Walsh Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Walsh Surname Meaning

Walsh is a semi-translation of the early Gaelic Breatnach, meaning Welsh or Briton, which became Brenach, Waleys, Walensis, and finally anglicized as Walsh.

Walsh Surname Resources on The Internet

Walsh Surname Ancestry

  • from Ireland and England
  • to France, America, Canada and Australia

Ireland. The name Walsh was used to describe the Welsh who had arrived in Ireland in the wake of Strongbow’s Anglo-Norman invasion of 1170. The name appeared in early records as Breatnach, as Walensis, and then as Waleys. The Annals of the Four Masters recorded in 1208: “David Breatnach, Bishop of Waterford, was slain by O’Faelan of the Desias.”

These Walshes for many years were regarded as English by the Irish and Irish by the English.

Walshes in Mayo have been particularly numerous. It was the most common surname in the county in 1890. In 1588 Lawrence Walsh had compiled a pedigree of the Mayo Walshes of Tirawley, showing them to have been descended from Haylen Brenach or Walensis, the son of Philip the Welshman, who had arrived in Ireland in 1170.

In Kilkenny there were the Walshes of the Mountains and the Walshes of Balynacooly:

  • the forebear of the Walshes of the Mountains was likewise said to have been descended from Walensis in 1170. Their stronghold was Castlehale and the Walsh mountains in Kilkenny was named after them.  Walter Walsh was High Sheriff of Kilkenny in the 1590’s.
  • the Walshes of Balynacooly were a subsidiary branch which began in the late 1500’s.

Both these Walshes lost out heavily during the Cromwellian confiscations.  James Walsh of Balynacooly commanded the ship which brought James II to France after the defeat at the Battle of the Boyne.

Another early Walsh pedigree, this time in Rathronan in Tipperary, began with William Walensis in the 13th century. And the Walshes were also established in the 14th century at Ballygunner in county Waterford.

Generally the Walsh name arose independently in many different places, one reason for its profusion as a surname today. Outside of Dublin, the name is particularly prevalent in Mayo, Kilkenny, Waterford, and Wexford.

England.  While the Walsh name is generally considered to be Irish, there were some English antecedents. The family name le Waleys (meaning from Wales and an early form of Walsh) was to be found in west country and other records by the 13th century.

Henry le Waleys was Lord Mayor of London in 1273. The Walshes of Cathanger in Somerset and the Walshes of Little Sodbury in Gloucestershire were prominent local gentry in their areas in the 16th century.

Later Walshes in England may have been of Irish or English origin. John Walsh, the London-based music publisher of the 1690’s, was Irish. The origin of Enoch Walsh who went out to India around 1688 is uncertain.

His career there with the East India Company was inglorious:  “Enoch Walsh was removed from the company’s service in 1700 for debt and inattention to the company’s affairs.  He fought a duel with Ralph Hartley in 1702.  He subsequently died aboard the Tavistock.”

But his grandson John Walsh was secretary to Lord Clive and returned to England a rich man. He acquired the Warfield Park estate in Berkshire.  

France. Some Irish Walshes emigrated to France during the penal times in Ireland. Antoine Walsh, the son of a Waterford shipbuilder, went to St Malo. He was in charge of the Doutelle, the ship that landed Bonnie Prince Charlie in Scotland in 1745. His eldest son, Count Walsh de Serrant, founded a family that still prevails in France.

Robert Walsh from Cork fought on the American side in their War of Independence and later settled in Paris, opening the first of the American literary salons there.

America. Master Andrew Walsh came to North Carolina from Ireland around the year 1800. He was a teacher and one of the few people at the time there who could read and write. He moved his family around Wilkes county, among the many townships, living in homes of people who had hired him to educate their children. He has left many descendants in North Carolina.

In the 19th century, many Walshes headed for the big cities such as New York and Boston.

The Walshes were one of the Irish gangs of New York in the 1850’s. Michael Walsh from Cork, who had come to New York with his parents, worked as a newspaper reporter and campaigned against the squalor and poverty that he saw on the streets. Meanwhile Blanche Walsh, the daughter of an Irish saloon keeper, was one of the most popular New York actresses of the late 19th century.

Three Boston sons of immigrant parents made good:

  • David Walsh was once Governor and four times US Senator for Massachusetts
  • Father Edmund Walsh was a Jesuit priest who made his mark in international relations
  • while, more recently, Marty Walsh became the Boston mayor in 2014.

Matthew Myles Walsh emigrated from Ireland to Chicago in 1898 to be a carpenter for the World’s Fair.  The company he started – the Walsh Group – is now run by the fourth generation of Walshes and is one of America’s largest general contractors.

Canada. There was a Walsh family from Wexford who came to Newfoundland in 1786 and settled with other Irish arrivals at Cape Broyle. John and Ellen Walsh were recorded there in the 1800 census. Walshes are still to be found in the area.

Richard Walsh and his family from Cork were among the Peter Robinson settlers in 1825 who came to the Peterborough area in Ontario after a lengthy and hazardous trip.  Richard was a Canadian militiaman who helped to quell the rebellion of 1837.  He died in 1851.  His son Redmond went to America and fought in the Civil War.

In 1873 James Walsh, the son of Irish immigrants, joined the Canadian Royal Mounted Police. He was deemed to have failed in his dealings with Sitting Bull and the Sioux Indians on behalf of the Canadian government. However, he later turned up at the Yukon at the time of the gold rush there. Fort Walsh and Mount Walsh in Yukon were named after him.

Australia.  The Walsh family from Castle Erkin in county Limerick were bounty immigrants to Australia in 1844 after the death of their parents a few years earlier.  Patrick Walsh and seven of his brothers and sisters were on the St. Vincent which took them to Sydney.  They settled in the Yarra area of NSW.

Maurice Walsh from Kerry came out to Victoria in the early 1850’s and apparently did well at the Ballarat goldfields.   He married and farmed at South Purrumbete where his family has remained.  In 2020 a descendant Pat Walsh wrote a memoir of this family entitled Milking Our Memories.

Walsh Surname Miscellany

Walsh in Somerset.  The history of the Walsh family at Cathanger in Somerset seems to have begun with a Richard le Waleys who was lord of nearby Stowey in 1255.

His descendant John Walsh was first reported as the master of the Cathanger estate around the year 1500.  His father Thomas and his wife Jane Broke died there.  The story goes that after his wife died, he took holy orders at the nearby abbey of Michelney and was subsequently expelled for raping Mary Clause there.  He then married her as his second wife and she gave him another son and two daughters.

John, his son by his first wife, became Judge John Walsh, Justice of the Common Pleas in Henry VIII’s time.  It was Judge John’s daughter Jane who married Sir Edward Seymour, a son of the Lord Protector the Duke of Somerset.  John Walsh, the last male of the line, died in 1572 and Cathanger was sold around that time.

Walsh in Mayo.  A pedigree of the Walshes of Tirawley in county Mayo “from whom most of the Walshes of Mayo seem to spring” was compiled in 1588 by Lawrence Walsh.  He showed them to have been descended from Haylen Brenach or Walensis, the son of Philip the Welshman, who had arrived in Ireland in 1170.

While the Walsh surname was widespread throughout the county, the greatest concentrations were in the central plain in which the Normans had settled.   Griffiths Valuation in the mid 19th century in fact showed a strong concentration there and particularly in the civil parish of Killedan near Walshpool.

About ninety per cent of the bearers of the surname in Mayo now spell the surname as Walsh.  A further nine presently use the form Walshe, while an anglicized version of Breathnach – Brannick – is borne by some families.  The pronunciation of the surname is more akin to ‘Welch’ (or ‘Welsh’) than ‘Walsh’ in the Mayo accent.

The Walshes of Balygunner.  A Walsh family was said to have been established by the 14th century at Ballygunner in county Waterford.  They held an estate of near 2,000 acres a few miles southeast of Waterford City. The townlands of Ballgunner More, Ballygunner Temple and Ballygunner Castle marked their location.  They were known as Walsh “of the Island,” as having come originally from “the Great Island” in county Wexford east of the Waterford City across the bay.

There seems to have been a succession of knights in the family beginning with Sir Patrick Walsh around 1550.  There was a Sir Robert in 1614 and a Sir James an MP in 1634.  A later Sir Robert lost the property as an Irish Catholic in Cromwell’s time, but had it restored when Charles II came back.  However, after the Jacobite loss in 1690, the estates were all confiscated.

The Walshes of Cape Broyle.  John and Ellen Walsh, natives of Wexford, came to Newfoundland in the late spring of 1785. The Arctic ice had forced their vessel into Petty Harbour where John hauled his wife ashore on a home-made sled and they were made welcome.

They made their home at Cape Broyle.  Mary Walsh, who was born at Cape Broyle in 1796, lived onto 1890, dying in her 94th year.  Many in the family were involved in seal fishing.  Sadly Thomas and Richard Walsh were lost in 1818 when the schooner they were in departed Aquaforte in the spring and never returned.

During the 19th century it might be said that everyone living at Cape Broyle were in some way related to the Walsh family.  The family counted at least five priests, also many nuns, and three Christian brothers.

There are still descendants of the Walsh family living in Cape Broyle today. Patrick Walsh, who died in 1932, passed his 1869-built home onto his son James and it has since been passed through successive generations of Patrick Walshes until the present time.

The Career of David Ignatius Walsh.  David Walsh was born in 1872, one of nine children of Irish immigrant parents.  The Walsh family was relatively poor and more so after the untimely death of David’s father, a comb maker.  His widow helped to keep the family afloat by operating a boarding house.

But David was a bright lad.  He was able to earn a law degree from Boston University’s law school.  From there the path opened to politics.

Walsh demonstrated from an early time an astonishing ability to win the votes of Republicans. In a state where it was said “the Cabots speak only to the Lodges and the Lodges only speak to God,” this Irish Catholic’s success in winning elections was nothing short of incredible. He served as Governor of Massachusetts once and Senator no fewer than four times.

His anti-British Irishness never left him.  In 1919 he relished the opportunity to introduce Eamon de Valera, the President of the Irish Republic, at a gathering attended by thousands at Boston’s Fenway Park.

He was apparently gay.  In 1942 the New York Post published a report about “Senator X” (later identified as Walsh) being discovered in a male brothel in Brooklyn supposedly frequented by German agents.   Was it the British who had planted this story because of his hostility to the British war effort?  In any event, this scandal effectively ended Walsh’s political career.

Father Edmund Walsh.  Edmund Aloysius Walsh came from Irish immigrant stock in Boston.  Born in 1885, he was the last of six children of John Walsh, a Boston police officer, and his wife Catherine.  A bright child, he won a scholarship to a Jesuit school in Maryland where he trained as a priest.  He travelled in the years before the First World War and therein found his true metier, the world of international relations.

In 1919 he founded in Washington the School of Foreign Service, recognizing the need for a school to prepare Americans for future roles as diplomats and business professionals.  The school predated the US Foreign Service by six years and is now named the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Walsh’s international services extended over the next thirty years and were undertaken on behalf of the Vatican and, after World War Two, for the US Government.  Strongly anti-Communist, he was a supporter of Senator Joe McCarthy in his later years.

Richard Walsh’s Hazardous Voyage from Ireland to Canada.  Richard Walsh and his family and other chosen Peter Robinson settlers departed Cork on the John Barry in May 1825.

During the voyage several of the women and children and some of the men have feverish symptoms, constipation and sea sickness. The weather during the voyage was bad.  Some 200 miles below Quebec, the ship ran aground in thick fog and remained stuck for 18 hours.  Many passengers became unruly and endangered the ship.

From Quebec City the settlers proceeded to Montreal by steamboat, prior to walking across Montreal Island to Lachine with their supplies.  They then traveled on a bateaux to Kingston arriving approximately twelve days later. From there they traveled from Kingston to Cobourg by steamer.

The last part of their journey took them up the Otonabee river on scows propelled by the men with oars and poles – before finally arriving at what was then Scott’s Plains and is now Peterborough and surrounding townships.

Walsh Emigrants to Australia.  From the group of eight Walsh brothers and sisters who set out from a small farm at Castle Erkin near Limerick city in 1844, there are now hundreds of Australian descendants.

This family were pioneers of agriculture, grazing and inn-keeping in the Yass, Cowra, Grenfell and Forbes districts of NSW. They contributed to the development of schools and churches and were active in community affairs. The men battled droughts and floods to carve properties from the unfamiliar Australian bush. The women lived in primitive slab huts, gave birth and raised large families with little medical assistance.

Many of their descendants are still connected with the land.  Present descendants of the Walsh family include members of most professions and occupations such as clergymen, nuns and brothers, lawyers, diplomats, doctors, pharmacists, engineers, businessmen, teachers, journalists, librarians, public servants, nurses, musicians and tradesmen.

However, this family is also thought to have produced the infamous killer John Walsh.  In 2012 he murdered his wife, two grandchildren and a family dog before turning an axe on his daughter in a sudden attack at their home in Cowra.

Walsh Names

  • Thomas FitzAnthony Walsh from Kilkenny was Governor of Leinster in the 13th century.
  • Rev. Thomas Walsh was the much persecuted 17th century Archbishop of Cashel.
  • David Walsh was the first Irish Catholic Governor of Massachusetts in 1914.
  • Bill Walsh was the highly successful football coach of the San Francisco 49ers.
  • Courtney Walsh was one of the great fast bowlers in the West Indies cricket team of the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Walsh Numbers Today

  • 73,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 43,000 in America (most numerous in Massachusetts)
  • 103,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)

Walsh is the #4 ranked surname in Ireland.

Walsh and Like Surnames

These were names originally given to outsiders in the British Isles that became surnames.  Thus Walter the Scot became Walter Scott.  Outsiders could also have been Welsh, Irish, French or Flemish.  These are some of the “outsider” surnames which are covered here.


Return to Main Page

Written by Colin Shelley

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *