Talk given at the Guild Conference 2013

This lecture gives a brief outline of the rich body of medieval sources which may be drawn on for the purposes of research into Irish genealogies and the history of Irish (particularly Gaelic) families.

It emphasises that Ireland was the first country in western Europe to adopt a system of surnames – by the mid-10th century, at the latest. The structure of Irish surnames (which is shared with Gaelic Scotland and the Isle of Man) will be explained briefly – including the significance of the prefixes Ó and Mac; Ireland has the largest extant collection of medieval genealogies of any country in Europe.

One genealogical text can be shown to date as far back as the early 8th century, and the compilation of such collections continued right down to the early years of the 18th century. Other valuable sources on which the genealogist can draw include the voluminous collections of Irish annals, about a dozen in all, as well as collections of the lives of early Irish saints, several lengthy historical poems and a variety of literary texts, both prose and poetry.

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Nollaig O Muraile

About the Speaker
A native of Co. Mayo, Nollaig O Muraile is a graduate of the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, with a BA in Celtic Studies, 1970; an MA in Old and Middle Irish Language and Literature, 1971; and a PhD in Irish, 1991. Having worked for more than twenty years (1972-93) on the staff of the Placenames Branch, Ordnance Survey of Ireland, he joined the staff of Queen’s University, Belfast, where he spent eleven years (1993-2004), eventually becoming Reader in Irish and Celtic Studies.

During his time in Belfast, he was also director and general-editor of the Northern Ireland Place-Name Project. Since 2004 he has lectured at NUI Galway, where he is Senior Lecturer in Irish. He has been a member of the Irish Placenames’ Commission since 2003, and of the Governing Board of the School of Celtic Studies, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, since 2005, and until recently served on the Board of the National Museum of Ireland. He was elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy in 2009.

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