Duggan Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Duggan Surname Meaning

The Irish name O’Dubhagain, being a diminutive of the Gaelic dubh meaning “black,” was anglicized principally as Duggan. Other spellings were Dugan and Doogan, the latter representing perhaps a more accurate rendition of the Irish pronunciation. The name was also to be found, as Dougan and Dugan, in SW Scotland close to Ireland.  

Dugan, Duggan and Dougan are the main spellings today. Duggan predominates, except in America where there are more Dugans. Dougan is Scottish or Scots Irish.

Duggan Surname Resources on The Internet

Duggan, Dugan and Dougan Surname Ancestry

  • from Ireland, Scotland and Isle of Man
  • to America, Canada, Argentina and Australia

Ireland. The surname arose simultaneously in a number of areas – in Cork, Galway, Wexford and Fermanagh. The largest numbers at the time of Griffith’s Valuation in the mid-19th century were in Cork, followed by Tipperary and Galway.

Cork.  The O’Dubhagains here held territory near Fermoy in north Cork. They were originally the ruling family of the Fir Maighe family grouping which had given its name to the town. The poet O’Heerin described them as follows in the early 15th century:

  • “Chief of Fermoy of well-fenced forts 
  • Is O’Dugan of Dunmannan 
  • A tribe of Gaels of precious jewels.”

However, along with other Fir Maighe families, they had lost their power when the Normans conquered the territory in the 12th and 13th centuries. The family name continued in the parish and townland of Caherduggan in that area. Duggans date from the early 1700’s in the barony of Duhallow and were landowners at Kilmeen a century or so later.

Galway.  Another sept of the same name was to be found in the Ui Maine area of east Galway and south Roscommon. They may have had pre-Gaelic origins from the earlier Tir Soghain in Galway.

They had their homeland in the parish of Fohenagh and were known as bards and scribes. The most prominent of them was Sean MorO’Dubhagain who lived in the mid-14th century. The Annals of the Four Masters recorded the deaths of two other notables – Richard O’Dubhagáin in 1379 and Donal O’Dubhagáin in 1487.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the greatest concentration of the name was to be found at Claregalway in county Galway and in the environs of Galway City. Patrick Duggan who became Bishop of Clonfert is best remembered for his supposed interference in the election in Galway in 1872 in support of tenants’ rights, for which he was tried and acquitted.

Wexford.  The original Irish name here was O’Duibhghinn. The genealogy of the Wexford Duggans became a matter of considerable interest in the early 1900’s when the story of the so-called “Duggan millions” became known. Alfredo Duggan of Argentina, a descendant of a Wexford emigrant, had died an extremely wealthy man with no heirs. Eventually in 1944 a nephew, then aged 72 and originally from Rosslare, inherited several million pounds.

Ulster.  There were O’Dugains who were erenachs (hereditary priests) at Inishkeen in Fermanagh. The Dugans and Dougans in Ulster, most common in Antrim and Down, are most likely to have been of Scottish extraction. The footballer Derek Dougan, for instance, grew up in the 1950’s in a traditional working-class Protestant family in Belfast.

Scotland. The spelling in Scotland is either Dougan or Dugan, although the roots – the Gaelic dubh – are the same as in Ireland.

The early sightings were in Galloway and Wigtown. There was a 15th century bishop in Galloway named Adougan; while Loch Dougan lies in Kirkcudbright. The name spread up the coast in Ayrshire and inland to Glasgow. Many crossed the Irish Sea to Ulster.

Isle of Man. Duggan can also be a Manx name. John Duggan died at Arbory in 1769. The name also cropped up later at Onchan on the east coast where they were farmers.

America. The spelling in America was generally Dugan.

One early arrival was Thomas Dugan, Scots Irish from Donegal, who came with his family to Pennsylvania sometime in the 1740’s. Son Robert migrated south to the Newberry district in the 1760’s where he helped to establish the first Presbyterian church in South Carolina:

  • his son Thomas was a colonel in the Continental army during the Revolutionary War.
  • but after the war was over two of his other sons – Robert and John – were murdered by British supporters at their home.

Thomas Dugan had been born in Maryland in 1773 and his brother George some two years later. In the 1790’s they moved to Kentucky and settled in Nelson county near Bardstown where they farmed. George was the ancestor of most of the Nelson county Dugans.

Among later Dugan arrivals were:

  • John Dugan, a physician, and his wife Margaret who arrived from Armagh in 1849 and settled at Sterling in upstate New York. The story goes that John was the son of an Irish lord but, having married against his wishes, was disowned by his father. Their son Hugh was for many years the proprietor of the Exchange Hotel in Oswego.  
  • Martin and Bridget Dugan from Galway who came to Indiana in 1854. Martin and his sons were farmers at Brownsburg. 
  • Martin and Mary Dugan from Tipperary who came to Michigan some time in the 1850’s and later settled in Crawford county, Texas where Martin farmed.  Some of their descendants subsequently moved onto Omaha, Nebraska.   
  • and Patrick and Elizabeth Dugan who left Ireland for Pennsylvania also in the 1850’s. Their grandson Joseph, born in 1897, was known in baseball as Jumping Joe Dugan. This was because of his star performances as third baseman for the Philadelphia Athletics and the New York Yankees between 1917 and 1931. He appeared in five World Series.

Canada.  The Duggans had come to York (now Toronto) from Cork soon after the town had been founded in the 1790’s. George Duggan started out there as a carpenter and progressed to coroner and budding politician. His nephew George, who arrived around 1820 with his parents, followed his uncle into politics and later became a judge.

George’s son Thomas was a surgeon, his other son John a lawyer. John’s son Herrick Duggan was a prominent Canadian engineer – a builder of bridges and a designer of yachts – who was killed in a motor accident.

Argentina. Michael Duggan, aged twenty, left Ireland for Argentina in 1848 to seek his fortune. He started out as a wool broker for Irish sheep farmers and ended up with his brothers John and Thomas as wealthy land developers.

The line from Alfredo, a son of Thomas, led back across the Atlantic to London where Alfredo was appointed an attaché at the Argentine embassy in 1905. He and his wife Grace, who was later to marry George Curzon (a former Viceroy of India), were the parents of two sons Alfred and Hubert who mixed with English high society during the 1930’s:

  • Alfred became a historian, archaeologist and best-selling historical novelist in the 1950’s. 
  • while Hubert was a politician, serving as the MP for Acton from 1931 until his death in 1943.

Australia.  Robert Duggan had come with his family from Ireland to Sydney on the Marquis Cornwallis in 1796 and joined the NSW Corps as a soldier. He gained a fearsome reputation as a flogger of prisoners. Later the roles were reversed and he was flogged during the Irish uprising at Castle Hill in 1804.

Among later Dugans and Duggans in Australia were:

  • John and Jane Dugan, Protestants from Mayo, who came to Sydney on the Argyle in 1839. John was a pioneer farmer at Minorie Falls along the Macquarie river.
  • and Jeremiah Duggan and his family from Cork who arrived in Tasmania as bounty immigrants on the Sir W.F Williams in 1857. One son Jeremiah died in a bicycle accident on the island in 1905; another son Timothy lived until 1940.

Duggan Surname Miscellany

Dugans, Duggans, and Dougans Today

Number (000’s) Dugan Duggan Dougan Total
Ireland    7    7
UK    1    8    4   13
America   11    6    2   19
Elsewhere    1    7    1    9
Total 13   28    7   48

The Dubhagains as Bards and Scribes.  The O’Dubhagains in Galway claimed descent from the druid Mog Rutih.  Even with the change-over to Christianity, druids carried on with their profession as filí or seers. These filí were socially very important and held in the same esteem as kings. They enjoyed many privileges, were exempt from military duties, and were the custodians of the oral tradition which embraced genealogy and history.

Their most celebrated bard was Sean MorO’Dubhagain, chief poet of the O’Kellys, who lived in the mid-14th century. He was the author of Tiallimtimpeallna Fodla, a poem giving a description of the pre-Norman Ireland of some two centuries earlier.  He is credited with the introduction of a didactic nature into Irish literature.  As he held the title of ollamh or professor, it is logical to conclude that later scribes were his students. He retired to a monastery in Roscommon in 1365 and died there in 1372.

Descendants did in fact continue as scribes until well into the 19th century.  Tomas Bacach O’Dugain who flourished in the 1850’s was a scribe who wrote songs at Claregalway in Galway, as did two other O’Dugains at that time there.

It was amazing that these scribes were able to keep up the tradition of composing and writing at a time when the Gaelic language and culture was at its lowest ebb and there was no reward for their labors.

Their heritage continued into the 20th century.  Richard Duggan was born in 1860 and lived all his life at Menlo in Galway.  He was a native Irish speaker and epitomized the oral tradition of the filí of olden times. He died in 1947.

Strangely enough, there is no genealogical record available for the O’Dubhagains.  Roderick O’Flaherty, the famous 17th century Galway scholar, said in his Ogygia that no line of pedigree for them could be found in any of the authenticated Irish annals, rather strange for a family who were such professors of poetry and history.

The Murders of Robert and John Dugan.  In 1781, after the main fighting was over in the Revolutionary War against the British, the two brothers Robert and John Dugan went home for a “sly” visit to their mother – “sly” because Up Country in South Carolina was rife with American Tories.

In the middle of the night their mother heard knocking on the door and a dozen or more voices demanding entrance.  She thrust one of the brothers into the fireplace opening. The other threw himself from the upper window, hoping to escape under cover of darkness, but shivered a bone in his leg, which caused his capture.

The Dugans’ Tory neighbors fired a small house in the yard and by its light proceeded to hang Robert and John from the limb of a nearby oak.  With broadswords they hewed off their victims’ limbs, flesh and heads before their mother’s eyes. After they left, she gathered the remains of her murdered boys and buried them on a hillside, probably with the help of a trusted neighbor.

Their brother Colonel Thomas later hanged some of the murderers at the nearby crossroads.   In September 1785 he signed a receipt for pay on behalf of his dead brother Robert and perhaps also for his dead brother John.

Michael Duggan in Argentina.  Most of the early Irish immigrants to Argentina were from either Wexford or Westmeath.  And this was true of Michael Duggan who had arrived in Buenos Aires as a young man of twenty in 1848. He got to know the Irish sheep farmers in Argentina and became a wool and hide broker and consignee for them.   Later, he became the agent for The Standard, the first English-language newspaper in Argentina.

He went on to become reputedly the richest Irishman in the world, with interests in Argentina in banking and railways.  He bought vast areas of land from the government which he developed and then sold in square-league lots.

It was said of him:

“He began undoubtedly at the bottom rung and, in so far as the acquiring of wealth went, got several steps above the highest of his countrymen.  Yet he was a simple living man, charitable and generous, and always was ready to help his own people.  Unlike too many of the wealthy Irish of today he always preferred his own countrymen in every branch of his vast business.”

On his death in 1888 Michael – together with his brothers John and Thomas – owned approximately 65,000 hectares of the best land in the province of Buenos Aires.  Their estate was said to have been the size of Munster in Ireland. John died in 1896 and the last of the brothers, Thomas, in 1913.

The Drowning of Swim Duggan at Onchan.  Alfred Duggan’s reminiscences in the 1950’s of his family in the Isle of Man included the following:

“Dada Duggan was born in 1871 in the little thatched cottage at the top of Whitebridge hill on the Laxey side of Onchan village.  His father was known on the island as Swim Duggan.

One moonlight night, accompanied by two other men, he went conger-fishing from Onchan harbor. It is thought that the boat capsized and all were thrown into the water. They must have clung to each other for all were drowned, though Swim was said to have been the best swimmer on the island.

Swim Duggan’s wife died soon after his drowning when Dada was five years old. As a result, Dada was separated from his sister Eliza and he went to live with his uncle Jimmy Duggan who farmed at Ballacallister in Lonan; while his sister Eliza went to live with Uncle Billie Duggan who farmed at Hoanes.

Dada – whose real name was William Duggan – married Eleanor Ann Kermode.  They died in 1935 and 1936 respectively and were buried in Lonan churchyard.” 

Herrick Duggan Killed in a Motor Accident.  The Toronto Star reported in 1946:

“One of the “grand old men” of Canadian engineering and a leading figure in Canada’s sport, finance and industry, Herrick Duggan died instantly of injuries received in a three-car accident near St. Jerome in Quebec.

Herrick had previously survived a broken neck, broken ribs, serious falls, and crippling arthritis.  This day his family car was properly parked on the side of a Laurentian road.  Herrick Duggan, aged eighty-four, had long ceased to drive his own car.  His chauffeur, who had served him well for years, had assisted him from the automobile and he was standing by the car on the side away from the traffic.  Then another car struck a truck, the truck struck the parked car, and at the same moment the parked car struck its owner and killed him.

Perhaps his most distinguished work had been the designing of the mighty Quebec bridge spanning the St. Lawrence river. He had been called in after two American attempts had failed, the almost completed bridge twice collapsing with a great loss of life.”

Duggan Names

  • Sean Mor O’Dubhagain, aka John O’Dugan, was a 14th century Irish bard from Galway. 
  • Michael Duggan emigrated from Ireland to Argentina in 1848 and amassed a fortune in land development there. 
  • Alfred Duggan was a historian, archaeologist and best-selling historical novelist in England during the 1950’s. 
  • Sean Duggan from Galway is widely regarded as one of the greatest Irish hurlers in the history of the game.

Duggan Numbers Today

  • 13,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 19,000 in America (most numerous in Pennsylvania)
  • 16,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)


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Written by Colin Shelley

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