Friday, September 5, 2014

A Tully Mash-Up

Since I had gathered so much information on the heritage of the Flannery surname from the online resources of the Flannery Clan, it was natural that I would hope for the same with the Tully surname. Fortunately—although I’m not certain how official it is—there is such a website for the Tully Clan.

If the details of the Flannery surname seemed to cross paths with those of the Flanagan line, looking at the Tully information I found seems to have taken disparate sources and blended them, indiscriminately, together.

There are quite a few tidbits to be found online concerning the origin and details of the surname Tully, including early findings of the name in official documents. Oddest of all the trivia was the claim that Tully was linked to the middle name of the Roman statesman we know as Cicero—Marcus Tullius Cicero. In addition, the word “flood” being an English translation of the Irish word from which we attain “Tully,” those with that surname of Flood are apparently included in the early genealogies of the Tullys in Ireland.

And there’s the rub: there are actually several surnames supposedly originating in the Irish form of Tully. There’s Tally. And Tilly. Then, as expected, the usual MacTully and MacTilly. But you need to add to those MacAtilla, O’Multilly, O’Multully, and even MacCantully. Rattle off a list like that and pretty soon, you feel like you have just recited a jingle from Mother Goose’s Nursery Rhymes.

Perhaps the blame for some of the confusion can be laid at the roots: the original Irish names from which the anglicized versions have wandered. According to one source, here are the Irish names from which we gain Tully: Ó Taithligh, Ó Maoltuile, Mac Maoltuile, Mac Taichligh, or Mac an Tuile.

Trying to untangle this stack of names will not be as simple as discerning the distinct lines of Flannery versus Flanagan. First of all, Mac an Tuile was derived from Mac Maoltuile, the very source of the word from which was derived the anglicized version of the name, Flood—tuile being an Irish word meaning flood.

More confusion enters with the addition of another source, indicating that Ó Maol Tuile meant, rather, “descendant of the devotee of the will of God.” A further explanation argues it was “descendant of the devotee of Tuile”—with Tuile being a saint whose personal name itself was derived from the word “toil.” Somehow—and I don’t get the explanation for this—“toil” became “will of God.” Maybe that was a commentary on the theology of the time. I guess it sounded impressive to someone.

So essentially, we can take that stack of possible names from which we’ve derived that simple Tully surname, and condense them down to three groups: the forms from Maoltuile—including the English “Flood” version—and those taken from Taithligh (or Taithlagh) and those from Taichligh (or Taichlach). But, lo and behold, after wading through narrative in several other sources, apparently the experts concede that Taithligh/Taithlagh and Taichligh/Taichlach are all one and the same.

Confused? I am, too.

Perhaps a solid knowledge of the native language would help. Actually, I’m sure it would. But it’s a little late for me to start. My flight for Ireland leaves in less than thirty days.

So, let’s just drop all these consonants and their vowel appendages into the blender, pulse it gently for just the right amount of time, and pour out the smooth base for some alphabet soup. Satisfy yourself with the soothing tones of the experts, who assure us that the original root for Tully at one time meant “quiet” or “peaceable.”

With these varying roots—and their resultant mutations over the ages—you can be sure the confusion extends to any conjectures about where the families originated. Some surmise it was around County Clare—which would come in handy for me, tracking my Tully roots to the River Shannon border between County Clare and County Tipperary. Some conclude that the origin of the family was in Northern Ireland, around County Fermanagh. There is also support for an originating location in County Roscommon.

My guess is that, with so many supposed roots to this name, there were likely more than one notable warrior or leader to which the surname owed its origin. While my hope, in delving into the history of our family’s surnames, had been to shed some light on the families from which they hailed in their native Ireland, in the case of the Tully surname, it unearths too complex a rationale to provide any assistance.

With the mash-up of so many Tillys, Tallys, and Tullys on the record, let’s just say I’m glad we were fortunate enough to have pack rats in our ancestry. If it weren’t for one line of Tullys who felt it their duty to preserve every piece of paper representing their heritage, I would never have been able to point to the church in Ballina, County Tipperary, from which this Tully family received their baptismal records.

Above: "The Dolls' School," dated 1900 by Irish impressionist and Dublin native, Walter Frederick Osborne; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. Whew! At this point, I'd be happy to find the church in Ballina, grab a record or two and go on my merry way. Seriously, you have a lot of documentation on the Tullys, or at least from my understanding. What do you hope to learn about them through this trip?

    1. Wendy, it would be neat to see some signs of Tully or Flannery presence still in existence in Ballina today. Of course, it would be delightful to discover a distant Tully cousin there, though I have no way to do so at this point. But at least to be able to push back another generation--it's always "just one more," isn't it?--and flesh out the family constellation for Denis Tully's siblings and Margaret Flannery's family, too (including the Canadian Ed-blot Flannery I've yet to find).

  2. I too am enjoying the "mishmash" (hash?) of Irish names. I suppose it is the risk you run when you venture into the "remote" corners of the world.

    Of course the history of Ireland, Scotland, and even England is a big stew for the uninitiated like me!

    1. I find I'm learning a lot by delving into the local history, even if it isn't directly related to our own family's surnames. I think it helps to understand what our ancestors were going through--and what they decided to leave, if nothing else.

  3. I am anxious to see a photo of that church or it's surroundings:)

    1. Believe me, Far Side, if that church is still standing, I'll be taking a picture of it! And anything else of interest that I can find. While it will be unlikely that I'll have the kind of time I usually take to compose a day's post, I'm hoping to at least share a little daily view of our travels.


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