Regan/Reagan Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Regan and Reagan Surname Meaning
O’Regan and Regan are the anglicized forms of the Gaelic O’Riagain, descendant of Riagan, a personal name of uncertain origin. O’Regan became Regan and often Reagan in America.
Regan and Reagan Surname Resources on The Internet
Regan and Reagan Surname Ancestry

Ireland.  There were three main O’Regan septs in Ireland, with three different origins:

  • The first sept belonged at one time to counties Meath and Dublin and were one of the four tribes of Tara. After the Norman invasion they were dispossessed and driven westward to county Laois.
  • the second descended from Riagon, nephew of Brian Boru, and ruled in the ancient territory of Tuathmhumhan, present-day Clare, Limerick and Tipperary
  • and the third sept resided in Carbery in west Cork and were kinsmen of the MacCarthys.

Teige MacShane O’Regan was the last chief of the west Cork O’Regans. He was an officer in the Jacobite army in 1690.  After the Battle of the Boyne he left for the Continent with the rest of the defeated army. But the west Cork lands at Ballinaclogh remained in the O’Regan family until the early 20th century.

Most Regans and O’Regans in Ireland are still to be found in county Cork today. There have been a number in the Doneraile area of NE Cork. Many Regans from Cork emigrated in the 19th century, such as those who departed for Canada in 1823.

Under English rule Regan had displaced O’Regan as the surname used. But O’Regan has made a comeback in the past fifty years.


England. Some O’Regans emigrated to England. Thomas O’Regan, for instance, attended Trinity College in Dublin and took up a church position as vicar in Shropshire in the 1840’s. His brother John was Archdeacon in Kildare.

Martin Regan was recorded as marrying Catherine Baldwin in Liverpool in 1849 and raising a family there. Lancashire was where most Regans from Ireland came to in England in the 19th century.

America. Regans and Reagans started to appear in Pennsylvania records from the 1730’s. James and Michael Reagan were recorded as serving in the Revolutionary War. After the war they were traced to Tennessee and Georgia.

There were in fact many Reagans in Sevier county, Tennessee by the early 1800’s.

John Henninger Reagan, born there in 1818, migrated south to Texas as a young man. He rose in politics there and served the Confederacy during the Civil War. After the Confederate defeat, he suffered imprisonment but was able to return to public office as a Congressman. He later became chairman of the Railroad Commission of Texas. Reagan county in Texas was named after him.

Michael O’Regan, a tenant farmer from Tipperary, had come with his wife Catherine to America in 1857 and settled as Reagans in Carroll county, Illinois. Three generations later came Ronald Reagan. He was an actor, then a politician, and finally President of the United States.

Canada.  James and Ann Regan arrived in Nova Scotia from county Cork in the 1830’s. Later Regans settled in Windsor. Walter Regan was the ice hockey coach of the Windsor Swastikas in the early 1900’s. His son Gerald was Premier of Nova Scotia in the 1970’s.

Australia. Thomas O’Regan came out to Tasmania as a young man from Limerick in 1838. He was to spend five years of his life in Tasmania and the remaining forty five years in Victoria, mainly in Melbourne. He died a rich man, living off the rent of the Australia Hotel on Bourke Street. Where he got his money is a mystery. Some said he owned a silver mine in Tasmania, others that he struck lucky during the Victorian gold rush.

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Regan and Reagan Surname Miscellany

O’Riagain and the Four Tribes of Tara.  The Four Tribes of Tara were four princely families of the Southern Ui Neill who settled in the area of Tara in what is now county Meath.  They represented the lineal descendants of the Slaine kings of South Brega.  The chief representatives of the original Four Tribes in later times were the families of O’Hart (O hAirt) and O’Regan (O’Riagain).

The O’Riagains were, prior to the Anglo-Norman invasion, kings of South Brega and had taken a leading part in the wars against the Vikings.  They fought on the side of Brian Boru at the Battle of Clondorf in 1014.  In 1029 the Annals recorded the victory of Mathghamhain O’Riagain, king of Brega, over Sitric, the Viking king of Dublin.

The O’Riagains were dispossessed of their lands soon after the Anglo-Norman invasion and dispersed into what is now county Laois.

Regan and Reagan.  The table below shows the approximate numbers of Regans and Reagans today.

Numbers (000’s)  Regan  Reagan
Ireland    6    –
America    9    6
Elsewhere   12    1

Regans in the Doneraile Area of NE Cork.  There were a number of Regan families in the Doneraile area of NE Cork.

The Regan Stonemasons

A Regan family of stonemasons originated there. Most of them can trace their family roots back to a small stone cottage in Carkerbeg townland in Doneraile parish built by a stonemason Regan family in the 1700’s. Stonemason Regans were also in two adjacent townlands, Park North and Park South. These Regans were Catholics and attended the chapel at Shanballymore, about two and a half miles from their homes.

Regans were still to be found as tenants in Carkerbeg in the 1930’s.

Michael Regan’s Travails

Michael Regan, born around 1815, was a tenant farmer at Rossagh in Doneraile. He married Catherine Quinn in 1840 and they had three children.

He worked three parcels of land rented from the local landlord, Lord Doneraile.  However, Michael got into difficulty with his rent payments and he was evicted in 1881, thrown out on the road with his family.  The neighbors were said to have built a temporary mud hut for him on the side of the road.  The family later moved onto Dromdeer, but were evicted again.

Finally they were taken in by the Dunne family of Ballyhea in county Cork. Son David Regan had earlier married Mary Dunne of this family.

Private Patrick O’Regan in World War One.  Private Patrick O’Regan from Commons in Cork was a member of the Royal Munster Fusiliers (also known as ‘the dirty shirts’) for the duration of the First World War. His job in the army was to dig the trenches in France.

Sadly Patrick O’Regan did not come home to a hero’s welcome.  Rather, he was rejected and shown the door by his wife and family and wandered the streets of Cork “down and out.”  He would meet his young grandson on the street and always stopped for a chat during which he promised young Patrick his war medals. He was true to his word.

Timothy Ragan and the Reagans of Sevier County, Tennessee.  The first Timothy Ragan arrived in Maryland from Ireland around 1700.  A later Timothy Ragan fought in the Revolutionary War and migrated to Sevier county, Tennessee in 1795.  Their story is covered in Donald B. Reagan’s 1993 The Book of Ragan/Reagan.

John Henninger Reagan wrote of his great grandfather, Timothy Reagan, as being a soldier in the American Revolution and being severely wounded at the Battle of Brandywine. He received an honorable scar, a ball and three buckshots in his body from the battle which he carried for the rest of his life.

John Henninger Reagan also recalled two of the sons of Timothy Reagan as moving to what was then called the fever and ague country, north of the Ohio river. One of these sons may have been Reason Ragan (he and his family were massacred by Indians in Wood River, Illinois) and the other perhaps Robert Nelson Ragan (also killed by Indians).

However, most Ragan/Reagans ended up in Tennessee.  Within twenty or thirty years, there was a huge Reagan clan in Sevier county, Tennessee.  Perhaps the best known was the aforementioned John Henninger Reagan, born there in 1818, who made his name in Texas.

General James Hayes Reagan of Sweetwater Valley, Tennessee, born in 1800, was said to be his cousin.  He was taken hostage during the Civil War and died a prisoner in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Daniel Regan – from Cork to Canada.  Regans from Mallow in county Cork came to Canada in 1823 with Peter Robinson’s settlers on the Stakesby. This emigration came about as a result of a grant by the British Government voted the previous year to finance the resettlement of poor Irish families in Canada.

The Regan family settled in Ramsay township, Lanark county in OntarioTheir numbers included Daniel Regan aged 48, a widower at the time, and his three sons (John, James, and Daniel) and two daughters (Mary and Katherine).  Daniel married again, Julia Greer, and had two more children.

John, his eldest son, is believed to have crossed the border later to settle in Canton, Ohio.

James may have married Sarah Skeffington as their first child, James, was recorded as being born in Lanark county in 1845.  However, this James may have come from a different Regan family in Dalhousie township in Lanark county.

From Michael O’Regan to Ronald Reagan.  Michael O’Regan, the son of Thomas and Margaret O’Regan, was baptized in the Catholic parish of Ballyporeen in county Tipperary in 1829.

Michael’s father had died by 1850 and Michael moved to England. He was recorded as a soap maker in Camberwell, South London in the 1851 English census. A year later Michael Regan married Catherine  Mulcahy and they were to have two children, Thomas and John, in England.  Reagan family tradition holds that Catherine Mulcahy also hailed from Tipperary.

In 1857 the Regan family crossed the Atlantic to America. They settled in Carroll county, Illinois.  It is thought that Michael’s brothers John and Nicholas followed them there.

Second son John Regan became John Reagan sometime in the 1870’s.  He and his wife both died of TB when their children were young and the children then lived with an elderly aunt who provided him with a strict Catholic upbringing. Jack, the youngest of the four, became a travelling shoe salesman.  He married Nelle Wilson in 1904.  Ronald Reagan, born in 1911, was their second child.

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Regan and Reagan Names
  • Maurice O’Regan, a secretary to the king of Leinster, wrote an account of the arrival of the Normans under Strongbow in the 12th century.
  • John Henninger Reagan was a leading politician in Texas during and after the Civil War.
  • Ronald Reagan was a Hollywood actor, Governor of California, and the 40th President of the United States.
  • Don Regan was Secretary of the Treasury and Chief of Staff during the Reagan administration.
Regan and Reagan Numbers Today
  • 8,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 15,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 11,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)
Regan and Like Surnames

The surnames found here cover most of the US Presidential surnames since the first President, George Washington.  Click on the surname below if you wish to know more of that particular President and his name.

AdamsHardingKennedyRoosevelt
BuchananHarrisonLincolnTaft
BushHayesMadisonTruman
CarterHooverMonroeTyler
ClintonJacksonNixonVan Buren
FordJeffersonPolkWashington
GrantJohnsonReaganWilson

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