Delaney Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Delaney Surname Meaning

The Delaney surname is Irish, from the Gaelic O’Dubhshláine or descendant of DubhshláineDubhshláine here was composed of the elements dubh meaning “black” and either slan or slaine meaning “defiance” or was a reference to the Slaney river that ran through Leinster. The anglicized version was first Delany and later Delaney.  

The similar-sounding Delauney surname in France is unrelated and originated from a place-name in Normandy De l’aunaie meaning “from the alder grove.”

Delaney Surname Resources on The Internet

Delaney and Delany Surname Ancestry

  • from Ireland (Laios and Kilkenny)
  • to England, America (incl. African Americans), Canada and Australia

IrelandThe name Dubslaine was recorded in The Annals of the Four Masters as early as 878.  Some have indicated a Norman origin of the name.  An early anglicized form was to be found in Felix O’Dulany, the Bishop of Ossory from 1178 to 1202.  He was the man who built St. Canice’s Cathedral in Kilkenny.  The O’Dubhshlaine name at Coill Uachtarach appeared in a 14th century poem.

The original territory of the O’Dubhshlaine at Coill Uachtarach (now Upperwoods) was at the foot of the Slieve Bloom mountains in county Laois.  From there they spread into neighboring Kilkenny.  If the “slaine” element of the name referred to the river Slaney, then this sept might have originally possessed a wider territory than has usually been assigned to it.

Notable 18th century Delanys in Ireland were:

  • Dean Patrick Delany from Laios who was prominent in Dublin life in the mid-1700’s and a friend and supporter of Jonathan Swift.  
  • and Bishop Daniel Delany from Laios who was active in re-establishing the Catholic faith in Ireland after the relaxation of the Penal Laws in 1782.

The surname is still strongly associated with the two counties of Laios and Kilkenny, accounting for around two thirds of the Delanys and Delaneys in Ireland in Griffiths Valuation of 1850.  Delaney is the preferred spelling today. 

England.  Many Delaneys from Ireland came to Lancashire in the 19th century in search of work.  Jeremiah Delaney from Ballinakill in Laios came to Liverpool sometime in the 1860’s.  He married Maria Nolan there in 1870.  Two notable descendants of Delaney immigrants, both born in the Manchester area, were the painter Arthur Delaney and the playwright Shelagh Delaney.  Her A Taste of Honey was made into a gritty film of Northern life in the 1960’s.

There was a Delaney family from Tipperary, known as the fighting Delaneys (because of their boxing prowess), who had settled across the Pennines in Bradford in the early 1900’s.  Jerry Delaney, a light heavyweight, was their best fighter. But he was sent to the Western Front during World War One and died at the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

America.  Thomas Dulaney came to Maryland from Ireland around the year 1709.  His origins are controversial.  Some have claimed that he was descended from the French Huguenot Gideon Delaune who had moved to London in the early 1600’s and been appointed as an apothecary to the Queen.  

“Dr. Gideon Delaune founded the Apothecaries’ Hall in Blackfriars where a statue of him in white marble was erected.  He lived piously to the age of ninety seven years, having had thirty seven children by one wife and about sixty grandchildren at his funeral.”  

However, the fact that Thomas Dulaney was born in Laios, the traditional homeland of the Delaneys, suggests that this connection, although claimed, is perhaps unlikely. 

Daniel Dulany of his family became a prominent and wealthy lawyer, planter, and land developer in Maryland.  Two of Daniel’s sons, Daniel and Walter, were mayors of Annapolis. Daniel was a Loyalist at the time of the American Revolution and lost most of his property as a result.   The Dulany family story was covered in Aubrey Land’s 1955 book The Dulanys of Maryland.

Another possible line here, this time via Francis and Agnes Delaney from Pennsylvania, led to Greene county, Tennessee after the Revolutionary War.  Sharp Delany, who arrived in Pennsylvania from Laios around 1764, was appointed the state’s collector of Customs in 1784.

Most Delaneys migrated to America in the 19th century.  Two who came to New York were:

  • John Delany from Laios who arrived in 1837, but found making a living there difficult.  Five years later he headed west to Illinois where he settled.  
  • and James Delaney from Tipperary who arrived in 1850 and started an undertaker’s business on Second Avenue in Manhattan. His sons continued this business until the 1940’s.

African American.  Delany or Delaney has also been a prominent African American name, dating back to slave times in Virginia and Georgia:

  • Martin R. Delany, born free in Virginia in 1812, who was a writer and early advocate of black nationalism.  He was admitted to Harvard Medical School in 1850, but later dismissed because of his color.
  • and Henry B. Delany, born enslaved of mixed race ancestry in Georgia in 1858, who became in 1918 the first African American ordained as a Bishop of the Episcopal church.  His daughters Sadie and Bessie were civil rights pioneers commemorated in a 1992 oral history Having Our Say when Sadie was over a hundred years old.

Meanwhile John Samuel Delaney, born in 1859 in Tennessee, was a Methodist preacher in Knoxville.  His son Beauford moved to New York and, as a painter, was one of the leading figures of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1930’s.

Canada.  Delaneys had an early presence in Nova Scotia.  Patrick Delaney was recorded as arriving in Halifax in 1749.

John and Catherine Delaney came there from Cork around 1818.  They were among the first settlers in Antigonish, their farm at Tracadie Harbor being at that time one of the largest farms in the county.

Another Delaney, Patrick from Laios, came to Digby county around the same time.  Meanwhile Joseph and Jessie Delaney were the forebears of the Delaneys of Churchville in Pictou county. Their family story was covered in Nancy Delaney Nawoichyk’s 2009 book of that name. 

Australia.  Three early Delaneys in Australia were well documented in family histories.

The first was a convict, Nicholas Delaney from Wicklow, who was transported to New South Wales for life in 1802 for his participation in the 1798 Irish Uprising.  As a convict laborer and overseer, he built some of Australia’s oldest roads.

Later he married and became a farmer and innkeeper and pioneer settler west of the Blue Mountains. He died in 1834 after what appeared to have been a drunken assault on him.  He is remembered by his descendants in Patricia and Frances Owen’s 2010 book Rebel Hand: Nicholas Delaney of 1798.

John Delaney from Kilkenny had been recruited by the British army in 1848, serving first in South Africa and then moved with his family to Melbourne in 1853.  He spent ten years at Bendigo in the Victorian goldfields before moving onto New Zealand in 1864.  Most of his descendants are to be found there.  However, grandson George was a successful horse trainer in Victoria in the 1930’s.

John and Bridget Delaney departed Tipperary for Australia in 1854 in the aftermath of the Irish potato famine.  They made their home in Warrnambool, Victoria where the family farmed.  When the farming got a bit tough, they resorted to a little whiskey distilling.  Their story was recounted in Joe Delaney’s 2004 book Delaney’s Corner: The Story of John and Bridget Delaney.

Delaney Surname Miscellany

The Norman Black Slaney Family.  Dubhshlaine or Black Slaney was said to have been named after Norman knights who moved through Ireland in the late 12th century to fight on behalf of a removed king of Leinster. De Slaney became the family name of the Norman family which were given land along the river Slaine or Slaney. The Norman Lord of Slaney wore black armor and used a black sword in battle.

The family crest was made up of three stripes, two light grey on either side for cleanliness, wisdom, innocence, sincerity, peace and joy, and in the middle maroon for victorious and persevering in battle. The crest also had three fish on the middle pointing to the fish of the river Slaney.  In some versions of the crest there is the helmet of the black knight and a stag atop of the crest in honor of the knight who founded the family.

O’Dubhshlaine in the 14th Century.  O’Heerin’s 14th century Topographical Poems made the following reference to the O’Dubhshlaine:

  • “The high chief of the fruitful cantred
  • Of the delightful Coill Uachtarach
  • Is O’Dubishlaine, hospitable the man,
  • From the mountain of the most beauteous river.”

Cancred here means the family’s territorial land.

Dean Patrick Delany.  His father had been a servant to an Irish judge, Sir John Russell, who afterwards held a small farm in Laios. There was some money for Patrick, born in 1684, to be educated as a poor scholar at Trinity College in Dublin. Patrick subsequently became an eloquent and renowned preacher and was appointed the Chancellor of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin in 1730.

However, he was to owe his prominent position in Dublin life to his two marriages.  In 1731, at the age of forty seven, he had married Margaret Tenison, a rich Irish widow, who provided him with funds to gratify his hospitable disposition and to indulge his literary tastes.

When she died ten years later, he then married Mary Granville, “a lady of uncommon brilliancy, heart, and accomplishments,” who was his junior by fourteen years.  Her fortune brought a considerable addition to his income.  She had visited Dr. Delany during his first wife’s lifetime and had long been an admirer of his character and writings.

From his beautiful residence at Delville in Glasnevin near Dublin, Patrick was wont to collect a brilliant circle, in which Dean Jonathan Swift shone pre-eminent.

Delany and Delaney in Griffiths Valuation.  The following were the number of Delanys and Delaneys in Leinster and neighboring counties at the time of Griffiths Valuation in 1850:

County Number Percent
Laios    626    46
Offaly    103     8
Tipperary    201    15
Kilkenny    261    19
Wexford     77     6
Cork     75     6
Total  1,343   100

John Delany, from Laios to Illinois.  In his 71st year John Delany wrote the following in his journal about his early years in America.

”I John Delany was born on the 2nd of September, 1813 in Mountfaed in the parish of Raheen in the Queen’s county (now Laios), the eldest of twelve, five brothers and six sisters. My father’s name was Michael Delany.  My mother’s maiden name was Catherine Lawler.  I left my father’s house on the 12th day of February, 1837 and emigrated to the United States and landed in New York.

New York was very dull that year.  A great many crises and not much employment for immigrants of any kind.  I met with some relatives, acquaintances and some warm friends.  Among the latter was Catherine Rafter. She got me a situation with a milkman on Long Island at ten dollars per month to work night and day almost.

I stopped there two months.  It was very hard times there, nothing for nothing.  With relatives I had to pay my way, as well with strangers.  It was root little pig or die.  So I pushed out on my own hook and went to the Croton water works on the third of July.”

John married Bridget Maher, also from Queens county, in New York in 1842. The same year they settled in Newport township in Lake county, Illinois where their nine children were born.

Reader Feedback – Mixed Race Delaney in Virginia/Kentucky.  I have a mixed race ancestor named Benjamin Delaney. He was born in 1780 in Virginia and later moved to Mason county, Kentucky.

From this point I am stuck. He had a wife named Judah Delaney whose maiden name was Rodgers. I would love to find out who Benjamin’s parents were; also how he was free during the slavery era.

Darell Delaney (

The Delaney Whiskey Distillery.  To supplement their income as farmers in rural Victoria, the Delaneys began distilling whiskey for sale around the year 1878.

At that time imported whiskey was expensive (an import tax of 15/- per gallon applied) and there was a demand for cheaper good quality whiskey made in Australia. Grain could be grown locally and pure water and firewood were available in large quantities.

Some distilling knowledge would have been carried with the immigrants from Ireland.  In addition by 1878 the Delaneys seemed to have gotten hold of an American guide The Complete Practical Distiller.  It was said that the Delaneys relied on this book in their whiskey-making years.  Its thumb-marked pages were evidence of frequent usage.

However, in March 1881 Warrnambool police received information that there was a whiskey mill in operation somewhere in the neighborhood.  They soon arrived at Delaney’s Corner and arrested John Delaney, charging him with being on premises where illicit distillation was going on.  Inside they had found a still full of water with a large fire under it.  There were four casks of fermenting mash, bags containing malt and oats, a cask with fourteen gallons of whiskey and a demijohn of low wines.

John Delaney was a 27 year old bachelor at the time and the second youngest child of immigrants John and Bridget Delaney.  In court he claimed that he had just called in to the hut for a morning nip of whiskey, as was the custom in Ireland. The Bench ignored this claim.  John was fined fifty pounds, a stiff fine at that time. Being unable to pay, he was sentenced to three months imprisonment in Portland jail.

The Delaneys, however, were not done with whiskey distilling, with the police this time being looked after.  Customs claimed that at their peak the Delaneys were producing 100 gallons a week. Legend has it that the whiskey was labeled “Mountain Dew” and was branded with the official government stamp.  It was a common drink at local weddings and one day at the Koroit races it was the only drink on sale.  After the second race the crowd was said to be in a fighting mood.

The whiskey distilling continued until 1894 when the police closed down the operations, this time for good.

Delaney Names

  • Felix O’Dulany was the Cistercian Bishop of Ossory, from 1178 until his death in 1202. 
  • Patrick Delany was a renowned 18th century Irish preacher and friend to Jonathan Swift.   
  • Martin Delany was an African American abolitionist advocate and an early proponent of black nationalism. 
  • Frank Delaney was a well-known Irish writer, journalist and broadcaster who died in 2017.   
  • Ron Delany was the Irish athlete who won a gold medal in the 1,500 meters at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne.

Delaney Numbers Today

  • 10,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 14,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 22,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)

Delaney 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.


Written by Colin Shelley

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *