Whelan Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Whelan Meaning
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.
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Whelan Ancestry

Ireland.
O’Faolain
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
Whelan
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
emigrants
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
Havilandsville
in 1835 and the Whalens were to remain there
until
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.

 

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Whelan Miscellany

O’Faolain Origins.  Legend has it that the original Faoláin from whom the Phelan surname is derived was
nineteenth in descent from a younger brother of Conn of the Hundred
Battles who
reigned as the High King of Ireland for thirty five years until his
death in
157 AD.

Numerous members of the Ó Faoláin sept were rulers over the years of
the Decies
tribe which settled in what today is county Waterford.  They were
in fact
one of the original ancient septs of  Ireland.

Whelans and Phelans.  Both Phelan and Whelan emerged as anglicized surnames.  There are in fact more Whelans than Phelans today.

Numbers (000’s) Whelan Phelan
Ireland    14   7
Elsewhere    26   15

Other surname variants have been Whalen and Phalen.  Whalen
is more common in America.

Some Whelan/Whalen Emigrants.  These
were some of the Whelans/Whalens who left
Ireland in the 19th century for pastures new:

  • Patrick
    Whalin, born 1738 in Ireland, married Susannah Leach, and emigrated to
    Montgomery county, Virginia
  • Solomon
    Whalen, born 1749 in Ireland, and emigrated to Harrison county, Kentucky
  • John Whalen, born 1790 in Kilkenny, married
    Mary Walsh, and emigrated to Nova Scotia in Canada
  • Patrick Whalen, born 1795 in Cork,
    married
    Bridget Murphy, and emigrated to Ontario (Carleton county) in Canada
  • Patrick Whalen, born 1816 in Tipperary,
    married Deborah Collins, and emigrated to Canada (Kincardine) in Canada
  • Robert Whalen, born 1826 in Ireland, married
    Ellen McGraw, and emigrated to Ohio
  • Martin Whalen, born 1830 in Waterford, married Ellen
    Power, and
    emigrated to New York
  • John Whelan, born
    1830 in Ireland, married Margaret Power, and emigrated to Hudson
    county, New
    Jersey
  • Adam Whelan, born 1832 in
    Tipperary, married Mary McInerney, and emigrated to Melbourne, Australia
  • Thomas Whelan, born 1832 in
    Limerick, married
    Catherine Boyle, and emigrated to Iowa
  • Thomas Whalin, born 1848 in Laois, married Margaret
    McComiskie, and
    emigrated to Scotland

The Whalen spelling predominated for emigration across the Atlantic.

Charles Whalan, A Convict Who Made Good in Australia.  Having been caught
poaching trout when he was about fourteen years
old, Charles was sentenced in London in 1787 to seven years
transportation in
Australia.  He was eventually shipped
there two years later on the Albemarle.
By 1793 Charles, well educated, was able to
join the NSW Corp and he became Sergeant of the Governor’s Bodyguard of
Light
Horse serving Governor Lachlan Macquarie.

Macquarie trusted him implicitly and Charles became close to him.  One of his sons was even named Macquarie and
Governor Macquarie was his godfather.
But the young boy died at the age of four.  The
Governor noted in his diary:

“The
rains all over the colony were both
savage and severe.  They marked the
passing of my poor little godson, Macquarie Whalan, son of our faithful
Sergeant Whalan.”

Charles and his sons
received generous land grants from Macquarie.
The Whalan suburb of Sydney in fact takes its name from James
Whalan,
his eldest son, who was granted 300 acres at Mount Druitt.

Squire and Allen Whalen of Havilandsville, Kentucky.  Whalens have
been resident in Havilandsville, Kentucky since the early 1800’s.  The following article appeared about them in
the Lexington Herald-Leader of
January 13, 1957.

“We
found Allen
Whalen, a keen-witted 87-year-old, topping his patch of chewing tobacco
which
was goring in the vegetable garden.  He had many memories of
Havilandsville in the earlier days.

His
father, Squire Whalen, built his own log cabin in the woods here about
1835.  He built his own flatboats, too, and shipped the produce of
his farm
downriver to Cincinnati.  Once when he received three cents a
pound for
his tobacco crop he considered it an excellent price.
One
of the best-remembered things he told his
son was how, as a young man he once went to the creek to haul
water.
Glancing behind him, he saw following his cow, horse, dog and cat – all
his
earthly possessions – and was the proudest man in the world.

Squire
Whalen died in 1931 at the age of
96.  Before he died he told his son many anecdotes about
Havilandsville
and the northeastern corner of Harrison county it served.”

Dave Whelan and Football.  Dave Whelan had two bites of the footballing cherry,
as a player for Blackburn Rovers and as an owner of Wigan Athletics.  In-between there was a very successful
business career.

In his autobiography Playing to Win, Whelan
credited the
Wigan Boys’ Club for turning him from a feckless rebel with criminal tendencies into a lad
determined to go on
the straight and narrow and make it as a footballer.
He
signed for Blackburn Rovers in 1953 and made
his debut for the Rovers in 1956.  The
highlight of his footballing career came in 1960 when he and Blackburn
Rovers
made it to the FA Cup Final.

However,
just two minutes before half-time, the right shin of Norman Deeley, the
Wolves’
outside-right, met Dave Whelan’s left shin and there was a loud crack.  Whelan was carried off and ten-man Blackburn
lost the game.  At 23, Dave Whelan’s
top-level career was effectively over.

With
the £400 compensation he received following his injury, he made a fresh
start
as a market trader in Blackburn.  Soon he
bought a small grocery business which was rapidly parlayed into a
discount
business and eventually sold to a supermarket chain for £1.5 million.  For his next trick, he transformed a local
sports shop, JJ Bradburn, into JJB Sports, one of Britain’s biggest sports retailers.

In 1995 David Whelan turned his eye towards his
primary love, football, and took over as Chairman of then struggling
Wigan
Athletic.  His involvement began when a
director asked him to loan the club £760 to cover the players’ wages
for the
week: “And bingo, I was in.”

His
investment saw Wigan rise through the ranks, culminating in their
promotion to
the top drawer, the English Premiership, in 2005.  He
has invested heavily in providing the
public of Wigan, including the supporters of the town’s rugby team
which he
helped rescue from financial ruin, with a stadium fit for high level
sport.

 

 

Select
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 was a successful owner of the Wigan football and rugby league teams.

Select Whelan Numbers 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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