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About the study
It has generally been accepted that the name originated in Co. Donegal, Ireland and historically was linked to the eastern part of that county.
The original form of the name was and is in Gaelic (Irish language) Ó Gallchobhair. In a fragment of a manuscript from circa the eleventh century and presently in the Royal Library, Brussells, Belgium, they are introduced as the "muintir Ghallchubair", i.e. the people or descendents of Gallagher, who descend from a High King of Ireland who according to folklore reigned circa the 6th century.
The person from whom the Gallaghers take their name is reckoned to have lived around the 9th century. There is no knowledge of how he/she got that name or exactly what it means. One theory/story is that the original person, being a courageous and charitable person, went to the assistance of the crew of the first Viking ship to arrive off the Irish coast and whose ship was wrecked off the coast of County Donegal, Ireland, where he was the local chieftain. He having first saved them and then cared for them, they eventually returned to their homeland, only to return soon after with the first raiding party. Hence he was given the name "Helper of the Stranger or Foreigner ("Gall" means stranger or foreigner in Gaelic and the ending "cobhair" perhaps started off as "cabhair" meaning help or helper.
Whatever the derivation of his name, Gallagher was the one given the role of founding father of the clan at the advent of surname use in Ireland in the tenth century.
History of the name
The earliest reference to a person of the name is found in the Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland (ARE) for the year 1022: Maelcobha O'Gallchobhair, the abbot of St. Eunan's in Skreen (Co. Sligo) died. (ARE, ii, 802). Further historical mentions of people of the name are to be found in the Irish annals (histories) and can be found at http://www.gallagherclan.org/early_history.aspx as can also be an early history of the Gallaghers. In those days Gallaghers were especially associated with Church matters and military undertakings.
Renowned Gallaghers of later times have included in sport: Dave Gallaher, first captain of the All-Blacks, New Zealands renowned rugby team; Patsy Gallagher in soccer and Bernard Gallacher OBE in golf. In music we find Rory Gallagher, the late renowned rock guitarist, Benny Gallagher of McGuinness Flint and Gallagher & Lyle fame and Liam & Noel Gallagher of Oasis. Sir James Mitchell Gallagher was Lord Mayor od Dublin from 1915-1917. Military figures include: Captain Henry Gallaugher awarded a Victoria Cross for his heroism at the Battle of Messiness Ridge 1917 in which he was killed and Sergeant Henry Gallagher who was centrally involved in the famous Battle of Rorke's Drift in South Africa, on which the 1960's film "Zulu" was based. Sir William Gallagher is head of the Gallagher Group a New Zealand based group of companies with a global reach. Pat the Cope Gallagher is a member of the European Parliment for the Connacht-Ulster constituency and former Irish government minister.
Historically the name was linked to the eastern part of County Donegal. Its spread to the western part of the county and to Co. Mayo followed from the dispossession of the native Irish of the best lands by the English Crown in what is known as the Plantation of Ulster. Military ativities during the earlier Nine Years War between the English Crown and the Irish chieftains may also have played a part.
What is commonly known as the Griffith's Valuation List is the main census substitute to be had for Ireland before the 1901 Census and 4293 Gallaghers are listed in it. Almost half of those (1900) are to found in Co. Donegal. A sizeable number are also to be found in the adjoining counties and Co. Mayo had 627. Holders of the name were to be found in all 32 counties of Ireland and in the three principal cities. An anomaly was the relatively large number (58) to be found in Co. Cork which is at the other end of Ireland. Following from family folklore it may be surmised that these Cork Gallaghers were descendents of combatants in the Battle of Kinsale in 1601, which played a pivotal part in the afore mentioned Nine Years War. A large force from Ulster had marched south to assist a Spanish force that landed there but the Ulster force was defeated and was scattered. Some may have found the surrounding area to their liking.
Few of the name are to be found on the British mainland before the Great Irish Famine in 1847. However the numbers then escalated; first arriving in the port areas such as Liverpool and Glasgow and then moving to areas where work was readily available such as Yorkshire. Today there is reckoned to be c. 27,000 in England and Wales alone and Scotland also has a large number of the name.
Emigration occurred to other areas of the then British Empire and to other parts of the English speaking world. For example, an estimate in the USA puts the numbers of Gallaghers at 70,000. Today there are few areas of the world where the name is not to be found.