The Carroll Surname

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History of the surname:

Prior to the Gaelic resurgence, at the end of the last century, under the influence of the Gaelic League, and later of the Rising of 1916, a minor result of which was the resumption of the prefixes O and Mac so widely discarded two or three centuries earlier, the simple form Carroll was almost universally used. As MacCarroll, an entirely distinct surname is also often shorn of its prefix Mac, confusion may well arise in the case of the name Carroll. However, undoubtedly, the great majority of people called Carroll are, in fact, O'Carrolls. Before the Anglo-Norman invasion, there were six distinct septs of O'Carroll, the two most important of which were O'Carroll of Ely O'Carroll (Tipperary and Offaly) and O'Carroll of Oriel (Monaghan and Louth). The others disappeared, except as individuals, before the end of the thirteenth century and need not be considered here - O'Carroll of Oriel lost his status of chief and his sept disintegrated as a result of the Anglo-Norman invasion (they cease to appear in the Annals after 1193), but the clansmen themselves were not dispersed, and a fair number have remained in their territory to this day. The very large and well-known tobacco firm Carrolls of Dundalk, have their factory in this area, though it may be mentioned that, curiously enough, the head of it has substantiated a claim to be descended from the O'Carrolls of Ely O'Carroll. That sept retained its Gaelic way of life and its distinct independence until the end of the sixteenth century, and its activities are frequently recorded throughout the Annals. They derive their name O Cearbhaill from Cearbhal, lord of Ely, who was one of the leaders of the victorious army at Clontarf (1014), and thus descend from King Oilioll Olum. Before the advent of the powerful Norman Butlers they possessed a very extensive territory in Co. Tipperary, but they were later restricted to the district around Birr, Co. Offaly. Carroll has a high position in the list of most numerous surnames in Ireland, taking twenty-second place with an estimated population at the present time of approximately 16,000, the majority of whom belong to the four counties stretching from Cork to Kilkenny. Many noteworthy O'Carrolls figure in the "Annals of the Four Masters". Maolsuthain O'Carroll (d. 1031) confessor of Brian Boru and contributor to the "Book of Armagh", was of the Kerry sept; Margaret O'Carroll (d. 1451), famous for hospitality, encouragement of learning, and as builder of churches, roads and bridges, belonged to the Ely O'Carroll sept, as did Charles Carroll (1737-1832), who is remembered as an Irish signatory of the American Declaration of Independence. It is with America rather than with the home country, that notable Carrolls have been associated during the past two centuries: the Dictionary of American Biography includes four others closely related to the Carrollton family, for so their place in Maryland was called (not to be confused with Carrollton, a town in Georgia U.S.A.), the most distinguished of them being Most Rev. John Carroll (1735-1815), the first Catholic Bishop in USA, and the first Archbishop of Baltimore. Rev. Anthony Carroll, S.J. (1722-1794) who was robbed and murdered in a London street, was a cousin of the Archbishop. Three members of the Ely O'Carroll sept distinguished themselves in the armies of James II and of France. The best known of these was Brigadier Daniel O'Carroll (d. 1712). As we have seen there is a distinct sept of MacCarroll: the Irish MacCearbhaill is now more usually anglicized as MacCarvill in Ulster where its medieval territory is indicated by the place name Ballymaccarroll. One of these, Donslevy MacCarroll (d.1357), is described by the Four Masters as "A noble master of music and melody, the best of his time", and another, Mulrory MacCarroll (d. 1328), was called Chief Ministrel of Ireland and Scotland: indeed the family was noted for its musicians. James MacCarroll (1814-1892), who emigrated to USA at the age of 17, was a well-known American poet, dramatist and inventor. A Bishop of Cork and three Archbishops of Cashel, in the Thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, were MacCarrolls: it appears that its members sometimes used the prefix Mac instead of O during that period: Fr. Aubrey Gwynn, Proceedings of the Royal Historical Society (Vol. X), referring to the four notable archbishops of Cashel named MacCarroll says that the evidence he has found suggests that they did not belong to the sept of O'Carroll of Ely, as has been thought hitherto, but to a distinct sept of MacCarroll, located in some parts of the territory covered by the present counties of Carlow, Kilkenny or the eastern part of Co. Tipperary. John O'Donovan, in his notes to O'Heerin's Topographical Poem makes it clear that there was a distinct O'Carroll sept whose chief was lord of a territory extending from Kilkenny city northwards to the boundary of the present county of Leix. The name Lewis Carroll, famous as the author of Alice in Wonderland, is a nom de plume and has no connexion with O'Carroll or MacCarroll.

Last Updated : Sunday, April 18, 2004 9:02 PM

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