Whelan Surname Genealogy

The Irish surname Whelan derives from the Gaelic O’Faolain, descendant of Faolain which itself comes from the
Gaelic faol meaning “wolf.”The usual pronunciation was “Fee-lan.” But in some parts of
Kilkenny it could be “Fay-lan” or “Way-lan.” Thus both
Phelan and Whelan emerged as anglicized surnames.
There are
more Whelans
than Phelans
around today. Other surname variants have been
Whalen and Phalen. Whalen
is more common in America.
Select Whelan Resources on The Internet

Whelan Ancestry

was the name of an Irish sept that held sway in SW Ireland
before the arrival of the Normans. Their chiefs were Princes of
the Decies, an ancient title. Faelan mac Cormac was recorded as
succeeding his father as chief in 966. One account of the time
described them as follows:

“Two gentle chiefs whose names I tell
rule the Decies. I affirm it. O’Bric, the exactor of
tributes, and with him the wise and fair O’Felan. In Moylacha of
the fertile slopes rules O’Felan for the benefit of the tribe.
Great is the alloted territory of which O’Felan holds possession.”

O’Faolain was the first Irish chief to fall in resisting the invading
Normans in the 1170’s. Soon most of his territory was
lost. Some O’Faolains managed to stay in Waterford while a branch
of the sept moved north into SW Kilkenny. The early anglicized
names were Felan and Faelan. These names
would become Phelan and Whelan in Waterford and Kilkenny. The
name also extended into Wexford, Carlow and Wicklow in SE Ireland.

Martin Whelan, born in Carrickbeg (Waterford) in 1846, emigrated to
America in the 1880’s and a West Waterford man named Pax Whelan led the
anti-treaty forces in Dungarvon town in 1920. From Carlow came
Sir Thomas Whelan, alderman and lord mayor of Dublin in the
1830’s. His son Edward joined the British army but died in India
in 1854. Griffith’s Valuation showed 96 Whelan occupiers and
tenants of land in Wicklow in 1854.

Billy Whelan, born in Dublin, was one of the Manchester United
footballers killed in the Munich air crash of 1958. In 2006 a
railway bridge in Dublin was renamed in his honor. Ronnie Whelan,
another footballer from Dublin, was part of the dominant Liverpool side
of the 1980’s.

America. Early Whelan
included Whalen emigrants to America who had come
to Virginia from Ireland in the
1770’s. There was Solomon Whalen and there was Patrick Whalen, the
latter marrying Susannah Leach in Virginia in 1777.

Both Whalens
moved to Kentucky in the early 1800’s. Solomon Whalen and his
sons Solomon and Henry began to appear in the tax rolls of Harrison
county, Kentucky in 1803. The family built their log cabin at
in 1835 and the Whalens were to remain there
Squire Whalen’s death in 1931 at the ripe old age of ninety six.

The Whalen spelling, perhaps because of pronunciation, has continued to
predominate in America. Whalens outnumbered Whelans by almost
three to one in the 1920 US census and remain more numerous today.

Canada. Canada also has
more Whalens than Whelans, although the spelling in the early days may
have been quite flexible. Johanna Whalen was born in Newfoundland
in 1786 and moved with her husband to Prospect, Nova Scotia sometime in
the 1810’s (on an island called Betty’s island after their daughter
Betty). John Whalen was born in the province in 1833 and became a
farmer in Chester, Nova Scotia.

Edward Whelan arrived in Nova Scotia with his mother as a young boy
from county Mayo in Ireland in 1831. Growing up, he made a name
for himself as a newspaper man, founding his own paper in
Charlottetown, PEI. He later moved into politics and was one of
the backers of Canadian confederation in the 1860’s.

Australia and New Zealand.
Charles Whalan,
a convict on the Third Fleet in 1791, made good in the NSW Corp and
through his friendship with Governor Macquarie.

Thomas and Bridget Whelan left their home in county Clare at the time
of the potato famine in 1849 for Melbourne. They started out in
the Victoria goldfields and later moved back to Melbourne, while some
of the family crossed over to Otago, New Zealand. Adam Whelan
came to Melbourne on the Schonberg
in 1855.

Martin Whelan arrived in New Zealand from Laois in
1864. He married Elizabeth Walsh in Auckland a year later and
they made their home in the Bay of Plenty.

Whelan Miscellany

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

Whelan Names

Sir Thomas Whelan was Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1831.
Edward Whelan, a Prince Edward
Island newspaper man and delegate to the Quebec conference in 1864, was
one of the fathers of the Canadian Confederation.
Philip Whalen was a West Coast
poet and Zen Buddhist close to the Beat generation of the 1950’s.
Dave Whelan
bought JJB Sports,
a Wigan sportswear company, in 1971 and is the successful owner of the
Wigan football and rugby league teams.

Select Whelans Today

  • 10,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Lancashire)
  • 6,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 24,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)



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