The Gallagher Name

We Gallagehers have long known of our importance and dominance throughout Irish history so it comes as no shock that the name Burke is one of the most popular of all surnames of Irish origin.
It is estimated that over 25,000 people in Ireland are of the Gallagher name and our reach is even broader and our numbers even more vast when the global community is taken into account with the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand to name but a few countries that are now well populated with our revered ancestry! Gallagher is an anglicisation of the Gaelic name Ó Gallchobhair (the feminine form being Ní Ghallchobhair) and means ‘foreign helper’. Gallagher is the most common name in Co. Donegal, the home of the Ó Gallchobhair sept, and the 14th most common name in Ireland.
Mayo had the second highest number of Gallagher families of all Irish counties about the time of the Griffiths Valuation (c1858).


The clan hails from the barony of Tirhugh (“land of Hugh”) near Ballyshannon, County Donegal, Ireland.
The derivation of the surname Gallagher is “foreign help” or “foreign helper” from the Irish gall meaning “stranger” and cobhair meaning “help”. It is a matter of conjecture whether this appellation denoted merely an ally of strangers from other parts or, as has been suggested, more particularly a collaborator with the Norsemen, who were in those days raiding the coast of north west Ireland. The family’s origins are with the chieftain Aodh, a name corresponding to the English Hugh (whence Tirhugh), a lineal descendant of Conall Gulban son of 5th century High King and warlord Niall Noígíallach, known in English as Niall of the Nine Hostages, who is reputed to have brought St Patrick to Ireland as a slave. Aodh established his dunarus or residence at a place corresponding to the present day townland of Glassbolie in Tirhugh. The chieftains of his line ruled in relative peace for several generations until the arrival of the Vikings in Donegal Bay in the 9th century. The ruling chieftain of the time, whose real name is not recorded, was almost certainly obliged to come to some accommodation with the foreign invader resulting in the nickname “Gallcóbhair” which has been applied to his descendants thereafter.

Ó Gallchobhair sept

The Ó Gallchobhair sept claims to be the most senior family of the Cenél Conaill. The sept’s territory was spread across the areas within the modern baronies of Raphoe and Tirhugh in Co Donegal. From the 14th century until the 16th century, the sept’s chiefs were marshals in the O’Donnells’ military forces. The principal branch of the family was centred at Ballybeit and Ballynaglack.


The Gallagher coat of arms displays a black lion rampant on a silver shield, treading on a green snake surrounded by eight green trefoils. The correct heraldic description is “Field argent a lion rampant sable treading on a serpent in fess proper between eight trefoils vert”. The crest which surmounts the helmet over the shield depicts a red crescent surrounding a green snake or, to give its heraldic definition, “A crescent gules out of the horns a serpent erect proper”. The motto of the clan is in Latin Mea Gloria Fides (“The Faith is My Glory”).

17th Century and the Flight of Earls

In the Annals of the Four Masters, on 14 September 1607, mention by Tadhg Ó Cianáin is made of five Gallaghers named Cathaoir (mac Toimlin), Cathaoir (mac Airt), Toirleach Corrach, Tuathal and Aodh Og who fled Ireland with the O’Donnells. They stayed in Belgium and joined the O’Neill regiment in the Spanish Army of Flanders. The regiment fought against the Dutch during the Eighty Years’ War. Aodh Ó Gallchobhair and his wife (mentor and nursemaid of O’Donnell sons) chose to travel with the O’Donnells to Rome.