Walsh (surname)

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Walsh (Irish: Breathnach) is a common Irish surname, meaning "Briton" or "foreigner" (literally "Welshman" or "Wales"), taken to Ireland by soldiers from Britain, namely Welsh, Cambro-Norman, Cornish and Cumbrian soldiers during and after the Norman invasion of Ireland. It is the fourth most common surname in Ireland,[1] and the 265th most common in the United States. There are variants including "Walshe", “Welch”, "Welsh", and "Brannagh" (an anglicisation of the Irish form). Walsh is uncommon as a given name. The name is often pronounced "Welsh" in the south and west of the country.[2] In Great Britain, Guppy encountered the name only in Lancashire.[1] It is the surname of the Barons Ormathwaite.[1]

Origins in Ireland[edit]

Breathnach of Castlehale coat of arms

There are several Walsh families in Ireland who have recognized coats of arms. These are the Walshs of Ballykilcaven in County Laois whose motto is "Firm" and their crest is a griffin's head. The Walshs of Castlehale in County Kilkenny have a crest with a swan pierced by an arrow, and their motto is "Pierced but not dead". The Walshs of Carrickmines Castle, County Dublin have a crest with a demi-lion rampant and their motto is "Do not irritate the lions". However, there were Walshs all over Ireland. One theory as to their origin is that they have a common ancestor in 'Walynus' who came to Ireland in the military retinue of Maurice FitzGerald, Lord of Lanstephan and it is from 'Walynus' who the famed Walsh of the Mountains family in County Kilkenny was established. Other sources suggest 'Phillip of Wales' who could have been the same person as 'Walynus' whose son, Howel, gave his name to their stronghold Castle Hoel, which was also known as Castlehale or Castlehowel. Other theories are that the Walshs originated from Pembrokeshire, that they had close ties with the barons of Cornwall or that they descended from Owen Gwynnes, a prince of north Wales.[3]

During the Irish Rebellion of 1641, William Walsh was taken prisoner after the siege of Crean's Castle in Sligo.[4]

During the Wars of the Three Kingdoms the Walsh of the Mountains family in Kilkenny took up arms against Oliver Cromwell and as a result, their stronghold of Castlehale was besieged and taken in 1650. The survivors were executed and thrown into a burial pit at the bottom of a hill near the castle. In the nineteenth century, their remains were uncovered during road building near the hill.[5]

According to John Grenham writing in 1993, Walsh was then among the five most numerous surnames in Ireland.[6]


The Walsh family Motto in Latin is "Transfixus sed non mortuus". Translated to current English as 'Pierced but not dead'. Many translations incorrectly translate "Transfixus" to 'Transfixed' which is a literal translation. In most coats of arms you will only see the shield, many images omit the "Pierced" or "impaled" swan, which gives the translation greater context and meaning. There are many views on the meaning behind the translation, however, most coats of arms would denote a statement of positivity. Many believe that the piercing or impaling is a sign of resilience and strength, signifying perseverance regardless of injury.

People with the surname[edit]

People with the surname include:[7]





Fictional characters[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Cottle, Basil (1978). The Penguin Dictionary of Surnames. Harmondsworth: Penguin. p. 405.
  2. ^ MalcLysaght, Edward (1985). The Surnames of Ireland (fourth ed.). Dublin: Irish Academic Press. p. 296. ISBN 0716523647.
  3. ^ Gray, Iain (2011). Walsh – The Origins of the Walsh Family and Their Place in History. Kilbarrack: Lang Syne Publishers. pp. 16–17. ISBN 9781852172763.
  4. ^ Wood-Martin, William Gregory (1892). History of Sligo, County and Town, From the Close of the Revolution of 1688 to The Present Time. Vol. 2. Grafton Street, Dublin: Hodges, Figgis & Co. pp. 37-43. Retrieved 26 September 2023.
  5. ^ Gray, Iain (2011). Walsh – The Origins of the Walsh Family and Their Place in History. Kilbarrack: Lang Syne Publishers. p. 21. ISBN 9781852172763.
  6. ^ Grenham, John (1993). Clans and Families of Ireland: The Heritage and Heraldry of Irish Clans and Families. Gill and Macmillan Publishers. p. 182. ISBN 0717120325.
  7. ^ "Walsh coat of arms, family crest and Walsh family history". irishsurnames.com. Retrieved 31 December 2007.

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