Larkin Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Larkin Surname Meaning

There are two very different origins of the name Larkin, one Irish and the other English.

The Irish Larkin is an anglicization of the Gaelic Lorcan, a personal name meaning “rough” or “fierce.” The progression to Larkin from the original Ui Lorcain or O’Lorcain name began after the Norman invasion. Under the English influence the O was discarded to leave the name Lorcan or Lorkin. By the 18th century the name had become anglicized to the more common Larkin.

The English version of Larkin is a diminutive of Lawrence, to which has been added the suffix “kin,” meaning “relative of.” Its
first appearance as a surname was in 1250 in the village of Chiddingstone in Kent where Theobald and Barthomew Lovekyn paid rents for Lovekynesgardyn (or what was to become known as Larkins farm).

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Larkin Surname Ancestry

Ireland.  The O’Lorcain name (followers of Lorcan) was in early times spread across Ireland. Five distinct groups, for each of the five provinces of Ireland at that time, had adopted the surname by the 10th century, namely:

  • the O’Lorcain of Leinster.  Their base was SE Wexford. They were dispossessed of their original lands at the time of the Anglo-Norman invasion but remained in Wexford and nearby Kilkenny.
  • the O’Lorcain of Oriel. This sept was based in county Armagh and Larkins are still numerous there.
  • the O’Lorcain of Ui Maine. Their original lands were on the borders of Munster, Tipperary and Meath. However, Cromwell’s policy of dispersal drove many west to Galway.
  • the O’Lorcain of Meath.  This has always been a small sept in numerical numbers, due perhaps to its proximity to the capital city Dublin.
  • and the O’Lorcain of Tipperary. This was an ecclesiastical family in Tipperary.

The O’Lorcain of Ui Maine have been the most numerous. At the
time of Griffith’s Valuation in the 1850’s, more than half the Larkin population in Ireland belonged or were connected with this sept.  By that time, these Larkins were mainly to be found in Galway.  The Larkins of Meelick date back to the mid 17th century; and there was also a cluster of Larkins at Ballinastoe, a market town on the main road between Galway and Dublin.

Larkin emigration from Ireland began in the 18th century and picked up pace in the second half of the 19th. Among those who left at that time was Edward Larkin from Roscommon.

“Edward was never going to inherit the family farm at Shanderry. So at the age of twenty he left for America. His younger sister Anne never saw him again.  In a letter she wrote in 1912 fifty years later, she recalled the small bible he had given her as a going away present.”

England.  The English surname “Larkin” and the variant “Larkins” have been mainly concentrated in the county of Kent. “Larkin” stretched a bit into east Sussex and “Larkins” into East Anglia. But the numbers in Kent were larger.

Kent.  Chiddingstone on the Kent/Surrey border was an early place for Larkin (Larkins brewery is located there now). But the main sightings have been further east, along the Medway. The name appeared in title deeds in Chatham and Gillingham in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Charles Larkin from Gillingham was honored by the Larkin Memorial for his stand on parliamentary reform in 1832. And there was a well-known Larkin family among the stall-holders in Canning Town in the early 1900’s.

However, the most famous Larkin family in Kent was the one that was completely fictitious, the Larkin family that was created by the writer H.E. Bates and made into a TV series as The Darling Buds of May.

Lancashire.  By the late 19th century, the largest number of Larkins in England was to be found in industrial Lancashire. This was undoubtedly due to the influx of Irish Larkins crossing to England in search of jobs. But for many Ireland was never far away.

Michael Larkin was one of the Manchester martyrs hanged in 1867 for seeking to free the Fenian leader. Big Jim Larkin was born in Liverpool of Irish parents from Armagh in 1876. He later returned to Ireland and threw himself into trade union organizing there.

America.  Edward Larkin was an early settler in Massachusetts Bay colony, with his name to be found in Charlestown records from 1634. John Larkin, a tea merchant in Charleston at the time of the American Revolution, is said to have lent the horse for Paul Revere’s ride. A later descendant, Thomas Larkin, was one of the founding fathers of the state of California.

“New England-born Thomas Larkin was among the first Americans to pursue the California dream. In 1832, as a young man without a formal education, he travelled to desolate Mexican California in search of his fortune. First as a merchant in Monterrey, then as the American consul to California, and later as a land speculator in booming San Francisco, he became an extremely wealthy man.”

Another Edward Larkin was to be found in Newport, Rhode Island by 1655. A descendant, W.H. Larkin, traced the family history in 1935 in Chronicle of the Larkin Family. A more modern undertaking has been Elizabeth Larkin’s 2004 book Edward Larkin of Rhode Island.

Clarence Larkin was a noted Biblical scholar and writer of the early 20th century. Genealogically, he came from a long line of Larkins in eastern Pennsylvania. Some have attributed the line to Quaker immigrants from England in the 1600’s. Others have said that the line came to Pennsylvania from Maryland and that a John Larkin, innkeeper in 1644 in Ann Arundel county, was the progenitor of this line.

Irish Larkins.  However, if you are a Larkin in America, there is a 70/30 chance that your forebears would have come from Ireland (that is, on the basis of the country of origin when they arrived in America). By 1920 the largest number of Larkins were to be found in New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania – points of immigration for Irish Larkins in the second half of the 19th century.

Among those who travelled further afield were:

  • Michael and Mary Larkin from Galway, who arrived in upstate New York in the 1850’s and then went onto Rock Island, Illinois.  Michael was a blacksmith. His son Charles became a prominent local builder.
  • and William Larkins, also from Galway, who came to Boston in the 1850’s. He and his family later headed west to San Francisco where William established his carriage-building business, Larkins & Co.

Canada. One Larkin family from Massachusetts were Loyalists who moved to Pubnico, Nova Scotia after the Revolutionary War. Larkins still live there today. Later came Larkins from Ireland. John Larkin and his family arrived in 1825 and were pioneer settlers in the Ottawa area.

Australia.  For many Irish, their first experience of Australia was as a convict. No fewer than fourteen Larkins from Galway were transported to that country. Tom Keneally vividly described their treatment in his book The Great Shame, an account of Hugh Larkin his great grandfather-in-law.

The Rev. Patrick Larkin from Wexford was an Augustinian priest during the pioneering days of North Queensland. He drowned in the Gulf of Carpentaria in 1902. The Rev. James Larkin, another
Augustinian, stayed and built churches there.

New Zealand.  William Larkin was an Irish priest who arrived in Queensland in 1862 and then moved onto New Zealand four years later. There he started up The New Zealand Celt, where his advocacy of the Irish cause got him into trouble.

“The trouble which arose during his ministry in New Zealand highlighted the intensity of nationalism among small groups of Irish colonists. It also revealed the persistence of prejudice against the Irish among some English migrants.”

Leon Uris’s Redemption is a fictional account of an Irish revolutionary Conor Larkin who migrates to New Zealand to pursue the nationalist cause from there.

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Larkin Surname Miscellany

The O’Lorcain of Leinster.  Lorcan Mac Cellach was a provincial King of Leinster of the Ui Ceinnsellaigh line in Wexford in the 9th century.  This was the earliest reference to the name in Leinster and it appears that many families of Leinster used the name after this.  By the eleventh century it was found both as a personal as well as an hereditary surname.

First to bear the surname was Tadg O’Lorcain, the king of Ceinselaig who died in Wicklow in 1030.  The O’Lorcain were originally seated in Kildare and county Wexford and initially welcomed the Norman intrusion in 1169.  This was rewarded by almost immediate dispossession of their lands.

By 1420 the family was recorded as the chief of Foharta Cairn (Carnsore Point, the most southeasterly point of Wexford).  They remained numerous in the barony of Bargy.  Larkinstown near Wexford, Ballylarkin in north Wexford, and Larkin’s Cross at Barntown all take their name from this family.  The family also spread to Kilkenny where the town and parish of Ballylarkin near Freshford was named for them.

The O’Lorcain of Ui Maine.  This family descends from the princes of Ui Maine and Siol nAnmchadha and takes its name from Lorcan, son of Moran, who flourished about 905.  The earliest chief recorded was UaLorcain, abbot of Killeigh in Offaly, who died in 1059.  Muirgheas O’Lorcain was slain in 1121 at the Termon of Lismore, Waterford, while accompanying Turlogh O’Conor, King of Connacht, and Hugh O’Heyne, lord of Aidhne.  Nimeas macMahoun O’Lorcain died at Clonfert in 1363.

Their lands were on the borders of Munster, Tipperary and Meath and by all accounts the majority of these O’Lorcain were native to the diocese of Clonfert.  However, Cromwell’s policy of dispersal drove many west to Galway.  A number of the family are mentioned in the 1653 transplantations and 1659 census in east Galway parishes and in the west Offaly parish of Lusmagh, which once belonged to Galway.

The Progression in the Spelling of Larkin in Ireland.  The table below shows the progression – from O’Lorcain to Larkin – between the 11th and 18th century.

  • 1024      O’Lorcain  Mael Mordha, king of Ceinnselaigh, slain at Wexford
  • 1363      I Lorcain Nimeas macMahoun, died at Clonfert, Galway
  • 1490      Lorcan Peter, rector of St. Michael’s, Waterford
  • 1519      Lorkan Nicholas, curate of Drogheda, Louth
  • 1565      O’Lorcayne John, vicar of Kilquain, Galway
  • 1659      O’Lurkane families in O’Neilland, Armagh
  • 1665      Larkane Loughlin, Lorrha, Tipperary
  • 1706      Larkin John, Tanariffe, Cork.

Michael Larkin, the Manchester Martyr.  William Allen, Michael Larkin, and William O’Brien were hanged in 1847 for their role in seeking to free the Fenian leader Thomas Kelly who was under arrest in Manchester.  A policeman had been killed in the attempt to free him and the three men were quickly hanged, despite the fact that none of the three had killed the policeman.

Larkin testified in the trial as follows:

“As my friend here said, no one could regret the man’s death as much as I do.  With regard to the charge of pistols and revolvers and mu using them, I call my God as wetness that I neither used pistols, revolvers, nor any instrument on that day that would deprive the life of a child, let alone a man.  Nor did I go there on purpose to take life away.”

Their mass funerals and events with the Land League focused the minds of the popular masses on the injustice of English rule in Ireland.  Public outrage at the executions, as well as agitation for an amnesty for Fenian prisoners, succeeded in mobilizing nationalist opinion to an extent that the rising itself failed to achieve and provided a basis for the launching of the home rule movement.

John Larkin and Paul Revere’s Ride.  The following excerpt comes from the genealogy of the Larkin family, published in 1930.

“Samuel Larkin, born 1701, died 1784 aged 83; he was a chairmaker, then a fisherman, and had horses and a stable.  He was the owner of Brown Beauty, the mare of Paul Revere’s ride made famous by the Longfellow poem.  The mare was loaned at the request of Samuel’s son, deacon John Larkin, and was never returned to the owner.”

According to this source, the famous horse was owned not by Deacon John, but by his father.  If true, this would mean that not only did Revere ride a borrowed horse but a borrowed borrowed horse.  That it had a name is difficult to prove in the absence of corroborating evidence.

John Larkin’s estate inventory lists only one horse, unnamed, value of sixty dollars.  The inventory does reveal that Larkin was a wealthy man, with possessions valued at over $86,000.  He was probably a friend of the patriot cause in Charlestown and it would seem natural that the patriots would have depended on someone in his position to provide an expensive item such as a horse if it were needed.  But the horse itself may not have had a name.

The Larkin Monument.  The Larkin Monument stands on Telegraph Hill at the highest point in Higham in Kent, in memory of Charles Larkin a Rochester auctioneer for his work in promoting the Parliamentary Reform Bill of 1832.

The inscription on the monument reads as follows:

“The Friends of Freedom in Kent erected this Monument to the memory of Charles Larkin, In grateful testimony to his fearless and long Advocation of Civil and Religious Liberty And in his zealous exertions in promoting the Ever Memorable Measure of Parliamentary Reform, AD 1832.”

The Darling Buds of May.  The most famous Larkin family is fictitious, that created by the writer H.E. Bates in his five books about the Larkins, starting with The Darling Buds of May in 1958.  These books was made into a TV series in the early 1990’s which proved very popular with the British viewing public.  The program described an idyllic rural 1950’s Kent and was filmed in the Kent village of Pluckley and in nearby locations.

The key characters were Sidney Charles “Pop” Larkin (David Jason), Ma Larkin (Pam Ferris), who were unmarried, their eldest daughter Mariette (Catherine Zeta-Jones), and tax-collector Cedric Charlton (Philip Franks), who was re-christened Charley by the Larkins.

Charley arrived at the beginning of the first episode to get Pop Larkin to fill in his tax forms.  He was distracted from this when he fell in love with Mariette Larkin at first sight and the Larkins
distracted him even further by attempting to teach him to play crib and getting him drunk.  In spite of his terrible hangover the next day, he became captivated by the idyllic country life led by the Larkins, and ended up as a member of the family.

Tom Keneally’s The Great Shame.  Tom Keneally’s The Great Shame tells of Ireland’s familiar form of exile – one that was forced.

The book opens in a townland outside Ballinasloe in Galway where a farmer Hugh Larkin finds himself accused of a form of radical nationalism known as Ribbonism.  He is dragged away from his young wife and family to Galway jail, then tried, convicted, and transported for life to Australia.  After three months at sea, the ship docks in Australia and the reader lives and feels the life of an Irish convict in that massive country.

Intermingled with this, the book revisits Ireland and the Young Ireland movement.  We are given in some detail the run-up, failure and aftermath of the bungled 1848 attempted rising and later the rise and fall of the Fenian movement.  Meanwhile in Australia we follow the trials and tribulations of the Larkin family and the commercial endeavors of Hugh’s children as they seek to make their way in Australian life.

All the time the reader is conscious that Hugh Larkin is in fact Thomas Keneally’s great grandfather-in-law.

Larkins in the Backwoods of Canada.  In 1825, John Larkin and his wife Margaret set out from county Longford in Ireland for the forbidding shores of Canada. Their fourth child, John, made his first unsteady steps on that boat.  No doubt, they came by way of the Ottawa river, then called the Grand, to Richmond Landing at the Chaudiere; then on through the forest on the road to Richmond where they applied to the Land Board for a 200 acre lot of land.

It was poor land, sandy and full of stones.  But little by little they cleared the land, built a shanty and struggled to survive.  Two more children were added to the family.  It was too much for the young wife and mother and, like many other pioneer women, she died before her time.  In those times, it was impossible for a father to carry on alone, so John married Catherine McCormack, either a cousin or sister to his first wife. Seven more children were added to the family.  Today a plaque to this John Larkin lies flat on the ground in Richmond cemetery.

In 1851 the three eldest Larkin boys – Matt, John and Michael – trekked some 10 miles through the bush to the Rideau river.  On arrival they all set to work.  They slashed the underbrush, cut down trees, and pulled stumps with levers until they had a clearing for the first log shanty.  Then on they went to the brothers’ lots, for time was precious. The first shanties had to be built before the winter came.

They would work the land with only a spade and scattered the seed by hand.  The precious grain was harvested and carefully ground into flour in a hollow tree stump.  How well off they felt when they got their first oxen and some sheep.  Then they could
make moccasins from the untanned leather and clothes from the coarse homespun wool.  The oxen would pull their stumps.

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Larkin Names
  • Ua Lorcain, abbot of Killeigh in the 11th century, was the first recorded chief of the O’Lorcain of Ui Maine sept.
  • Thomas Larkin arrived in California in 1832 and was one of the founding fathers of the state.
  • Big Jim Larkin, born into the slums of Liverpool, was an Irish trade union leader and activist of the early 1900’s.
  • Peter Larkin was a Canadian businessman and political patron of the early 1900’s.
  • George Larkin was a star of silent movies in the 1920’s who lost out when sound arrived.
  • Philip Larkin is widely regarded as the greatest English poet of the second half of the 20th century.

Larkin Numbers Today
  • 12,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 9,000 in America (most numerous in New York).
  • 12,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland).

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