O’Hanlon – Great Champions of County Armagh

History of the Irish name Hanlon. Image copyright Ireland Calling

Hanlon and O’Hanlon are popular names around the world today. Their origins can be traced back more than 1,000 years to ancient Ireland.

There was a great warrior in Ireland in the 7th century. His name was Anluain, which was made up of two Gaelic words, “an” meaning great and “luain” which meant champion.

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He was the leader of one of the septs of the Ui’Niallan clan, which means he was a descendant of Niall of the Nine Hostages, a powerful king of the 4th and 5th centuries and one of the most significant characters in Irish history.

Anluain’s descendants took the name O’Lanluain. In ancient Ireland, clans took the name of their leader. The ‘O’ prefix is very common in Irish names. It means ‘the grandson of’ or ‘descendant of’. The family held territory in the area now known as County Armagh and remained close allies of the O’Neill clan.

O’Lanluains fought alongside Brian Boru

The O’Lanluain family fought alongside the High King of Ireland, Brian Boru at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. Boru significantly weakened the Viking invaders’ hold on Dublin but was killed in the conflict.

In the early 16th century, Queen Elizabeth ordered the British to take proper control of Ireland. Although the country was by now officially under British rule following the Norman invasions of the 12th century, it was still divided up into several mini-kingdoms led by Irish and Norman family clans.

The area around Armagh was still ruled by the O’Lanluains. The British confiscated the land and Elizabeth granted ownership of it to Thomas Chatterton (not the poet of the 18th century but a soldier and explorer of the same name). His remit was to crush any retaliation from the disgruntled natives. He failed to do this and the O’Lanluains regained their territory.

O’Lanluain was anglicised to O’Hanlon

Oliver Cromwell led another invasion of Ireland in the 17th century, this time more brutal and ruthless. The native clans were forced from their land and it was given to British settlers. Ireland was very much now under British rule.

Landowners and merchants would look to employ people with English names ahead of their Irish counterparts. For this reason, many Irish people changed the pronunciation and spelling of their names to make them sound more English.

This included the O’Lanluains. The name was anglicised to O’Hanlon. Some chose to go a step further and drop the Irish ‘O’ prefix as well, and the name Hanlon emerged.

In the years around and after the ‘Great Famine’ in the mid-1800s, a million people left Ireland to start a new life elsewhere. During this time, many Hanlons and O’Hanlons spread around the world to America, Canada, Australia and Britain.Ardal O'Hanlon as Father Dougal Maguire

Famous O’Hanlons around the world

There have been many noteworthy people in history that have made a mark in their respective fields.

Count Redmond O’Hanlon was an Irish outlaw of the 17th century. He was known for his generosity in Ireland, frequently robbing the rich to give to the poor. For this reason, he has gone down in history as the ‘Irish Robin Hood’.

Ardal O’Hanlon is a popular Irish actor and comedian. He played the loveable Father Dougal Maguire in the hilarious comedy Father Ted. He then starred as the lead character in the sit-com My Hero. O’Hanlon is also an accomplished stand-up comedian and regularly performs on various comedy shows.

Evan O’Hanlon is and Australian Paralympic athlete. He competed at the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Paralympic Games. He won five gold medals across the two competitions, including winning and defending the 100m and 200m T38 sprints.

Video histories of popular Irish names

Irish names and their meanings