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Moran – ancient rulers of Co Mayo

Moran is an ancient Irish surname that is still popular in Co Mayo, as well as around the English speaking world.

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There are a number of variations including Morahan, Morrin, Murran, Murrin and O’Moran.

The motto on the Moran coat of arms reads ‘Lucent in tenebris’ which means ‘They shine in darkness’.

A Great leader

History of the Irish Moran. Image copyright Ireland CallingThe name originated from the O’Morain clan from the Connacht province of Ireland. The ‘O’ prefix to the name means ‘grandson of’ or descendent of’. Morain was a personal name which came from the Gaelic word ‘Mor’ which meant ‘big’ or ‘great’.

Irish clans used to take the surname of their leader or chief, who would have been likely to have been a warrior. So the Morans were descended from a large warrior chief. Their territory spread from Elphin, Co Galway to Ardnaree, Co Mayo. The chief lived in Ballina, Co Mayo.

The Ballina clan eventually lost their territory to the Barrats and Burkes following the Norman invasion of Ireland.

Members of Hy Many

Another sept, or branch, of the family were an important clan in Co Leitrim. In Galway the Morans were part of the Ui Maine (Hy Many), which was one of the largest and oldest kingdoms in Connacht. The chief of the Co Roscommon family lived in Ballintobber.

In Mayo and Sligo the Morans were respected and were a part of the Uí Fiachrach dynasty. The Uí Fiachrach ruled a fifth of the Connacht province.

Another separate clan also originated in Co Galway. They were called O’Moghrain. Their chief ruled over Criffon, Co Galway. Like the O’Morains, the O’Moghrain descended from a great warrior, possibly a sea warrior.

The name develops and travels

In Co Offaly, the clan known as O’Murchain anglicised their name to Morahan. Families all over Ireland had to anglicise their names as it became very difficult to find work under British occupation for people with an Irish sounding name.

This meant losing the Gaelic ‘O’ prefix and changing the spelling of their name. After the 1798 Rebellion there was a surge of patriotism among the Irish and many families reinstated the prefixes. However, they didn’t usually revert to the Irish spelling as by then many of them spoke English.

Erin Moran. Photo copyright Popular Press Media Group CC3
Erin Moran

In the mid-19th century the Irish faced disaster as the potato crops failed. They lost a quarter of the population to either emigration or death caused by starvation or disease. Millions left the country and travelled to across the world, most notably to Britain, America, Canada and Australia.

The surnames travelled with them and there are now millions of people of Irish descent in these countries.

Famous Morans

Dylan Moran is an Irish comedian and actor. He is well known for his roles in Shaun of the Dead and Calvary. As a comedian he is popular in Ireland and Britain for his observational style. He has also written and starred in the hit TV series Black Books.

Erin Moran is an American actress. She has appeared in several movies and TV shows including Galaxy of Terror, The Waltons, Diagnosis Murder and Murder She Wrote. She is most famous for her role as Joanie Cunningham in the hit series Happy Days and the spinoff Joanie Loves Chachi.

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Nick Moran is an English actor, writer and director. He is best known for playing Eddie in the British gangster movie Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. He has appeared in many other films including Another Life, Amazing Grace and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows.

Kevin Moran was a top flight soccer player in the 1980s with Manchester United and Ireland.


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