Rowan Surname Genealogy

Irish and Scottish surname Rowan has derived from the old Gaelic Ó Ruadain
(pronounced o’roo-ahn),
meaning “descendant of the red one.”  The
root is the Gaelic word ruadh meaning
“red.”  What is this red?
Does it mean red-haired, ruddy cheeks, or red
with blood from battle?  Opinions are
In Scotland Rowan could be a variant of the Roland name.
William Rowan of Aberdeen in 1513 appeared earlier
as William Rolland.  Irish variants to
Rowan have been Ruane and Roane.  The Northern Ireland pronunciation of Rowan is said to sound like “cow”-an.

Rowan Resources on

Rowan Ancestry

Scotland.  The early Scottish
reflected more than one origin of the name.
It has been mainly a Lowland name, found
principally in the Glasgow/Ayrshire coastal areas.

The line from John Rolland in
Glasgow in the 15th century devolved to later Rowans; while Rowans were
prominent in the Govan community from the 1600’s onwards.

“The Rowan
family, old renters from the Church, had obtained a charter from
VI after the Reformation granting them perpetual rights to their land.  James Rowan of Marylands, a descendant,
purchased the Bellahouston estate in 1726.
When his descendant Thomas died in 1824, the estate then passed
out of
Rowan hands.”

Meanwhile Stephen
Rowan was born at Govan in 1690.  Another
line began there with Matthew Rowan who was born in Govan in 1753.

There was
Rowan emigration to Ulster in Ireland in the 17th and 18th centuries.  Their numbers included Andrew Rowan, the son
of John Rowan of Greenhead in Govan.

Ireland. The Rowan name,
originally O’Ruadain, was mainly to be found in the West of Ireland –
Galway southwards to county CorkSaint Ruadain of Lorrha lived in
Tipperary in the sixth century.  Imar Ua
Ruaidin was the Bishop of Kilmacduagh in Galway who died in office in
Felix O’Ruadhain the Archbishop of Tuam in 1215.

were two principal early O’Ruadhain septs:

  • one belonged to the Ui Maine (an
    ancient territory embracing mid Galway and south Roscommon)
  • and the other was
    located in Ui Fiachrach (north Mayo, Sligo and south Galway).  The latter were described as “p
    eople of property and
    importance in the barony of Gallen in Mayo.” 
    O’Ruadhain here sometimes
    became Ruane, sometimes Rowan.

In addition to these two
septs, there was the small sept of O’Robhachain in Clare which became
They are recorded as accompanying the O’Gradys in the unsuccessful
attack on
Ballyalla castle in 1642 when all but one of their number were killed. 
In Petty’s 1659
, the name was prominent among the nobility of Bunratty and
Carbery in Clare and Cork.

Scots Irish.
Rowans in Ulster meant Scots who had crossed the Irish Sea to Ulster.

The Rev. Andrew Rowan from Govan came to Ulster
in 1655.  He was a Presbyterian minister and was inducted into the
rectory of
in county Antrim in 1681.  His notebook,
has been preserved, provides valuable insights about his life and times
there.   Andrew Rowan was the ancestor
of the Rowans of
Mount Davys and Callybackey in Antrim and of the Rowan Hamiltons of
Killyleagh in
county Down – from whom sprang that remarkable character Archibald Hamilton Rowan.

Related to these Rowans was Robert Rowan, an impoverished
landowner at Ahoghill in Antrim in the late 1700’s.
He and his wife raised ten children, of whom
three turned out to be special:

  • the
    eldest, John, was a major in the Antrim militia and a Justice of the
  • Sir Charles was a soldier who fought at the
    Battle of Waterloo and was the first Commissioner of the London
    Police (from 1829 to 1850).  
  • and Sir
    William was also at the Battle of Waterloo and later became a Field
    serving as Commander-in-Chief in Canada.  

Sir Archibald Roane from Argyllshire was said
to have been granted land in Antrim after the Battle of the Boyne in
1690.  Two of his sons came to America.  Andrew was the grandfather of Archibald
Roane, the Governor of Tennessee in 1801.

America.  The Rev. John Rowan,
a Presbyterian minister in county Antrim, had a number of sons who
crossed the
Atlantic to America in the early 1700’s:

  • Matthew Rowan came to North
    Carolina around the year 1724 and was a merchant and shipbuilder in the
    colony.  He served as acting governor of
    North Carolina in 1753.  Rowan county was
    later named in his honor.
  • his brothers Robert, Hugh and Aicheson followed him
    there at later dates.
  • meanwhile Andrew Rowan arrived in Pennsylvania in 1732,
    settling in York county.  His line was
    covered in John Young’s 2008 book The
    Rowan Book – The Families of Andrew Rowan
    .  The
    main line of descent was through his son Captain William

early Rowans to America were:

  • Henry Rowan who came to Pennsylvania from Ulster in
    1739 and
    in the Manor of the Maske in York later Adams county.
    Some of his descendants migrated to Ohio
    around the year 1800.
  • John Francis Rowan
    who arrived in Maryland at the same time.  His
    son the Rev. John Rowan survived a British cavalry
    charge at the
    Battle of Brandywine.  He later moved with
    his family to Randolph
    county, West Virginia.  Mabel Baker’s
    1980 book The Rev. John Rowan Family
    charted his family.  
  • and John Rowan who
    left Ballyhay in Monaghan in 1764 with 300 other Presbyterians following the Rev. Thomas Clark to America.  He settled in Salem, New York.  

KentuckyCaptain William Rowan migrated
with his
family from Pennsylvania to Kentucky in 1784, eventually settling in
Bardstown.  William’s son John was
appointed Kentucky’s
Secretary of State in 1804.  He made his
home at the Federal Hill mansion in Bardstown.
This house was later immortalized in Stephen Foster’s song My Old
Kentucky Home

Alexander Rowan
was a plantation owner in Ohio county, Kentucky in the 1830’s.  One of his slaves adopted the Rowan
name.  Harry and Catherine Rowan are the
forebears of eight generations of African American Rowans that now hold

Canada.   John Rowan
was a shoemaker from Newry in county Down who came to Canada in 1831
with his five sons, settling in Manvers township, Ontario.
They were all farmers in the area.

Charles Rowan arrived in Bytown near Ottawa from Sligo with his family
in 1833.  He was an early land speculator there and kept a hotel
for many years.   His son James ran a hotel in
Ottawa.   Later members of his family moved to Chicago.

“In 1898 John Rowan was attending a
Knights of Columbus dinner in Chicago and was dressed in evening
clothes.  He was later found unconscious at his front door.
He had been clobbered on the head, leaving a trail of blood.  He
died the next day at the age of forty.  The culprits were probably
Orange radicals.”

Rowan Miscellany

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

Select Rowan Names

Felix O’Ruadhain
was the Archbishop of Tuam in Galway in 1215.
Archibald Hamilton Rowan was a founding member of The Dublin
Society of United Irishmen in 1790 and a celebrated advocate for Irish
Charles Rowan
 served as the first head of the London
Metropolitan Police in 1829.
Judge John
home in Bardstown, Kentucky provided the inspiration for
Foster’s song My Old Kentucky Home

Select Rowans Today

  • 5,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Glasgow)
  • 6,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 5,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)




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