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Clan History

Walsh Family History

The clan name Walsh is the fourth most widespread family name in Ireland. It is found throughout the country and across the globe as the Irish have spread their wings and flown to other places in search of another life and adventure. The word Walsh refers to the Welsh origins of the clan. The Irish Gaelic word for Welsh is Breathnach which explains why some early members of the clan were referred to as Breathnach and derivations of this. Surnames such as Brannagh, Brannick, Breathnach, Welsh and Walshe all derive from the same source.

The name arose in the 12th century when Normans of Welsh and English origin arrived in Ireland under Strongbow. The native Irish referred to many of these soldiers and followers as ‘Breathnach’. This has given rise to the numerous locations where Walsh is found – the term Breathnach being used as a generic name for any of these Breathnachs/Welshmen that turned up in a locality. Its wide distribution must be a tribute to the wandering and adventurous nature of the early Walshs.

The Walsh name is quite prevalent in the South East of Ireland, in particular,the coastal counties of Wexford, Kilkenny , Waterford and inland to Tipperary. The Normans first landed in Bannow Bay in County Wexford around 1169 – a short sea journey from Wales which probably explains their popularity in those counties. Interestingly the current N25 road from Rosslare ferryport towards the South and West of Ireland follows a direct route through these counties to Waterford and the N24 picks up the route from Waterford. So if you are taking these roads, be aware that in a way you are following in the footsteps of your Walsh and Norman ancestors. They probably used the Rivers Barrow and Suir in their adventurous endeavours, but these too intersect or run parallel with the N25/N24 in several places.

The Walsh name is also linked historically to Counties Kerry, Mayo, Kildare, Meath and Dublin.

One of the first families to be identified as Walsh in the South East was the Walsh clan known as Walsh of the Mountains. The founder of this branch of the clan was Philip ‘Walensis’ also known as Philip ‘Brannagh’ both meaning Welshman. He was one of the band of Normans who arrived in the 12th century and is said to have come from either Wales or Cornwall originally.

Philip rose to prominence during a battle in Cork in 1174 when he vanquished the leader of the opposing army. He married a member of the McCarthy clan and settled in South Kilkenny when granted lands there – in the area around Kilmoganny, in the barony of Iverk.

His brother David was granted lands in Carrickmines in Dublin.

Philip’s descendants intermarried with locals and invaders  and spread across the country including Waterford, Kilkenny, Wexford, Kildare, Dublin and Kerry. Much of the land in the possession of the Kilkenny Walshs was confiscated by Cromwell in the 17th century. Family members fled to Europe and are cited as having lived in France and Tenerife. Descendants of the Carrickmines family fled to Austria.

The Mayo Walshs are said to be descended from Walynus, a Welshman who was in the army of Maurice Fitzgerald.

The name Walsh in Kildare and Meath is connected to Walynus and also the Kilkenny Walshs of the Mountains.

In parts of the country the name Walsh is pronounced Welsh – which causes annoyance to some of those of the clan, who perhaps don’t want to be reminded of the Welsh forbearers!

The names Walsh and variations of Breathnach have been used interchangeably. A Thomas Walsh who was a bailiff in Cork in 1405 was also listed as Thomas Brenaghe. A college teacher of mine had been knows as Mr Walsh. Imagine our surprise when he returned one year and said that he was to be known as Mr Breathnach from then on.

Walshs have been prevalent throughout Irish history. The 1798 Rising records show a number of Walshs were active in the rebellion in Wexford including Davy Walsh of Ballygow, Edmund Walsh of Sutton’s parish, John Walsh of Effernogue and Nicholas Walsh, a captain from Enniscorthy who was hanged in 1800.

Brothers James and Thomas Walshe were involved in the Easter 1916 Rising where they were based in Clanwilliam House. There is a story that as they fled the scene, in their attempts to cover their uniforms, they acquired some clothing from an unoccupied house. One draped a lady’s coat over his shoulders and the other pulled on an overcoat as disguises to aid their escape.

Walshs have been writers and journalists too. John J Welsh was a travel writer who took up walking as an exercise on the recommendation of his doctor. He was based in New York and travelled from there to Cobh in 1929 where he undertook a walking tour of Cork and Kerry. He wrote Ireland Afoot in 1931 describing his travels. Andrew Walsh, a Limerick printer founded the Limerick Journal in 1739. The Munster Express newspaper was founded in 1860 in Waterford by the Walsh family and continues to to-day. It is a good source for local activities. 

The Kilkenny Walsh crest (Castlehale) shows three swans pierced through the heart.

The Kilkenny Walsh family motto is "Transfixus sed non mortuus" Pierced but not dead.

The Carrickmines (Dublin) crest shows a rampant Lion.

The Carrickmines/Dublin motto is "Noli Irritare Leonem" (Do not irritate the lions).

Walsh in music.

With a name as widespread as Walsh, it is no surprise that they feature in Irish music. A well known dance tune is Walsh’s Hornpipe. So, pull back the furniture and take a few steps to this lively tune.


A Kilkenny Walsh John Mac Walter Walsh of Inishcarron Castle was a poet of the 17th century. He was known as  ‘Tatter Jack Walsh’. Tatter means father or head of the clan. None of his poems have survived, but a popular dance tune is called Tatter Jack Walsh.