Gallagher As An Irish Last Name

This article looks at how common Gallagher is as a last name in Ireland and the United States from the 19th century to the present day.

You’ll learn the meaning and origins of the Gallagher surname while exploring some notable and famous people that held it.

I use census records, emigration lists, and military archives to uncover fascinating patterns. If you’re studying your genealogy, check out my sources at the end of the post so you can do your own research.

How Common Is Gallagher As A Surname In Ireland?

Ireland does not disclose current statistics on surnames in much detail. The most that we get is the top ten last names in birth registrations for the previous year. Gallagher

Thankfully, an Irish genealogist named Seán Murphy studied the names in national phone books published in the 1990s. His estimates aren’t as accurate as a census, but they are still a good way to get an estimate of numbers.

Gallagher was ranked 23 in the top one hundred names in this decade with a total of 20,100 entries.

This graphic shows how it ranks compared to the 1st, 33rd, 66th, and 100th entries in the survey:

Gallagher Ireland 1990s

Gallagher In The Early 1900s

The only complete Irish censuses that are available to the general public are those from the years 1901 and 1911. They offer two detailed snapshots of the population.

Some records exist from earlier censuses, but most of the documents are lost to history. So, we’ll focus on the turn of the century.

I used online archives to calculate the total numbers by surname. I consider these estimates due to some percentage of transcription errors. So, I’ve rounded the numbers to the nearest fifty.

There were 19,100 residents named Gallagher on the island in 1911.

Ten years earlier, Gallagher had about 19,550 residents in the 1901 census.

Population Estimates In The 1890s

A study of Irish surnames was conducted in 1890 by the head of the Civil Registrations Office. It was published as a “Special Report on Surnames In Ireland.”

The survey estimated that there were about 21,800 people named Gallagher in the country.

Emigration To America After The Irish Famine

The Irish have traditionally emigrated to Britain, the U.S., Canada, and Australia in recent centuries. They were driven by various factors like political upheaval, scarcity of work, and food deprivation.

The Great Irish Famine, which happened from 1845 to 1852, caused the largest wave of emigration. The potato blight was a disaster for Ireland because it destroyed the main food source for a large proportion of the people.

I reviewed the Gallagher name in the shipping passenger lists arriving in New York during this period. The departures were from both Ireland and England.

This picture shows how the numbers rose and fell in the years after the famine:

Gallagher emigration after the famine

How Common Is Gallagher As A Last Name In The U.S.?

Based on the 2010 U.S. census, the name Gallagher ranks about 479 among Irish names in America with 69,834 bearers.

Although the 2010 census has exact numbers and rankings, the rank I assign here is my estimate. If you’re curious about how I got there, here’s a brief explanation…

Estimating Rank In The United States

Historically, some Irish families with Gaelic surnames took English-sounding names as translations under the influence of colonization.

As these names also have English origins, they will have been brought to the United States by both British and Irish immigrants. Because the census doesn’t ask about specific European origin (e.g. England vs Ireland), it’s impossible to identify the proportion with Irish heritage.

I reviewed the census to identify which names are predominantly Irish in origin. In order to estimate the relative rankings of “Irish” names, I’ve mostly excluded surnames that have varying origins.

Gallagher In Historic Times

It is fascinating to examine how the prevalence of a surname shifts over the course of time in a country as young as the United States. As well as immigration, this reflects other demographic shifts across the nation. Factors include higher child mortality rates and longer life expectancy.

The historic census records have been transcribed and digitized. I used online archives to run counts of surname populations.

But the totals can’t be exactly accurate due to transcription errors. So, I’ve rounded the numbers to the nearest 50 in the graph below.

This picture shows the numbers every twenty years from 1860 to 1940:

how common was Gallagher in the U.S. between 1860 and 1940

These are the numbers in the graph:

  • 1860: 6,600
  • 1880: 17,050
  • 1900: 26,700
  • 1920: 33,750
  • 1940: 40,800

Gallagher In World War II

About 8.3 million men and women enlisted in the U.S. Army during the Second World War. Many were of Irish heritage, and some were born in Ireland.

There were registration records for 2,758 soldiers named Gallagher who enlisted between 1938 and 1946.

There were 76 who were born in Ireland.

Gallagher Surname: Meaning And Origin

Gallagher comes from the Gaelic surname Ó Gallchobhair. The name derives from several words. The frequent Ó in Irish names means “descendant of”. “Gall” refers to a foreigner, while “cobhair” means providing help.

So, the full name means “descendant of a foreigner who gave help”. This could refer to Vikings or Normans who allied with Irish families against neighboring chiefs or against British forces.

The early Gallagher clan was a powerful family from Donegal. They were kin to the O’Donnells who were one of the two dominant families in Ulster (the other being the O’Neills). The Gallaghers were marshalls of the O’Donells forces from the 14th to 16th century. They also provided many bishops.

Famous Or Historic People Named Gallagher

Here are some notable people with the family name:

  • Edward Gallagher (1887 – 1940): a wrestling coach at Oklahoma State University who used his engineering background to revolutionize wrestling styles. His teams won thirty-seven NCAA titles.
  • Wes Gallagher (1911 – 1997): an American journalist who was an Associated Press reporter during the second world war. When he covered the Nuremberg Trials after the war, he scooped his fellow journalists on the verdicts by sprinting from the court to a phone booth where his wife held an open line.
  • George Gately Gallagher (1928 – 2001): a renowned cartoonist who created the Heathcliff comic character in 1973. His brother John was also a cartoonist who signed his name as Gallagher, so George used the name Gately.


Gallagher As A Last Name

External Research

The Ireland 1990s estimates are from Seán J. Murphy’s research paper.

The population estimates of 1890 are based on the “Special Report on Surnames in Ireland“, published in 1909.

The population figures for the 2010 U.S. Census come from a file provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Internal Research

Some of the population numbers are based on my own research and calculations using online archives. I’ve rounded those numbers to the nearest 50 to account for transcription errors and other technical issues with online databases of this type.

The Irish census estimates for 1901 and 1911 are my calculations based on the Irish National Archives

I plotted the emigration figures from 1845 to 1854 based on calculations from the archives of the New York Passenger Lists (1820-1957).