The Surnames of Ireland
by Edward MacLysaght
(Dublin: Irish Academic Press, reprint 1991) 313 pages
Reviewed by Doris V. Cummins
Those who wish to have an encyclopedia of Irish name lore at their fingertips should invest in this definitive work. To Dr. MacLysaght surnames were history not just words. This book includes the essential facts given in his earlier Irish Family series together with similar information on some 1500 additional names not dealt with previously. Variant forms of spelling account for another 400 entries.
To assist in seeking a fuller account of a particular name, references are made to the names in the earlier books. This book is presented in dictionary format. It can be used effectively with the earlier companions.
An introduction provides a brief history of the evolvement of hereditary surnames in the eleventh century - Ireland being one of the earliest countries anywhere to develop such a system. As the population increased, the famous practice first of single names, then of patronymics, proved insufficiently definitive. The author gives brief examples of the use of the prefix "O" or "Mac", then examples of the reasoning behind other changes in variants, abbreviations, and the influence of other nationalities and cultures on Irish surnames. All of these changes have caused problems for researchers, especially for families that have been away from Ireland for many generations. If you can't find your ancestor under one spelling, look under the variants. Many of the problems arose as direct translation into an English version while in others; they are equivalents, modifications or corruptions.
This book is not intended to help you trace your surname to a specific parish or even county.
The book and series, however, are the standard reference guides in the field for historical value and linguistic interest. Dr. MacLysaght was the leading authority on Irish names, served as Chief Herald in the genealogical office, was Keeper of Manuscripts at the National Library, and chair of the Irish Manuscripts Commission. He died in 1986.