Boyle – former rulers of Donegal

History of the Irish name Boyle. Image copyright Ireland Calling

Boyle is one of the 50 most popular surnames in Ireland. It is derived from the ancient Gaelic name Ó Baoghill.

There are numerous variations to the name Boyle including O’Boyle, Boyles, Boal and Boyall.

The ‘O’ prefix to the name means ‘grandson of’ or ‘descendent of’.

Scholars are split on the original meaning of the second part of the name. One theory is that ‘Baoghill’ was a personal name that meant ‘the rash one’. Another says that the name ‘Baoghill’ comes from the old Gaelic word ‘geall’ which means ‘pledge’.

Meaning of Boyle

Irish families used to take their surname from an original powerful chief of the clan. In the first theory of the Boyles, Baoghill, their chief, would have been likely to have made a number of rash, possible volatile, decisions.

The second theory, that Baoghill’s name was a nickname meaning ‘pledge’, is thought to mean that the chief had ‘profitable pledges’. This could mean that he was a politically or economically savvy operator who could call on support from important allies.

The Boyles originated in Donegal and were a powerful family. At one period during the Middle Ages the entire north west of Ireland was controlled by either the Boyles, O’Dohertys or O’Donnells. Boyle, or O’Boyle, is still the third most popular surname in Co Donegal to this day.

Norman Boyles

Another family of Boyles from Scotland settled in Ulster and became prominent in counties Down and Armagh. They are descended from the Norman family, de Boyville. The family took their name from the town which is now called Beauville in Normandy. The French origin could also have come from the nickname ‘Boille’ which was a term of endearment for a small rounded person.

Richard Boyle
Richard Boyle

They would have settled in Scotland sometime after the Norman invasion of England in the mid-11th century.

They would have moved to Ireland during the Plantation of Ulster in the early 17th century. The Plantation of Ulster saw many Scottish Protestants awarded land and titles in Ulster after the Irish Lords and soldiers had had to flee to mainland Europe following their defeat in the Nine Year War.

Richard and Robert Boyle

Richard Boyle lived from 1566 to 1643. He came from Kent in England but is likely to have had Irish ancestry. He moved to Ireland in 1588 and became extremely wealthy. He had a turbulent relationship with the English rulers and spent time imprisoned in the Tower of London. However, he was also a powerful figure in the English court.

In 1619, he was given land in Co Waterford that had been confiscated from Sir Walter Raleigh. He became Earl of Cork and his descendants were Earls of Cork and Shannon.

Richard’s son, Robert Boyle, was an experimental physicist and also regarded as the first modern chemist. He was the formulator of Boyle’s Law which states ‘the volume of a fixed quantity of gas at a constant pressure is inversely proportional to its pressure’. He was an influential champion of science in Ireland and Britain and was one of the founders of the Royal Society.

Famous Boyles

Susan Boyle. Photo copyright Wasforgas CC3
Susan Boyle

Danny Boyle is an English director. He has made several critically acclaimed films including Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, 28 Days Later and The Beach. He received huge praise in the UK for his direction of the London Olympics opening ceremony. He won an Academy Award for Best Director for the film Slumdog Millionaire.

Susan Boyle is a Scottish singer who shot to fame on the TV talent show Britain’s Got Talent. As she stepped onto the stage in front of the judges, many audience members instantly rolled their eyes and turned their noses up at her before she had sang a note.

This was due to her appearance which didn’t fit in with the young attractive stars they were expecting. However, when Boyle started to sing she amazed everybody and proved that people shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. She has gone on to sell millions of albums.

Frankie Boyle is a Scottish comedian who is famous for his controversial and cruel sense of humour. He has been a regular on UK TV comedy shows since the early 2000s.

History of Irish names