This article looks at how common Walsh 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 Walsh 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 Walsh 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. Walsh
So, I had to look elsewhere for population estimates. Thankfully, an Irish genealogist researched the prevalence of Irish surnames through national phone directories published in the 1990s. Seán Murphy’s estimates aren’t as robust as a census but give a good broad estimate.
Walsh was ranked 3 in the top one hundred names in this decade with a total of 44,100 entries.
This graphic shows how it ranks compared to the 1st, 33rd, 66th, and 100th entries in the survey:
Walsh In The Early 1900s
Only the full censuses from 1911 and 1901 in Ireland are available to the public. Earlier decades were either destroyed by the government (to make room for more storage) or by a huge fire during the Irish Civil War. Later decades are unavailable under privacy laws.
So, let’s concentrate on the early decades of the twentieth 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 34,400 residents named Walsh on the island in 1911.
Ten years earlier, Walsh had about 35,250 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 41,700 people named Walsh in the country.
Emigration To America After The Irish Famine
The Irish diaspora is large and widespread with a significant number of people emigrating to other parts of the globe. The destinations traditionally have been England, the U.S., Canada, and Australia. Emigrants were driven by various factors like political unrest, poverty, and food scarcity.
The largest wave of emigration to the United States occurred during the 19th century. The peak was in response to the Great Irish Famine, which took place between 1845 and 1852. A plant disease devastated the main food and income crop for much of the population.
I reviewed the Walsh 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:
How Common Is Walsh As A Last Name In The U.S.?
Based on the 2010 U.S. census, the name Walsh ranks about 295 among Irish names in America with 105,079 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.
Walsh 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:
These are the numbers in the graph:
- 1860: 6,800
- 1880: 19,750
- 1900: 41,300
- 1920: 57,900
- 1940: 71,550
Walsh 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 4,216 soldiers named Walsh who enlisted between 1938 and 1946.
There were 120 who were born in Ireland.
Walsh Surname: Meaning And Origin
Walsh is from the Gaelic surname Breathnach, which refers to a Welshman.
The name was given to settlers who arrived in Ireland from Wales during and after the Norman invasion in the 12th century.
The Walshes became thoroughly integrated into Irish society. Many were noted chieftains, warriors, and scholars in the centuries that followed.
Famous Or Historic People Named Walsh
Here are some notable people with the family name:
- David Walsh (1872 – 1947): born in Massachusetts to parents who immigrated from Ireland, he became a lawyer. He was elected as Governor, the first Catholic to hold that role.
- Ellard Walsh (1887 – 1975): the Canadian-born American served with the U.S. Army. He was President of the National Guard toward the end of WWII and held the position for thirteen years. He greatly increased the influence of the military organization and is known as the Father of the National Guard.
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.
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).