Doherty Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Doherty Surname Meaning

The Irish O’Doherty is an anglicized form of the Old Gaelic O’Dochartaigh, descendant of Dochartach a personal byname having the rather strange meaning of “destroyer.”

Doherty and variants are to be found today. The spellings O’Doherty and Doherty exist in Ireland today, Docherty in Scotland, and Dougherty and Daugherty in America.  Sometimes the Dougherty or Daugherty spelling may have signified a Protestant family.

Doherty Surname Resources on The Internet

Doherty, Docherty and Dougherty Surname Ancestry

  • from Ireland (Donegal)
  • to England, Scotland, America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

Ireland.  The Dohertys were an Irish sept that originated in the barony of Raphoe in county Donegal on the west coast of Ireland. By the 14th century the O’Dochartaigh chiefs had extended their territory till they became the lords of Inishowen (Inis Eoghain) on the Inishowen Peninsula.

Early History.  Their line started with Donal Mori O’Dochartaigh, born at Buncrana around 1387. In 1540 they reached agreement with the English that the O’Dochartaigh would not cross the river Foyle if the British would stay out of Inishowen.  The power of the O’Dohertys was greatly reduced following the ill-timed rebellion of 1608 against the English, led by Sir Cahir O’Doherty.

“After having been insulted by the Governor of Derry Sir Cahir O’Doherty rallied his troops, marched south, and sacked Derry. The Governor of Derry paid for his insult with his life. But then Cahir was forced to withdraw and some months later he was killed.”

Sir Cahir’s sister Rosa had already departed Ireland in 1607 in the Flight of the Earls. She was the only clan member who was able to make this escape.

Later History.  O’Doherty’s Buncrana castle on Inishowen was taken and occupied by the English and the O’Dohertys lost their lands. In 1790 the remaining O’Doherty descendants departed for Spain. Other Dohertys were also departing – to Scotland or to England or further afield to America.

Today there are Doherty families in many parts of Ireland. But the main concentration remains Donegal and the vicinity of Derry. The Dohertys in Ulster can be either Catholic or Protestant.  In recent years Dohertys have been prominent in the IRA.  Kieran Doherty from Belfast died in 1981 after a prolonged hunger strike.

Scotland.  The Docherty spelling took root in Scotland. Dochertys here were mainly to be found in and around Glasgow.  James and Margaret Docherty were first recorded in Glasgow in the 1840’s.  The best-known Docherty has been Tommy Docherty, the football player and manager, who was born in Glasgow in 1928.   

England.  In Lancashire the spelling was Doherty or Docherty or sometimes Dougherty.  John Doherty from Donegal came to Manchester in 1816 to work in the cotton mills.  He became a trade union activist and factory reformer there.  Peter Doherty won the English League title with Manchester City in 1937 as a footballer and, as a manager, led Northern Ireland to the World Cup finals in 1958.   

America.  America has had Daughertys, Doughertys and Dohertys. The Daughertys appear to have been the early arrivals coming before 1800; the Doughertys after 1800.   Among the Daugherty and Dougherty arrivals were:

  • James Daugherty from Donegal who came to Virginia in the 1780’s. His grandson Hiram, in search of plentiful land, moved to Pike county, Kentucky in the 1830’s.
  • a Daugherty family settled in Beaver county, Pennsylvania in the 1790’s.  Edward Black Daugherty of this family, later a prominent jurist, gave his name to the Daugherty township there. 
  • while Charles Dougherty was a Georgia militia captain in the 1790’s, his son Charles another distinguished jurist after whom Dougherty county in Georgia was named.

Other Spellings.  The spelling could also be Darity, Daughtry or Daughtrey, mainly in the South.  The Doherty spelling began arriving in the 19th century.  William Doherty, for instance, left Donegal for America in 1867, settling in Kentucky where he was a doctor.  Other Dohertys came to New York and Boston.

Canada.  Protestant Doughertys and Catholic Dohertys came to Canada in the first half of the 19th century:

  • various Doughertys, believed Protestant from county Down, came to New Brunswick and settled in Woodstock in Carleton county, starting in 1822. Benjamin Dougherty, his wife Sarah and five children, arrived there in 1839.
  • Denis and Bridget Doherty from Donegal came to Quebec around the year 1830 and settled in the Irish Catholic community of North Onslow.  They moved to Niles, Ohio with most of their family in 1864.
  • various Doherty families from Ballyporeen parish in Tipperary came to the Irish settlement at Gores Landing in Marion county, Ontario in 1847. They were listed as indigent families arriving at the height of the famine.
  • while John Dougherty and his family came in 1849 from Antrim, also escaping the potato famine, and settled in the Ottawa valley.

Australia.  Dougherty and Doherty also came to Australia.

The most interesting Dougherty was George Dougherty, born in Fermanagh and a member of the famous Enniskillen Dragoons in his younger years.  However, he deserted his post on several occasions and was finally, in 1849, court martialed and transported to Australia.

After gaining his freedom there six years later, George settled in Singleton, NSW where he became engaged in lengthy land disputes, all the more troublesome because he himself was illiterate. Finally in 1887 he won his case.  However, he was old and bedridden by this time and had not long to savor his victory.

Kevin O’Doherty from Dublin, a member of the Young Ireland party, was arrested on political grounds in 1848 and transported to Australia. He was later pardoned, studied medicine, moved to Brisbane, and became one of its leading medical practitioners.

He died there in 1905. his wife and a daughter surviving him. A fund was raised by public subscription to provide for his widow Mary Anne, a poet of Irish patriotic verse.

New Zealand.  Daniel Dougherty, a Catholic born in New Orleans in 1804 when it was still under French rule, became a whaler and ended up with his family in 1838 in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand. They eventually settled in Wellington where Daniel became a pilot master. His wife Sarah and daughter Ellen, who became a nurse, survived him.

Doherty Surname Miscellany

Doherty and Variant Spellings.  The spellings O’Doherty and Doherty are to be found in Ireland, Docherty in Scotland, and Dougherty and Daugherty in America.

The table below shows the approximate numbers (in ‘000’s) for these spellings in Ireland and elsewhere today.

  • Ireland 20 (Doherty 14, O’Doherty 2, Docherty 2, Dougherty 2)
  • UK 38 (Doherty 24, Docherty 12, Dougherty 2)
  • America 36 (Dougherty 14, Daugherty 12, Doherty 10)
  • Elsewhere 17 (Doherty 14, Docherty 1, Dougherty 2)
  • Total 111 (of which Doherty 62).

Dougherty or Daugherty may sometimes have signified Protestant, as against the Catholic Doherty.

Doherty Strongholds in the Inishowen Peninsula.  The Inishowen Peninsula is triangular in shape, flanked on the east by Lough Foyle and on the west by Lough Swilly.  Projecting from the north coast into the Atlantic Ocean is Malin Head, the most northerly point in Ireland.  The landscape is composed of rugged mountains covered in blanket bog, terminating along the coast in steep cliffs or broad sweeps of sand.

The early base of the Dohertys in the Peninsula was at Castleross at the mouth of the Shanagore river.  By the early 15th century, they held fortified places at Burt, Inch, Elagh, Culmacatraine, and Buncrana.

At the north end of Buncrana, an old six-arched bridge spanning the Cranna river led to O’Doherty’s Keep. O’Doherty’s Keep was described as being a small, two story castle, inhabited by Conor McGarret O’Doherty. It was upgraded by Hugh Boy O’Doherty in 1602 as an intended base for Spanish military aid that he hoped would be arriving.

Sir Cahir O’Doherty’s Fate.  The Scot who shot Cahir left the city on horseback and stopped for the night at an inn owned by a Gallagher.  He in turn managed to get the Scot drunk and robbed him of the sack containing the head, so claiming the payment.

The head of Cahir was placed in a niche of the church of St. Adouan. There he remained until 1954 when it disappeared, possibly blown away by the wind.  Cahir’s sword is conserved in O’Dogherty’s Tower, a museum in Derry.

O’Doghertys in Spain.  The line from Sir Cahir O’Doherty, who was killed in 1608, passed on the death of John O’Dogherty in 1784 to three O’Dogherty brothers – John, Henry and Clinton Dillon – who with the assistance of their uncle left Scotland for Spain.

All three served in the Spanish navy.  Henry and Clinton Dillion both died young.  But John distinguished himself in battle, rebuffing the French in 1809 as they were seeking to capture Vigo.  He died in 1847.

His O’Dogherrty line continued to Pascual O’Dogherty, who became an admiral in the Spanish Navy in 1974, and Ramon O’Dogherty who was recognized as the chief of the Doherty clan in 1990.

John Doherty, Manchester Radical.  John Doherty, born in 1798, went to work at the Buncrana cotton mill at the age of ten.  At the age of eighteen he left Ireland to seek better pay and conditions in England.  He found work in a textile factory in Manchester.  Doherty became politically radicalized after having been unfairly arrested, charged with assault, and sentenced to two years’ hard labor.

He realized that it was very difficult for local unions to win industrial disputes.  He therefore called a meeting of Manchester trade unionists where it was decided to form a General Union of Trades.  In 1830, the organization started publication of the United Trades’ Co-operative Journal.  Doherty as editor attempted to use the journal as a means of communicating information to fellow trade unionists.

In 1832, Doherty opened a small print shop and bookstore in Manchester.  The following year he expanded the business and including a coffee-house where ninety six newspapers, including Doherty’s own Voice of the People, could be read. The Rev. Gilpin, a local clergyman, objected to some of the articles included in the newspaper and as a result Doherty was sent to prison.

Disappointed by the 1833 Factory Act, Doherty joined other reformers in the Society for Promoting National Regeneration. The main aim of this organization was an eight-hour day for all workers.  He continued to work for social and political reform until his death in 1854.

Dohertys and Doghertys in Donegal and Elsewhere.  Dohertys continued to be found in Donegal mainly during the 19th century.  The table below shows the incidence of the Doherty name in the Griffith’s Property Surveys of 1848-64.

County Numbers Percent
Donegal   1,430    47
Derry     319    10
Mayo     136     5
Elsewhere   1,165    38

Donegal still accounted for most Dohertys in Ireland according to a 1992 telephone survey, but the share had fallen to 30%, of which more than half lived in Inishowen.

The other main spelling variant at Griffith’s time was Dogherty.  In contrast to the 3,033 Dohertys there were 918 Doghertys.  Donegal and Derry again were the main counties for Dogherty.

Reader Feedback – Protestant Military Dohertys from County Tyrone.  Robert Doherty of our family, born in Omagh, served in the Inniskilling Fusiliers from 1892 to 1904 in India, South Africa and Ceylon. Some eighteen Dohertys served in the 1st Battalion in South Africa during the Boer War.

Robert married Eliza Graham of Clones and was a postman in Clones until 1914.  Aged 40 he re-enlisted. He crossed the start line on July 1916 on the Somme with the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, survived but was wounded on the sixth day.

His father was also born in Omagh and was a volunteer, then ‘Permanent Staff Sergeant’ with the East Tyrone Militia, later 4th Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

As a family we would be defined as Protestant. Is the reason for the emergence of Protestant Dohertys known?  Was an ancestor a ‘Souper’ or perhaps just ambitious or are we lost in the noise of history?

Douglas Doherty (

Doherty Names

  • Sir Cahir O’Doherty led the ill-timed rebellion of 1608 against the Governor of Derry and paid for it with his life.
  • John Doherty from Buncrana in county Donegal was a trade union activist and factory reformer in early 19th century Manchester.
  • Eddie Doherty was a renowned American newspaper reporter of the 1920’s and 30’s. He and his third wife Catherine started the Madonna House Apostolate in Canada in 1947.
  • John Doherty, born in Donegal into a travelling clan, was a highly acclaimed Irish folk fiddler. He was mainly active from the 1950’s to the 1970’s.
  • Tommy Docherty, known as “the Doc,” was a well-known Scottish footballer and football manager.
  • Moya Doherty is the co-founder of the theatrical phenomenon Riverdance.

Doherty Numbers Today

  • 38,000 in the UK (most numerous in Belfast)
  • 36,000 in America (most numerous in Massachusetts)
  • 37,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)

Doherty 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.

Connacht in NW Ireland covers the counties of Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim, Galway, and Roscommon.  Here are some of the Connacht surnames that you can check out.



Click here for return to front page

Written by Colin Shelley

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *