Garvey/McGarvey Surname in Ireland


The surname Garvey/McGarvey is borne today by the descendants of at least five different unrelated Irish septs. Each of these groups originally had different Irish names, but names that sounded similar enough to the "English ear" that they all eventually became anglicized to Garvey. The similarity in sound was due to the all names being some variation on the Irish word garbh which means "rough, crude, or barbaric".

The map at left shows where the largest groups of Garveys lived in Ireland during the time of the Griffith Valuation in 1848 to 1864. The size of the circles represent the number of Garveys seen in that location. In addition, the circles are color coded to represent what has been learned so far about the genetic signatures of each of the original septs. Those colored in yellow represent clusters of Garveys whose genetic signatures are still unidentified. The five original groups that have been identified are the Co Kerry Garveys, the Co Armagh Garveys, the Co Down Garveys, the Co Roscommon Garveys, and the Co Donegal McGarveys.

County Kerry Garveys - O'Gairbhfhiaich (purple circles): The Co Kerry Garveys are mostly located on Dingle Peninsula. They are the descendants of the group of local rulers known as the Eoganacht Loch Lein and their history in this region goes back 1500 years. The clusters of Garveys in Counties Clare and Limerick may turn out to have the same genetic signature as the Co Kerry Garveys. More information about the Co Kerry Garveys can be found here.

County Armagh Garveys - Mac Gairbhith (red circles): The Co Armagh Garveys are clustered in the southwestern part of the county. They are the descendants of the rulers of a medieval kingdom known as Ui Brassail Macha that had been located in the northern part part of county. However they lost their kingdom to invasion by the MacCanns in about 1150 AD and were driven to the southern part of the county. More information about the Co Armagh Garveys can be found here.

County Down Garveys (blue circle): The Co Down Garveys were located in the parish of Clonanallan and Newry. The history of the Co Down Garveys goes back at least 400 years, and possibly much farther. More information about the Co Down Garveys can be found here.

County Roscommon Garveys (green circle): The Co Roscommon Garveys are clustered in the northern part of the county near Boyle. They are the descendants of a group known as the Silmurray who included the O'Connor kings of Connacht. What is known about the Co Roscommon Garveys can be found here.

County Donegal McGarveys - Mac Gairbhith (brown circles): The surname is centered in northern Co Donegal (Gweedore and Creeslough areas), with another smaller group of McGarveys in northern Co Tyrone/southeast Co Derry. Initial DNA results indicate that these two groups may have different genetic signatures. The story we've all heard about many of our ancestors shortening their names from McGarvey to Garvey when they emigrated seems to be a myth. Of the 21 Garveys who have been DNA tested, only one Garvey family has been found that was originally a Co. Donegal McGarvey. More informaton about the Co Donegal McGarveys can be found here.

One quarter of all the Garveys in the Griffith Valuation were found in Co Mayo, but the genetic signature of that group has not yet been determined. This group is likely to be the descendants of relatives of Archbishop John Garvey who moved to this region from Kilkenny in the late 1500's. More information about Archbishop John Garvey and the Co Mayo Garveys can be found here.

According the ancient genealogies another Garvey sept (O'Gairbhidh), rulers of Ui Felmeda Tuaidh, had existed in the Rathvilly/Tullow area of County Carlow. As no groups of Garveys were seen in Co Carlow in the Griffith Valuation, this sept either moved elsewhere or become extinct. However it became a notorious part of Irish history due to an Auliffe O'Garvey (Amlaib O'Gairbhidh) of that line who was one of the few Irish who fought on the side of the invading Normans in the late 1100's. He was a Ui Felmeda kinsman of Dermot McMurrough, the deposed king of Leinster who had brought Strongbow and the Normans to Ireland to help him win back his kingdom. In the early years of the invasion, the Ui Felmeda Tuaidh lands around Rathvilly/Tullow were granted to a relative of Dermot MacMurrough (MacDalbaig or Mactawley). The Ui Gairbhidh sept seemed to have been given the lands just to the west known as Ui Bairrche. (The former Ui Biarrche people, led by the O'Gormans, fled to Co Monaghan, and to the Ibrickan region of west Co Clare). These Garveys then seem to disappear from history. This Garvey line may have "daughtered out", or it may have been displaced at some later date. The Irish who fought with Strongbow seem to have been a protected class in Leinster for a century or so after the invasion. However by about 1300 old connections were being forgotten, and many of them were dispossessed of their lands - as had most of the other "mere Irish" in Leinster.


There was not a single occurrence of "O'Garvey" in the 500+ Garvey listings in the Griffith Valuation. The "O" seems to have been dropped from the Garvey name in the late 1500's to early 1600's.

Only one out of every 2000 Irishmen was a Garvey.

By sometime in the 1860's there were more Garveys in the US than there were in Ireland.


Garvan and Garvin are said to be earlier anglicizations of the Irish names of the Kerry and Mayo branches of Garveys. It's interesting to look at the distribution of the Garvan/Garvin name in the Griffith Valuation. It may indicate where those branches of Garveys had first settled after leaving their homelands.


Click here to see examples of distribution mappings of other Irish surnames in my lineage.

The maps below show by county the locations of the civil parishes in which the Griffith Valuation reported a Garvey to be holding land.

Antrim Armagh - O'Gairbhith homeland
Cavan Clare
Down - O'Gairbhith homeland? Dublin
Galway Kerry - O'Garbhain homeland
Kilkenny Leitrim
Limerick Longford
Louth Mayo
Meath - O'Gairbhin homeland? Monaghan
Roscommon Sligo


Home McGarvey Surname in Griffith Valuation Garvan Surname in Griffith Valuation

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