Select Nolan Surname Genealogy

The Nolan surname is derived from the Gaelic word nuall meaning “shout” or “howl” and the suffix áin meaning "one who."  Thus Nualláin would mean someone who howls or shouts. 

One explanation for this derivation was that the shouting or howling referred to that eerie blood-curdling war-cry that was such an integral part of early Celtic warfare.  Alternatively, the name might have come with the first chief of the clan in Carlow who held the hereditary office of herald to the Kings of Leinster.

The O'Nualláin name may have been first used in Ireland as far back as the ninth century, or even possibly earlier.  It became O'Nolan and Nolan with the arrival of the English.  Other name variants have been Nowlin, Nowland, and Nolen.  The Nolin spelling has French-Canadian roots.

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Ireland.  The Nolans held the barony of Foherta, the modern barony of Forth, in Carlow.  According to the Annals of Ireland, it was the chief family of Foharta Osnadhaigh who adopted the name of O’Nualláin.  They were pushed southward in Carlow around Templepeter by the Anglo-Norman incursions in the late 12th century.  Donnell O'Nolan was recorded by the English as the O'Nolan chief in 1394.  Sub-sects - such as those at Ballykealey, Shangarry, and Kilbride - emerged.

The Nolans of Loughboy were Kilkenny merchants who may have originated in Carlow.  They settled in Galway and Mayo.  The Nolans in Kerry were descended from Luke O'Nolan of Carlow who had resettled in Laios in the mid-1500's.  Two other Gaelic septs, the Ó hUllacháins and the Ó hUltacháins, had also started to use O'Nolan or something close to it as the English rendering of their name by this time. 

A number of Nolans came to prominence during the Irish Nationalist times of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  They included:
  • the Fenian agitator John Nolan (called John 'Amnesty' Nolan)
  • the Galway landowner John Philip Nolan
  • the Fenian Parliamentarian Joseph Nolan
  • and the Ulster priest Father John O'Nolan.
Father John O'Nolan's genealogical work, updated at a later date by Art Kavenagh, was published in 2000 as The O'Nolans, History of a People.

Outside of Dublin, the largest number of Nolans reside today in Carlow.

  The John Nolan who lost his Enniscrone estate in Sligo as a result of the Cromwellian confiscations is thought to have neen the John Nowlin in Isle of Wight, Virginia in 1643.  These Nowlins later became Nolens.  Pierce  Nowland also lost his estates, this time in Tipperary, at the time of Cromwell.  Six of his sons emigrated to Maryland in the 1670's.  James Nowlin from Carlow was in Virginia by about 1700.

The best-known early Nolan was probably Philip Nolan from Belfast, the man who came to Spanish America in the 1790's and made three trading expeditions into the territory that was later to become Texas.  In 1801, however, he was captured and killed by the Spanish authorities.

More Nolans arrived in America during the 19th century.  Many stayed in the Eastern cities, some ventured West.  Among the latter were:
  • two Nolan brothers from Wexford, Matthew and Patrick, who came to America in the 1840's.  Both worked in the coal mines in Pennsylvania.  Patrick later headed west to Minnesota to farm.  But he died young because of black lung disease incurred in the mines. 
  • two more Nolan brothers, Andrew and John from Galway, who arrived around the same time.  In the 1850's they headed west and settled in Wisconsin.
  • and James Nolan from Galway who came in 1851.  James first moved to Ohio but later settled to farm in Illinois.     
Canada.  The names Nolin and Nolan were to be found in French Quebec by the 1660's.  There were also Nolans from Ireland in the Newfoundland fishing fleet who ended up in the Canadian Maritime provinces in the late 1700's.  Gervasio Nolan, probably of French origin, was born in Saint Charles, New Brunswick in 1792 and migrated to New Mexico when it was still Spanish territory.  He married a very young bride in Taos in 1828 and was the forebear of the Nolans of New Mexico.

Two notable later Nolans in Canada were:
  • Louis Nolan, who was born in Ontario in 1818 to an Irish soldier in the British army.  Nolan’s “claim to fame” came with the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War.  It was he who relayed the order to charge and he who, like others, was killed in the charge. 
  • and Paddy Nolan, a migrant from Limerick to the Canadian West in 1889 who was an early frontier lawyer.  His fame as "the greatest wit in the west" led to many stories and legends about his criminal law practice in Calgary.
Australia.  Early Nolans in Australia were convicts.  Michael Nowland from Dublin, for instance, was imprisoned and sentenced to death for supposedly stealing a horse.  His sentence was later commuted to life and he was transported in 1790 to Australia on the Scarborough.  He married a fellow convict from the Lady Juliana and, after an initial spell on Norfolk Island, they settled in Wilberforce, NSW where they raised nine children.

Later arrivals were free settlers, such as James and Rosanna Nolan from Fermanagh (who arrived in Sydney on the Broom in 1842 and subsequently migrated to the Victorian goldfields) and John Nolan from Wicklow (who came to Sydney on the Berkshire two years later and settled in East Maitland, NSW

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If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

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Donnell O'Nolan was recorded as the Nolan clan leader in Carlow in 1394.
Bob Nolan
, born Robert Nobles, was the Canadian-born country and western singer and actor of the 1930's and 1940's, a contemporary of Roy Rogers.
Sidney Nolan was Australia's best-known painter of the 20th century.

Select Nolans Today
  • 16,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 19,000 in America (most numerous in New York) 
  • 34,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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