Nolan Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Nolan Meaning

The Nolan
surname is derived from the Gaelic
word nuall meaning “shout” or “howl”
and the suffix áin meaning “one
who.” Thus Nualláin would mean someone who howls or shouts.

One explanation for this derivation was that the shouting or howling referred
to that eerie blood-curdling war-cry that was such an integral part of early
Celtic warfare. Alternatively, the name might have come with the
first chief of the clan in Carlow who held the hereditary office of
herald to the Kings of Leinster.

name may have been
first used
in Ireland as far back as the ninth century, or
even possibly earlier. It became O’Nolan and Nolan with the
arrival of the English. Other name variants have been Nowlin,
Nowland, and Nolen. The Nolin spelling has French-Canadian roots.

Nolan Resources on

Nolan Ancestry

The Nolans
held the barony of Foherta, the modern
barony of Forth, in Carlow.
to the Annals of Ireland, it was the chief
family of Foharta Osnadhaigh who adopted the name
They were pushed southward in
Carlow around Templepeter by the Anglo-Norman incursions in the late
12th century. Donnell O’Nolan was recorded by the English as the
O’Nolan chief in 1394. Sub-sects – such as those at Ballykealey,
Shangarry, and Kilbride – emerged.

The Nolans of
were Kilkenny merchants who may have originated in
Carlow. They settled in Galway and Mayo. The Nolans in
Kerry were descended from Luke O’Nolan of Carlow who had resettled in
in the mid-1500’s. Two
other Gaelic septs, the Ó hUllacháins and the Ó hUltacháins, had also
to use O’Nolan or something close to it as the English rendering of
their name by this time.

A number of Nolans came to prominence during the Irish Nationalist
times of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They included:

  • the Fenian agitator John Nolan (called John ‘Amnesty’ Nolan)
  • the Galway landowner John Philip Nolan
  • the Fenian Parliamentarian Joseph Nolan
  • and the Ulster priest Father John O’Nolan.

Father John O’Nolan’s genealogical work, updated at a later date by Art
Kavenagh, was published in 2000 as The
O’Nolans, History of a People.

Outside of Dublin, the largest number of Nolans reside today in Carlow.

America. The John Nolan who lost his Enniscrone estate in
Sligo as a result of the Cromwellian confiscations is thought to have
been the
John Nowlin in Isle of Wight, Virginia in 1643. These Nowlins
later became Nolens. Pierce Nowland also lost his estates,
this time in Tipperary, at the time of Cromwell. Six of his sons
emigrated to Maryland in the 1670’s. James Nowlin from Carlow
was in Virginia by about 1700.

The best-known early Nolan was probably Philip Nolan from Belfast, the
man who came to Spanish America in the 1790’s and made three trading
expeditions into the territory that was later to become Texas. In
however, he was captured and killed by the Spanish authorities.

More Nolans arrived in America during the 19th century. Many
stayed in the Eastern cities, some ventured West. Among the
latter were:

  • two Nolan brothers from Wexford, Matthew and Patrick, who came to
    America in the 1840’s. Both worked in the coal mines in
    Pennsylvania. Patrick later headed west to Minnesota to
    farm. But he died young because of black lung disease incurred in
    the mines.
  • two more Nolan brothers, Andrew and John from Galway, who arrived
    around the same time. In the 1850’s they headed west and settled
    in Wisconsin.
  • and James
    Nolan from Galway
    who came in 1851. James first moved
    to Ohio but later settled to farm in Illinois.

Canada. The names Nolin
and Nolan were to be found in French Quebec by the 1660’s. There
were also Nolans from Ireland
in the Newfoundland fishing fleet who ended up in the Canadian Maritime
provinces in the late 1700’s. Gervasio
probably of French origin, was born in Saint Charles, New Brunswick in
1792 and
migrated to New Mexico when it was still Spanish territory. He married a very young bride in Taos in 1828
and was the forebear of the Nolans of New Mexico.

Two notable later Nolans in
Canada were:

  • Louis Nolan, who was born in Ontario in 1818 to an Irish
    in the British army.
    “claim to fame”
    came with the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War. It was he who relayed the order to charge and
    he who, like others, was killed in the charge.
  • and
    Paddy Nolan, a migrant
    Limerick to the Canadian West in 1889 who was an early frontier lawyer. His
    fame as “the greatest wit in the west” led
    to many stories and legends about his criminal law practice in Calgary.

Australia. Early
Nolans in Australia were convicts.
Michael Nowland from Dublin, for instance, was imprisoned and
to death for supposedly stealing a horse.
His sentence was later commuted to life and he was
transported in 1790 to Australia on the Scarborough. He married a fellow convict from the Lady Juliana and, after an initial spell
on Norfolk Island, they settled in Wilberforce, NSW where they raised

Later arrivals were free settlers, such as James and Rosanna Nolan
from Fermanagh (who arrived in Sydney on the Broom in
1842 and subsequently migrated to the Victorian
goldfields) and John Nolan from Wicklow (who came to Sydney on the Berkshire two years later and settled in
East Maitland, NSW).


Nolan Miscellany

The First Nolan.  It is hard to determine with any degree of certainty when the Gaelic form of the Nolan family name, i.e. Ó Nualláin, was first used.

based upon Irish royal genealogies we
do know that, around the year 1000, Mael Mórda O’Domnall, a son of the
king of Leinster, Donnchad macDomnall, married Luanmaisi Ingen Ceile
O’Nualláin, a great great granddaughter of  Murchad MacNuallain,
thus suggesting
that the family name was being used as early as the end of the 9th

in time, it is thought that the descendants of Eochaidh Fionn Fothairt,
2nd century warrior prince, had started using O Nualláin as a family

The Nolans of Loughboy.  The following events give a time-line for the Nolans of Loughboy,
Kilkenny merchants, who had gained possession of extensive tracts of
land in Galway and Mayo in the 15th and 16th centuries:

  • In
    1473, after a lightning fire had nearly destroyed Galway City, Michael
    O’Nolan rebuilt and ornamented the tomb of the ancient family of
    O’Nolan of Loughboy, Kilkenny at the Franciscan Friary churchyard in
    Galway.  The earlier monument to the O’Nolans had been erected
    there in 1394.
  • In 1500 Donell Oge O’Nolloghan (O’Nolan),
    goldsmith, was freed on condition that he supported his wife’s father.
  • In
    Donell Oge O’Hologhan (O’Nolan) was in possession of Carrowbrowne
    castle in Moycullen,
  • In 1582 Thomas Nolan (aka Tomhas
    Ó hUallacháin). a sub-sheriff in county Mayo, acquired
    land at Creagh on the Robe river.  When he died in 1628, he owned
    Ballinrobe castle in Mayo (inherited by his elder son Gregory) and
    Enniscrone castle in Sligo (inherited by his younger son John).
  • In
    1642 John Nolan and his family were attacked and forcefully evicted
    Enniscrone castle.  They departed soon after for the Virginia
    colony.  Other Nolans of this family were transplanted to
    Balinderry near Tuam in Galway.

Nolans were able to maintain significant
landholdings in Galway and Mayo.  From these Nolans later on came
John Philip Nolan, a Galway landowner of the late 19th century.
He was an Irish nationalist campaigner who, however, lost his
Parliamentary seat because of his support for Parnell. 

Nolans in Ireland Today.  A telephone directory survey in Ireland in 1992 revealed 3,900 Nolans.

Dublin, due to migration over the years, accounted for the main
numbers, about 30%.

Carlow accounted for some 12% of the Nolans, Nolan being the fourth
most common surname in the county. Nolan ranked number five and six in
Kildare and Wicklow and was also common in Wexford and Kilkenny.

Philip Nolan, Texas Pioneer.  In 1791 Nolan obtained a trading passport from the Spanish governor of Louisiana and
set out to trade with the Indian tribes across the Mississippi.
In all he made three trading trips to Texas
over the next six years. He is sometimes
credited with being the first to map Texas for the American
frontiersmen, although
his map has never been found.  Nonetheless
his observations were used by the Americans to produce their map of the
Texas-Louisiana frontier in 1804.

1797 he was unable to obtain further passports to enter Spanish
territory, so
he visited Texas again illegally.  In
1801 a Spanish force of 120 men left Nacogdoches in pursuit of Nolan.  They caught up with him in what is now Hill
county, Texas and killed him.  Nolan’s
ears were cut off as evidence for Spain that he was dead.

Nolan is
remembered in Texas as one of the first American traders to visit Texas.  Nolan river and Nolan county were named after
him.  He was also the inspiration for the
fictional Philip Nolan who appeared in Edward Everett Hales’ 1917 book The Man Without a Country,
which was loosely based on his life story.

James Nolan Obituary 1911 – Dalton City, Illinois.  The following obituary appeared in the Bethany Echo of February 24, 1911:

Nolan, an aged
and highly respected citizen of this place, died Saturday at one
o’clock pm,
after a sickness of three weeks.  He was born in Ireland in 1828
and when
in young manhood came to this country and settled in Ohio.

a half
century ago he came west and settled in what is now Dora township, then
country thinly settled.  He had watched this country grow from a
prairie to the beautiful farms we now have.  He bought land when
it was
low and at the time of his death was the owner of a large farm.

years ago he and his wife moved from
the farm to town and enjoyed a rest from their years of hard
labor.  He
was a man well liked as he was of a very jovial disposition.  His death was due to old age accompanied by
the grip.  His wife was buried just a week before he died.”

James had been born in Tipperary and had arrived in America at the age of 22 in 1851 aboard the Fanny from Galway.

A Nolan Story of Family Separation.  The story
of Robert Nolan and his family was a particularly tragic one.  He and his wife and their five children were
inmates of the Carlow Union Workhouse in the 1880’s.  Mrs.
Nolan’s brother was resident in New York
and had sent her one adult passage warrant.  She
wanted to join him there and also to bring
her eldest daughter who was just fourteen years old at the time.

She requested assistance from the Carlow Board
of Guardians.  It was her ultimate
intention to set up home in New York to provide for her husband, who
was in
delicate health, and for her other four children.  The
Guardians sought guidance from the Local
Government Board.

In August 1882 the
Local Government Board wrote to the Board of Guardians in Carlow
regarding the
case of Mrs. Ann Nolan.  They stated that
they were not in agreement with the proposed arrangements.  They did not approve of the separation of
husband and wife and their children.  They
were of the opinion that the successful reunion of the entire family in
was unlikely.  They recommended instead
that Mrs. Nolan’s brother should receive the whole family together.  If Mrs Nolan’s brother agreed to take the family
and the Guardians were willing to assist their passage, the Local
Board would approve the expenditure incurred.

months later in January 1883, it was resolved that Robert Nolan and his
be assisted to immigrate.  His wife had
already journeyed there.  The Local
Government Board contacted the Carlow Board of Guardians requesting
on the Nolan family who were about to emigrate.

Unfortunately Robert Nolan died in the Carlow
Workhouse on the 10th of March 1883.  It
was then decided that the children be sent to their mother in New York,
in the
care of their eldest sister and that of a neighbor, Michael Walsh, who
travelling to New York with his wife and children at the same time.

Paddy Nolan, Irish Lawyer on the Canadian Frontier.  Paddy Nolan moved to Calgary in the Canadian West as a young lawyer from Ireland in 1889.  One-quarter
of Calgary’s population at that time was Irish and Nolan saw the place
“Little Dublin.”

A pronounced
individualist and extrovert, Nolan attracted unusual clients as well as
uninhibited friends.  He became widely
known as a hard-drinking lawyer with a sharp wit and a skill for
defending the
underprivileged class of society.  Among
those he defended were bootleggers, drunks, horse thieves, disorderly
and prostitutes.

A well-known tale recounted how Nolan’s physical resemblance to
Thomas Daly, the Minister of the Interior, often led to the two being
for each other.  Once, after Daly had
jokingly angered a legal client of Nolan’s by impersonating the lawyer,
got his revenge by refusing to grant a patent to a prospective
homesteader, insisting
that the Ministry of the Interior would require a bribe in order to
look at his

Nolan has been hailed by some as a great orator and a great defense
lawyer.  These claims may be
questionable.  What was not questionable
was his size, close to 300 pounds in weight, and his drinking which
legendary over time.  It probably
contributed to his early death at the age of fifty in 1913.  His story was told in Grant MacEwan’s 1987
book He Left Them Laughing When He Said Goodbye.


Nolan Names

  • Donnell O’Nolan was recorded as the
    Nolan clan leader in Carlow in 1394.
  • Bob Nolan, born Robert Nobles, was
    the Canadian-born country and western singer and actor of the 1930’s and 1940’s, a contemporary of Roy Rogers.
  • Sidney Nolan was Australia’s
    best-known painter of the 20th century.

Select Nolan Numbers Today

  • 16,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Lancashire)
  • 19,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 34,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)


Select Nolan 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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