Farrell Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Farrell 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
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.

Resources on

Farrell Ancestry

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.

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

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
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.

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. 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
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.

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.

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
  • Eileen
    who came from an Irish vaudeville background, blossomed through the
    medium of radio as a much-loved popular and classical singer.

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.

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

Among the Irish convicts, George Farrell helped led
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
    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
    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
  • and also from an Irish immigrant family in the 1860’s, this
    time into Victoria, is the new premier of New South Wales, Barry


Farrell 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
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
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
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

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

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
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
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
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.

there anyone who has some West Indies Farrill expertise?

Best regards
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
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
to Sydney in 1794.  Their first child Mary was born a year later
were to have four more).

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.

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
  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.



Select 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.

Select Farrell Numbers

  • 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).


Select 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.





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