O’Donoghue – Rulers of Kerry

History of the Irish name Donoghue. Image copyright Ireland Calling

O’Donoghue is an ancient and popular Irish surname. It originated in South West Ireland and is still particularly common in Co Kerry.

The name has remained popular with and without the ‘O’ prefix and there are also several other variations including Donaghy, Donahow, Doneghoe and many more. See the bottom of this article for more variations.

It derives from the old Gaelic surname O Donnchadha. The ‘O’ prefix means ‘grandson of’ or ‘descendent of’, so people with the surname descended from a man called Donnchadha.

History of Irish surnames

Brown haired warrior

The name Donnchadha comes from two Gaelic words, ‘Donn’ which means brown, a nickname given to brown haired people, and ‘cath’ which means battle. This means that people called O’Donoghue are likely to have descended from a brown haired warrior.

The O Donnchadhas originated in the South West of the country. At one point they had to flee from the McCarthys, who were the Kings of Munster.

They settled in Kerry and over time grew to become an important clan. Their main territory in Kerry was known as Onaght O’ Donoghue and they also had power in areas of Co Cork.

Split into separate septs

As the years passed, the Onaght O’Donoghue spread and eventually split into two distinct septs, or branches. One sept was O’Donoghue of the Glen. It is thought that this was the sept that could rightfully claim the title ‘The O’Donoghue’.

The other sept were the O’Donoghue Mor who built and resided in Ross Castle in Killarney in the 1400s. The castle is still standing and attracts a lot of tourists every years.

Smaller septs spread further across Ireland to places such as Cavan, Kilkenny and Galway. Many Kilkenny O’Donoghues changed their name to Dunphy while the O’Donoghues were most likely to take the spelling, Donohue.

Variations start to develop

During the 12th century people had to start to write their names down for recording tax payments. This led to many people with the same name having differing ideas of how it should be spelt. This is one of the reasons why there are so many different variations to the name that started as O Donnchadha.

To further explain the variations in the spelling we look to the middle ages, when Ireland came under British rule.

Many people dropped the ‘O’ prefix to their surname and anglicised the spelling. This is because it had become extremely difficult for people with an Irish sounding name to find a job.

Famous O’Donoghues

Danny O'Donoghue. Photo copyright Alterna2 CC2
Danny O’Donoghue

Amanda Donohoe is an English actress. She has appeared in several hit TV shows and movies. Some of her notable appearences include The Madness of King George, Liar Liar, as well as TV shows such as Fraiser, LA Law, Ally McBeal and Bad Girls.

Heather Donahue is an American actress who is best known for her appearance in the ground breaking 1999 movie, The Blair Witch Project.

Danny O’Donoghue is an Irish singer songwriter who is best known as the lead singer of The Script and also as a judge on the UK version of The Voice.

Shelagh Donohoe is an American rower who won a silver medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. She also won silver at the 1991 World Championships in Vienna, Austria.

There is also a traditional Irish song called The Bold O’Donoghue which will be familiar to fans of the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem.

Other variations of the name

There are several variations of the name O’Donoghue including; Donaghie, Donaghoe, Donaghy, Donaho, Donahoe, Donahow, Donahue, Donahugh, Donaughue, Doneghoe, Donehue, Donighue, Donoghue, Donoho, Donohoe, Donohue, Donohough, Donohow, Donough, Donoughe.

There are possibly many more variations and most can also include the ‘O’ prefix.

History of Irish surnames