Farrell Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Farrell Surname Meaning

The roots of the Old Gaelic name Fearghail are fear, meaning “man,” and gal “valor,” hence man of valor. The original Fearghail from whom the O’Fearghails have claimed descent was slain by the Danes at the battle of Clondarf in 1014. His great grandfather Anghaile gave his name to the territory that they possessed, Annaly in county Longford.

It was not until later that O’Fearghail was anglicized to O’Farrell and later Farrell. The first record of an O’Farrell was Father Richard O’Farrell of Annaly in the early 1600’s.  Farrell is the many spelling today. The main variants are Ferrell and Farrall.

Farrell Surname Resources on The Internet

Farrell and Ferrell Surname Ancestry

  • from Ireland (Longford)
  • to England, America, Argentina, and Australia

Ireland. The Farrell clan committee has sponsored three booklets which cover Ferrell clan history:

  • Farrell Clan: A Brief History, by Hugh Farrell
  • The O’Farrells of Morrnin Castle, by Jimmy Lennon
  • and The Ferrell Clan in Europe, by Stephen Collins.

Longford.  The base for the clan was county Longford in the Irish midlands.  The O’Ferghaills appeared often in The Annals of the Four Masters, in part because of their conflicts with the English in Meath.

The clan chief, known as the Lord of Annaly, was resident at Longphuirt Ui Fhearghaill (meaning O’Farrell’s fortress), the place which gave its name to the town and county of Longford. There were in fact two branches of the sept, one chief being named O’Farrell Boy (from buidhe meaning “yellow”) and the other O’Farrell Ban (from bane “white” or “fair”).

Things came tumbling down in the 17th century. It began with the land confiscations of 1614:

“In the county of Longford, twenty five of one sept alone (the O’Farrells) were deprived of their estates without any compensation whatever, or any means of subsistence assigned them.”

There was a period of resistance in the 1640’s under Colonel Richard O’Farrell which was finally stamped out by Cromwell. By 1659, after he had finished, there were but 17 O’Farrell families in Longford town and 23 in nearby Moydow. The final vanquishing came with William’s victory over James in the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Many O’Farrells fled then to fight in the service of foreign armies, part of the so-called “Wild Geese.”

Penal restrictions in Ireland followed, interrupted by occasional violence. William Farrell has left a dramatic eyewitness account of the 1798 Rebellion in Carlow which he lived through.

Matters stabilized in the 19th century and many Farrells returned to Longford. The Griffiths Valuations in the 1850’s showed a Farrell concentration in Longford, spilling over into neighboring counties.

Elsewhere.  There was, in addition, a sizeable Farrell contingent in Dublin. James Farrell was a leading Dublin brewer. And an O’More Ferrall line had begun in Dublin after Richard Ferrall married Letitia O’More.

In the 19th century, after English pressure, Farrell had displaced O’Farrell as the family surname. After independence, there was a revival in the use of the O’Farrell name. Today about 15% are O’Farrells. The main numbers of Farrells and O’Farrells are in Dublin and Longford.

England. Many Farrells crossed the Irish Sea to industrial Lancashire in the 19th century. J.G. Farrell, born in Liverpool, won the Booker Prize in 1973 for his novel The Siege of Krishnapur and had a promising literary future. Unfortunately he died young, washed into the sea by a freak wave while fishing in county Cork.

The Farrell family from Wigan in Lancashire has mixed loyalties.  Father Andy is coach of the Irish rugby team; while son Owen has been captain of the English rugby team.  Andy’s forefathers, four generations back, had left Dublin for Lancashire.

Caribbean. The name made it to the Caribbean as Farrill. The first of the line was Richard Farrill from Longford who appeared in Montserrat as an indentured servant in the 1670’s. These Farrills were later to be found in the Leeward Islands.

America. Both Ferralls and Farrells exist in America, although Farrells outnumber Ferrells by approximately two to one.

Ferrell  However, Ferrell may be the older line. There appear to have been Ferrells in Maryland befiore 1700. There were later clusters in Virginia, West Virginia, and across into Kentucky and Tennessee and moving south.

Farrell  That does not mean that Farrells or even O’Farrells were not seen here. Charles O’Farrell from Virginia, for instance, was a Confederate cavalry colonel and later a Virginia legislator. Edward O’Farrell appeared in the census records of Alabama as early as 1830. And one Farrell family history traces itself back to Michael Farrell from Longford who arrived in the 1830’s and settled in West Virginia.

However, the Farrells and O’Farrells in America were mostly to be found around the main 19th century immigration points – New York, Boston, and Philadelphia.

Heading West.  Some did make it west. Jasper O’Farrell came to California in 1843 while it was still Mexican territory. He became the first surveyor of San Francisco and designed the grand promenade that is now Market Street.

Another arrival at that time, after a life spent at sea, was John O’Farrell. He sought gold in California and Colorado and then settled in Boise, Idaho. He cleared land there in 1863 and built a single-room cabin for himself and his young wife. This cabin, thought to be the first family house in Boise, has recently been restored to its original condition.

20th Century.  Two resplendent Farrells of the 20th century have been the writer James Farrell and the singer Eileen Farrell:

  • James Farrell’s grandparents had immigrated from Ireland and the family had finally settled in Chicago. He became a best-selling writer in the 1930’s with his Studs Lonigan trilogy on the Irish working community in Chicago.
  • Eileen Farrell, who came from an Irish vaudeville background, blossomed through the medium of radio as a much-loved popular and classical singer.

Argentina. The majority of the Irish who emigrated to Argentina in the early to mid 1800’s came from the Longford/Westmeath counties in Ireland. They included a number of Farrells.

Santiago O’Farrell was a well-known lawyer, politician, and Irish community leader in Buenos Aires in the early 1900’s. Edelmiro Julian Farrell, who briefly became President of Argentina in the 1940’s, was the grandson of immigrant Matthew Farrell from Longford.

Australia. First came convicts. The earliest seem to have come from England, Philip Farrell from London on the First Fleet and Lydia Farrell from the Midlands (who later married Sergeant Robert Higgins) in 1792.

Among the Irish convicts, George Farrell helped lead an unsuccessful rebellion in 1833 against the inhuman conditions on Norfolk island. James Farrell (from Dublin) and Dominick Farrell (from Leitrim) arrived later and served out their sentences. James became a gold prospector, Dominick a wealthy squatter.

Among Irish settlers in Australia were:

  • Andrew and Mary Farrell who had emigrated during the Famine in Ireland to Buenos Aires. Later they sailed for Australia where the family farmed and went into brewing. Their son John became a journalist with The Sydney Daily Telegraph.  
  • another Irish immigrant, DS Farrell, started a haulage business in Sydney in the 1860’s. His grandson Greg teamed up with maverick businessman Gordon Barton to expand into trucking, hotels, casinos and tourism. The Farrell family now owns one of the largest family-run companies in Australia and Greg junior one of its premier horse-stud farms.
  • and also from an Irish immigrant family in the 1860’s, this time into Victoria, is the recent premier of New South Wales, Barry O’Farrell.

Farrell Surname Miscellany

The Travails of GioUa O’Farrell.  The following entry in The Annals of the Four Masters was for the year 1262.

“A great pillage was committed by the English of Meath on G-ioUa-na-Naomh O’Farrell (the Just), Lord of Annaly.  His own tribe also forsook him and placed themselves under the protection of the English. Afterwards they deposed him and bestowed the lordship on the son of Morogh Carragh O’Farrell.

In consequence of this, GioUa committed great devastations, depredations, spoliations, and pillages upon the English and fought several fierce battles with them in which he slew vast numbers.  He also defended vigorously the lordship of Annaly and expelled the son of Morogh Carragh O’Farrell from the country.”

The Annals later reported his son Cathal and grandson Jeffry succeeding him as the Lord of Annaly.  But then the next Lord of this line, Moragh, was “treacherously slain by Seonnin (Little John) O’Farrell” in 1322.

Farrell in Longford.  The Farrells had ruled the area now known as Longford for close on seven hundred years until the confiscations began under James I.  Although the sept was dispersed at that time, their mark remains today in Longford town and the surrounding area.

At the cathedral in the town, there is still the old baptismal font in the left hand entrance porch where so many Farrells had been baptized over the years.  On the right hand side the Bishop’s list, dating back to St. Mel, contains many a Ferrell name.  A celebrated Farrell sculptor is credited with scuplting the statue of Our Lady on the main altar and he also made the beautiful creation on the front of the altar in the mortuary chapel (by the right of the main altar).

Farrell names and associations abound in the town.  The town newspaper, The Leader, was founded by the J.P. Farrell in 1897.  The bridge over the Camlin river is dedicated to a certain P.M. Farrell (a local solicitor and former council chairman).  And then there is Eamon Farrell’s pub.

Some five miles outside of town is Moydow old cemetery where the headstones of the many Farrell chiefs over the years are to be found.   Their castle nearby, Mornin Castle, is now just a ruin.

Reader Feedback – Farrall Spelling.  May I tell you that there are many thousands of us with the spelling variant Farrall.  My family come from Cheshire and the name is very prevalent around Cheshire and the Wirral.  The variant Farrall is also found in county Longford and we have no doubt that it originated there.

Chris Farrall (chrisfarrall@talktalk.net)

Colonel Farrell and Whisky in the Jar.  Whisky in the Jar is an old Irish folk song where a Colonel Farrell is the starting point of the story being told. The song originated in the 17th century, possibly in the Cork and Kerry mountains.  It was recently revived by the Dubliners.

The song goes as follows:

  • “As I was going over Gilgarry Mountain
  • I spied Colonel Farrell and the money he was countin’
  • First I drew me pistol and then I drew me rapier,
  • Sayin’ stand and deliver for I am your bold receiver.


  • Well shirigim duradam da
  • Wock fall the daddy oh, wock fall the daddy oh,
  • There’s whisky in the jar.
  • He counted out his money and it made a pretty penny,
  • I put it in me pocket to take home to darling Jenny.
  • She sighed and swore she loved me and never would deceive me
  • But the devil take the women for they always lie so easy.
  • I went into me chamber all for to take a slumber
  • To dream of gold and girls and of course it was no wonder.
  • Me Jenny took me charges and she filled them up with water,
  • Called on Colonel Farrell to get ready for the slaughter.
  • Next morning early before I rose to travel,
  • There came a band of footmen and likewise Colonel Farrell.
  • I goes to draw me pistol for she’d stolen away me rapier,
  •  But a prisoner I was taken I couldn’t shoot the water.
  • They put me into jail with a judge all a writin’
  • For robbing Colonel Farrell on Gilgarry Mountain.
  • But they didn’t take me fists so I knocked the jailer down,
  • And bid a farewell to this tight-fisted town.
  • I’d like to find me brother the one that’s in the army,
  • I don’t know where he’s stationed in Cork or in Killarney.
  • Together we’d go roving o’er the mountains of Killarney,
  • And I’d swear he’d treat me better than me darlin’ sporting Jenny.
  • There’s some takes delight in the carriages and rolling,
  • Some takes delight in the hurley or the bowlin’,
  • But I take delight in the juice of the barley,
  • Courtin pretty maids in the morning oh so early.”

O’Farrells Who Fled.  The “Wild Geese” was the term used to describe the tens of thousands of Irish men who left to fight for foreign armies as their world in Ireland imploded in the 17th century.  These “Wild Geese” included many O’Farrells.

Ceadaigh O’Farrell who was killed at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 left three sons who all fled Ireland for Picardy in France.  A Captain O’Farrel who had fled there with the Jacobites at the same time married a French lady there.  Their son Francis Thurot O’Farrel, born in Burgundy, fought in the French navy until his death in America against the British in 1760.

The lists of the Irish regiments which served in France in the early 18th century contained no fewer than 21 O’Farrell officers.  Ross O’Farrell from Longford, for example, served in Berwick’s Irish regiment for 23 years until his death in 1768. There was even an O’Farrell regiment in 1789.

Not all fared well during their service.  The experience of Daniel O’Farrell may have been typical of many.  He had been an officer in the Irish regiment in Flanders who complained that he lost everything after he had left Ireland for the Spanish service.  The reduction of his monthly pension by two-thirds forced his wife and three children in Brussels to sell their clothing in order to survive, while he himself went around the country begging.

William Farrell – An Eyewitness to 1798.  William Farrell wrote an account of the 1798 Irish rebellion in Carlow.  As an eyewitness he gave a graphic description of the rebellion and the harrowing experiences following its suppression.  This story was in fact not actually written until Farrell was an old man, between the years of 1832 and 1845, and he directed that it should not be published until after his death.

He himself was only a reluctant participant in the rising.  He had advised Mick Haydon, the commander of the rebels in Carlow, to lay down his arms.  But Haydon had refused to do so.  Farrell’s narrative described the unfortunate and tragic events of the battle of Carlow.  It told of the tragic fate that befell the rebels and the inhabitants of the town.  He recalled that orders had been issued “to spare no man that was not in regimentals.”

William Farrell’s account continued with details of arrests in the aftermath of the fray.  He himself was imprisoned and witnessed the horror of the executions of those accused, including that of Sir Edward Crosbie.  He recalled his own summons before the dreaded Major Dennis of the Ninth Dragoons.  He soon found himself faced with the choice of service in the West Indies or standing trial in a court martial.  When Farrell refused to enlist, he was court-martialed and had to write letters of appeal to both Major Dennis and Lieutenant Fitzmaurice.

Farrell recorded that he then underwent in the course of one day “four most extraordinary changes.”  He was under sentence of death in the morning, received a respite, then later put under death sentence again, and then respited once more.  Finally, through the intervention of others and under the orders of General Henniker who had recently arrived in Ireland, he was granted a pardon.  Thus William Farrell lived to tell his story and that of his comrades and acquaintances.

His original manuscript was edited by Roger J. McHugh and published in 1949 with the title, Carlow in ’98: The Autobiography of William Farrell of Carlow.  In the bicentennary year of 1998 another edition of Farrell’s autobiography, entitled Voice of Rebellion, was published by Wolfhound Press.

Farrells in Griffiths Valuation.  Griffiths Valuation was a survey of property owners in Ireland undertaken between 1848 and 1864.  The table below lists the number of Farrells and O’Farrells recorded there in Longford and in neighboring counties.

O’Farrell Farrell Total
Longford    13   562   575
Laois     –   128   128
Leitrim     4    82    86
Roscommon    11   230   241
Westmeath     –   197   197

O’Farrell had pretty much given way to Farrell as a surname by this time.

Reader Feedback: Farrills in the Caribbean .  Richard Farrill of Longford, Glyn and Killindowde seems to have been the progenitor of this line.  His name can be found on an immigrant indenture servant’s index, appearing as being indentured in Montserrat sometime before 1678.  He was shown elsewhere as a Sergeant Major.   He married and had six sons, with the descendants spreading all over the Leeward Islands.

They did well out of the sugar boom and returned to England, marrying into the aristocracy and the gentry – when not being chased for debt.  Records are patchy partly due to the destruction of records following earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.  But we have been able to put together some interesting stories, some good and some not so good.  There is the Cuban line complete with a grand duchess and a Che Guevara connection.

Is there anyone who has some West Indies Farrill expertise?

Best regards
Patricia Morley Brown from Melbourne, Australia (28april29@gmail.com)

Lydia Farrell in Australia.  Lydia Farrell was caught stealing shawls from a shop in the Midlands in 1790.  Whilst in jail, she had a child.  She was transported to Australia on the Pitt and was assigned as a servant to Sergeant Robert Higgins of the New South Wales Corp.  She accompanied him to Norfolk Island in 1793 and they returned to Sydney in 1794.  Their first child Mary was born a year later (they were to have four more).

They were not officially married until the service at St. Philip’s Church in Sydney in 1810 (it was one of the first marriages in the new church which had just been completed that year).   Two years later the family was living at a property granted to them by Governor Macquarie east of Camden on the Nepean river.  Lydia died in 1823.

Winifred Farrell, Servant Girl.  Winifred, born in 1853, was the youngest of five children that were born to George and Bridget Farrell in Lisadaly, Roscommon.  Three of these children left Ireland in search of a better life.  Aged twenty-one, Winifred emigrated to New York on the City of Richmond in 1874.

She started in service in Elizabeth, New Jersey, but ended up marrying James Burns six years later in 1880.  They had eight sons, five of whom lived to adulthood.

Remembering her own journey, Winifred worked to help many Irish girls who followed her, sheltering them and assisting them in getting employment as housekeepers, cooks and servants.

Can’t Help Singing – The Life of Eileen Farrell.  Can’t Help Singing, Eileen Farrell’s autobiography written with Brian Kellow, might as well be entitled Memoirs of the Anti-Diva.

She was just a strapping Irish girl with an incredible set of pipes and no tolerance for pretension.  As she stalked through the world of professional music, singing recitals and concerts, opera and pop, she juggled the demands of her singing career with the demands of running a family.

She was the daughter of a couple who’d had a vaudeville turn as “The Singing O’Farrells.”  Born and raised in Connecticut, she came to New York to study singing when she was about 20, equipped with a stadium-sized natural soprano that needed just a little polishing.

She began to get radio work, first a $50-per-week gig in the CBS chorus and then, once her extravagant gift was noticed, she was handed Eileen Farrell Sings, a half-hour show.  Her radio show was a hit and it made her famous overnight, so much so that none other than Cole Porter saluted the Farrell phenomenon in a lyric for Big Town from his 1944 show Seven Lively Arts.

She mixed popular music, hymns, jazz and blues with ‘serious’ and operatic material.  Later, the balance changed but she remained comfortable in multiple arenas.  Many opera singers ‘cross over’ to pop or jazz (and vice versa, Aretha Franklin singing Nessun Dorma).  Few did it well and none had Farrell’s flexibility.

What made her book so engaging was Farrell’s no-nonsense attitude combined with her sense of humor.  She didn’t sing opera until mid-career, she claimed, because “the stage direction, lighting, costumes, and cues all sounded like too much trouble and I didn’t exactly think I had the figure for the opera stage.”

She knew what she wanted from a singing career – to earn a living making music with people she respected. When it got more complicated than that, she just couldn’t be bothered.  The point, after all, was the singing.

Farrell Names

  • Fearghail from whom the Farrell clan claim descent died in the early 1000’s.
  • Sir Thomas Farrell was a noted sculptor in Dublin in the late 1800’s.
  • James Farrell rose to become President of US Steel in 1911.
  • James T. Farrell, born of an Irish-American family in Chicago, was a best-selling writer of the 1930’s with his Studs Lonigan trilogy.
  • Edelmiro Julian Farrell was the Argentine President who brought General Peron into political power in the 1940’s.
  • Eileen Farrell is a much-loved American popular and classical singer of the mid-20th century.
  • Suzanne Farrell is a leading 20th century American ballerina. She was born Roberta Sue Ficker in Cincinnati.
  • Colin Farrell is a budding Irish and Hollywood actor.

Farrell Numbers Today

  • 22,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 36,000 in America (most numerous in New York).
  • 41,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland).

Farrell 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.



Click here for return to front page

Written by Colin Shelley

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *