Malone – religious family from Connacht

Irish name Malone. Image copyright Ireland Calling

Malone is a well-known Irish surname that has become popular throughout the English speaking world.

Back to Irish surnames

It originated in Connacht in the medieval period. The family were originally a branch of the powerful O’Connor clan.

The name Malone is derived from the old Gaelic name O’Maoileoin. The ‘O’ prefix to the name means ‘grandson of’ or ‘descendent of’, while Maoileoin was a personal name. The name Maoileoin was made up of two words, ‘Maol’ which meant ‘bald’ and ‘Eoin’ which was the Irish version of the Latin name Latin name Loannes.

The English version of this name is John.

Devotee of St John

The reference to the person being bald would have meant that he was a monk. The reference to Eoin, or John, meant St John. The monk would have been a devotee of St John. The monk’s clan of family members and followers would have taken his name.

The name O’Maoileoin therefore means ‘descendent of the devotee of St John’. The motto on the Malone coat of arms reads ‘Fideis ad urnam’ which translates to ‘Faithful to the Tomb’.

While Malone sounds similar and has a similar meaning to another famous Irish name – Maloney – the two names have different origins. The Maloneys were also followers of a monk, but originated in Co Clare. More on the Maloney clan

The Malones were a religious family and served as bishops and abbots at the Abbey of Clonmacnois for centuries.

Offaly and Westmeath

A branch of the family lived in Offaly and had an estate in Ballynahown. Another branch were an important family in Westmeath and had large estates in the county.
The name developed in the 17th century after The British took control over Ireland. Oliver Cromwell’s men were ruthless and savage, they didn’t just want to take over the country, they wanted to eradicate the culture.

Irish surnames became anglicised, partly because it was English clerks who would write down their name for tax purposes. The clerks would write the names with an English spelling as that is what was familiar to them.

Another reason for the Anglicisation of Irish names was that it had become difficult to find work for people with in Irish name. This forced people to drop the Gaelic prefixes, such as ‘O’ and ‘Mac’. At this time the name O’Maoileoin became Malone.

The name spreads across the world

The Malones later fought for the Catholic King James II as he tried to regain control of Ireland. James was defeated by William of Orange and many people who had fought for him were forced to flee to countries like France and Spain. Many went to other countries and William Malone went on be a President of the Irish College in Rome, Italy.

Dorothy Malone
Dorothy Malone

The Malones in Westmeath changed their faith and were allowed to keep their land. They became members of the Anglo-Irish gentry.

Some families reinstated the Gaelic prefixes in the early 19th century but the Malones left their name as it was.

In the mid-19th century, Irish names spread around the world as people emigrated in their millions. Ireland had been struck by disaster as the potato famine was causing millions to die of starvation and disease.

People were forced to leave their country and head to places like Britain, America, Canada and Australia in search of new opportunities. Irish names like Malone are popular in all these countries today.

Famous Malones

Dorothy Malone was an American actress. She had a long successful career in films spanning from the 1940s to the 90s. She won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in the 1956 film Written in the Wind.

Karl Malone is an American former basketball star. He spent 18 years plying for Utah Jazz. He is considered to be one of the greatest ever power forwards to grace the NBA. He was twice name NBA most Valuable Player and was named in the NBA All-Star Team 14 times, including 11 years in a row from 1988-98.