O’Dwyer – rulers of Kilnamanagh

History of the Irish name O'Dwyer. Image copyright Ireland Calling

O’Dwyer is an ancient Irish name that has strong links to Co Tipperary. Dwyer is a common variation. Here is a brief history of the Irish name O’Dwyer and its origins.

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It is derived from the original Irish name Ó Dubhuir. The ‘O’ prefix to the name means ‘descendent of’, while Dubhuir was a personal name.

The name Dubhuir was made up of two old Gaelic words, firstly ‘duibh’ which meant black’ and secondly ‘odhar’ which was a word for an orange-yellow-brown type colour.

It is possible that the name referred to a person who had black hair and a darker skin tone than average at the time.

It isn’t known who the original Dubhuir was but it is likely that he would have been either a clan elder or warrior around the 10th century. People in Ireland around this period took their surnames from the leader of their clan.

Barony of Kilnamanagh

They originated in Co Tipperary and were based in the Barony of Kilnamanagh Lower. This was a mountainous area near the town of Limerick and was one of twelve of Baronies in Tipperary. The O’Dwyers were an important family and by the 1500s they were in control of Kilnamanagh.

The O’Dwyers refused to conform to the English government and for many years successfully defended their territory against English invaders.

Michael Dwyer

Michael Dwyer was a leader in the 1798 Rebellion. He ran a guerrilla campaign from the Wicklow Mountains attacking small groups of British loyalists when the chance came. He was a wanted man and would often hide in the homes of trusted Irish civilians.

Michael Dwyer
Michael Dwyer

One day he and his men were betrayed by an informer who led the British forces to a cottage where he was staying. There were three cottages full of Dwyer’s men.

The first two surrendered but the men in Dwyer’s cottage decided to fight after they had managed to negotiate the safety of the women and children.

Shots were fired from both sides and the cottage went up in flames. Dwyer managed to escape thanks to the bravery of his comrade Sam McAllister who stood at the door to take the attention of the British soldiers.

Dwyer eventually surrendered and was deported to Australia after the government had gone back on an agreement to send him to America.

The name spreads across the world

Many people would eventually leave Ireland and head to new countries in the mid-19th century as a result of the potato famine that devastated Ireland.

People starved to death or died from diseases due to consecutive potato crop failures. Others left the country and headed to places such as Britain, America, Canada and Australia.

Notable O’Dwyers

Joseph O’Dwyer was an American physician in the 19th century. He is highly respected for his work in the treatment of diphtheria.

William O’Dwyer was born in Co Mayo in 1890 but headed for a new life in America. He became Mayor of New York and was an ambassador for the USA.

Video histories of popular Irish names

Irish names and their meanings

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