Higgins Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Higgins Meaning
Higgins or O’Higgins is an Irish clan name originating from the Gaelic uigan, meaning Norse seaman or
Viking. However, the clan or sept
is thought to be of native Irish origin. The name first appeared
in Sligo records on the west coast of Ireland around 1100.There is also a separate English derivation; from the medieval Higgin,
a diminutive of Hick which was a pet-name for Richard.
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Higgins Ancestry

Ireland. The O’Higgins as
lords of Ballynary held sway in Sligo until the 17th
century. They were renowned throughout Ireland as bards and poets.

However, their Gaelic
order was crushed by Oliver Cromwell and his armies. Lands
were confiscated and families driven into exile. The clan did
secure some land at Summerhill in county Meath where they suffered under
the English yoke
. O’Higgins also migrated
landless to Galway and Mayo. And many anglicized their names from
O’Higgins to Higgins as the English penal laws took effect.
Others sought refuge overseas, across
the Atlantic and even in Spain and its Spanish colonies in South

In 1725, two Higgins brothers from Dublin went to Trim in county Meath
and built their Higginsbrook estate by the Boyne river. The
little house there still stands (it was used as the setting for the
2007 Jane Austen film).

Although many Higgins have moved away,
F.R. Higgins, a friend of Yeats, had a special love for the area and
was known as one of the Boyne valley poets. Contemporary with him
was Brian O’Higgins, also from Meath, who was an active promoter of the
Irish language and played a prominent part in the 1916 Easter Rising.

South America. Among the
descendants of the Spanish exiles was Amrosio O’Higgins. He was
made viceroy of Peru in 1796 in recognition for his services in the
Spanish army. No one expected his red-haired illegitimate son to
make much of his life. But he did. Bernardo O’Higgins is
famed today as the liberator of Chile for his leadership in driving
Spanish rule out of that country.

England. Most Higgins in
England are likely to be of Irish origin.

But home-grown Higgins
do appear in the west country:

  • Higgins in
    Herefordshire date from the early 1500’s. Richard Higgins from
    Herefordshire appears to be the first Higgins to have stepped foot in
    America. He arrived in Salem, Massachusetts and his descendants
    settled in Maine (including one, Paul Higgins, who took up Indian
  • two more adventurous Higgins left rural Wiltshire in the 1780’s;
    Robert who joined the NSW Corps and served in Australia in its
    formative years; and John who settled in what is now called
    Higginsville in Nova Scotia.

Higgins were to be found at Weston
Underwood in Buckinghamshire from the 1620’s.
Charles Higgins of this family prospered in London as a grocer
and was
Sheriff of London in 1786. He
subsequently acquired Turvey Abbey in Bedfordshire.
later Charles
Higgins made major improvements to Turvey village in the mid-19th

another Charles Higgins, distantly related, moved to Bedford in the
1820’s. He founded a brewery on Castle Lane and built his family
home next to
it. The family business proved very
and they were important and influential figures in the town for over a
years. The brewery remained in the
Higgins family until the late 1920’s when Cecil Higgins, then over
decided to sell it in order to focus on his ambition to found a museum

Canada. For later Higgins
emigrants across the Atlantic, Newfoundland was an early port of call,
if this refrain from The Banks of
is anything to go by:

“We had on board an Irish girl, Cassie
Higgins was her name
To her, I’d promised marriage, on me she had a claim
She tore her flannel petticoat to make mittens for my hands
Before she’d see her true love freeze on the banks of Newfoundland.”

Higgins also settled in Quebec and Ontario. In the 1830’s,
William Higgins was the first chief of Toronto police at a time of
strife between the Protestant and Catholic immigrants. He himself
was set up for murder but later exonerated of the crime. In the
twentieth century, Newfoundland’s favorite son Jack Higgins fought
valiantly but in the end unsuccessfully against federation with

America. The English
Higgins arrived first, followed by the Irish.

Maine There was
sizeable Higgins presence in the state of Maine, dating back to the
1750’s. Many were descendants of Richard Higgins who had arrived
at Plymouth Rock in 1633. Joseph Higgins moved to Gorham in Maine
from Massachusetts in 1804. He was a sea captain later
unfortunately lost at sea. However, his offspring were numerous.
When his wife Mercy died in 1843, there were said to be 128
descendants. Saul Higgins lived to see a hundred.

These Higgins were active in a range of businesses in Maine and
elsewhere; early shipbuilding in Portland (Eleazor Higgins); carpet
making in New York (E.S. Higgins & Co); and pressed steel
manufacturing in Massachusetts (Worcester Pressed Steel Co). John
Woodman Higgins’ fascination with arms and armory led him to establish
the art deco Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester in 1927.

Irish Higgins
The Higgins name had become relatively well-established in America when
the Irish Higgins began to arrive in large numbers. It is thought
that some Hagens changed their name to Higgins on arrival.

Higgins contributed to the immigrant melting pot of places like New
York. Some did move onwards, such as David and
Bridget Higgins who formed a new life for themselves in Iowa. But
most stayed in the Irish communities that they had formed. Vannie
Higgins, active in bootlegging during the prohibition years, has been
called the last of the New York Irish bosses.

Australia. Australia
started out as a penal colony and the Irish particularly suffered
here. The records show Mary Higgins receiving a flogging of 26
lashes in 1791. James Higgins, who took part in the Vinegar Hill
uprising in 1804, escaped execution but was exiled to the Coal river
near Newcastle.

More than a hundred Higgins were transported
there as
convicts between 1790 and the 1850’s. John Higgins, transported
on the Phoebe Dunbar in 1853,
can be founded listed on the welcome wall of the Western Australian
museum at Albany. Bu only a few records of these lives

Gold fever brought settlers in the 1850’s, including one
Sligo farmer, Patrick Higgins, who did very well for himself. He
worked hard and became the leading public works contractor in Victoria.


Select Higgins

O’Higgins Origin and Heritage.  It is thought that the O’Higgins were originally a branch of the Ceneil
Fiachach, a group of septs claiming common descent from Fiach, one of
the sons of Niall of Tara.  The Annals
of Ireland
suggest that the O’Higgins had originally been
associated with the area of Uisneach in Westmeath.  By the twelfth
century, some O’Higgins has moved westward into Connacht and were
located in the southern region of county Sligo on the border with

Since early times, the O’Higgins were renowned as bards and minstrels,
producing over three centuries a remarkable number of distinguished
poets, beginning with Tadhg M’or O’hUigin who died in 1315 to Tadg Dall
who died in 1617.  Another Tadg called O’g flourished in the first
half of the fifteenth century.  The sixteenth century saw five
more poets of the name, one of whom, MaoImuire, was also the archbishop
of Tuam.  A poem by Pilib Bocht O’Huig’in was the first to be
printed in the Irish language.

With the destruction of the Gaelic order in the seventeenth century,
the O’Higginses lost their pre-eminence in the literary sphere.

The Higgins Burnt Out at Summerhill.  The local story has it that the Higgins were evicted from their  homes at Clondoogan during the troubles of the 1790’s.  Their homes were set on fire and they were forced to live in the bog lands at the edge of the Ardrums estate in Summerhill.

John Higgins later took up employment with the Royal Canal
Company.  As part of his payment for services rendered, he was
allowed to build a small cottage on a section of bog land on the
northern bank of the canal by the Meath border.  This remained the family home until 1947.

Richard Higgins – An Early Settler in New England.  There are several recorded documents relating to the life of Richard Higgins.

April 23, 1627.  Richard Higgins, son of Robert Higgins of
Leominster in the County of Hereford, mercer, placed himself as an
apprentice with Philip Ruddock of St. Clements Land, London for the
term of seven years from the date given herein.

October 7, 1633.  Richard Higgins purchased from Thomas Little his
now dwelling house and misted, for and in consideration of twenty one
bushels of merchantable corn, whereof twelve bushels to be paid in hand
and the remainder at harvest next ensuing.

April 1, 1634.  Samuel Godberson, son of Godbert Godberson of New
Plymouth, deceased, was duly apprenticed to Richard Higgins aforesaid,
tailor, for the term of seven years.  Samuel agreed to deliver to
Higgins six bushels of corn and a cow calf this present year and
Higgins agreed to deliver the calf and half her increase in the
expiration of the term of seven years.

December 11, 1634.  Richard Higgins married Lydia Chandler and
went to housekeeping in the house bought from John Barnes.

August 11, 1639.  Richard Higgins hath assigned and set over all
the residue of the term of Samuel Godberson which is until April 1641;
for and in consideration that John Smaley shall teach Samuel Godberson
the trade of tailor and that Richard find Samuel apparel and John
Smaley meat, drink and lodging for said term.

The Indian Paul Higgins.  Norridgewock resident Sylvanius Sawyer may have given the best
testimony of the destiny of Higgins in 1779.  That
Paul Higgins as a white man could rise to the level of an Indian chief,
or leader of family bands, is not so much of a mystery as that of
uncovering who the man actually was.  The best theories
researchers can adopt regarding Higgins’s identity suggest that he was
not a joiner but tended to form his own alliances and hunt his lands on
his own terms and that he managed to escape exposure and harm in those

Kenneth Roberts in his historical novel Arundel, for the sake of spinning a
good tale, would, however, have us believe otherwise.   He
gives Higgins a major role in the expedition as one of that group of
Indians who tailed the army through the dead river lands and left food,
canoes, and a youthful guide along the route, then met with Arnold in
Sartigan where a number of Abenakis joined the forces bound for
Quebec.  Roberts portays Higgins as delivering an oration to
Arnold before personally enlisting.  He ultimately elevates him to
the position of “captain” of the Abenaki party.  Arundel is a thoroughly enjoyable
fireside story, but one must not take it to accurately depict the life
and activities of Paul Higgins.

The Liberator of Chile – A Red-haired Irish/Chilean.  No one expected the illegitimate son of a young daughter of an
aristocratic Chilean family and an Irish engineer named Ambrose
O’Higgins, who was in the service of the Spanish crown, to amount to
much.  His early years were spent in obscurity as his father
continued to rise in his profession.

Later, Bernardo O’Higgins inherited his father’s estates,
Hacienda Las Canteras in Las Laja near Los Angeles, and began his adult
life in Chile as a gentleman farmer.   He was soon elected as
a delegate from La Laja to the Cabildo in Chillan and began his public

During this period, Napoleon invaded Spain and placed his
brother Joseph on the throne.  This caused confusion for the
Spanish colonies who refused to acknowledge Joseph.  On September
18 1810, criollo leaders met in Santiago and decided on limited
self-government until the Spanish throne was restored.  This date
is now celebrated as Chile’s Independence Day.  However, opponents
of independence, the royalists who wanted Chile to return to royal
rule, began to foment opposition to the Congress.

Bernardo recognized the need for an armed militia and,
using his inheritance, formed two cavalry companies with the huasos (cowboys) and peasants who
worked his estate.  His militia got the first taste of battle in
the 1813 Surpresa del Roble,
where Bernardo distinguished himself for bravery in leading a cavalry
charge against the royalist factions.  Following his victory,
Bernardo was named Commander in Chief of the army and went on to
several more victories.  However, the royalists, with help from
Peru, fought back and began a reconquest of Chile.

Ahead lay the years of revolution.   When the
fighting was over, the republicans had won and Don Bernardo O’Higgins
became the first President of Chile in 1818.

Robert Higgins – An Early Settler in Australia.  The following story of Robert Higgins, an early settler in Australia,
comes from Marion Starr’s 2002 book Murder,
Mayhem & Misdemeanours – Early Settlers at the Cowpasture River.

Robert had joined the newly formed NSW Corps from Wiltshire and
set sail for Australia in 1791, guarding the first shipments of Irish
convicts there.  The records of soldiers in the Corps in 1808 list
Robert as being 46 years of age, five feet seven inches tall with a
dark complexion, hazel eyes, dark brown hair and a thin face.

At that time, Robert and his common law wife Lydia Farrell were living
at 21 Spring Row in Sydney.  The same year Robert sold the house
to Lydia for five shillings.  However, this was probably to
prevent the house being seized by bailiffs due to debt because, a year
later, he himself ended up in a debtor’s prison.

Afterwards, his fortunes improved.  He was released and
transferred to a special invalid and veteran company who were no longer
fit for active service but were assigned to light duties.  As part
of his social reforms, the new governor Macquarie was encouraging
formal marriages; and, on July 9 1810, Robert married Lydia at St.
Phillip’s church in Sydney (by then they already had four
children).  It was one of the first marriages in the new
church.  Two years later, Robert was granted 50 acres of land on
the eastern bank of the Nepean river and they built a small farm there.

In 1818, the Sydney Gazette
announced the sale of Higgins’ farm.  Robert was in debt again and
part of his land and all of his farming tools were sold.  He was
even forced to sell his old draught horse.  Lydia died in 1823,
Robert lived on for a further twenty years.


Select Higgins

  • Tading Mor O’Hiligin, who died in 1315, was the first in the line of celebrated Higgins bards. 
  • Father Peter Higgins was a
    Dominican priest martyred by the English in Dublin in 1642 at the time of the penal laws.   
  • Bernardo O’Higgins is commemorated
    in Chile as the man who gave the country its independence from Spain. 
  • Kevin O’Higgins was one of the Sinn Fein leaders who supported the 1922 Anglo-Irish treaty. He was later assassinated by the IRA. 
  • Jack Higgins was a leading Newfoundland politician during the 1920’s and 1930’s. 
  • Terence Higgins was the first UK publicly identified AIDS victim in 1982. The Terence Higgins Trust is named after him.

Select Higgins Numbers Today

  • 32,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 31,000 in America (most numerous
    in California).
  • 38,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


Select Higgins 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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