In social rank they were placed below kings, but above all others. The O’Dálaighs were the foremost practitioners of the exacting and difficult poetry form known as Dan Direach throughout the late medieval period.

In addition to their poetry the senior members of the Ó Dálaigh sept were also chieftains and landowners.  In theory the lands of Irish poets were held sacrosanct and could not be despoiled during warfare or raiding.  Other members of the family were ecclesiastics, monks, abbots and bishops, often combining their church roles with the production of religious poetry.

Dermot O’Daly of Galway.  Dermot O’Daly’s ancestry is uncertain.  James Noel Dillion thought of him as follows:

“He was a chancer, a man whose rapid advancement was due to the success of the Presidency of Connacht and his ability to turn his opportunity there to advantage.  He was an ardent Crown supporter and the supposed stability that accrued as a repercussion of adopting English customs and laws.”

For services to the English Government, Elizabeth I granted him in 1578 “the entire manor or lordship of Lerra with all the towns and castles thereto belonging. “O Daly maintained his own militia there, perhaps provided livery for the President of Connacht.   However, his lands were devastated by the O’Connells in 1597. Hundreds of his cattle were stolen and his tenants and neighbors were killed or afterwards they died of starvation.

But the tide turned and O’Daly fought on the winning English side at the Battle of Kinsale in 1601. O’Daly returned to his estates in Galway where he died in 1614.

Daniel O’Daly.  Daniel O’Daly was descended from the Kerry branch of the O’Dalaigh bardic family which served the-Fitzgeralds. To escape religious persecution at home he went to Europe in the 1620’s to study for the priesthood. He founded a Dominican college in Louvain, and, in Lisbon, a college and a convent for Irish religious exiles.  His considerable diplomatic skills were soon recognized by diverse monarchs, from Philip IV of Spain to Charles I of England.  In 1640 he was prominent in the revolution in Portugal which freed it from Spain.  He died at Lisbon in 1662, leaving many ecclesiastical writings.

Dalys, Daleys, and Daileys in America.  Those arriving in America were invariably recorded as Daly or Daley.  Those remain the main spellings in New York and Massachusetts, the two main points of arrival in the 19th century.  Daly is more numerous in Pennsylvania and Illinois, despite the famous Daley clan in Chicago.

Daly Daley Dailey
On arrival    53%    38%     6%
In 1920    43%    31%    26%
In 2010    37%    27%    36%

Dailey is mainly an American construct.   It was found in New York and Pennsylvania (one early arrival in the 1760’s from Ireland was Ebenezer Dailey whose descendants settled in upstate New York), although not in Massachusetts.  Dailey spread into the Midwest and is now the preferred spelling in southern states such as Alabama and Georgia.  Daileys outnumber Daleys today and have caught up with the Dalys.

Reader Feedback – Dalys from Ireland to Ohio and Missouri.  My 4th great grandmother Ellen Cowhig-Daly was born in Ireland in 1796.  She died in Kansas City, Jackson county. Missouri in 1880.  Not much is known about my 4th great grandfather – just his name James Daly. I believe he was born in Ireland.  He married Ellen Cowhig in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1831.  My 3rd great grandfather, Ellen’s son named James Peter Daly, was born in 1833 in Ohio and died in Jackson county, Missouri.

My entire family is Daly up until my great grandmother got married and changed her name. Sadly my entire line is dead and I have no one to ask.

Christine Collins (Luci.fer196978@gmail.com).

John Daly and Daly City.  John Daly’s father Michael had died in Boston when he was a young boy. In 1853 at the age of 13, he departed Boston with his widowed mother by ship for California. His mother died on the Panama crossing. When he arrived in California, the youngster found work on a dairy farm in what became San Mateo county.

He learned the dairy business well and married the boss’s daughter.  By 1868 he had gained enough knowledge and money to purchase some 250 acres at the “top-of-the-hill.”  The enterprise was known as the San Mateo Dairy and was soon supplying milk and its products from the dairy’s own cows and from a consortium of other dairies. Daly became a prominent businessman and a leader among the burgeoning population of the area.

In the early 1860’s a railroad ran south to San Jose, passing around the westerly edge of Daly’s ranch. Stores, hotels, butcher shops, and other businesses blossomed at the bottom of the hill.  By the early 1890’s streetcars were running from San Francisco to communities as far south as San Mateo, coming right over Daly’s Hill as a stop was appropriately named.  Daly himself moved into San Francisco in 1885, seeking better schooling for his children, but maintained his business at the “top-of-the-hill.”  He helped establish a bank in the community, donated funds for the first library, and was a political leader if not a resident.

It wasn’t until the 1906 earthquake and fire in San Francisco that the population surged around the “top-of-the-hill.”  Daly opened his farmlands for emergency use by the scores of refugees who fled the devastation. Supplying temporary shelter, milk, butter, eggs, and kindness, Daly began to realize that his lands were far more useful for living on than grazing cattle.

He subdivided his property in 1907 and streets were quickly laid out.  In 1911 this new town became Daly City in honor of John Daly.

The Daly House in Brandon, Manitoba.  The Daly house, located on 18th Street in Brandon, Manitoba, was built in 1882 for Thomas Mayne Daly, the first mayor of Brandon.  He lived there with his family until 1896.

The two storey house is now a museum, opened in 1978, and recreates the look a typical upper-class home of that time (although it did lack running water).  Much of the original architecture is intact, including hardwood floors, brick fireplace and an oak staircase.  It is one of the few surviving structures from the city of Brandon’s formative years.

Daly Names

  • Cui Connacht O’Dalaigh who died in 1139 was the first recorded of the O’Dalaigh bards. 
  • Dermot O’Daly was the first of the Galway Dalys who later became Barons of Dunsandle.
  • Daniel O’Daly was a Dominican priest who found his metier as a 17th century diplomat in Spain. 
  • Marcus Daly developed the Anaconda mine in Montana and was one of the copper kings of America. 
  • Richard J. Daley was Mayor of Chicago for twenty one years and the first of the Daleys that were to dominate Chicago politics for generations.

Dalys, Daleys and Daileys Today

  • 18,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 36,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 40,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)

Daly 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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