223 – Gallagher and Donegal

Tom Gallagher’s grandfather Patrick was born in County Donegal, Ireland.

Patrick Gallagher

Gallagher name distribution in Ireland (in red)

Patrick Gallagher was born in 1827 in Ireland. We’ve picked up his genealogy trail in America around 1850, but we know very little about his early life in Ireland.

Patrick was born in County Donegal. Based on the geographical distribution of the Gallagher surname shown at right, most Gallaghers were from Donegal.

Donegal fast facts

Donegal is Ireland’s northernmost county.  It’s farther north than Northern Ireland!

The Irish name for County Donegal is Contae Dhúnna nGall, which translates literally as “Castle of the Strangers.” This name is commonly thought to be referring to the Vikings.

Guide to County Donegal: Ireland’s Real North

Due to its geographic isolation, Donegal has maintained a distinct cultural identity. The isolation has also made Donegal the most rural county in Ireland. Fewer than 1/3 of the people live in towns.

The isolation has also made Donegal the poorest county in Ireland.

Donegal’s population is 160,000. Letterkenny is the largest town with a population around 20,000. The county is about 75 miles long and 35 miles wide.

Donegal is about the same latitude as Amsterdam and Newfoundland. It has a moderate maritime climate because of the moderating influence of the Gulf Stream. The prevailing wind is from the southwest. Annual rainfall is around 50 inches.

Donegal is well-known for its natural beauty.

Gallaghers in Donegal

The Gallagher clan has been in County Donegal since the 4th century. Gallagher is the most common surname in this county.

Gallagher (Old Irish: Ó Gallchobhair, Ó Gallchobhoir; Modern Irish: Ó Gallachóir) is an Irish Gaelic clan based most prominently in what is today County Donegal. The clan name originated in the 10th century as a derivative of its founder Gallchobhair mac Rorcan


The name is first found in County Donegal where the family held a seat since ancient times. A senior family of Cenél Conaill (kindred of Conaill), this sept’s territory reached across county of Donegal, although clan is thought to hail originally from Tirhugh near Ballyshannon.

The Gallagher ancestry shows them to be direct descendants of 5th-century High King of Ireland Niall Noígíallach, or Niall of Nine Hostages, who is reputed to have brought Saint Patrick to Ireland as a slave.

The head of the family was chieftain Aodh, and he and chieftains who followed are thought to have ruled in relative peace until Vikings arrived in Donegal Bay during the 9th century.

Gallagher – the Irish surname name history

The Gallagher Name

In Ireland, the anglicized version of the name “Gallagher” is pronounced “Goll-a-her” in parts of its native County Donegal in Ulster, while elsewhere in the country it is most frequently pronounced as “Gall-a-her.” There are thirty-plus variations of the name in Ireland.

Gallagher is the most common surname in County Donegal and is the 14th-most-common in Ireland.

In the 2000 U.S. Census, it was the 433rd-most-common name out of over 68,000 surnames in the U.S.

The name Gallagher is of ancient Gaelic origin and is derived from word ‘gallchobhar,’ meaning ‘foreign helper’ or ‘lover of foreigners.’ 

Gallagher – the Irish surname name history

John Gallagher and Hannah Rhoorty

Patrick’s parents were John Gallagher and Hannah Rhoorty. Our only knowledge of John and Hannah Gallagher comes from Patrick’s death certificate. 

Death certificate – Patrick Gallagher – Lamar, Missouri – 1912

The informant was Michael Gallagher, Patrick’s son. Michael was born in America in 1863, so he didn’t have first-hand knowledge of Patrick’s parents. But I think we can trust that he’d heard Patrick talk about his parents and he knew their names.

And perhaps we can corroborate their forenames, because Patrick named his first son John (after his father) and named his daughter Hannah (after his mother).

Based on Patrick’s birth year of 1827, let’s guess his father John Gallagher was born around 1800 and mother Hannah around 1805.  We know Patrick had at least one sibling, Michael. Likely there were others.

If Patrick was one of the older siblings, John Gallagher probably married Hannah Rhoorty around 1820 to 1825. If Patrick were a younger sibling, his parents’ marriage could have been much earlier.

Tom Gallagher visits

Junction City Daily Union – March 22, 1919

Whoever reported this to the newspaper must have received a letter from Tom. If only we had that letter. If any of you have it, please forward. It must have read something like this…

Dear folks,

I had a 14 day leave, so I went to Ireland to visit ____________, our ancestral home. It’s remarkable. I met blah, blah, blah. And so on and so on.

Love, Tom

Based on the newspaper date of March 22, Tom may have been in the old country on St. Patrick’s Day. I’ll bet he had fun.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s