Dempsey – rulers of Co Offaly

History of the Irish name Dempsey. Image copyright Ireland Calling

The names Dempsey and O‘Dempsey are popular throughout the world. They originated in Co Offaly, in the centre of Ireland and have spread the globe as a result of Irish emigration at various points in history.

The names are derived from the ancient Gaelic name Ó Diomasaigh. The prefix ‘O’ means ‘grandson of’ or ‘descendent of’ while ‘Diomasaigh’ comes from the Gaelic word ‘díomasach’ which means ‘proud’.

Irish clans usually took their name from their leader. Therefore Dempseys would have been descendants of a proud leader.

There are numerous variations to the name including Dempsay, Dempsie and Dempsy.

History of Irish surnames

Fighting for and against the English

The family had territory in Clanmalier which was on the border of what is now Co Offaly and Co Laois. In 1169-71, Ireland was invaded by the Normans. The Normans took the Leinster towns of Dublin and Wexford as well as Waterford in Munster.

The Dempseys were one of the few Irish clans to fight off the Norman forces and keep their land. Perhaps this is thanks to their territory being in the centre of Ireland and harder to reach.

However, as the years passed the Dempseys formed an alliance with the English rulers. They joined forces in the massacre of the O’Lalor and O’Moore clans in Co Laois in 1577. King James I granted Terence Dempsey the title of ‘Viscount Clanmalier’.

The slaughter of these clans is thought to have hurt the Dempsey’s standing and reputation as a great family. They lost support and many historians believe this contributed to their eventual downfall.

Decline in power

Nearly 100 years later, the Dempseys fought alongside the Irish against the English in the Williamite War of 1689-91. The war was between the Protestant William of Orange and the Catholic James II.

Following William’s victory, many Irish noblemen and soldiers, including the Dempseys, were forced to flee the country. It was known as the ‘Flight of the Wild Geese’ and saw many head to European countries and serve with foreign armies.

Land was confiscated from all families who fought against William. The Dempseys along with many other noble families lost their power.

Sporting Dempseys

Jack Dempsey was an American heavyweight boxer in the 1920s. He had 83 fights in a 13 year career and lost just six times. He was heavyweight champion of the world for seven years and is considered one of the best boxers of all time.

Clint Dempsey
Clint Dempsey

Clint Dempsey is an American soccer player from Nacogdoches, Texas. He played in the English Premier League for six years, for Fulham and Tottenham. He is Fulham’s highest ever Premier League goal scorer and is the first American to score a Premier League hat-trick.

He is the only player to score for the USA in three successive World Cup tournaments and scored the fifth fastest goal in World Cup history against Ghana in 2014.

Famous Dempseys

Michael Dempsey is an English musician. He was the bass player for the Cure, who were one of Britain’s most influential bands of the 1980s.

Patrick Dempsey is an American actor who is also a talented racing driver. He has appeared in movies such as Transformers, Freedom Writers, Enchanted and Scream 3. He is also well known for playing Dr Derek Shepherd in Grey’s Anatomy.

Dempsey is also a keen racing driver and has competed in several pro-am events such as 24 Hours of Le Mans and Rolex 24 At Daytona.

Damien Dempsey is a singer songwriter from Dublin. He has released several acclaimed albums and is known for the social commentary inn his songs.

History of Irish surnames