From the first record of the adoption of the name MaoilMhichil1 as a surname in the north of County Roscommon, to the present day distribution of Mulvihills, and it’s variants, to most of the counties of Ireland, encompasses a period of over 1100 years. In that time, approximately 44 generations of descendants have carried the name. They were never numerous. Probably at no time prior to 1800 did their numbers exceed 4,000, and were probably less than 1000 in 1687. Their population in Ireland today is about 20004, with nearly 6,0005 spread throughout the world. Of course, there are twice those numbers who no longer bear the surname, but can trace their Mulvihill lineage back through their maternal line.


As far back as the seventh century the MaoilMhichil line is mentioned as being part of the Corca Achlann 7 tribe. The Corca Achlann were part of a federation of three tribes located in the eastern part of County Roscommon, in the Province of Connaught, referred to, generically, in a number of ancient texts as the Tri Tuatha8. The other two tribes were the Ui Briuin na Sionna11 and the Cenel Dobtha12.


The Corca Achlann had dominion over the western portion of the Tri Tuatha, while the other two ruled the eastern and southern portions, respectively , both bordering on the Shannon River. The crest of the Slieve Bawn, a local mountain, served as the southern boundary with the Cenel Dobtha, and the Owenure River was the northern boundary with the Ui Briuin na Sionna. The crests of the hills were marked with the boundary stones that were still visible in the 1850’s.


The dominant tribe in the Tri Tuatha was the O’Monoghans of Ui Briuin na Sionna , lords of Connaught. The Tri Tuatha, in turn, owed it’s fealty to the far stronger O’Connors, hereditary kings of Connaught.


The Corca Achlann were also ruled by a sept of the Ui Briuins6, meaning descendents of Brian, stepbrother of Niall10, the first High King of Ireland. Their first chief, in the fifth century, seems to have been Ona, the legendary Archdruid, and great-grandson of Brian. A brother of Ona was MaoilMhichil (ruled ca. 460).


In the twelfth century the chieftain of the Corca Achlann took the name Branain, from Brian. This was, for the future, adopted as the surname of the ruling family. It later became Mac Branain, and ultimately, Brennan. It is this linkage with the Branans that gives us some assurance that the Mulvihills of later times are consistant with these ancient MaoilMhichils.




By 1416, the Mulvihills had been evicted from Roscommon by the O’Connors. In the Survey of 165914 they were most numerous just to the southeast, in County Longford, particularly in the Barony of Rathcline. Here a number of Mulvihills began to further anglicize their name, to Mulville, Melville, and even Mitchell, in an attempt to protect their rights and property in an increasingly English – dominated environment. This trend continued, and may have even accelerated after further migration to County Clare. The name change was often accompanied by conversion to the Protestant faith.

This began, it appears, a process of migration and dispersal – a diaspora – that continued for 500 years.


The 1650’s saw the Cromwellian invasion of Ireland, following on his victory over, and execution of,  King Charles I of Britain, and the replacement of the monarchy with a parliamentary form of government. In it’s wake, the turbulence reached new highs. Irish properties were confiscated and redistributed to English gentry, completing the takeover begun 500 years before by the Normans. Before the end of the decade, however, Cromwell was gone and the monarchy was restored, but for the Irish a return of their previous rights was never an option.


Thus began the erosion of influence of the Clan over everyday life. When they weren’t being broken up by the forced dislocations, the families of the Clans were increasingly subjected to the power and authority of the colonial landowners, and ultimately, to the strengthening central government. In the absence of Clan leadership individual families survived as best they could, dispersing in an often futile attempt to find sustenance and stability in available plots of land.


The Puritan Cromwell was particularly harsh on the Catholic population, but religious relief was brief after his overthrow. The year 1691 saw the Penal Laws enacted, and the persecution of the Catholic Church began anew. The official church was now the Church of Ireland (Anglican). The Catholic Church went underground and it was not until passage of the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 that the operations of the clergy regained legal status.18


And, as if to add further insult to English injury, the climatic period called the Little Ice Age was now in full swing. Bitter cold, and previously unknown volumes of snow contributed to a mortality second only to that of the future Great Famine.


          The map to the left shows the distribution of the Mulvihill surname in 1850 in County Longford, as indicated by the Griffith’s Valuation2,3 survey. It might be viewed as a relic of the earlier positioning, after the family was driven out of County Roscommon. The comparable Roscommon map, above, however, shows a displacement from their traditional homeland, generally towards the west. This might be explained as the remnants of a faction that supported the MacBranans (?).


          Another indicator of the presence of the Mulvihills in Longford is in the cemetery of the Grey Friars Monastery in Ballinakill. There remains visible today the grave of the 17th century Bishop which is very likely that of Flann Mulvihill. The soil surrounding the Grave, and an adjacent Holy Well, reputedly possesses remarkable healing properties.19










O’Hart15 places the family in County Clare before 1554, the date at which the castle at Doon Maolmichiall (sp.) was besieged by the O’Briens, the local ruling clan. Apparently they withstood the siege, because O’Hart later reports that the property remained in the family’s hands until the Cromwellian confiscations in 1653. The last owner is given as Owen O’Maolmichil.


In contrast with the above account Lavin13 reports that, in 1712 the Mulvihills were granted land near Ennis, in County Clare, by the Earl of Thomond. Thomond was the ancient name of the northern part of the Province of Munster, and royal home of the O’Briens. The property, in Inchicronan Parish, was called Doonmulvihill. Apparently, the area was previously referred to as Doon (as it is now), since a castle called Doon had existed there since at least the early 1400’s. The castle had changed hands many times since it was erected, and was reported to be in ruin by 1604. A scenic local lake is also called Doon.


We cannot yet reconcile these two accounts, but elements of both may be true, given the upheaval occasioned by Cromwell’s agents.


Regardless, it is clear that sometime in the period 1780-1820, the Clan was on the move again. The earliest move was from the Ennis area to the region around Kilrush on the Clare peninsula. Later, around 1870-80 a concentration is located in Miltown Malbay, near Spanish Point. Since our distribution map is based on Griffith’s 1852 survey of Clare, the latter move does not appear.



As late as 1874, when the Mulvihill Coat of Arms was accepted, the seat of the chief of the clan was listed as Knockanira, Co. Clare.20




In any event, it appears that, by 1800 the first movement of Mulvihills to County Kerry had begun. It is O’Hart15 again who gives the name of Barnaby O’Mulvihill (d. 1819) as settling near Listowel. Barnaby was a gggrandson of the last owner of Doonmulvihill in Clare. Some of his grandsons changed their name to Mulville in the mid-1800’s. The settlers congregated in the northern corner of County Kerry, around the towns of Listowel, Tarbert, and Ballybunnion.


In fact, it was reported in the Limerick Chronicle16 that a Michael Mulvihill was hanged by the British on 29 July 1809 in Tralee, Kerry. It was said that he was among a bunch of “White Boys” that murdered an English landlord in his house in Glin. It’s not clear in the article whether Mulvihill lived in Kerry or Limerick, however. The story was often repeated as a patriotic lament called “The Hanging at the Cross”.


 In 1834 we have the report17 of a faction fight of such size that it drew the attention of the magistrates, and a court of enquiry was held. On 24 June at the Ballyeagh horse races approximately 1200 of the Cooleen clan crossed the river Feale and attacked a gathering of about 1500 people of the Lawlor and Mulvihill clans. The battle was fought with blackthorne sticks (cudgels) and stones. The Lawlor/Mulvihill faction won the day. Ballyeagh is about 1 ˝ miles south of Ballybunnion. A repeat event took place some years later.


An earlier date for the first settlement may be more appropriate, however. Apparently, a map of the Gale(y) River area dated 1725 shows only a single dwelling, and it belongs to a Mulvihill24. Whether this was a lone exception, or the trailblazer for the area, is not yet known.




It was not long, however, before the Mulvihills begin to appear across the border in County Limerick. By about 1800 there were Mulvihills in Glin, Shanagolden, and Rathkeale. An inscription in the Rathkeale cemetery, for example, cites Jeremiah Mulvihill, d. 7 Jul 1821 at age 60.26 Griffith’s Valuation of the County in 1850-52 shows approximately 55,000 families, of which just 30 were Mulvihills. Of those, only five Mulvihill families were reported in Glin Parish. They were concentrated in the townlands of Ballygiltenane, Killacolla, and Tooraree (see Glin Maps). Nearby, still in Shanid Barony, are an additional 16 Mulvihill households (see Householder Survey).


The Mulvihills of Glin are detailed in the next section – Direct Descendents. They were Honoria, and Patrick, and Martin, and John, and Johanna.


It should also be noted that, as in the case of County Kerry, a single, early settlement Mulvihill has surfaced in County Limerick. Probate records reveal the will of Patrick Mulvihill dated 1724.25 Another Mulvihill of a later date may be found in the National Archive’s Limerick Will Book (4/208/51) for Denis, 1870.




Overall, in the Griffith’s Valuation survey of 1848-52, the distribution of the Mulvihill surname among property owners, tenants, and boarders shows nearly half living in Kerry, a quarter in Longford, and a tenth or less each in Limerick, Clare, Roscommon, and Galway. Whether some or all of these “colonies” should be considered individual septs is debatable. Their widest separation may be less than 200-300 years. The total number of households was about 300 at that point, although it has been estimated that only 70-80% of households were enumerated. Also, it should be remembered that household sizes were considerably larger in that period. An average family size was about 7-821, and often, older childrens’ families continued to live with the parents.



Emigration, principally to North America and Australia, both forced and voluntary, had begun in earnest by 1845 and the Great Famine was a major impetus.


During the period 1820-1920 4,400,000 Irish emigrated to America. Half of these arrived between 1846-54. Several hundred thousand also left for England, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, although many that went to the former two locations eventually wound up in the U.S. The total represents more than half of the Irish population in 1820. One million more died in the Potato Famine and the subsequent Typhus epidemic, leaving a population in Ireland of 4.1 million in 1920. The high was 8.2 million in 1841.


The Famine Irish Passenger Record Data File at NARA in Washington lists 88 Mulvihills arriving in the period 1846-5127. Approximately 400 more arrived between 1852-91. Ellis Island records reveal that, in the period 1892-1924, approximately 340 Mulvihills (including near variant spellings) entered the U.S22. About 40 others listed the U.S. or Canada as their residence, and so were not counted as immigrants, although they may have been in an earlier period. Apparently, the Mulvihills were later arrivals, on average.


 If we assume that the Birth and Mortality Rates, and the Emigration rates of the Mulvihills were roughly comparable to the population as a whole, then there were about 3000 Mulvihills in Ireland in 1820, about 2500 by 1850, and less than 1500 by 1920. Similarly, by proportion, a total of some 1800 Mulvihills would have emigrated up to 1920, with about 400 dying during the Famine. Immigration figures, however, support only about half that number.


These figures are, of course, crude, but provide a sense of the magnitude of the Mulvihill population and the flux over time and space. The estimates from various databases disagree by up to a factor of two.


More specifically, the 1880 U.S. Census23 shows 595 Mulvihills (and near derivatives28 of the name). At approximately the same time there were 136 enumerated in the 1881 Canada Census, and 36 in England in their 1881 Census. The 1920 U.S. Census Index29 (which lists only heads of household) shows about 700 households. By 193029, over 2400 individuals are enumerated.


Further, to date, 1317 Mulvihills (and near derivatives) have been reported passed on in the U.S. Social Security Death Index23. However, many early immigrants, especially those born before about 1880, were never registered in the system.


Summing all of these inputs, we might guess that, at one time or another, nearly 6000 persons bearing the name Mulvihill have lived in North America.








1 etymology: mael>mail>maoil>maol>mal>mul- in Gaelic, rendered progressively as bald, servant, devotee;  Mhichil>Michil>Michel for Michael.

2 Valuation Office, at the Irish Life Centre, Abbey Street Lower, Dublin 1; see also

3 Initiated by the Tenement Act of 1842, the Valuation surveyed all landowners, tenants, and boarders to establish a base for imposition of the Poor Law      Tax.

4 From the Eircom Online Telephone Book (680 listings), crudely corrected for family members, unlisted, etc. by tripling.

5 From Online Telephone Directories for the US (1416 listings), UK (103), Canada (254), Australia (85), New Zealand (9). Corrected as above.

6 O'Dubhagain ( O’Dugan), John; Topographical Poems, written 1320; from the translation by John O’Donovan (Dublin, 1862)

7 Also called Corca Seachlan

8 Cairney, C. Thomas, Clans and Families of Ireland and Scotland: An Ethnography of the Gael A.D. 500 – 1750, Willow Bend, 1989

9 var. Maol Michil,

10 Niall, of the Nine Hostages, is a reference to his practice of taking hostages during his frequent raids

11 Unknown Author, Annals of the Four Masters, Corpus of Electronic Texts (UCC), 1997-2003; the O’Monahans

12 ibid; the O’Hanleys


14 Penders Census of 1659; conducted by Sir William Petty on behalf of  the Cromwell government (reprint available from the IGF –

15 O'Hart, John (1892).Irish pedigrees; or, The origin and stem of the Irish nation, (5th Ed.). Dublin, Ireland: J. Duffy and Company; New York, New York: Benziger Brothers.

16 Limerick Chronicle, 15 April 1823

17 O’Donnell, Patrick, The Irish Faction Fighters of the 19th Century . Anvil Books, Dublin 1975

18 Davies, Norman, The Isles, Oxford Univ. Press, 1999

19 See

20 MacLysaght, E., Irish Families, Their Names, Arms & Origins (Dublin 1957

21 Irish Centre for Migration Studies, University College Cork, 2002; In 1911 50% of all households had 7 or more children.

22 See

23 Available online at

24 Per Niall Mulvihill of Glin, via Margaret Carmean (

25 West Munster Irish Chronicles, Issue #8, March 1999, Limerick Will Transcripts

26 Rathkeale Graveyard, Co. Limerick, Inscriptions at

27 National Archives:

28 By “near derivatives” I mean casual misspellings or preferential spellings of the Anglicized root “Mulvihill”. The Soundex code M414 contains two main   branches of what may be the same root: Mulvihill and Melville (as well as many other, completely unrelated names). The Melville branch, although it may be, in part or whole, the result of a further Anglization of the Gaelic parent, has been ignored in this part of the analysis. The Melville branch is typically less than half of the Mulvihills in a Soundex total for a large population, but can vary substantially, dependent on region and period. A list of “near derivatives” includes Mulvihille, Mulvehill, Mulvahill, Mulveyhill, Mulvihell, and others containing the mulv- and –hill elements. It does not include the variant “Mulvey”, other than the one mentioned, as this name has a different root and history, and a different Soundex code. It also does not include the Mulville variants.

29 See






BACK                                  NEXT                                             HOME



            © James M. Mulvihill                               UPDATED: 7/17/03