Lynch Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Lynch Surname Meaning

Lynch is an Irish surname, the 17th most common in Ireland, and has two probable and one less likely derivations.

The first is Anglo-Norman, from the de Lench family which was said to have arrived with or after Strongbow. They settled first in county Meath. A branch then established itself in Galway where they became one of the strongest of the famous “Tribes of Galway.”  A Lynch spelling variant has been Linch.

More numerous perhaps in numbers, although less in prominence, were the Lynchs that came from the Gaelic O’Loingsigh, grandson of loingseach meaning “seaman.” The O’Loingsigh name was used by a number of small clans at various locations around Ireland. The name here is mainly to be found in Cork, Kerry, Cavan, Meath, and Clare.

A third less plausible origin exists – the Austrian town of Linz.  It has been suggested that the Lynch family in Kent and possibly the Anglo-Norman Lynchs in Ireland as well may have come originally from this town.

The surname Lynch transposed into the verb “to lynch.” There is an Irish version … and an American version as to how this happened.

Lynch Surname Resources on The Internet

Lynch Surname Ancestry

  • from Ireland (Meath)
  • to France, England, Caribs (Jamaica), Argentina, America, and Australia

Ireland.  The Anglo-Norman Lynch family first made their home in county Meath where Andrew Lynch secured an estate at Knock (and what is now called Summerhill) in the early 1200’s. Gerald Lynch was dispossessed of their castle in Meath by Cromwell in the 1650’s.

John Lynch, a descendant of this line, was thought to have been the first Lynch to settle in Galway in the early 1400’s.

Galway. The Lynchs were the most powerful of the fourteen Tribes of Galway who dominated the political, commercial and social life of Galway at a time when the town was in effect its own city state.

From 1484, when Domenick Lynch procured the city’s charter, to 1654, when Catholics were debarred from civic offices, no fewer than 84 mayors of Galway came from the family of Lynch (including the infamous James Lynch who executed his own son). This Lynch family built Lynch’s Castle which still stands on Shop Street in the city centre.

Galway’s fortunes changed in the 17th century. After Cromwell captured the town in 1652, many Lynchs were dispossessed of their property and banished.

Matters then improved during the Restoration. Isidore Lynch of Drimcong, together with his compatriot John Kirwan, set himself up as a merchant in London and was granted Moycullen land back in Galway; and Thomas Lynch was appointed the Governor of Jamaica.

But the respite was brief. William of Orange’s troops arrived in Galway in 1690. Property was confiscated and the town was then sacked.

Many Lynchs fled, some of the “Wild Geese” of that time. France provided an early refuge, America and Argentina a later destination.

Others remained and a number did prosper. The 1840 Galway register listed several Lynch gentry families. They included the Lynch brothers, the merchants at Lynch’s Castle who had come into possession of the Moycullen and the West Barna estates. These estates ended up being heavily mortgaged and were sold off in the 1850’s. Drimcong House in this area now thrives as a highly regarded restaurant.

Elsewhere. Lynch is also an anglicization of the Gaelic O’Loingsigh, meaning “seaman,” and the surname was to be found along the west coast of Ireland. One hub was west Cork. The O’Loingsighs there were in the service of the O’Sullivan Beara and many forfeited their lands in the 17th century.

From west Cork came Liam Lynch, the IRA general during the Civil War, and Jack Lynch, Taoiseach of Ireland in the 1970’s. Both preserved their Gaelic O’Loingsigh name. The Lynch name was also to be found in sizeable numbers in Kerry, Limerick, and county Clare.

The potato famine of the 1840’s hit the West Coast particularly hard and many Lynchs emigrated at that time:

  • one family’s account is recorded in Mary Lynch Young’s 1993 book, Five Lynch Brothers from County Limerick.  They set off for America and ended up in Iowa. Others headed at that time for Canada or Australia.
  • another family history tells of Patrick Lynch and his family, he nearing seventy, setting off from county Clare in 1845 for the unknown shores of South Africa.
  • and Eliza Lynch from Cork had an even more surprising journey. She became a courtesan in Paris and ended up as the mistress of the dictator of Paraguay.

England. A Lynch family from Staple near Canterbury in Kent dates from the 1450’s. William Lynch made his money as a cloth merchant during Elizabethan times and the family, with their estate at Groves, became local landed gentry.

However, the largest number of Lynchs in England and Scotland are of Irish origin. This is reflected in their concentration in London, Lancashire, and Glasgow.

France. France was one refuge for fleeing Lynchs.  John Lynch, archbishop of Tuam and a classical scholar, fled there from Galway in 1652.

Later, in 1691, came another John Lynch who established himself in Bordeaux. This family prospered through royal support in the 18th and 19th centuries. Thomas Michel Lynch established the vineyards which today produce the Michel Lynch Bordeaux wines.

Argentina.  In 1741, Patrick Lynch left Galway to seek his fortune in Buenos Aires. He married there a wealthy heiress and became one of the largest landowners in the Rio de la Plata region. The descendants of Patrick Lynch included, in the 19th century, the Chilean naval hero Patricio Lynch and, in the 20th, the revolutionary Che Guevara.

The Lynch name lives on in Argentina, as it does in France, with its wines.  Federico Benegas Lynch is today a renowned Argentine winemaker, from a family winery that dates back a hundred years.

Caribbean. The Lynch name appeared in the Caribbean from an early time:

  • Thomas Lynch arrived as part of Venables’ army in the 1660’s and became chief justice and eventually Governor of Jamaica.
  • there were Lynch merchants in both Jamaica and Barbados in the 18th century.
  • John Lynch from Ireland was a Kingston merchant in the late 1700’s. His family and descendants have been traced through the 19th century.

America.  Lynchs came first into the South and then into the North.

Lynchs in the South.  Jonas Lynch arrived in South Carolina from Galway in the 1670’s, soon after Charleston was founded. His grandson Thomas was a signer of the Declaration of Independence as a representative of South Carolina. Afterwards he set sail with his wife for the West Indies. Their ship disappeared at sea and he was never found. However, his family estate at Hopsewee in South Carolina still stands.

Charles Lynch came to Virginia as a boy from Ireland in the 1710’s as an indentured servant. He soon worked off his indenture, married and represented Albemarle county in the House of Burgesses.

Charles Lynch of this family was the Lynch of Lynch’s Law during the Revolutionary War. His son Charles was later Governor of Mississippi. The town of Lynchburg on the James river was named after the James Lynch of the family who ran the local ferry.  After the Civil War, a branch of this family migrated to Texas.

Meanwhile the descendants of William Lynch of Pittsylvania county ended up in South Carolina. Another Lynch family, traced back to the 1770’s, migrated first to Kentucky and then to Crow Creek Valley in Tennessee.

Lynchs in the North.  The Irish influx to America in the 19th century meant that the Lynch presence then switched to the main Irish immigrating centers of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.

In his 2005 memoir Booking Passage: We Irish and Americans, Thomas Lynch recounted how his Lynchs of county Clare “survived starvation, eviction and emigration, that three-headed scourge of English racism,” and the pain of their diaspora as they emigrated to the US.

He also described his own reunion in 1970 with long-lost relatives back in Ireland and his astonishment at finding out that their way of life had not changed (no cars, no television, and no running water) in the intervening years.

Australia.  Lynchs came first as convicts and later as settlers.

James Lynch from Cork, for instance, was transported on the convict ship Asia in 1824. He secured his freedom seven years later and was a stockman in the Monaro region of NSW.  Meanwhile Thomas Lynch arrived in Victoria on the Himalaya in 1842 and settled down as a farmer at Mount Burchett near Glen Thompson.

Both these Lynchs married, had ten or more children, and have a large number of descendants living today.

Lynchs in the Gold Boom.  The gold discoveries drew Irishmen to Australia, including many Lynchs. One Lynch family rose to prominence in the Ballarat goldfields in Victoria, another later at Kalgoorlie in Western Australia. But they emerged with completely different politics.

John Lynch led a goldminers’ rebellion at Ballarat, known as the Eureka Stockade, in 1854 and his son Arthur was perhaps even more radical. He went out to South Africa at the turn of the century and fought for the Boers against the British. On his return to England, he was tried for high treason and sentenced to death; but through the intervention of influential friends, he was later released and exiled.

William Lynch was a connecting point between Ballarat and Kalgoorlie. He was a Ballarat miner and it was his son-in-law Paddy Hannan who made the great Kalgoorlie gold discovery in 1893. Later Patrick Lynch rose through local labor ranks in Kalgoorlie to play his part in national politics. By the time of the First World War he had become, surprisingly, a staunch defender of the prevailing social order.

Lynch Surname Miscellany

Lynch Anglo-Norman or Not?  The common perception of the Lynch’s of Meath and Galway is that they were Anglo-Norman, descendants of a Strongbow follower who had come from England.

The first recognizable Lynch – referred to at the time as de Lench or de la Linche – was Andrew Lynch who lived at Knock in Meath around the year 1200.  Was he related to Norman forebears?

The case could be made that he was instead of Gaelic origin, operating in the new Norman Ireland as a Norman lord.  His base at Knock in fact preceded the Norman invasion and was known as Cnoc na Loinsigh, an important southern outpost for the Ulster O’Neill clan.  The O’Loinsigh was a Gaelic clan that were vassals of the O’Niells.  Their Gaelic name later became anglicized as Lynch.  Possibly Andrew Lynch was of this clan.

Elizabeth Lynch in her 1925 book The Lynch Record wrote that Brian Boru had made an ordinance that every family and clan should adopt a particular surname.  Many like the O’Loinsighs chose an ancient chief.

“The name Lynch is derived from Longseach, a mariner.  Maion, afterwards called Labradh Longseach, was the son of Oiloll Aine in a line dating back to Hugony the Great.  Labradh Longseach, living in the year 541, wore the crown of Ireland for eighteen years until he fell at the last by the sword of Cobhthach Caolmbreag.”

The Lynchs of Galway.  The Lynchs were one of the fourteen “Tribes of Galway” who dominated the political, commercial and social life of Galway from the 13th century onwards.  During that time Galway grew into a major port, trade expanded, particularly in wine and brandy, and ships from France and Spain filled the harbor.  The walled city soon had fourteen arched gateways opening paths for the sun to light fourteen streets paved by mercantile success.

The families themselves, loyal to the British Crown, hated and feared the native Gaelic-speaking Irish.  A by-law in the city charter went so far to state that “neither ‘O’ nor ‘Mac’ shall strutte ne swagger thro’ the streets of Galway.”

The Lynch line began with William le Petit who was granted lands in West Meath in 1185.  In his History of Galway, Harriman gave the following description of the Lynchs in Galway:

“This is one of the most ancient and, until the middle of the 17th century, one of the leading families of Galway.  John Delenche was the first settler of the name in Galway.  He was married to the daughter and sole heiress of William Mareschall.  Thomas, the son of John, was the first Provost or mayor of the city in 1274; while Thomas Lynch was the last mayor in 1654.  For the 169 years of the history of Galway, prior to 1654, no less than 84 Lynchs served as mayor of the city.

In 1654 when Cromwell captured the city, the ‘ancient inhabitants’ who refused to submit to English rule were dispossessed of their property and banished.  All 45 Lynchs then residing in Galway refused to submit to England and were banished.”

Galway suffered further in 1690 when William of Orange sent his forces to seize the town.  Property was confiscated and the town was sacked.  The decaying mansions of the families were plastered over with concrete.  And by 1820 the walls of the town had been pulled down.

Lynch and Lynching – The Irish Version.  What is the relationship between the name “Lynch” and the verb “to lynch?”  The following is the Irish version.  It relates to James Lynch was the mayor of Galway City in 1493.

The story goes that the mayor’s son killed another man, a young Spaniard, in a local bar because he had shown an interest in his lady love.  The young Lynch was subsequently charged, convicted for murder, and then sentenced to death by hanging for his crime.  However, as he was the son of the mayor, no one would carry out the sentence.  Finally the mayor himself put the noose around his son’s neck and hung him there by the neck until he was dead.

There is another version of the story which shows the mayor in slightly better light.  Here the mayor sent his son on a voyage to Spain to collect a cargo of wine.  But somehow the money in which he was entrusted for the purchase went missing.

The Spanish merchant who supplied him with the wine therefore sent his nephew with Lynch back to England to receive payment.  During the voyage home, however, the young Spaniard was seized from his bed and thrown overboard.  The crime might have been concealed had not one of the seamen on that voyage, on his deathbed, revealed the details to the mayor. The mayor was enraged by this act of murder and, acting as magistrate, convicted his own son and sentenced him to death.

A Lynch memorial structure was built in the mid 19th century in the large window of the original Lynch house where the hanging was said to have taken place.  Some have suspected that the story of the hanging may well have been elaborated upon in order to draw attention to the monument at a time when the word “lynching” had come into common usage through events in America.

Lynch and Lynching – The American Version.  What is the relationship between the name “Lynch” and the verb “to lynch?”  The following is the American version (or versions).

Some have thought that the term “lynch” first came from an address supposedly given by William Lynch to an audience in Virginia in 1712 regarding the control of slaves within the colony.   However, this speech has never in fact been authenticated and the claim may turn out to be spurious.  As might be a later claim relating to another William Lynch, this time in Pittsylvania county, Virginia in 1780.

A better documented use of the term “Lynch’s Law” comes from Charles Lynch, the Virginia justice of the peace and militia officer during the American Revolutionary War.

“Lynch’s Law” was the term used to describe his actions in suppressing a suspected Loyalist uprising in 1780.  The suspects were given a summary trial at an informal court.  The sentences handed down included whipping, property seizure, coerced pledges of allegiance, and conscription into the military.   Charles Lynch’s extra-legal actions were retroactively legitimized by the Virginia General Assembly as Lynch’s Law in 1782.

It was only later, principally after the Civil War, that “lynch” came to mean hanging as a result of mob action, principally of blacks by whites.

Reader Feedback – Mary Lynch and Her Skin.  Mary Lynch, born in 1840, moved from Ireland to America.  She ended up in 1868 a widow suffering from tuberculosis in “Old Blockley,” a place for the poor and mentally ill in Philadelphia.  She lasted less than a year there and died, severely emaciated, in 1869.

As grim as that was, her skin was used to bound a medical book.  There are not many of those books in the world and this one still exists.  I was wondering if you had any information on her or her family tree.

Hannah Hayman (

From Patrick Lynch to Che Guevara.  Patrick Lynch left Galway in Ireland for Buenos Aires in 1749 to seek his fortune.  He married there a wealthy heiress and became one of the large landowners of the Rio de la Plata region.

He was the forebear of a large number of Argentine descendants through the various branches of his family. They included:

  • Patrico Lynch, grandson, who started an Argentine shipping company in the early 1800’s.
  • Patricio Lynch, great grandson, who was a rear-admiral in the Chilean navy.
  • Benito Lynch, great great great grandson, an Argentine novelist and short-story writer.
  • Adolfo Bioy Casares, great great great great grandson, an Argentine writer.
  • and Che Guevara, great great great great grandson, the revolutionary.

The line to Che Guevara started with Francisco Lynch and his daughter Ana.  Her son Ernesto Guevara Lynch was born in 1900, married Celia de la Serna, and they had five children, including Ernesto (Che) born in 1927. Che’s father wrote once:

“The first thing to note is that in my son’s veins flowed the blood of the Irish rebels, the Spanish conquistadores and the Argentine patriots.  Evidently Che inherited many of the features of our restless ancestors.  There was something in his nature which drew him to distant wanderings, dangerous adventures, and new ideas.”

Che Guevara visited Ireland once, in 1965.  But there is no evidence that he felt any kinship with the country.

Buccaneer, The Hector Lynch Novel.  In the second Hector Lynch novel by Tim Severin, the young seafarer falls into the hands of the notorious buccaneer Captain John Coxon who mistakes him for his nephew Sir Thomas Lynch, Governor of Jamaica.  Hector encourages the error so that his friends Jacques and Dan can go free.

Coxon delivers Hector to Sir Henry Morgan, a bitter enemy of Governor Lynch.  The captain expects to curry favor with Morgan, but is publicly humiliated when the deception is revealed.  From now on Hector has a dangerous enemy.

Reader Feedback – Lynch in the Caribbean.  Family research over the last decade or so suggests that Sir Thomas Lynch, eventual Governor of Jamaica was not the same person who may have been known as Buckra Lynch.

My research suggests that Sir Thomas was an Englishman whose almost sole connection with the Caribbean was Jamaica and that he indeed arrived without title and went back and forth between England and Jamaica several times, sometimes “with his tail between his legs”.  I believe his Governorship was by direct appointment from the Crown and he was so appointed while he was in England and went back to Jamaica again to assume that position.

There was another (successful Irish merchant) Lynch family in Jamaica – including John Lynch – about the same time as Sir Thomas was there.  His overflow kin arriving from Ireland went onto to set up shop in Barbados, also successfully.  By English standards, the Irish of the day were considered lower than the stray dogs in London’s streets and no Irishman could possibly have been appointed an Under Secretary in England then, far less a Governor of a colony.

Buckra was the name/title given by the slaves – and later negro plantation hands – to the “Big Boss”, whether the resident owner or the manager representing the non-resident owner.  Buckra is also a booklet written and published by Noel Lynch Ripley, a descendant of the Irish Jamaican Lynch clan, still available through eBay and other sources.  A very interesting read, if you want I can send you a .doc file with the entire text.

I have found the name Lynch chiefly in Jamaica and Barbados, but it crops up in lesser numbers in Antigua, Montserrat and St. Kitts and in lesser numbers in Trinidad and other islands.  Nicholas Lynch a “servant of Codrington” is listed on Hotten’s Lists as being on board a ship from Barbados bound for Nevis (where Horatio Nelson’s wife was born).

My research is mainly of the name Lynch in Barbados, but obviously I record as much as I can so as not to “reinvent the wheel” later on in my research.

Best wishes, Jim Lynch in Toronto, Canada (

Lynchs in Galway in 1840.  The following were the notable Lynch families recorded in the Galway area in 1840:

  • Anthony H. Lynch, Member of Parliament
  • James Lynch, Lynch’s Castle
  • Charles French Lynch, Petersburg House
  • Captain Peter Lynch, Ballycurrin Castle on Moyne Hill (on the Mayo-Galway border)
  • Nicholas Lynch, Barna
  • Patrick M. Lynch, Renmore Lodge
  • Richard M. Lynch, Seaview

Anthony Lynch was a lawyer.  He had compiled statistics on the population of Ireland in the 1820’s and was the MP for county Galway between 1832 and 1841.

James Lynch was a merchant who operated out of Lynch’s Castle.

Petersburg House was named after the Peter Lynch who had  built “the big house” on Lough Mask in 1715.  Charles Lynch of Petersburg House was a justice of the peace in 1840.  His wife Elizabeth was soon to convert to Catholicism.

A Lynch family had held Ballycurrin on the Mayo-Galway border since the 1670’s (under a Restoration settlement).  Captain Peter Lynch died there in 1840.  He was succeeded by his son Charles, the last of the line, who later became the high sheriff for county Mayo.

Nicholas Lynch of Barna was appointed deputy lieutenant of county Galway in October 1840.  He acted as a steward for the Grand Ball that was held at Kilroy’s hotel on Easter Monday, 1840 for the nobility and gentry of Galway.

Patrick Lynch of Renmore Lodge came from a Galway family who had prospered as merchants and bankers in the 18th century.  He married Ellen Wilson and their family later became the Wilson Lynchs.

Richard Lynch of Seaview was among those who subscribed £20 in 1840 as provisions for the poor.

Drimcong House.  Gerry Galvin and his family run Drimcong House, situated one mile beyond Moycullen village on the Oughterard road.  It is reputed to be one of the best restaurants in the west of Ireland.

The restaurant is located in an old 17th century mansion which once belonged to the Lynch family, one of the original “tribes” of Galway.  It has not lost any of its former glory.  Three huge fireplaces burn turf on chilly nights, contributing to the warm atmosphere.

On the menu are Connemara lamb, confit of duck, Galway venison, and a selection of vegetarian dishes.

Patrick Lynch – A Colorful Australian Politician.  Patrick Lynch died in 1944.  The following obituary appeared in The North Midland Times that January.

“Vale P.J. Lynch – a colorful personality.

Patrick Joseph Lynch, former President of the Senate, died in a private hospital at Mount Lawley on Saturday, aged 76. He had been taken ill suddenly at Albany about two weeks before his death.

The late Mr. Lynch was one of the most picturesque personalities in state and federal politics, his height, beard, and Irish idiom making him an outstanding figure.  Born in 1867 in county Meath, the son of a farmer, he left for Australia in 1886 to follow varied occupations on land and sea until politics claimed his major attention.

Before entering politics, he joined a gold rush in Queensland where he trekked 900 miles from Charleville to Croydon.  When his fortunes waned at Croydon he set out for Cossack, WA but at Darwin learnt that this field was a failure. He then went to sea as a stoker, graduating from that position to marine engineer and later becoming an engineer on a South Sea sugar plantation.  However, gold mining attracted him again and he came to the Kalgoorlie field in the closing years of the last century.

At Kalgoorlie he was general secretary of the Goldfields Engine Driver’s Association from 1897 to 1904 when he entered state politics as the Labor member for Mount Leonara.  Two year later he was returned to the Federal Parliament where he served continuously until 1938.  In 1916, severing his connection with the Labor party over conscription, he joined the Hughes government as Minister for Works and Railways.

In addition to politics, the late Mr. Lynch was also interested in farming.  His well-equipped farm at Three Springs occupied what time he could spare from politics.”

Lynch Names

  • Domenick Lynch procured the royal charter for Galway from Richard III in 1484.
  • Charles Lynch, was the instigator of “Lynch’s Law” during the Revolutionary War, from which the term lynching is said to have arisen.
  • Patricio Lynch was a 19th century Chilean naval officer nicknamed “the last viceroy of Peru.”
  • John Lynch led the Eureka Stockade, a rebellion by Australian gold miners, in 1854.
  • Edmund C. Lynch with Charles E. Merrill founded the investment house of Merrill Lynch in 1915.
  • Benny Lynch, who grew up Irish in Glasgow, boxed as a flyweight in the 1930’s and was considered one of the best boxers of his type at that time.
  • Patricia Lynch from Cork was a prolific and highly esteemed writer of children’s fiction.
  • Jack Lynch from Cork was twice Irish Taoiseach during the 1970’s.
  • David Lynch is the idiosyncratic American film director responsible for the cult TV series Twin Peaks and the movie Lost Highway.

Lynch Numbers Today

  • 32,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 48,000 in America (most numerous in New York).
  • 57,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland).

Lynch and Like Surnames

The English came to Ireland as early as 1170 with Strongbow’s invasion.  The invaders – largely Anglo-Norman – stayed and many became large landowners and public officials.

Over time their Norman French names changed to fit the local landscape – le Gras to Grace, de Burgh to Burke, de Leon to Dillon, and de Lench to Lynch for instance.  They became more Irish, often Catholic.  When the English came again, in the 16th and 17th centuries, some sided with the English and were rewarded.  But others resisted and had lands confiscated.

Here are some of these Anglo-Irish surnames that you can check out.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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