Nolan – honourable warriors of County Carlow

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

Nolan is a popular name in Ireland today, and is also found in several other English speaking countries around the world. There are also several variations such as Noland, O’Nolan and Nolin. Its origins can be traced back to 12th century Ireland.

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The name Nolan is thought to be the anglicisation of the ancient Irish name O’Nullain. The word Nullain meant ‘noble’ or ‘famous’. It is likely that the name was given to an ancient warrior, a man that was feared and respected by his enemies for his honour on the battlefield.

History of the Irish name Nolan. Image copyright Ireland CallingThe ‘O’ was added to the name as Nullain passed the leadership of the family down through the generations. In ancient Ireland, the ‘O’ prefix meant ‘descendant of’, so the O’Nullains had descended from one warrior chief called Nullain.

The O’Nullain clan were a powerful family in the south of Ireland and held territories in County Carlow. In fact, they were close allies of the Kings of Leinster and were given the title of Princes of Forde.

When the British invaded Ireland in the 17th century, many Irish names evolved to become more English sounding, because people could struggle to find work with an Irish name. Many people called O’Nullain changed their name to Nolan for this reason.

The name is still a common one around County Carlow today. It became a popular name in America, Britain and Australia when thousands of Nolans were forced to emigrate from Ireland in the mid-1800s. Millions left Ireland after the country suffered several failed potato crops, and the event is now known as the ‘Great Famine’.

Famous Nolans around the world

Since then, there have been numerous successful people called Nolan, in various different fields.

The Nolans were a group of four sisters from England who formed a popular music band. They are most remembered for their 1979 smash hit, I’m In the Mood for Dancing.
Nolan sisters performing their smash hit, I'm in the Mood fro Dancing
Christopher Nolan is a British film director and producer who has made blockbuster movies including Inception, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises.

Another Christopher Nolan was a poet from Mullingar in Ireland. Due to complications during his birth, he was left with cerebral palsy and was almost completely paralysed for the whole of his life. Despite this, Nolan wrote several poems by using a pointer attached to his head to type on his computer. He had his first work published at the age of 15, and six years later he was awarded the UK’s Whitbread Book of the Year Award for his book about his childhood named Under the Eye of the Clock.


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