Quinn Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Quinn Surname Meaning

Quinn is the anglicized form of the Gaelic O’Cuinn, the name for a number of distinct septs or clans to be found around Ireland. O’Cuinn itself comes from the Irish word conn, meaning “counsel” and generally describing a wise man or a man of high intelligence.

Niall O’Cuinn, who died at the battle of Clondarf in 1014, was the first in the Quinn clans to use the surname.  It has been said in Ireland that Catholics generally spelt their name “Quinn,” while Protestants spelt it “Quin.”

Quinn Surname Resources on The Internet

Quinn and Quin Surname Ancestry

  • from Ireland (Tyrone)
  • to England, America, Canada and Australia

Ireland.  Quinn septs in Ireland could be found in Tyrone, Antrim, and Limerick.

Tyrone  The O’Quinns of Loughinsholin were based primarily in Tyrone. They were close to the O’Niells, acting at times as their hereditary physicians and foster parents to their sons. They held good land and prospered. However, the English encroachments into Tyrone were beginning in Elizabethan times. An English commander boasted in 1600:

“The last service was upon Patrick O’Quinn, one of the chief men of Tyrone, dwelling within four miles of Dungannon and fearing nothing, but we lighted upon him and killed him, his wife, sons, daughters, servants and followers being many and burnt all to the ground.”

It was Cromwell who dealt the fatal blow forty years later, routing an army led by Owen and Neil O’Quinn and confiscating land for Protestant planters. The O’Quinns remained within the barony of Dungannon.

Antrim  Another  O’Quinn clan, of Clanndeboy, claimed descent from Congalagh O’Cuinn who had been killed by the English in 1219. They were based further east in the Glens of Antrim. The English and Scottish planters were also arriving there. Neil Oge O’Quinn, a tenant of an English lord at Lissan, led a revolt in 1614, but this too was put down.

Limerick.  The Quins that were descended from the Hy Ifearnan clan had originally been in county Clare, but were driven out from there into Limerick by the O’Briens.

Valentine Quin built the first Quin Manor at Adare on the river Maigue in 1730. His family converted from Catholicism to Protestantism in 1739 and it was no coincidence that they subsequently became one of the few families of Gaelic origin to ascend, as the Earls of Dunraven, into the Irish peerage. Perhaps the most flamboyant of these Quins was Wyndham Quin, the fourth Earl. Adare Manor was sold by the family in 1984 and now operates as one of Ireland’s prestige hotels.

Armagh  There has been a more modern Quinn dynasty from county Armagh:

“The first supermarket in Newry was Quinn’s the Milestone on Hill Street, founded by John Quinn from Lisnacree. His family included Ruairi Quinn, former leader of the Irish Labour Party and Irish Finance Minister, as well as Fearghal Quinn, head of the Superquinn chain, and the late Dr Padraig Quinn who fought in the Irish War of Independence.”

Today Quinns are found throughout Ireland, but the greater numbers are around Lough Neagh in county Tyrone (where it is the most common name today) and in Antrim.

Sean Quinn grew up on the border between Fermanagh and Cavan and built up a large insurance business that made him for a while the richest man in Ireland. He was known then as the Mighty Quinn. But a series of rash financial deals saw him careering into bankruptcy in 2010.

England.  An early arrival in London was the Dublin-born poet Walter Quin who became the tutor and lifelong friend of the monarch Charles I.  His son James was expelled from Oxford for his royalist views, but then was reinstated after he had apparently charmed the uncharming Oliver Cromwell with his “fine singing voice.” However, his grandson Mark Quin had a less happy outcome.

A century later another James Quin of this family graced the London stage with his performances of Falstaff, if “graced” is the appropriate word:

“James Quin twice killed fellow actors. Once during a performance he accidentally killed a fellow actor in a duel on stage and the other came about after a dispute over the pronunciation of a particular word.”

Michael J. Quin came to London in the 1820’s as a writer and journalist. In 1836 he started the Dublin Review which became the leading Catholic periodical of the time.

The 19th century saw Irish and Quinn immigration shift towards the jobs that were available in industrial Lancashire. A century later Niall Quinn crossed the Irish Sea to play football for Manchester City. He became the chairman of the English football club Sunderland.

America.  There were several notable Quinn arrivals in the 18th century.

18th Century Arrivals.  Loftin Quinn came to North Carolina in the 1730’s. Quinn marriages of the late 18th century show his family mainly in Carteret and Duplin counties. The Quinn homestead at Comfort apparently still remains. A subsequent Loftin Quinn was a veteran of the War of 1812. He was buried in the old Quinn burying ground in Shelby county, Alabama.

John Quin from county Down came to New Jersey in 1748 and later settled in Maryland. His descendants adopted the Quinn spelling. There were two main branches, one in Georgia and the other in Ohio.

Hugh Quinn from county Tyrone arrived in South Carolina during the 1760’s. He and his wife Margaret received land grants in what is now York county. Hugh was a member of the local Baptist church and was licensed to keep a tavern on his premises.  He died in 1798. His son John migrated to Alabama in the early 1800’s.

And Patrick O’Quinn came to Philadelphia as an indentured servant in 1772. He fought in the Revolutionary War and was subsequently awarded a land grant in Sampson county, North Carolina. His son Wiley, sometimes called Gwinn, moved to Buchanan county, Virginia.

19th Century Arrivals.  Larger numbers came in the 19th century, many of them – like James Quinn of Kilkenny – fleeing the famine in Ireland. They headed for the big cities like New York, Boston, and Chicago.

Two who headed elsewhere were James Quinn from Donegal who went originally to Boston but then moved west to Minnesota in 1857; and John Quinn from Antrim who ended up in Ohio. He married there, worked for the B & O Railroad, fought in the Civil War, and lived on into his nineties until his death in 1921.

Canada.  John Quinn was born on the Iona island in Scotland and arrived in Quebec around 1845.  A few years later he and his wife Eleanor settled in Hamilton, Ontario.  A more recent Hamilton resident was Arthur Quinn from county Down in Ireland who arrived there in 1908.  His descendant Pat Quinn, born in 1943, was a legendary NHL ice hockey player and coach.

Australia. Among the early Quinn settlers in Australia were:

  • Michael Quinn from Limerick who came to Perth in 1835 and ran a carting business there. His son Michael was one of the first farmers in the Williams river area of Western Australia. He married Mary Hale from another pioneering family in 1857 and they raised thirteen children there.
  • Captain Hugh Quin from Armagh who became the harbour master at Adelaide in South Australia in 1858. He had arrived in the colony as early as 1836. He was reported to have attended the banquet at Adelaide Town Hall on December 28, 1871 for all colonists who had arrived before 1841.  
  • James Quinn from Antrim who arrived with his family in 1841 and farmed in various places in NSW over the next thirty years. His daughter Ellen married into the notorious Kelly gang.
  • and Patrick Quinn from Tipperary who came to Sydney with his wife and three children in 1858.

Arriving in 1861 was James Quinn as the Bishop of Brisbane. He did much to encourage the emigration of Irishmen to Queensland over the next twenty years.

Quinn Surname Miscellany

The Quinn Septs.  The various Quinn septs recorded in Ireland have been:

  • the Dalcassian sept of Thomond – deriving from the Hy Ifearnan clan – were originally of Inchiquin in county Clare and subsequently moved onto Limerick.
  • the O’Quinn sept of Louginsolin claimed descent from Congalagh O’Cuinn who was killed by the English in 1219.  They were to be found in Tyrone.
  • the O’Quinn sept of Clanndeboy also claimed descent from Congalagh O’Cuinn.  They were to be found in the Glens of Antrim.
  • the O’Quinn sept of Magh Itha were first recorded in the early 14th century.  They were based in the barony of Raphoe in Donegal.

The Travails of Mark Quin.  Royalist Mark Quin was a member of Dublin City Council in 1655 during Cromwellian times.  He along with others were soon expelled from the council.  But, come the Restoration, and in 1667 “Alderman Quin was sworn at the Exchequer Lord Mayor of Dublin, having been formerly elected according to custom.”

His career came to an end in 1674 when, in a fit of jealousy at the conduct of his wife who it seemed “was loved by lord and lad alike,”  he committed suicide by cutting his own throat with a razor. 

The Colorado Adventures of Wyndham Quin, Fourth Earl of Dunraven.  Wyndham succeeded his father as Earl of Dunraven in 1871 at the age of thirty.  He had a reputation as a fearless steeplechaser and yachtsman.  He had also been a war correspondent in Abyssinia and during the Franco-Prussian War and he spent a great deal of his leisure time hunting wild game in various parts of the world.

After hearing of the fine hunting in the American West, he decided to pay the region a visit.  He arrived in 1872 and met and befriended Texas Jack Omohundro who acted as a guide for the earl’s party on buffalo and elk hunts.

The next year he decided to make the whole of Estes Park, Colorado as a game preserve for the exclusive use of himself and his English friends. By stretching the provisions of the Homestead Act and the rights of presumption, Dunraven claimed 15,000 acres of land in what has been called “one of the most gigantic land steals in the history of Colorado.”

However, the coming of settlers into the area forced him to give up his game preserve idea.  Instead he had built a tourist hotel, The English Hotel and Lodge, which proved to be successful.  But Dunraven soon became disillusioned and he left the area in the late 1880’s.  As he said then:

“People came in disputing claims, kicking up rows; exorbitant land taxes got into arrears; and we were in constant litigation.  The show could not be managed from home and we were in constant danger of being frozen out.  So we sold for what we could get and cleared out, and I have never been there since.”

Early Quinn Marriages in North Carolina

Year Groom Bride County
Loftin Quinn Mary Canady Carteret
1786 David Quinn Easter Williams Carteret
1787 Caleb Quinn Virginia Johnston Duplin
1791 George Quinn Nancy Stewart Duplin
1793 Enoch Quinn Maryann Dennis Onslow
1807 Abner Quinn Ruth Gould Carteret
1809 Loftin Quinn Olive Hatcher Duplin

James Quinn Fleeing The Famine and Paddy Becoming the New American.  James and Margaret Quinn were from Kilkenny and had married there in 1847.  Later that year, they fled the famine that was decimating Kilkenny during the Great Hunger of 1847 aboard one of the “coffin ships” that was headed for Canada.

Upon arrival in Canada, they were most likely quarantined at Grosse Isle where thousands of sick Irish immigrants were first cleared before being allowed to travel onward.  Over ten thousand Irish never made it off Grosse Isle and are buried there today.

The Quinns were among the lucky ones who survived and moved on. They arrived in Chicago by early 1848 and took up residence in the Ninth Ward on East Indiana Street.  They had three children there, Mary, Patrick (Paddy), and Katherine.

Father James died five years later in 1853.  But the family was adapting to their new American surroundings, particularly their son Paddy.  He worked in the McCormick paper plant as a printer and played baseball with many of his co-workers.

Together they formed a team called the Chicago Aetnas which became one of Chicago ‘s premier amateur baseball teams during the late 1860s.  He was the catcher on the champion 1869 Aetnas.  Paddy went on to play professional baseball on the Chicago White Stockings with Cap Anson and Al Spaulding. In later life he made a small fortune as a “plunger” (gambler) as the ponies became his passion.

Reader Feedback – James Quinn from Cork via Dublin to Washington State.  My great grandfather was a rugby player in Dublin before immigrating to Washington state in 1899. His name was James Thomas Quinn and he came from Cork.  Stanley (chipstanq@yahoo.com)

Captain Hugh Quin in Adelaide.  Captain Hugh Quin, one of South Australia’s stalwart pioneers, was born at Newry, in 1817, the youngest of eleven children. At an early age he went with the family to New York. The voyage in those days was by sailing ship and Hugh Quin became fascinated with the sea.

He began his nautical experience as a lad on the Cassandra, later transferring to the Eagle which was bound for Rio de Janeiro. There he saw the brig Cygnet.  Sailing as a second mate at the age of nineteen, he came to the new province of South Australia, arriving at Nepean Bay, Kangaroo Island, on September 11, 1836.

The Cygnet discharged her eighty-seven passengers there and received instructions to keep a look-out for H.M.S. Buffalo which was shortly expected with Governor Hindmarsh and other prominent persons on board. That vessel arrived on Christmas Day and was duly escorted to Holdfast Bay by the Cygnet whose officers took part in the official proclamation of the province on December 28.

He was appointed the Assistant Harbourmaster at Port Adelaide under Captain Thomas Lipson and later Harbourmaster, which position he filled successfully for twenty-six years, resigning in 1882. Captain Quin became known as the Grand Old Man of the port.  He was a capable yachtsman and sailed the yacht Xanthe for a good many years, winning several prizes with her.  He died in 1896 at the age of seventy-nine.

Bishop James Quinn of Brisbane.  Irish Catholics were very prominent among Brisbane’s early settlers and the Catholic church was involved in many aspects of the city’s development.  The church appointed a bishop for Brisbane in 1859.  The first bishop was James Quinn from Dublin, who arrived there in 1861.

It. seems that Bishop Quinn was a doer.  He set about improving the church’s finances, he organized the immigration of thousands of his fellow Irishmen into Queensland to help the colony grow.  In fact, such was his zeal in this area that the Government stopped it, fearful of being so overrun by the Irish that the place would need to be known as “Quinn’s land,” not Queensland.

As Quinn saw it:

“The problem the Church faced, more acutely in the materialistic colonies than in Ireland itself, was how to help the Irish to share the opportunities without losing the Faith.  The Irish had for the first time the opportunity to be socially mobile, upward moving. He knew the allurement.”

As a person, Quinn was something of an enigma.  He was revered yet execrated, admired as an astute leader but reviled as an autocrat.  He was convinced that he was God’s instrument and therefore not to be trifled with.  Stories of his feuds with the Sisters of Mercy and fellow priests lay thick on the ground, destroying much of his achievement.  Even so, there was much sadness in Queensland when he died in 1881.

Quinn might have been most pleased with the epitaph given by the Brisbane Courier, frequently his critic.  At the end, the editor suggested that “he was essentially an Irish priest.”

Pat Quinn’s Ancestry.  Pat Quinn’s family can be traced to Banbridge in county Down in the early 1800’s.  Peter Quinn owned an eight acre parcel of land there on Castlewellan Road.   His son Peter had been born in Banbridge but left home in his twenties to become a merchant seaman, living in Liverpool.  His son Arthur had left Liverpool for Hamilton, Ontario in Canada in 1908.  Pat’s father John was born there in 1916.

Pat himself was the oldest of his five children.  He played professional ice hockey.  After his playing days were over, he became the head coach of the Canadian hockey team.  He took them to gold in the 2002 Winter Olympics and gold in the 2004 World Cup.

The Mighty Quinn.  Bob Dylan wrote in his autobiography Chronicles in 2004:

“On the way back to my house I passed the local movie theater where The Mighty Quinn was playing. Years earlier I had written a song called The Mighty Quinn and I wondered what the movie was about. Eventually I sneaked off to see it.  It was a mystery, suspense, Jamaican thriller with Denzel Washington the Mighty Quinn, a detective who solves crimes. Funny, that’s just the way I imagined him when I wrote the song.”

Or maybe not.  The Mighty Quinn was said at the time it was written in 1967 to be based on Anthony Quinn’s role as an Eskimo in the 1959 film The Savage Innocents.

Niall Quinn’s Disco Pants.  Niall Quinn has his own song titled Niall Quinn’s Disco Pants.  The song was originally created by fans of the Manchester City football team during a night out on a pre-season tour in Italy in 1992.

Quinn had had a bust-up with City team-mate Steve McMahon and he had taken off his torn and bloodied shirt and was dancing around with Rick Holden wearing just a pair of cut-off jeans.   He was hardly aware that there was a group of hardcore City fans watching and they treated him to “the first performance of the song that will follow me till the end of my career.”

The chorus went to the tune of the standard football chant Here We Go:

  • “Niall Quinn’s disco pants are the best,
  • They go up from his arse to his chest.
  • They are better than Adam and the Ants,
  • Niall Quinn’s disco pants!”

When Quinn moved to Sunderland, the song was adopted by Sunderland fans.

Quinn Names

  • Niall O’Cuinn was the first in the Quinn clans to use the surname. He was killed at the battle of Clondarf in 1014.
  • Frederick Hervey Foster Quin was an orthodox physician who converted to homeopathy and helped found the British Homeopathic Society. He was thought to have been the illegitimate offspring of Valentine Richard Quin, Earl of Dunraven, and Lady Elizabeth Foster, a well-known courtesan.
  • John Quinn, born of Irish immigrants in Ohio, was a successful New York lawyer and an important art patron and collector of manuscripts there in the early 20th century.
  • Anthony Quinn was a well-known and highly successful film actor of the 1950’s and 1960’s. His father was of Irish-Mexican ancestry and he was born in Mexico.
  • Fergal Quinn is an Irish politician and successful local businessman. He founded the chain of supermarkets around Dublin called Superquinn.
  • Pat Quinn was the head coach of the Canadian hockey team who took them to gold in the 2002 Winter Olympics and gold in the 2004 World Cup.

Quinn Numbers Today

  • 26,000 in the UK (most numerous in Tyne and Wear)
  • 34,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 36,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland).

Quinn 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.

Ulster in NE Ireland covers the counties of Derry, Antrim, Down, Tyrone, Armagh, Fermanagh, Cavan, Monaghan, and Donegal.  Here are some of the Ulster surnames (excluding the Scots Irish surnames) that you can check out.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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