Boland – clans of Counties Sligo, Clare and Offaly

History of the Irish name Boland. Image copyright Ireland Calling

The Irish name Boland is a popular one in Ireland but is also found commonly in other English-speaking countries like America and Australia.

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The exact origins of the name are uncertain.
There was definitely an English name Bowland, which was originally given to the area of land in the bend (bow) of a river. As people left their villages to live and work elsewhere, they were often named after the place they had come from, so Bowland became an English surname. As in ‘the person who comes from the land at the bend in the river’.

This name was common in England and could have made its way to Ireland from any point after the Anglo-Norman invasions in the late 12th century. The Normans also had a personal name Bolan, which would have been brought to Ireland.

However, the Irish had their own version of the name before any invasions from Britain. There was a family clan from Munster named Ó Beólláin. The clan also held territories in Counties Clare and Offaly and spread as far north as County Sligo.

The family claimed to be descendants of the brother of Brian Boru, who was once the High King of Ireland. Historians have suggested this royal lineage is unlikely to be true.

The name became anglicised

The names became anglicised after the Cromwellian invasion in the 17th century. Britain took total control of Ireland and handed out land to British settlers. As an Irish person, it was easier to find work if your name sounded English, so many adapted their name to Anglicise it. The British also took written records of people’s names so that they could be taxed efficiently.

These records were taken by English officials who would write down the names as they sounded, so the Gaelic Ó Beólláin name was anglicised to Boland. Variations to the name such as Bolan and Bolland also emerged at this point.

The name spread around the world in the years of the ‘Great Famine’ in the mid-1800s. Millions of Irish people died of starvation and disease due to a series of failed potato crops. More than a million more left to start new lives in America, Australia, Britain and Canada. Since then the name Boland, and its variations, has been commonly found in all these countries.

Gerald and Harry Boland

There have been several people named Boland that have made their mark in history.
Harry Boland
Gerald and Harry Boland were Irish nationalist brothers in the early 20th century. Both men played their part in Ireland’s fight for independence.

Gerald fought in the Easter Rising under Thomas McDonagh and was arrested for his part in the rebellion. He later opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty and was a close ally of Eamon de Valera. Boland was crucial in the development of Sínn Féin and was part of the new government formed by Fianna Fáil in 1932.

Harry Boland was a close friend of Michael Collins. He too, had fought in the Easter Rising and was Collins’ right-hand-man during the Irish War of Independence. Unfortunately, the two men fell out when they both fell for the same woman, Kitty Kiernan.

Kiernan chose to be with Collins. Boland sided with the anti-treaty IRA during the Irish Civil War and was killed by Free State soldiers. His death is thought to have affected Collins deeply and spurred him to try and bring a peaceful end to the conflict.

Famous Bolands throughout the world

Halema Boland. Photo copyright  Abodi009 CC2Mary Boland was an American actress and a star of the silent film era and then the first sound movies. She appeared in The Stepping Stone, Secrets of a Secretary and Pride and Prejudice. Boland’s contribution towards the early film industry is honoured by a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Francy Boland was a Belgian jazz pianist and composer. He was regarded as one of the leading musicians of his day and had a long and successful career performing in both Europe and America. He was also a part of the One World, One Peace organisation involving Pope John Paul II.

Halema Boland is a television presenter and journalist from Kuwait. She is a popular personality and was named Miss Arab Journalist in 2007.

Video histories of popular Irish names

Irish names and their meanings

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