O’Malley – descendants of a gentle chief

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

The surname O’Malley comes from an ancient Connacht clan known as both O’Maoileoin and Ó Máille. There are two different theories about where the O’Maoileoins got their name.

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The first is that it derives from the Celtic words ‘Maille’ which means ‘gentle’ and ‘Maglios’ which means ‘chief’. The second is that ‘Maoileoin’ is a name for a follower of St John.

The ‘O’ prefix means ‘grandson of’ or ‘descendent of’. So the full name would either mean ‘descendent of a gentle chief’ or ‘descendent of a follower of St John’.

Some historians believe the name Ó Máille could also mean ‘descendent of the Prince’. It is uncertain who the prince would have been and perhaps it is actually referring to the chief, as with O’Maoileoin.

Powerful by land or sea

There are several variations of the name including Mailey, Malley, Meally, Melia, Melley and Melly. All of these variations also include the ‘O’ prefix in some cases.

The O’Malleys ruled over the baronies of Murrisk and Burrishoole in Co Mayo. They were a sea-faring family that developed a significant shipping and trading business. The occupation was passed down the generations.

The motto of the O’Malleys is ‘Terra marique potens’ which means ‘powerful by land or sea’.

Grace O’Malley

During the 14th century they were renowned for having a female leader – the famous ‘Pirate Queen’ Grace O’Malley who was also known as Granuail. Grace was Queen of Umaill, which was the territory in Co Mayo that the clan ruled. She was the most famous sea captain of her era and was known as ‘the nurse of all rebellions’.

Grace O'Malley and Queen Elizabeth. Image copyright Ireland Calling

Grace O’Malley had a fascinating life. Read more about her here.

Political O’Malleys

Several O’Malleys had successful careers in politics. An American named King O’Malley left his homeland for Australia. He became Minister for Home Affairs and helped to decide that Canberra would be the country’s capital city.

Donagh Brendan O’Malley was an Irish cabinet minister and was instrumental in bringing free education to Ireland’s youngsters. His son and granddaughter were also politicians in the Irish parliament.

Martin O’Malley was the 61st Governor of Maryland and also served as Mayor of Baltimore.

Ernie O’Malley was an Officer in the IRA during the War of Independence. He wrote three books which are considered to be some of the most important memoirs from the time.

Mike O'Malley. Photo copyright Kristin CC2
Mike O’Malley

Notable O’Malleys

Tony O’Malley was a self-taught Irish painter. He worked as a banker but took up his old childhood passion when he had to leave work due to contracting TB. He moved to St Ives, Cornwall where he felt a connection with the art scene.

Mike O’Malley is an American actor and writer. In the 1990s he was the star of the Mike O’Malley show. He has also appeared in TV shows such as Glee, My Name is Earl, Yes, Dear, Parenthood and Rising Hope. He has also appeared in the movies 28 Days, Deep Impact and RIPD.

Nick O’Malley is a musician from Sheffield, England. He is the bass player for the Arctic Monkeys. He has been a member of the band since 2006, just before they recorded their second album.

Lee Malia is an English musician. He is known for being the lead guitarist for the metal band Bring Me the Horizon. The band have released several critically acclaimed albums and EPs and are favourites of many heavy rock fans.

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