Flanagan Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Flanagan Meaning
Irish surname Flanagan
derived from the Old Gaelic word flann
meaning “red” or “ruddy.” From this
source came the Old Gaelic septs by the name of O’Flannagain
(or “descendant of the ruddy one”), of which there
were a number in Ireland. Flanagan is
the main anglicization of this name. The
name has also appeared as O’Flanagan and Flanigan

Flanagan Resources on

Flanagan Ancestry

Ireland. The Flanagan sept of
Connacht is
believed to have been descended from one Flanagan who was of the same
stock as
the O’Connors and whose line held the hereditary office of Steward to
the Kings
of Connacht. Their main home was in Roscommon, between Mantua and
Elphin, and they
were known as the chiefs of clan
. Donough O’Flanagan of this
line became the Bishop
of Elphin in 1303.

were also minor septs of the same name in other parts of the country,
at Toorah
in NW Fermanagh (dating from the 14th century) and at Ballybrit in
Offaly. Some descendants are still evident
in these
areas. But today the surname is most often found in Roscommon and
westward in Clare,
Galway and Mayo. Clare in 1762 was the birthplace of Theophilus
O’Flanagan who was a
leading figure in the Gaelic revival movement of his time.

America. There were early Flanagan
arrivals in New Jersey:

  • one
    arrival, according to family lore,
    consisted of three brothers who came in 1732. The
    main line went through James Flanagan and his son
    Whittle of Red Hill in Louisa
    county, Virginia
    . Whittle’s
    grandson James Flanagan moved to
    Texas in 1843 where he was a close friend of Sam Houston. He
    elected Senator
    of Texas in 1870.
  • another
    line began with Robert Flanagan in Hunterdon county in the
    1740’s and continued later in the 1830’s in Tucker county, West
    Virginia where
    Ebenezer Flanagan was an early settler.
  • then
    there was John
    who came to Philadelphia from New Jersey in the

Flanagan line in Kentucky began with
John Flanagan who was born in North Carolina around 1768 and moved to
county, Kentucky in 1810. Another John
Flanagan arrived in Philadelphia from Ireland in 1802.
He later moved his family to Peoria, Illinois
– then on the western frontier – where his son John, a judge, built Flanagan House, an imposing
mansion on
the hill.

Father Edward Flanagan was a Roscommon native who came to America in
1904 and in 1917 established the Boys Town orphanage in Nebraska, an
institution made famous by the 1938 Spencer Tracy film.

. Flanagans came to
England and a good number of them were to be found in the port city

Elizabeth Flanagan married Charles Hamilton in Liverpool in
1775. In 1847, at the time of the Famine
in Ireland, John and Ellen Flanagan came to Liverpool where John found
work as
a dock laborer. Catherine Flanagan was
born in Liverpool in 1829 and her sister Margaret in 1843.
They earned notoriety as the
Black Widows of Liverpool
for poisoning their victims in order
to gain insurance money.

The best-known Flanagan in England, however, was not
Irish but the son of Polish Jewish immigrants in London.
took his name from a sergeant major he served under
during World
War One.

Australia. Roderick Flanagan came out to
Australia as
a boy with his parents from Roscommon in 1840.
He made his mark in Melbourne as a journalist and as an early
of Australia until his early death from TB at the age of 34.

Flanagan stole food to feed his family during the Great Famine in
Ireland in
1847. For this crime he was transported
to Tasmania along with his brother John.
Later he was able to bring out his wife and eight children to
start up a
new life as a tenant farmer. His line
descended to Arch Flanagan,
a man who
survived the Burma Death Railway during World War Two and later wrote
about it. He had two very talented
literary sons,
Martin and Richard.

The brothers Michael and Patrick Flanagan from Drogheda in county
Louth were lured to Australia by gold rush fever in 1857.
They moved onto the New Zealand goldfields in
the mid-1860’s. By 1870 they had
migrated to California. Their letters
home to Louth, covering the period from 1864 to 1909, were published in
and provide an insight into Irish life abroad at that time.


Flanagan Miscellany

The Flanagans of Clan Cathal.  This line is said to have begun with Cathal, a son of Muireadach Maolleathan and
a younger
brother of Inrachtach who featured in the O’Connor blood line.  It was four generations later that the
Flannagan name first appeared.  Eight
generations later came Diarmaid O’Flannagain.From this line came Donough
O’Flanagan who was Bishop of Elphin from 1303 until his death four
later.  Of him, it was said in The
Annals of Clonmacnoise

was a man
famous for his hospitality, devotion, and other good parts belonging to
function throughout all Europe; one that never refused anyone
neither for meat nor clothes; one that maintained, protected, and made
between the inhabitants of the province of Connacht; one full of wisdom
good delivery to maintain anything he took in hand; one charitable and
free-hearted towards all men.”

The Flanagans of Red Hill in Virginia.  According to
family lore, three brothers from Roscommon left Dublin in 1732 to
arrive at
“some woodland and some sandy hills” at a place called Abescon Beach
(apparently near present-day Atlantic City, New Jersey).
Ambrose the eldest was said to have headed
for Virginia, Whittle the middle brother to North Carolina, while James
youngest remained in New Jersey.

recorded line follows James the elder, son
of Ambrose, who first appeared in Louisa county, Virginia in 1747.  The house that he built, Red Hill, is still
standing.  James died there soon
afterwards and his son Whittle inherited the place.
Whittle moved to Alabama with his son Ambrose
in 1815.  However, the house remained in
family hands through his daughter Elizabeth and her offspring until the

Reader Feedback – John Flanagan in Philadelphia.  I, as
seems likely, am a descendant of a John Flanagan and his son also John
who were
in Philadelphia.  They are present in
early records in this city and it states that in around the 1740’s John
arrived from New Jersey (likely just across the river).
I tend to think John’s family branch came
through France, the family having left Ireland in 1688).
So the date of 1802 in Philadelphia is a
little different.

This is also a note
about the Flanagans of Toorah of the 13th-14th century.
They were, it seems, likely to have been in
this area much earlier.  This was a
“headwater” and passage to the sea.
Who controlled this area controlled the trade on the island.  This seems likely to have been the family’s
original family seat, with later moves to Elphin and Waterford through
expansion of trade networks consolidated by monasteries along the major

Kevin P. Flanagan (Kvflanagan@gmail.com)

Flanagan House in Peoria, Illinois.  There are
two versions as to how John Flanagan Sr. acquired the land in 1824 in
Illinois on which the Judge John C. Flanagan Residence was later built.  One version was that it was purchased from
the Native Indians in the area for the proverbial blankets, trinkets,
beads.  Another version has it that he
simply paid cash to a local land developer.

John Flanagan Sr. contracted typhus
during a business trip south and died in 1832.
It was left to his wife Jane and his son John C. Flanagan, a
lawyer, to develop his site.  The young
John became so entranced by the beauty of the Illinois River Valley
that he
decided to settle and become the local judge there.

His home was one of the
first brick homes in the area and was the largest and grandest in
Peoria at
that time.  The house was commonly
referred to as the “mansion on the hill” by locals.
It had wrought-iron detail at the front and
rear porches that came from France.
Guests would travel up from the bluff on a tree-lined drive that
the house.  When the house was completed
in 1847, Peoria – it should be remembered – was still a rough frontier
with mainly log cabins as homes.

John C. Flanagan and his two daughters lived
there – the elder one after she had become sick with lead poisoning and
younger one after her husband had died.
Peoria Historical Society acquired the house in 1962 and it was
on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

The Black Widows of Liverpool.  Catherine Flanagan and Margaret Higgins
were Irish sisters in Liverpool who were convicted of poisoning and
murdering Margaret’s
husband Thomas.  They were suspected of
deaths as well.

women would collect a burial society payout, a type of life
insurance, on each death, and it was eventually found that they had
been committing
murders using arsenic for the purpose of profiting off of the insurance

Catherine Flanagan evaded police for a time, both sisters were
eventually caught and convicted for one of the murders.
They were hanged on the same day in 1884 at
Kirkdale prison in Liverpool.

investigation of the crime has raised the
possibility that Flanagan and Higgins were known or believed by
to have been only part of a larger conspiracy of murder-for-profit – a
network of
“black widows.”  But no
convictions were ever obtained for any of the alleged conspiracy
members other
than for the two sisters.  Angela
Brabin’s 2003 book The Black Widows of
ool explored this possibility.

Chaim Weintrop Becomes Bud Flanagan.  Chaim Weintrop was born to Polish Jewish immigrants in the East End of London in 1896.   At the
age of thirteen he managed to secure free passage on a ship sailing to
America.  There he worked in various jobs
before returning to England in 1915 to enlist in the war.

war was to prove
the turning point in his life.  His
sergeant major in the Royal Field Artillery in Flanders was called
thereby providing him with the name he would use for his stage
performances and
adopt as his persona.  And it was in a
café in Flanders that he met the man with whom he would form a lifelong
partnership, Chesney Allen.

the mean sergeant major named Flanagan
seemed to have had it in for Winthop and when Driver Winthrop was
wounded in
1918 and left the service, he retorted to Flanagan: “I’ll remember your
name as
long as I live.”  He adopted Flanagan as
his stage name a year later.

two Flanagans did meet up later in London,
where sergeant major Flanagan was working as a barman, and they were
reconciled.  Flanagan and Allen went onto stardom when their
popular song Underneath the Arches was released in

Arch Flanagan and the Burma Railway.  Arch Flanagan was a descendant of Irish convicts who had come to Tasmania in the 1840’s.
His own
father Pat was a fettler.   He himself
was a survivor of the Burma Death Railway during World War Two and
lived to be
98, long enough to see the success of his two sons.

He was one of Dunlop’s Thousand, that now near-mythical
group led by Weary Dunlop who lived and died on the Burma Death Railway.  He was a survivor of that, of cholera, of the
hell ships that took POW’s to Japan, and of being a slave laborer in a
mine under the Inland Sea at the war’s end.

Arch could not in fact face recalling these
horrific times until he was in his 70’s.
Then he collaborated with his son Martin, an author and
journalist, in a
version of his war-time experiences.  It
was during the writing of the story that Arch warned his son against
the facts.  Be humble, he said.

In the book, Arch’s war years were followed by Martin’s
reflections.  Standing on the Hintok cutting, the son realized he
still could not imagine what it was like for his father in these
prisoner-of-war camps.  And that made it even more important for
Martin, when writing about that trip and the characters he encountered
there, to get the shades and shadows right.  This was a difficult
undertaking, one that permeated his writing in The Line.

was Martin’s brother Richard, the Rhodes scholar and award-winning
writer, who
would expand on his father’s experiences in his 2013 novel The
Narrow Road to the Deep North
This book won the prestigious Man Booker Prize in 2014.


Flanagan Names

  • Theophilus O’Flanagan
    was a leading figure in the Gaelic revival movement of the late 18th century. 
  • John Flanagan was a three-time Olympic gold medalist in the hammer throw – in 1900, 1904, and 1908. 
  • Father Edward Flanagan founded the
    orphanage known as Boys Town in Nebraska, made famous in the 1938 film starring Spencer Tracy. 
  • Bud Flanagan,
    born Chaim Weintrop to a Polish Jewish family in
    was a popular English music hall and vaudeville entertainer from the 1930’s onwards. 
  • Richard Flanagan is a novelist from Tasmania, considered by many to be the finest Australian writer of his generation.

Select Flanagan Numbers Today

  • 12,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Lancashire)
  • 10,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 17,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)


Select Flanagan 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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