The surname Dolan is a common one in Ireland and around the world. In America alone, there are an estimated 40,000 people with the name. Dowling is a common variation of Dolan.
It derived from the ancient Gaelic word Dobhailen. This meant ‘defiance’ or ‘challenge’. The first person to be named Dolan was likely to have been a stubborn character, possibly with a reputation as a tough negotiator.
The name became O’Dobhailen over time, with the ‘O’ being added to the name to signify that the person was a ‘descendant of’ Dobhailen.
The name is particularly common in Ireland in the counties of Roscommon, Leitrim and Cavan. This suggests that the name also originated in the same area. It is likely that the O’Dobhailens were a significant clan in the Ulster province of Ireland between the 11th and 15th centuries.
When Oliver Cromwell and his army invaded in 1649, the clans in Ireland were overpowered and had their land confiscated. The O’Dobhailen clan was ousted from their land and had to work as peasants in the new Ireland, which was now being governed by Britain.
The land was given out to British settlers, who became integrated into the Irish society. Many O’Dobhailens would have changed their name to the more English sounding Dolan around this time, as it was difficult to find work if you had an Irish sounding name.
In the mid-1800s, thousands of Dolans were forced to leave Ireland because of the ‘Great Famine’. A series of failed potato crops left the people of Ireland starving to death, and more than a million people left for America, Canada, Britain and Australia.
Famous Dolans around the world
There have since been several noteworthy people named Dolan.
Brendan Dolan is a professional darts player from Northern Ireland. He is nicknamed the ‘History Maker’, because he hit a 9-dart leg in the 2011 World Grand Prix tournament, the first player to do so. 9-darts finishes are extremely rare, and the Grand Prix tournament is unique in that the player must start their game by hitting a double, making the 9-darter even more difficult.
Margaret Dolan was the oldest person in Ireland in the early 2000s. She lived to the age of 111, until her death in 2004. She didn’t smoke or drink and attributed her long life to her ‘young heart’ and active mind.
Joe Dolan was an Irish singer, who remained a favourite of the public for several years. He had a song reach the top ten in the charts in the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s, a completely unique achievement.
Larry Dolan is a successful attorney in America. In 2000, he used his fortune to buy the Major League Baseball team, the Cleveland Indians. Larry’s son Paul Dolan is the chairman and CEO of the company.
Xavier Dolan is a Canadian actor and director who has made several films. He also works as a voice actor for French dub translations and has been the voice of Ron Beasley in the Harry Potter films and Stan Marsh from South Park.