Ireland Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Ireland Surname Meaning

This surname can best be described as English, but of Irish origins! It was an ethnic name in England and Scotland for an immigrant from Ireland, the root of the name being from the Old English word Iras meaning Irishman.

Ireland Surname Resources on The Internet

Ireland Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Lancashire) and Scotland (East Coast)
  • to America and Canada

EnglandThe first with the surname Ireland was possibly Sir John de Ireland, said to have lived at the time of William the Conqueror. This Ireland family held the manor of Hale in Childwall on Merseyside from 1279.

There were later Ireland lines at Lydiate on Merseyside and Beausey near Warrington. Sir Gilbert Ireland of Hale brought the giant John Middleton to court in 1617. His grandson, also Sir Gilbert Ireland, married Margaret Ireland of Beausey but died in 1675 without issue, the last of the line at Hale.

The Ireland family at Lydiate was recusant and had lost their estates two years earlier in 1673. One line of these Irelands established themselves at Crofton Hall near Wakefield in Yorkshire. William Ireland, a Jesuit priest born there, was executed for his involvement in the Popish plot in 1679. It can be truly said that the 1670’s was a bad time for the Irelands.

The 19th century distribution of the Ireland name showed a concentration in Lancashire, perhaps augmented by Irish Irelands, and a smattering in the southwest. Devon was one locale. John Ireland from Ashburton in Devon became the Dean of Westminster in the early 19th century and crowned three monarchs. There were Irelands as well by that time in Gloucestershire and SW Herefordshire.

Scotland. The earlier Irelands in Scotland seem to have come from the east coast, from Fife and further up the coast in Angus. Thomas and Agnes Ireland were recorded in Fife in 1677. Their son was a tenant at Tarvit Mill. Another Fife line began with the marriage of James and Elspeth Ireland at St. Andrews in 1655. Later Irelands – of probable Irish origin – were in and around Glasgow.

America. There were Irelands from England, Ireland, and Scotland in America. Examples of Irish Irelands were:

  • John Ireland, the son of Irish immigrants, who became Governor of Texas in 1883
  • and John Ireland from Kilkenny who was appointed Archbishop of St. Paul, Minnesota in 1888.

Two early Irelands from England, probably from Lancashire, were:

  • Samuel Ireland, who arrived with his family on the Increase in 1635 and settled in Wethersfield, Connecticut (he died there ten years later).
  • and Thomas Ireland, who came to Hempstead, Long Island in 1644 and was a landlord of an inn there (Joseph Norton Ireland described this line in his 1880 book Some Account of the Ireland Family: 1644-1880).

Of Scottish roots was David Ireland, a colonel in the Union army during the Civil War. He had come to New York with his family in 1840 from Angus in eastern Scotland.

Canada. Joseph and Mary Ireland moved to Burlington, Ontario from the village of Bowes in north Yorkshire in 1819. The Oakridge Farm house that he built there in 1835 stayed with his descendants until 1987 when it was purchased by the city of Burlington and turned into a museum.

Ireland Surname Miscellany

Sir Gilbert Ireland and John Middleton.  John Middleton, reputed to have reached 9′ 3″ in height, was born in Hale in Lancashire in the 1570’s. Legend has it that he was originally of normal size and grew in a single night.

In 1617 his patron Sir Gilbert Ireland took him to the Court of King James I in London where he put out the thumb of the King’s wrestler in a bout.  This feat was reported to have earned him the disdain of the courtiers and a gift of £20 from the King.

The Irelands at Crofton Hall.  The Irelands of Lydiate Hall on Merseyside were Catholic and William Ireland of that family, an eminent lawyer, took that faith with him when he crossed the Pennines to make his home in Yorkshire. His son Sir Francis and wife Elizabeth suffered for their faith, losing their estates at the time of Cromwell.

Sir Francis and his wife left two sons and two daughters.  The eldest William resided at Crofton Hall near Wakefield. He was a Royalist cavalry captain during the Civil War, but like his brother – was reported to have been slain during the conflict.  One of his daughters was renowned for her beauty.  It was said when Marmaduke Rawdon was on a visit to York in 1656:

“He seldom went abroad but he was accompanied with some ladies, amongst which there was a young beauty Madam Ireland, the daughter of Sir Francis Ireland, in whose company he took the most delight of any.”

Son William Ireland became a Jesuit in 1655.  Twenty three years later he was implicated in the Popish plot to assassinate the King. He was arrested and tried and executed at Tyburn in early 1679.  A grandson Ralph stayed at Crofton Hall and was registered there as a Catholic non-jurer in 1717.

Ireland Surname Distribution in the 1891 Census

County Numbers (000’s) Percent
Lancashire    1.5    25%
Yorkshire    0.5     8%
Gloucestershire    0.4     6%
Devon    0.3     5%
London    0.8    13%
Elsewhere    2.7    35%
Total    6.2 100%

John Ireland from Ashburton in Devon.  John Ireland, the Dean of Westminster, was born in 1761 at Ashburton in Devon, the son of a local butcher.  His education began at the free grammar school of Ashburton under the Rev. Thomas Smerdon. William Gifford, the founder of the Quarterly magazine, was a fellow-pupil, and their friendship continued unbroken until death.  They are buried together at Westminster Abbey.

John Ireland was Dean of Westminster for 26 years and crowned three monarchs, King George IV, King William IV, and Queen Victoria.  There is a Georgian building in Ashburton, Ireland House, which was given to the governors of Ashburton grammar school as a boarding house by a grateful John Ireland later in his life.

Ireland Arrivals in America by Country of Origin

Country Numbers Percent
England    242    54%
Ireland    141    31%
Scotland     54    12%
Elsewhere     15     3%
Total    452   100%

Reader Feedback – Bishop John Ireland in Minnesota. There was a Bishop John Ireland from Ireland who arrived in Minnesota and settled in St. Paul after the Civil War.

He had been assigned to head the St. Paul province of the Catholic Church and to establish ten rural villages and farming communities all spread through five western Minnesota counties. The intention was to help improve the lives of poor Irish living in industrial cities of the East by giving them farms and bolstering the Catholic population in Minnesota.

Bishop John Ireland signed a contract with North Pacific RR to be its exclusive agent for all land by the railroad in Swift county, around 75 acres. State and Federal land grants had allotted the railroad alternate sections of land five miles deep on either side of the tracks. Ireland’s plan was to bring 2,000 families to Minnesota and the contract was the first of several similar contracts Ireland negotiated with five different railroads over the following five years. Connemara Patch was heavily populated by Irish immigrants in the early 20th century.

Deborah Murphy (

Irelands in Burlington, Ontario.  The descendants of Joseph Ireland from Yorkshire who moved to Burlington, Ontario in 1819 were invited to attend a family reunion in 2007 at the Oakbridge Farm home that Joseph Ireland had built in 1835 and is now a museum. Prior to that time four generations of the Ireland family lived in the house.  Over that time the Irelands rarely threw anything out.  So the house still retained many of the prized possessions of its earlier generations.

Some heirlooms have, however, gone. Oakbridge had at one time, hanging on an overhead beam, the saber which John Ireland, the brother of Joseph, carried with him in the War of 1812.  There were in the early days a number of weapons from that war on the beams. But these weapons are no longer hanging there.

There were 150 Ireland family descendants that attended the reception that was hosted by Allan Ireland, the last Ireland family member to have lived at the Ireland House before it was purchased by the city of Burlington in 1987.  A service was held at St. John’s church in Nelson county which Joseph Ireland helped found.  Many Irelands are buried there.

Ireland Names

  • William Ireland was an English Jesuit priest caught up in the Popish plot who was executed in 1679. He was subsequently beatified by the Catholic church.
  • John Ireland was Dean of Westminster from 1816 to 1842.
  • Bishop John Ireland from Ireland encouraged Irish immigation to Minnesota in the late 19th century.
  • John Ireland was a 20th century English composer. He came from a family of Scottish descent.

Ireland Numbers Today

  • 15,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 5,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 12,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Ireland and Like Surnames

These were names originally given to outsiders in the British Isles that became surnames.  Thus Walter the Scot became Walter Scott.  Outsiders could also have been Welsh, Irish, French or Flemish.  These are some of the “outsider” surnames which are covered here.





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Written by Colin Shelley

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