Quirk Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Quirk Surname Meaning

The origin of the name Quirk or originally O’Cuirc or MacCuirc is the Gaelic name corc, meaning “heart.” It is traditionally thought of as being Manx, that is from the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea, and of Scandinavian origin – the Isle of Man being at one time a major Viking center.

Spellings are Quirk and Quirke. Quirk – originating from the Isle of Man – tends to be the English spelling, Quirke the Irish.

The surname bears no relation to the English word “quirk” meaning “a peculiar aspect of a person’s character or behavior.” This word seems to have first surfaced in the English language in the 1500’s as a verb referring to a person’s sudden twist or twitch.  

Quirk Resources on The Internet

Quirk and Quirke Surname Ancestry

  • from Isle of Man and Ireland (Tipperary)
  • to America, Australia and New Zealand

Isle of Man.  Quirk is a Manx surname. It was recorded as Quyrke in 1511, Queerke in 1601, and Quirk in 1641. Thomas Quork married Mary Corkish in 1662. The early pronunciation was Kirk.

It is thought that the first family on the Isle of Man by the name of Quirk lived on a farm called Ballquirk in Braddan. There was a Ballquirk pew in the old Kirk Braddan church and these Quirks held their land for centuries.

“The ancient Quirks were said to be of a retiring disposition, cautious in friendship, dubious of strangers, industrious and hard-working. They were religiously inclined and of a studious nature. The remark has often been made: ‘Where there’s a Quirk, here’s a book.'”

Branches of the family farmed Ballavar, Knockaloe and other farms in the Patrick and Foxdale districts. James Quirk was a member of the House of Keys in 1797 and was later appointed Attorney General.

By the time of the 1881 census Quirk was the tenth most common Manx surname and had spread across to England. For instance, Thomas Quirk was born at Kirk Rushen on the Isle of Man in the early 1800’s. He married Mary Johnson in Warrington in Lancashire in 1840 and they settled there. Randolph Quirk the linguist was born at Lambfell on the Isle of Man but spent most of his working life in London.

Ireland. Before the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169, the Quirke clan ruled over a considerable territory in the barony of Clanwilliam in the southwest of county Tipperary, known as Maigh Cuirc or Muscraighe, the plain of the Quirkes. Ceinnedigh O’Cuirc, the lord of Muscraighe, was slain in 1043. Then there was a robber by the name of Murchad O’Curk who was sheltered by the Archbishop of Cashel in 1295.

Quirkes were in Tipperary at the time of the Cromwellian invasion. There were records of Quirkes fighting in the Ormond army in 1649 and also in the Irish army of the 1670’s. The Dominican father Thomas O’Quirke was a priest who was chaplain to the Confederation of Kilkenny at this time.

Father William Quirke was a later Quirke who was an archdeacon in Tipperary.

“Father Quirke was born in Rathsallagh in the parish of Fethard in 1808. Early in his youth his family moved to Ballyvadlea in Cloneen. .He was ordained at Maynooth. He was in various places during his ministry, ending up at Cashel. He was a lifelong nationalist and took a part in the land agitation movement. He died in 1887 and was interred at Cashel church.”

The Quirke surname today is most common in Tipperary and the nearby county of Limerick.

America. Most Quirks in America are of Irish origin. Irish Quirkes generally became Quirks in America. Among the migrants in the 19th century were:

  • Thomas and Ann Quirk from Cashel in Tipperary who came to America in the early 1840’s and settled in Waukesha county in Wisconsin (his brother Edmund had earlier migrated with the Power group to Texas).
  • James and Emily Quirk, famine emigrants, who sailed from Dublin on the Charlotte for New York in 1846.
  • and Timothy and Bridget Quirk, also famine emigrants, who left their home in Limerick for Susquehanna, Pennsylvania in 1848.

James R. Quirk was born in Boston in 1884, the son of Irish immigrant parents. He made his career in magazine editing, most famously with the Hollywood magazine Photoplay during the golden age of Hollywood. His nephew Lawrence continued the reporting on Hollywood and its movie stars in various books and magazines.

Australia.  Michael and Honorah Quirk from Tipperary came out to Australia in 1841, settling at Adjungbilly Creek out in the bush in NSW.  Their daughter Mary, left behind, joined them with her grandmother fifteen years later.  She lived onto 1924.

Quirk Surname Miscellany

Quirk and Quirke.  Quirk – originating from the Isle of Man –  tends to be the English spelling, Quirke the Irish.  The following are the approximate numbers of Quirks and Quirkes in the UK and Ireland today.

Numbers (000’s) Quirk Quirke
UK   2.7   1.5
Ireland     –   3.2

Thomas Quork, Travelling Manxman.  Thomas Quork was born circa 1640.  He married Mary Corkish on June 10 1662 at Malew.   They had two children, Jane and William.  According to his wife’s will of 1700, he had apparently made out a will in which he left six pence to his wife before he went to England.  It is not clear whether this was a precautionary measure before setting sail or whether he had simply left the family.

Quirks in the 1881 Census.  By the time of the 1881 census the Quirk name had spread from the Isle of Man to Lancashire and to other places in England.

Quirks in 1881 Census Numbers Percent
Isle of Man   380   34%
Lancashire   390   35%
Elsewhere   350   31%

Randolph Quirk, Manx Linguist.  It was said that the family of Sir Randolph Quirk, the famous Manx linguist, had been farming the same piece of land at Lambfell near Kirk Michael since 1654.

Randolph himself was born in the family farmhouse there in 1920, the son of Thomas and Amy Quirk.  He had this to say about his family upbringing:

“My family was a mixture of Catholic and Protestant, of Anglican and Methodist, in an island community where self-consciously Manx values cohabited uneasily with increasingly dominant English values.

Although we tend to be a bit equivocal and semi-detached about national identity, we’re very conscious of our Celtic roots.  We share St Patrick with Ireland and we have the remnants of a Celtic language that is close to being incomprehensible with Irish.

We are also conscious of our Scandinavian roots.  We proudly gawped at our quite splendid Viking Age crosses with their runic inscriptions, some of the best in Kirk Michael being only a couple of miles from our family farm which itself bears a Scandinavian name, Lambfell.”

Reader Feedback – Quirks to Minnesota.  My family, quite large, settled in south central Minnesota (Mankato) in the mid-1800″s.

My grandfather John Henry aka Harry Quirk had three sons John Henry, William Patrick, and Robert George and three sisters Mary Ann, Patricia and Grace.  William and his wife Carolyn moved to Del City, Oklahoma in 1969.  John Henry has a son in the Austin, Texas area and also an extended family in Anchorage, Alaska.  Robert George’s sons live in the Kansas City, Missouri area.

Anita Quirk (nkf.556@gmail.com)

Reader Feedback – Quirks from Ireland to Chicago.  Is there any information on Quirks who immigrated from Ireland to Chicago in late 1800’s?

My grandfather was Michael James Quirk.  His father was John who I believe was married to a woman with the last name of Sheehan. What the heck, I’ll see them all soon enough. Haha.  Sheila Quirk (soquirke2@gmail.com).

Quirks to Chicago. Following are some other Quriks who came to Chicago.

One Quirk family supposedly came from Nenagh or Toomyvara in Tipperary. The father was Timothy Quirk, born around 1810.  Timothy died either just before leaving Ireland or aboard the ship coming to America. His wife and children are said to have gone onto friends living in Chicago. Timothy had three sisters, including who came to America in 1825.

James Quirk, born at Castlegregory in Kerry in 1832, came to America as a boy with his family. Before the Civil War James was a clerk in the old Court House and by 1854 he joined the State militia. After the Civil War he became the colonel of the 2nd Illinois National Guard infantry, a position he help right up until his death. He also held many prominent civil positions in Chicago. He died in 1898.

When Maurice Quirk was born on 18 January 1879, in Limerick, his father Maurice Quirke was 47 and his mother Johanna Fitzgerald was 40. He married Mary Bridget Doody on 25 November 1903 in Chicago.

The James R. Quirk Awards.  James R. Quirk was the editor and publisher of Photoplay magazine during its greatest period, the golden age of Hollywood.  His nephew, author and film historian Lawrence J. Quirk, established the JRQ Awards in his memory.  Recipients of the award have included major stars, as well as the comparatively unsung and the talented beginner.

At first the awards were given at modest ceremonies in apartments, but then moved to the Roosevelt Townhouse on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in the 1980’s.  When the Townhouse was no longer available for functions, the Quirk Awards were presented at several different venues, including the Five Oaks Supper Club (once a great speakeasy) and Rose’s Turn piano bar in the Village.  The awards have been televised on cable.

In the 1980’s author William Schoell became co-donor of the awards and expanded its range from films, film stars, and related areas to all of the performing arts, with a particular concentration on the great operatic composers. Therefore the James R. Quirk Film and Performing Arts Awards were born.

Richard Quirke, Gaming Impresario.  Richard Quirke is a former police officer from Thurles in county Tipperary who came to Dublin and made his fortune in the gaming industry.  He is best known for the slot machines at his Dr Quirkey’s Good Time Emporium on O’Connell Street.  He and his family live in some style in their Foxrock mansion.  One son Wesley dates former Miss World Rosanna Davison, another Andy plays host to various Dublin models and socialites.

Richard now wishes to bring his gaming expertise back home to Tipperary.  Backed by independent TD Michael Lowry, top racehorse trainer Aidan O’Brien and concert promoter Denis Desmond, he has proposed a €460 million Las Vegas-style village with casino, racecourse, five-star hotel, concert venue and golf course in the north Tipperary countryside.

The scheme still awaits planning approval.

Quirk Names

  • James Quirk was the editor and publisher of the Hollywood magazine Photoplay during the 1920’s and 1930’s.
  • Randolph Quirk, Manx born, was a linguist, the instigator of A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language that was compiled in the 1960’s.
  • Pauline Quirke is an English TV actress.

Quirk Numbers Today

  • 4,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 2,000 in America (most numerous in Massachusetts)
  • 7,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)


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Written by Colin Shelley

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