Why is it that the history of the origin of any given surname seems to begin with an illustrious warrior or powerful king? Apparently, Flanagan—one of the surnames in my husband’s genealogy—had such a glorious genesis. Said to originally be “Ó Flannagáin,” the name meant male “descendant of the ruddy one.” The name—originally a popular given name—was taken from the old Irish root, “Flann,” signifying red or ruddy. Of course, experts cannot decide whether that “Flann” referred to red hair or a ruddy complexion. Let me assure you, no one in my husband’s family has either the hair or the skin tone to match those descriptions.
There are some glorious legends claiming that the head of the Flanagan clan—or sept, as it is sometimes labeled—was “of the same stock as the royal Connors” line. On the other hand, some sources state that there may have been three separate, unrelated, clans by that same name in Ireland. Considering that the Flanagan septs were said to be located in counties Roscommon, Fermanagh, Monaghan and Offaly, it is easy to see the name would be widespread across Ireland.
No, wait: did that range include counties Waterford and Westmeath? Wait! Forget Monaghan?
Will somebody please make up his mind?!
Even better, according to some, those Flanagan forebears in Fermanagh claimed descent from the famed—and prolific—Niall of the Nine Hostages. Perhaps that is why that Flanagan name is so widely distributed.
By the time the Flanagan surname arrived to contribute to the gene pool from which my husband sprang, there seemed to be nothing illustrious about it: our Flanagans were commoners—with possibly a criminal thrown in for good measure (note the William Flanagan tried in County Cork on the fourth listing in this database; no guarantee that he was ours; just a family tradition). And they shared that plain destiny with many others; Flanagan had become the sixty-ninth most frequent surname in Ireland, and quite widespread in the other nations to which the famine-stricken Irish had fled.
For those of us wishing to retrace the steps of our Flanagan forebears, that widespread territory claimed by those original septs makes the search just a tad bit more challenging.