Gallagher Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Gallagher Meaning
Oral tradition has it that the Gallaghers can trace their lineage back
to Niall Naoighiallach, Niall of the nine hostages, in the fifth
century.  The earliest written reference is an 11th century
Gaelic fragment which translates roughly as follows:

“For there was a son of this Maol Cabha
that we have mentioned, helping the father’s brother, i.e. the king of
Ireland, do battle, i.e. Ceallach, son of Maol Cabha, from whose line
are the descendants of Gallchubhair.”

The Gaelic Gallchubhair
incorporates the elements: gall,
meaning stranger or foreign; and cabhair,
meaning “help” or “support.”  Gallchubhair
was anglicized to Gallagher.  Variants are Gallaher and, for many
in Scotland, Gallacher.

Resources on

Gallagher Ancestry

The O’Gallagher sept was originally from Donegal on the west
coast of Ireland.

Donegal.  Their
main base was the barony of Tin Hugh in
south Donegal (near present day Donegal Town) and there were outposts
in Banagh (east Donegal) and Raphoe (SW Donegal).  They were noted
mainly for their churchmen and their soldiers.

In the 1590’s the Rev. Redmond O’Gallagher befriended the survivors of
the Spanish Armada.  He was forced to disguise himself as a
shepherd in order to escape the Catholic persecution.  However, he
was eventually captured and became one of Ireland’s most prominent
Catholic martyrs.  Some suggest that a little Spanish blood may
have got into Gallaghers at that time.

The Gallaghers also acted as marshalls for the O’Donnell sept and
soldiers in their battles
. Some ended up in county
Cork after the battle of Kinsale.  Others were driven from their
lands during the Cromwellian transplantations, to Mayo and neighboring
counties.  A number found employment as mercenaries in
various places.

Even so, Gallagher remains the most common name
in county Donegal today.  Donegal accounts for just over 30% of
all Gallagher families in Ireland, with sizeable numbers also in
neighboring Mayo and Sligo.

Donegal and the west coast of Ireland in general was worse hit by the
deteriorating economic climate of the nineteenth century, culminating
in the potato famine.  This led to mass emigration.  Many
took the boat that plied from Derry quay to Scotland.  Others
headed for Liverpool, or to America, Australia or New Zealand.
As a result,
there are now more Gallaghers living outside Ireland than within.

Elsewhere.  There
was a Gallaher family prospering as corn millers at
Templemoyle near Derry in the early 19th century.  From this
family in 1840
came Tom
.  He opened his first business when he was 17
year old, selling Irish roll pipe tobaccos.  He subsequently built
up the Gallaher tobacco empire and became known in later life as “the
tobacco king.”  His relatives continued to live in Glen House in
the nearby village of Eglinton until the 1950’s.

England and Scotland.
As the Industrial Revolution gathered pace in England and Scotland,
Irish immigrants – including many Gallaghers – came.

following family history may be typical of their experience.
Peter Gallagher brought his wife Anne and his trade, shoemaking, with
him when he arrived in Liverpool in the 1860’s.  They both sadly
died young (Anne from smallpox from which she had not been
vaccinated).  Their son Thomas married and became a stoker for the
Navy.  The numbers of Gallaghers then multiplied.  And some
of these later family members are to be found spread abroad in
Australia, New
Zealand, and South Africa.

Celtic football club represented the focal point for Irish Catholics in
Glasgow.  Some Gallaghers made this team.  Patsy Gallagher
scored for Celtic in the 1912 Scottish Cup Final.  And Charlie
Gallagher was part of the Lisbon Lions squad which won the 1967
Cup Final.  That same year, he became the first Scots-born player
to play for Ireland (his father had come from Donegal).

Gallacher was one of the leading figures of the shop stewards’ movement
in wartime Glasgow (the “Red Clydeside” period) and a founding member
of the Communist party.  He served for two terms as a Communist MP.

America.  The earliest
arrival may have been Barnabas Gallagher who came from County Down to
Pennsylvania in 1770.  Hugh Gallagher was an early settler in
Clearfield, Pennsylvania around 1800.  Many more Gallaghers
arrived in Pennsylvania during the nineteenth century.  They were
to be found in particular in the Hazleton and Wilkes Barre area of the

William Gallaher grew up in Illinois where he met with Joseph Smith and
became one of the first members of the Mormon sect.  He made the
long trek west with other Mormons to Salt Lake valley.  Other
Gallaghers, attracted by the mining and other opportunities, also went

  • Neil Gallagher tragically lost his life in 1880 in a
    accident in Nevada; while another Gallagher family headed later
    for the Butte copper mines in Montana.
  • Father Hugh Gallagher, who had edited a Catholic paper in
    Pittsburgh, took up that work in San Francisco where he directed its
    first Catholic weekly, the Catholic
    ; while Eliza Gallagher and her five children arrived in
    Washington state from Canada in the 1890’s

Edward Gallagher, born in San Francisco, was an vaudeville actor in the
early 1900’s, half of
the Gallagher and Shean duo.  His wife Helen Gallagher, a former
Ziegfield girl, co-founded the Gallagher’s
Steak House

Caribbean.  The Gallagher
name is known in Venezuela from the man who brought the first printing
press to Caracas in 1808.  Matthew Gallagher from Ireland had been
printing in Trinidad under Spanish rule and later under British rule.

Penal transportation to Australia began in 1789 and the Irish,
including many Gallaghers, suffered here.  The first
to arrive may have been Elizabeth Gallagher on the Anne 1 in 1801.  Particularly
harsh seems to have been the life sentence meted out to a 17 year old
boy from Donegal, Charles Gallagher, for house stealing.

Earlier Gallaghers were joined by Gallagher free settlers seeking to
escape the potato famine.  For some, a sense of injustice
continued.  Norm Gallagher was a militant trade unionist during
World War II and, like his namesake in Glasgow, a committed member of
the Communist Party.

New Zealand.  The
Gallagher name in New Zealand has been particularly prominent with the
national rugby team.  Dave Gallaher had arrived with
his family in 1878 from Ramelton in Donegal.  He became the first
captain of the All Blacks.   Frank Gallagher played on the
1924 team.   And John Gallagher, who came to New Zealand as a
teenager, represented the All Blacks in their winning 1987 World Cup


Select Gallagher Miscellany

Gallchubhair.  The name Gall (-a-) chobhair (the “a” was not used in Gaelic but
implied) in the context of foreign helper translates properly as “the
foreigner that helped.”   “Foreign helper” would translate as
Cabhaireoir gallach. Gall meaning foreigner is
distinguished from gale
meaning local.

In Gaelic the aspirations on consonants are merely accents.
Originally the “c” and “b” in Gallchubhair were aspirated.  It
was only in the 1950’s and 1960’s that it was substituted to make it easy to print the language on typewriters.  The sounds of the
consonants vary depending on the individual usage.  Thus “Bh” can
be “V” or “W” and there is some regional variation in the pronunciation
also.  “Ch” is a special sound to Gaelic and also has slight
variations depending on usage and region.

The Gallaghers in Clan Wars.  Many Gallaghers accompanied Red Hugh O’Donnell on his rampages
through Connacht.  For example in 1494 William O’Gallagher was
killed when O’Donnell, king of Tyrconnell, laid siege to Sligo
castle.  In 1497, following a battle at the Curlew Mountains in
Sligo Eoin and Toirdhealbhach O’Gallchobhair, sons of Tuathal
O’Gallchobhair, were taken prisoner by the McDermott’s.  They were
released the following year after payment of a large ransom.

The same Eoin was the father of Eamonn O’Gallchobhair (died 1534), the
first recorded chief of the sept.  In 1522 war broke out between
the O’Donnells and the O’Niells.  O’Donnell was supported by four
clans, the O’Boyles, O’Dohertys, Sweeneys, and O’Gallaghers.  A
mass grave, believed to contain a number of Gallaghers and other dead,
lies near Letterkenny in Donegal.

Reader Feedback – Barnabas Gallagher in Pennsylvania. Are you aware that the Chester county tax records list Barnabas as a “freeman” in the 1768 roll?  That makes his presence earlier than the 1770 date which derives from a supposition in another family tree and of which I have always been suspicious.

Richard Gallagher (

Gallagher Emigrants in the 1860’s

Derry to Philadelphia

& Annie
Churchill P.O., 2/1864, Mohongo,

Churchlil P.O.,

Socker, near
Letterkenny. 5/1864 + Sarah 12, child 10, child 8, child 4.

Churchill P.O., 3/1865, Lady Emily

Hannah Gallagher,
Gortin, Churchill P.O., Stadacona,

Gartan, Churchill
P.O., 4/1865. Mohongo, 8/1865

Letterkenny P. O. 6/1866

Churchill P.O.,
5/1867, Village Belle, 7/1867

Gallagher, Gortin,
P.O., 2/1868 Stadacona, 5/1868

Churchill P.O., 6/1868, Village Belle,

& Ellen
Meenawilligan, Churchill P.O., 7/1868, Minnehaha,

Churchill P.O., 3/1869, Minnehaha,


Plymouth to New Zealand

Gallagher, 30,
Hydaspes arrived 30 Sep 1869

Gallagher, 24,
Hydaspes arrived 30 Sep 1869

22, general servant, Hydaspes
arrived 30 Sep 1869

Gallagher, 28
ploughman, + wife Mary, 25 yrs & son Edward, 7 weeks, Ramsey
arrived 17 Jun

The Tobacco King.  Even on his death bed, Tom Gallaher’s father knew his son was destined
for great things.  “I’m leaving you nothing,” he told the
“”You have brains, so you don’t need money.  You will make
plenty.”  In
the years ahead, the young Gallaher grew into one of the richest men in
Ireland.  Known worldwide as the “tobacco king,” he went about
everything with a hard-headed determination which established his

1857, at the age of just 17, he set up in business for himself in his
one-room accommodation on Sackville Street in Derry.  Here he ate,
slept, and produced his products.  Beginning each morning at 5 am
working through until 10 pm, he would twist tobacco on a hand-spinning
machine, package and then deliver it in person to his growing band of
regular customers.

1863 he took the decision to move to Belfast to tap a larger
The series of buildings ultimately constructed there used an estimated
eight million bricks and incorporated many innovative machines.
supply his tobacco, he puchased plantations in Kentucky and Virginia.

forthright as his father, he was never overtly popular with either
staff or business associates.  One of his habits was to stroll
the factory with a stick in hand with which he would tap any employee
he felt wasn’t working hard enough.

is no royal road to fortune.  You must work.  You must start
out with a
central fixed idea and never take your mental gaze from it,” he often
told people.

Gallaghers to Montana.  Michael Gallagher was born in 1892 on a small farm in
county Donegal.  He came to New York in 1912 and worked as a
conductor for a streetcar company.  Then, along with several
others who had come from Ireland, he decided to go to Montana where
there was work in the copper mines in Butte and land was available for
homesteading in the Flathead Valley.

Farming was the thing they were most interested in and
they could work in the mines in the winter for money to use to improve
the farmland.  Michael bought some acreage around Charlo and also
homesteaded land bordering that which he had bought.  Many Irish
families had settled in that valley, including a brother Francis.

Helen Loretta Gilruth became Michael’s wife in 1918 and
they raised a family of four boys and eight girls.  In the early
1940’s the family sold the farm and moved to Butte where his first
cousin James and Mary Loftus Gallagher were living.  Near the end
of the war they went to Seattle where they lived until the end of their
lives several years later.  All the remaining members of the
Gallagher family still live in Washington state.

Dave Gallaher, All Black Captain.  Dave Gallaher was the first captain of New
Zealand’s All Black rugby team, then called the “Originals,” during
their tour of England in 1905.  He was killed on the Western front
at Passchendaele in 1917.

He is much revered in New Zealand rugby, as the
following poetic tribute suggests:

“Through the mists of
time, a figure stands tall,
An All Black legend from Donegal,
He played with power, poise and pace,
An iron man with an honest face,

Smart as a fox, he soon rose to fame,
A soldier’s instinct, in a magnificent game,
Hard as nails, strong and fast,
A superhuman with an unlikely past,

The name of Gallaher, still rings aloud,
A century on from the ‘Original’ crowd,
Dave was a hero, a leader of men,
His men would follow again and again,

A family man respected by all,
A tragic loss with an heroic fall,
A Nation inspired, history made,
An Irish Kiwi in Belgium laid,

One hundred years later, his presence still felt,
A child inspired wears a Tag Rugby belt,
His gift to Rugby is still very clear,
Ireland’s gift to New Zealand still held so dear.”



Gallagher Names

  • Rev. Redmond O’Gallagher, who befriended the survivors of the Spanish
    Armada, became one of Ireland’s most prominent Catholic martyrs.
  • Tom Gallaher, born near Derry,
    became known in the early 1900’s as the “tobacco king” for his expanding tobacco empire.
  • Bill Callagher, founder of the
    New Zealand Gallagher Group, devised the first electric fence in the 1930’s.
  • Rory Gallagher from
    Ballyshannon in Donegal was an acclaimed blues guitar player.
  • Noel and Liam Gallagher, born
    in Manchester, are the lead singers for the group Oasis which broke
    through in the 1990’s.

Select Gallagher Numbers Today

  • 43,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in the West Midlands)
  • 26,000 in America (most numerous in Pennsylvania)
  • 32,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)


Select Gallagher 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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