Nolan Surname Genealogy

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
neen 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.

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

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

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 Nolans 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)




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