Driscoll Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Driscoll Surname Meaning
The surname Driscoll or O’Driscoll comes from the Irish O’hEidirsceoil, grandson of Eidirsceoil, where eirdsceoil meanis “go-between” or “bearer of news.”  The original Eidirsceoil from whom descent is claimed is believed to have lived in the mid-10th century. The name is one of the very few to have been identified with the Erainn, Celts who were settled in Ireland before the arrival of the Gaels in the 8th century.

With the English invasion and anglicization of the country, O’hEidirsceoil became O’Driscoll and later, particularly on its travels and sometimes to avoid discrimination, Driscoll or even, occasionally in America, Driskell. However, once the English yoke had gone, O’Driscoll became the preferred name again in Ireland.

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Driscoll and O’Driscoll Surname Ancestry

Ireland. The O’Driscolls, Princes of Corca Iaogdhe, were one of the most powerful families in SW Ireland in the 11th and 12th centuries. They were and remained a seafaring clan until the English encroachments of the 16th and 17th centuries.

SW Cork. Their base was the Bay of Baltimore in SW Cork. A number of O’Driscoll strongholds exist between Baltimore and Skibbereen, one of which, Dun na Sead (the Fort of Jewels), has been restored as a tourist attraction in Baltimore.

The O’Driscolls profited for a long time from the rich fishing fields off Cork. In the latter half of the 16th century, the clan produced a rather notorious rogue, Fineen O’Driscoll, known as “Fineen the Rover.” To augment his income, he engaged in some lucrative piracy on the side. However, his downfall came when he lent support in 1602 to Spain against the English in the Battle of Kinsale.

In the aftermath of that debacle, he had to forfeit his lands and his son Connor went into exile in Spain. Many other O’Driscolls followed in the ensuing decades. Later, Cornelius O’Driscoll fought with the Irish brigades in Spain.  After Cornelius, the direct family line seems to have fizzled out.  There was said to be a descendant in England and then in South Carolina (where Dennis O’Driscoll was killed in a shooting duel).

Later O’Driscolls.  In the 19th century, the O’Driscolls were tenants of the lands once held by their forefathers. During the famine, many O’Driscolls struggled to stay alive in the Skibbereen workhouse and they suffered as much as any other Catholic family did at that time. Skibbereen acquired at the time a notoriety for its appalling levels of famine mortality. Large numbers emigrated.

Although the O’Driscolls have suffered extensive losses over the years in their ancestral homelands, they are still in Ireland today to be found mainly in this Cork area. Cork accounted for 85% of Driscolls in Griffith’s Valuation in the 19th century. The O’Driscoll name remains at Baltimore with Barnadette O’Driscoll and her Corner House.

A 20th century O’Driscoll from Cork was Herbert O’Driscoll, who recorded his childhood memories of growing up Protestant in the “warm and loving ghetto” of Irish Catholicism in his book The Leap of the Deer. He is now a popular writer on spirituality based in Canada. Daniel Driscoll from Limerick fought for Britain in the Boer War, forming Driscoll’s Scouts, and later emigrated to Kenya.

Brian O’Driscoll, one of Ireland’s most famous rugby players, was born in Dublin, but his roots are in Cork.  His ancestor Patrick O’Driscoll was born near Union Hall, Cork around 1817.

America.  An early arrival in Maryland, in the 1680’s, was Dennis Driskell. His descendants later settled in North Carolina.

The main influx came in the 19th century, particularly after the potato famine.  Boston was the principal arrival port (Massachusetts still has the largest number of Driscolls in the United States). Many came to Connecticut and New York as well. Michael Driscoll reached Milwaukee where he continued his living as a fisherman.

A number succeeded in these immigrant melting pots:

  • one such was Cornelius Driscoll, born in County Cork, who rose to become the first immigrant mayor of New Haven in 1899. He also helped found the Catholic Knights of Columbus. His name is honored today by Irish Americans with the Cornelius Driscoll Award.
  • while Gerald O’Driscoll, a 20th century immigrant, started with his brother the highly successful Circle Line sightseeing tours around New York in the years after World War II.

Other Driscolls moved inland to Ohio and Illinois. John Driscoll from Ohio led a group of bandits that marauded across the Prairies in the 1840’s. Eventually John was captured with one of his sons and they were both shot by a vigilante mob. We also find an immigrant Driscoll family in Kansas. Their son, Charles Driscoll, was the author of books, including Kansas Irish which described what life was like growing up on a farm in Kansas.

Canada.  Many of the Irish escaping the potato famine would not have been as generous as Captain Michael Driscoll was to the landlord he had left behind.

“We, the committee of the passengers of the Aeolus, do send our thanks to our late landlord, Sir Robert Gore Booth. He was always kind to his tenants. It was not tyranny which forced us to emigrate. It was the loss of our crops for two years past. And we hope to gain a living in America by strict industry and sobriety.”

The Aeolus departed for New Brunswick where large numbers of Driscolls went after the famine. John Driscoll was part of the Cork settlement in York county. James Driscoll settled in Fredericton. Later on, there were more Driscolls in Ontario.

Australia. The English could treat the Irish badly. They transported many to Australia, some for political crimes, such as Daniel Driscoll in 1815, and others for various crimes and misdemeanors.

A Dennis Driscoll was onboard the first convict ship, the Queen in 1791, to bring Irish convicts to Australia. There is the sad story of Michael Driscoll, aged only 19, brutally murdered in 1835 by a soldier while on a work gang. He had been a Cork errand boy who had been given a fourteen year transportation sentence three years prior for house-breaking.

The Gold Rush brought many Irish immigrants to Australia in the 1850’s. One who prospered was John Driscoll who arrived in Bendigo at that time. He worked hard there and profited as well from the buying and selling of property. Jeremiah and Catherine O’Driscoll arrived from west Cork in 1869 and settled in Grass Valley, Western Australia.

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Driscoll and O’Driscoll Surname Miscellany

The Origin of the O’Driscolls.  According to one legend, Lugh Ith was the leader of an expedition of Celts who arrived in the Baltimore area seeking to escape Roman domination.   He was given the name Hy Drisceoil or O hEidersceol which comes from the Irish Eidersceol meaning “go-between” or “bearer of news.”The first mention of a name resembling Driscoll occurs in the Annals of Inisfallen wherein the death of Conchobar Ua hEtersceoil in 1103 is reported.  He was king of Corca Loegde.

Peerless Jim Driscoll’s Funeral.  By any reckoning, it was the biggest funeral that Wales had ever seen.

On February 3 1925, an estimated 100,000 people lined the streets of Cardiff in respectful silence as the cortege slowly wound its way from St. Paul’s Catholic Church in the Newtown district of the city to Cathays cemetery.  Following the obsequies, the solemn funeral procession moved onto North Road where the coffin, draped in the Union Jack, was transferred from the bearers’ shoulders to a gun carriage.  The band of the 2nd Battalion moved to the head of the procession – now over a mile long – playing the funeral march, while soldiers of the regiment carried their rifles reversed in honor of a dead comrade.

Children from Nazareth House, the city’s Catholic orphanage run by the Sisters of Charity, carried striking floral wreaths in honor of their staunchest supporter and patron, while a number of former Welsh boxing champions and representatives of local government and the military were also in attendance.

At the conclusion of a brief graveside service in the gathering dusk, the Last Post was sounded.  “Peerless” Jim Driscoll, champion boxer and winner of a coveted Lonsdale Belt, philanthropist and people’s champion, feted son of Cardiff’s “Little Ireland,” was dead.

Colonel Daniel Patrick Driscoll.  There is some doubt as to where he was actually born.  It is generally thought that he was born in Burma. However, his Indian naval records indicate that he was born in Limerick, Ireland.  He sailed from India to East London in South Africa in 1899 where he joined the British in the Boer War.  Driscoll’s Scouts were formed in March 1901.  The Australian author A.J. Hales published a novel-style book called Driscoll King of Scouts, a slightly exaggerated view of his exploits during the war but no doubt with elements of historical fact in it.

He returned to the UK in 1902 with a letter of introduction to Roger Pocock and became one of the prime movers behind the Legion of Frontiersmen.  A picture of him, entitled “The Old Warhorse,” was published in Vanity Fair in 1911.  After the war he sailed on the Durham Castle for Kenya where he became a soldier settler, purchasing a coffee farm and subsequently becoming a District Commissioner.

The O’Driscolls in Ireland.  Within Ireland the O’Driscolls do not stray far away from SW Cork.  In the index to Griffith’s Valuation there are 1,321 O’Driscolls and variants.  Of these, 85 percent were in County Cork.  Matheson’s surname analysis based on 1890 births yields 91 percent.  Further, Matheson’s report shows that of the 121 Driscoll births that year, only one was outside the province of Munster.  A similar analysis of the 2000 electoral rolls for the Republic of Ireland leads to the conclusion that even today 53 percent of the O’Driscolls are in Cork.

The Corner House in Baltimore.  Bernadette O’Driscoll welcomes you to the Corner House, a friendly family-run guest house right in the heart of Baltimore.  Enjoying a commanding view of the harbor, the Corner House is within easy reach of everything in the village and only 50 meters from the seafront.

We offer B+B accommodation in comfortable en suite rooms with a full Irish breakfast.  Dinner is also available by prior arrangement.

Reader Feedback – The Two Brian O’Driscolls.  You noted the name of Brian O’Driscoll, the world-famous rugby player, and you had stated that his ancestor Daniel O’Driscoll was born in Killbritain, Cork around 1812. This is untrue. I believe that his ancestor from that period was Patrick O’Driscoll and that he was born near Union Hall, Cork in 1817. Daniel O’Driscoll was my ancestor and I am not related to the great rugby centre.

Brian (baodriscoll@gmail.com).

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Driscoll and O’Driscoll Names
  • Fineen O’Driscoll was the O’Donnell clan chief in Elizabethan times who backed the Spanish against the English with unfortunate results.
  • Cornelius Driscoll was the first Irish immigrant mayor in the US, of New Haven in 1899.
  • Pearless Jim Driscoll, born in Wales, was a featherweight boxing champion who captured the public imagination. It is estimated that 100,000 attended his funeral in Cardiff in 1925.
  • Alfred Driscoll was Governor of New Jersey from 1947 to 1954.
  • Brian O’Driscoll, one of the world’s best rugby backs, was the captain of the Ireland rugby union team.
Driscoll and O’Driscoll Numbers Today
  • 15,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 8,000 in America (most numerous in Massachusetts)
  • 15,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)
Driscoll 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.

Munster in SW Ireland covers the counties of Clare, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary, and Waterford.  Here are some of the Munster surnames that you can check out.

CollinsFlynnKennedyMcGrath
DonovanHennessyMaloneyO'Brien
DriscollHickeyMcCarthyO'Sullivan

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