Doherty Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Doherty 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
are used today. The spellings O’Doherty and
Doherty are to be found in Ireland today,
Docherty in Scotland, and Dougherty and Daugherty in America.
Doherty Resources on

Select Doherty Ancestry

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.

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.

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. Dohertys have been
prominent in recent years in the IRA.


and Scotland
. The Docherty spelling took root in
Scotland. Dochertys in Scotland were mainly to be found in and
around Glasgow. In Lancashire the spelling was Doherty or
Docherty or sometimes Dougherty.

America has Dohertys, Doughertys, and Daughertys. The Daughertys
appear to have been the early arrivals, coming before 1800; the
Doughertys after 1800.

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

Other spellings to be found in America have been
Darity, Daughtry and Daughtrey, mainly in the South.

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

  • various Doughertys, believed
    Protestant from county Down, came to New Brunswick and settled in
    Woodstock in
    Carleton county, starting in 1822.
    his wife Sarah and five children, arrived
    there in 1839.
  • Denis
    and Bridget Doherty from Donegal came to Quebec around the year 1830
    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.
    were listed as indigent families arriving
    at the height of the famine.

  • while John
    and his family came in 1849 from Antrim, also escaping
    the potato famine, and settled in the Ottawa valley.

Australia and New Zealand. Dougherty and Doherty also
to Australia.

The most interesting
Dougherty was George Dougherty, born in Fermanagh and a member of the
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
and transported to Australia. He was
later pardoned, studied medicine, moved to Brisbane, and became one of
leading medical practitioners. He died
there in 1905. his wife
and a daughter surviv
ing him. A fund
was raised by public subscription to
provide for his widow Mary Anne, a poet
of Irish
patriotic verse

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 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 for
these spellings in Ireland and elsewhere today.

Numbers (000’s) O’Doherty Doherty Docherty Dougherty Daugherty Total
Ireland    2   14    2    2    –    20
UK    –   24   12    2    –    38
America    –   10    –   14   12    36
Elsewhere    –   14    1    2    –    17
Total 2 62 15 20   12 111

 Doherty Strongholds in the Inishowen Peninsula.  The
Inishowen Peninsula is
triangular in shape, flanked on the east by Lough Foyle and on the west
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
cliffs or broad sweeps of sand.

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

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,
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
seeking to capture Vigo.  He died in

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

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
in England.  He found work in a textile
factory in Manchester.  Doherty became
politically radicalized after having been unfairly arrested, charged
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

In 1832, Doherty opened a small print shop
and bookstore in Manchester.  The
following year he expanded the business and including a coffee-house
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
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

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.



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.

Select 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)


Select 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.



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