Mullan – holy monks of ancient Ireland

History of the Irish name Mullan. Image copyright Ireland Calling
History of the Irish name Mullan. Image copyright Ireland Calling

The name Mullan is a popular one in Ireland and also several other English speaking nations around the world. There are lots of variations of the name such as Mullen, Mullins and O’Mullan.

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The name Mullan can be traced back to two or three different origins. There was certainly an English version of the name, referring to someone who either lived near or worked in a mill.

History of the Irish name Mullan. Image copyright Ireland CallingThere is also a likely Norman version that has been anglicised from the French name Mullem, a name given to someone from the region in what is now Belgium.

The Irish version of Mullan is believed to come from the medieval Gaelic word Maolán. Maolán is an extension of the word maol which meant bald. Maolán meant ‘the tonsured one’. Tonsure meant having a shaved head and was associated with religious sacrifice. It was usually a term used to describe a holy monk.

Various Irish clans

The name Maolán was not uncommon in Ireland. There were at least three separate clans with the name. It also evolved into O’Maolán with the O being added to indicate that someone was the descendant of the clan leader, as opposed to the person who was originally given the name.

There was a family in Co Galway called O’Maolán. They claimed to have descended from an ancient King of Connacht, which would make them relations of the O’Concannons. There was also an O’Maolán clan in County Cork, which was probably distantly related to the Galway O’Maoláns.

A clan called Ó Mealláíns held large territories in Ulster. Much of the areas now known as Counties Tyrone, Derry and Donegal belonged to the Ó Mealláíns.

Different spellings of the name

In the years after Cromwell’s invasion of Ireland, many Gaelic names were changed to sound more English. This was because the Irish land was now owned by English settlers, and to find work people needed an English sounding name. During this time a completely new clan arrived in Ulster from Scotland called the MacMullens.

All the different versions of the name altered slightly over time. When written records of people’s names first came into practice, the name was generally recorded as Mullan or Mullins but there are numerous other spellings.

In the mid-1800s the name spread to America, Canada and Australia as people left Ireland because of the ‘Great Famine’. It has since moved even further afield.

Famous Mullan/Mullins throughout history

Larry Mullen Jr. Photo copyright CC2There have been several people named Mullan or Mullins that have made their mark in history.

One of the earliest was Shane Crossagh Ó Maoláin. He was an outlaw in Ireland in the 16th century. His family were evicted from their home in Derry. Ó Maoláin gathered a crew of people who had suffered similar injustices, and went on a spree of high jacking and robbing wealthy landowners. Ó Maoláin would share his riches with other eviction victims and was considered a hero. However, he was eventually captured and sentenced to death by hanging.

Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator who spent his life campaigning for Catholic Emancipation was the son of Catherine O’Mullane from County Kerry.

Larry Mullen Jr is the drummer for Irish rock legends U2.

Paddy Mullins was a top racehorse trainer from Ireland. After his death in 2010, his stable was taken over by his son and former jockey Willie Mullins.

Karl Mullen was the captain of the Irish rugby team that won the country’s first ever Grand Slam title in 1948. Brian O’Driscoll is currently the only other Irish captain to achieve the Grand Slam.


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