The Multilingual Origins of Medieval Irish Surnames

The Multilingual Origins of Medieval Irish Surnames

By Cathy Swift

Given at the ‘Who do you think you are’ conference in Birmingham in April, 2015

Surnames came into widespread use in Ireland at a time where five vernacular languages were in operation – Irish, English, Norse, Welsh and Norman French. The processes through which surnames were adopted are only gradually being investigated but they appear to have emerged in a context when five major ethnic groups were interacting on Irish soil. This lecture attempts to investigate this evidence with particular reference to the English language surnames of medieval Ireland and the evidence which they provide for the nature of the Anglo-Norman colony in Ireland and its interaction with its Gaelic speaking neighbours.

Cathy Swift, M.Phil (Dunelm), D.Phil (Oxon.), M.Phil (Dublin) – Dr Catherine Swift is Director of Medieval and Irish Studies at Mary Immaculate College at the University of Limerick. She has a double first from University College Dublin (1985), and scholarships awarded by Durham (M.Phil in Archaeology) and Oxford (D.Phil. Early Irish History). She has taught in many universities including University College Dublin, Trinity College Dublin, NUI Maynooth, NUI Galway, the University of Liverpool and the University of Melbourne. She specialises in the history and archaeology of medieval Ireland especially in its European context. She has published two books (on ogam stones and early Irish Christianity, and on Irish royal dynasties at Knowth), and is working on a third book on the early Irish church. Her DNA research focuses on the evolution and adoption of surnames in an Irish context and the contextual evidence which they help to provide for the genetic background of the Irish population.

Medieval Irish Surnames

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