Scully Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Scully Surname Meaning

The Irish surname Scully is an anglicized version of the Old Gaelic patronym O’Scolaidhe.  This name was derived from either scolaide, meaning “town crier,” or from scolaire meaning “student.”   

Scully Surname Resources on The Internet

Scully Surname Ancestry

  • from Ireland (Leinster)
  • to England, America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand

Ireland.  The Scullys were originally a Leinster sept first found in Westmeath.  The first recorded spelling of the family name was O’ Scolaidhe, dated around 1100 in the Ancient Records of Westmeath.

However, at the time of the Anglo-Norman invasion in 1172, they had their lands confiscated and they were driven south and west into Munster.  A branch of the family did manage to retain its lands near Dublin until 1256 when the property of William O’Scully passed into church hands.

The four main counties where they went, according to Griffith’s Valuation in the mid-19th century, were:

  • Offaly (13%)
  • Laois (15%)
  • Tipperary (11%)
  • and Cork (17%).

Tipperary.  One Scully branch settled at Lorrha in north Tipperary where they became erenaghs of the church at St. Ruan.  It was no doubt an offshoot which gave its name to Ballyscully, a place on the other side of the Shannon. Another branch settled near Cashel in south Tipperary in the 17th century.  This family gave their name to Scully’s Cross, an ecclesiastical memorial near the Rock of Cashel where the Scullys had the privilege of interment.

The most notable Scully family in Tipperary was descended from two Scully brothers, Darby and Roger, who arrived there from Offaly in the 1660’s after the Restoration of Charles II.

Based in their family home at Kilfeacle, they became major Catholic landowners in the area.  A later Darby Scully who died in 1807 was described as “a man of the purest integrity and most unblemished character.”  He like others in his family was buried by the Rock of Cashel.

James Scully founded the Bank of Tipperary in the early 1800’s. His son Denis was a political writer and Catholic advocate and Denis’s son Vincent a well-known Irish politician and writer. Another son William became a big landowner in the American Midwest.  However, Denis’s eldest son James Scully was murdered in 1843, probably by a tenant he had evicted.

England.  Scullys left Ireland for England because there were jobs there.  Their main destinations were Liverpool and other towns in Lancashire, followed by London.

James Scully from Dublin came to London as a young man in 1925 and found work as a laborer.  At the outbreak of war he joined the Pioneer Corps.  In 1941 he was awarded the George Cross for the valor he displayed in Liverpool in rescuing people from a bomb-damaged building.

Scullys in Liverpool had generally got submerged in the working-class culture there.  Scully was an early work from the 1970’s of the writer Alan Bleasdale.  Scully here was a 15 year-old Scouser named Franny Scully who dreamt of becoming a football striker for Liverpool.

America.  Some early Scullys may not have been Scullys.  John and Denis Sullivan left Cork for America in 1803 and, for some reason, adopted the Scully surname.  The two brothers settled in Pennsylvania, John farming in Allegheny county and Denis involving himself in iron and glassworks in Pittsburgh.

  • John’s grandson John became President of the Diamond National Bank and his great grandson Cornelius was mayor of Pittsburgh from 1938 to 1946.
  • while Denis’s great grand-daughter Margaret was a published poet, local historian, and an active participant in many Pittsburgh organizations during the 1930’s. 

William Scully was without doubt a Scully.  Indeed he came from the Scully landowners in Tipperary.  In 1850 he set off for the Midwest with the objective of buying land there.  From his base in Logan county, Illinois, he ended up by 1900 owning more than 200,000 acres in Illinois, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.

Although William himself was generally an absentee landlord (he never became a US citizen), his descendants – his son Michael and grandson Peter – based themselves in Illinois and were noted for their philanthropy.

Other Scullys who came were escaping the potato famine in Ireland, such as:

  • James and Catherine Scully who came with their six children in 1852.  They settled in Brooklyn.
  • Martin and Jane Scully from Laois who arrived with their four children in 1854.  They made their home in Middletown, Connecticut.
  • while Patrick and Julia Scully arrived in South Amboy, New Jersey sometime in the 1860’s.  Their son Thomas, who lived all his life there, rose to be the mayor of South Amboy and a US Congressman.

James Scully, a stone cutter, arrived in New York sometime in the 1870’s.  He and his wife Margaret raised seven children there, one of whom, Vincent, became a silk merchant.  He died young in 1932 when his son Vin was only five.  Vin Scully grew up to become famous as a baseball commentator, first for the Brooklyn Dodgers and then for the Los Angeles Dodgers.  His career spanned more than sixty years.  He died in 2022.

Canada.  Denys Scully left Tipperary for Canada in 1899, making his home in Calgary in the West.

South Africa.  John Scully from Cashel in Tipperary brought his family to South Africa in 1867 and they settled on a farm near King William’s Town. Their son William tried his luck in the goldfields, but without success.  In 1876 he began a long career with the civil service in Cape Colony.  During this time he made his mark as a writer. He is one of South Africa’s best-known authors, if little known outside South Africa.

AustraliaPatrick Scully from Kilkenny came to Victoria with his family on the Matoaka in 1854 as assisted passengers.  They made their home in Muckleford.  

New Zealand.  Among the Galway emigrants to South Island was William Scully who made the journey to Otago in 1861.  He and his wife Annie started their farm on the Southland plains near Invercargill.

Scully Surname Miscellany

Scully Irish Distribution in Griffith’s Valuation

County Numbers
Offaly (King’s)    104
Laios (Qieen’s)    120
Tipperary     88
Cork    134
Elsewhere    334
Total    780

The Murder of James Scully.  James was the eldest son of Denis Scully of Kilfeacle in Tipperary.  On one day in November 1843 James, thirty-three at the time, was out shooting ducks with his younger brother Rody in a field a quarter mile from his home.  As rain was falling Rody returned to the house.

However, there was no sign of James. After the elapse of several hours, the alarm was raised.  On a search being made, James Scully was discovered lying quite dead.  There was a large orifice in his left side where some slugs had entered and his head had been terribly beaten and mutilated with stones.

It was supposed that when he had fired at the ducks, the assassins – watching their opportunity – had rushed at him and committed the murder.

A disgruntled tenant was suspected.  Eighteen months earlier, after James Scully had evicted thirty tenants, he was fired at and wounded in the jaw.  Two men were arrested, but were then released as there was no evidence against them.    In this case suspicion fell on Philip Griffith – whose family was being evicted from their Little Mantlehill farm – and he was arrested. But again evidence against him was lacking.

William Scully in the American Midwest.  William Scully was from an Irish land-owning dynasty in Tipperary. According to a story published in the Chicago Tribune in 1990, he had inherited some land in Ireland.  However, not being the first son, he set out for Illinois in 1850 at the age of twenty-nine in order to seek his fortune.  He planned to do so by acquiring land that was then regarded as untillable swampland.

Trained in Ireland’s marshy farm fields, he knew that American lands could be drained and tamed. His initial purchases were for military land warrants that were issued to Mexican war veterans and were assignable. By mid-1851 he owned about 28,000 acres in Logan county, Illinois.  And he continued buying, large parcels of up to 4,000 acres between St. Louis and Chicago, figuring that someday the railroad would go through that land and bring wealth with it.

With teams of rugged field hands, he drained what others derided as ‘the Scully swamp,’ fashioning an elaborate system of ditches and tiles still in place.  The railroad followed and his fortune was made.

William eventually owned more than 200,000 acres in Illinois, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.  That was almost a hundred times his family’s landholdings in his native Tipperary!  He would rent his property out to Scandinavian and German tenants.  He liked them because they drank little and were cooperative with each other – these being two of his “rules” for his tenants.

By 1900 some fifteen hundred tenants farmed his holdings.  Was he a good landlord?  One historian thinks not.

“No frontier landlord in the entire country caused as much unrest among his tenants and was the object of as much ill-feeling as William Scully.”

His story was recounted in Paul Beaver’s 1964 book William Scully and the Scully Estates.

Reader Feedback – Scullys in Canada.  My ancestry is as follows:

  • Vincent James Scully (1810-1871) who had the Scully cross on the Rock of Cashel erected begat Vincent Scully (1846-1927).
  • Vincent Scully (1846-1927) begat Denys Vincent Arthur Scully (1873-1958).
  • Denys Vincent Arthur Scully (1873-1958) begat Denys Gilbert St. John Scully (1906-1992).
  • Denys Gilbert St. John Scully begat Arthur Vincent Scully (1930-2006).

Our branch in Canada began when my great grandfather – Denys Vincent Arthur Scully – moved to the Calgary, Alberta area in 1899.  I have done quite a bit of research and would be pleased to pass on further information about our Canadian family as I have come to know it.

On another note, I have recently begun spearheading a project to restore the broken “Scully Cross” on the famed Rock of Cashel.  Fund raising is my main hurdle at this point.

Denys A. Scully (

William Scully from Galway to New Zealand.  In 1856 William Cavanagh from Galway was probably the first Irish Catholic to arrive in Otago on South Island under the auspices of the provincially-funded immigration. Once in Otago he wasted little time in nominating his friends and relatives back in Galway for similar assistance.  In 1857 five young immigrants from Galway arrived in Port Chalmers on the George Canning and every year thereafter their numbers steadily increased.

This was the point at which Otago’s de facto discrimination against Irish immigrants broke down.  To save money on recruitment efforts the authorities had always allowed migrants already in Otago (who were assumed to pass all the character requirements since they were actually in the place) to recommend or ‘nominate’ people they knew at home for subsidized fares.

William Scully had come to Otago from Galway by 1861.  In August of that year his name was listed among the first 6,000 men to take up miners’ rights at Gabriel’s Gully in the new Tuapeka goldfield.

Like many of the early Galway arrivals William moved southwards after his stint at the goldfields ended.  There was cheap land available on the Southland plains around Invercargill for those prepared to take on the swamps and bush that covered it. Galway men were active pioneers, combining sawmilling and laboring with the back-breaking work of felling the trees and draining the land to create small farms.

The year 1864 saw the arrival of William’s younger brother Thomas and of Annie Finnerty from Galway whom William was to marry later that year.  Neither William nor Annie nor their witnesses were able to sign their names on the marriage register.  Annie in fact was known to have been a Gaelic speaker all her life.

Dana Scully’s History.  Mulder and Scully were the hero and heroine of the American TV series The X-Files which dealt with the supernatural.  This aired between 1993 and 2002 and was followed by a subsequent feature film and a revival of the series in 2016.  The fictional character Dana Scully was played by Gillian Anderson.  In contrast to Mulder’s credulous “believer” character, Scully was the skeptic, choosing to base her beliefs on what science could prove.

The fictional Dana Scully was given a history. She was born in 1964 in Annapolis, Maryland to William and Margaret Scully and into a close-knit Catholic family with Irish ancestry.  She had an older brother Bill, an older sister Melissa, and a younger brother Charles.

Dana’s father was a navy captain who died of a heart attack in 1994.  Dana grew up in Annapolis and later in San Diego.   She attended the University of Maryland and in 1986 received a degree in physics.  Just out of medical school at Stanford University, she was recruited by the FBI.

In 2002 Scully left government employment and in 2008 she began working as a surgeon in Our Lady of Sorrows, a private Catholic hospital.  She stayed there for seven years, before rejoining the FBI.

Scully Names

  • Darby and Roger Scully were the progenitors of the Scully landowning family in Tipperary. 
  • William Scully became the largest private landowner in the American West, owning more than 200,000 acres in Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska by the year 1900. 
  • Vincent Scully, Professor at Yale University, has been called “the most influential architecture teacher ever.“  He died in 2017 at the age of ninety-seven. 
  • Vin Scully was the broadcaster for the Dodgers baseball team, first in Brooklyn and then in Los Angeles, for a record sixty-seven years between 1950 and 2016. 
  • John Sculley is an American businessman and high-tech entrepreneur who has held senior positions in Pepsi-Cola and in Apple.   
  • Dana Scully was the fictional heroine of the American TV series about the supernatural which was called The X-Files and ran in the 1990’s.

Scully Numbers Today

  • 4,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 4,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 7,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)

Scully 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.

Leinster in SE Ireland covers the counties of Carlow, Dublin, Kilkenny, Offaly, Laois, Longford, Louth, Meath, West Meath, Wexford, and Wicklow.  Here are some of the Leinster surnames that you can check out.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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