O’Toole – prosperous or mighty people

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

The O’Toole family are derived from Tuathal, who was King of Leinster in the 10th century. They were once one of the great septs, or clans, of Leinster.

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There are numerous variations of the name including Toole and Toal.
History of the Irish name O'Toole. Image copyright Ireland CallingIt is not known for sure what Tuathal means but many scholars have suggested it could mean ‘mighty people’. Others disagree and believe it means ‘prosperous’.

This could mean that King Tuathal was himself from a mighty family or that he was prosperous. Either explanation would seem plausible given that he was king of a huge province.

Meaning of O’Toole

The ‘O’ prefix to the name O’Toole means ‘grandson of’ or ‘descendent of’. So the full name means ‘descendent of the mighty people’ or ‘descendent of the prosperous’.

The O’Tooles were one of the great families in Leinster. There is a village near Dublin called Glasthule. The name Glasthule comes from the old Gaelic words ‘Glas Tuathail’ which means ‘Toole’s streamlet’.

The O’Tooles ruled mainly over the area that is now Co Wicklow and Co Kildare. They built several castles in Wicklow and would use them to defend themselves and as a solid base to spring an attack on neighbouring clans and the English. The O’Tooles, along with the O’Byrnes, were able to fend off English attacks for four centuries.

Over time some of the O’Toole family moved west and established themselves in the Connacht counties of Galway and Mayo. O’Toole is still a common name in those areas to this day.

Notable O’Tooles in history

Laurence O’Toole is the patron saint of Dublin. In 1161, he became the first Irish Archbishop of Dublin, having served at the monastic settlement in Glendalough. He was a great church reformer and was canonised in 1220.

Another Laurence O’Toole left Ireland and settled in France where he joined the Irish brigades in the French army. He had eight sons who all served in the army in France. His son was Colonel John O’Toole. John is the forefather of the present Count O’Tooles of Limoges.

Peter O'Toole

Peter O’Toole


Luke O’Toole was instrumental in the marriage between Prince James Stuart and Princess Clementina. Clementina was a Polish noble woman. She was imprisoned at Innsbruck as she posed a threat to King George I of Great Britain. George was worried because she was betrothed to wed James Edward Francis Stuart. George believed that their children would stake claims to his thrones.

O’Toole helped Clementina escape and she and James got married.

Famous O’Tooles

Peter O’Toole was an Irish-English actor. His career spanned from the mid-1950s until his death in 2013. He starred in movies such as Laurence of Arabia, The Lion in Winter and Goodbye Mr Chips.

He holds the unfortunate record of receiving the most Academy Award nominations without ever been named the winner. However, he was given an Honorary Academy Award in 2003.

Peter’s daughter Kate O’Toole is also a famous actress. She is well known for playing Margaret Pole in the hit Showtime series The Tudors. She has also appeared in West End plays and in movies such as L’homme du Train, Possession and Hideaway.

Annette O’Toole is an American actress and singer. She has appeared in films such as Smile, Foolin’ Around and Cross My Heart. She has also starred in several TV shows and is perhaps best known for playing Clark Kent’s mother on the US TV show, Smallville.

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