Source: Clans & Families of Ireland, by John Grenham
Boyle, or O'Boyle, is now one of the fifty most common surnames in Ireland. In Irish the name is Ó Baoghill, the derivation of which is uncertain, but thought to be connected to the Irish geall, meaning 'pledge'. In the Middle Ages the family were powerful and respected, sharing control of the entire northwest of the island with the O'Donnells and the O'Dohertys, and the strongest associated of the family is still with Co. Donegal, where (O)Boyle is the third most numerous name in the country.
The majority of those bearing the name are of Gaelic origin, but many Irish Boyles have separate, Norman origins. In Ulster, a significant number are descended from the Scottish Norman family of de Boyville, whose name comes from the town now known as Beauville in Normandy. The most famous Irish family of the surname were the Boyles, Earls of Cork and Shannon, descended from Richard Boyle, who arrived in Ireland from Kent in 1588 and quickly amassed enormous wealth. His earliest known ancestor was Humphrey de Binville, a Norman lord in Herefordshire in the eleventh century.
Source: Irish Families, Their Names, Arms & Origins, by Edward MacLysaght
Boyle is Ó Baoighill in modern Irish, the derivation of which is possibly from the old Irish word baigell, i.e. having profitable pledges: modern scholars reject the derivation baoith-geall. It is thus of course a true native Irish surname and the O'Boyles were a strong sept in Co. Donegal with a regularly initiated chieftain seated at Cloghineely: they shared with the O'Donnells and the O'Doughertys the leadership of the north-west. Ballyweel, near Donegal town, is a phonetic rendering of Baile ui Bhaoighill (i.e. the home of the O'Boyles). These O'Boyles were noted for their ruddy complexion. Nevertheless the best-known Boyles connected with Ireland were men of English race. When Richard Boyle landed in Ireland in 1588 as a young man without influence few could have anticipated that he would become what has been termed the "first colonial millionaire". He acquired the extensive property of the executed Sir Walter Raleigh in Co. Waterford. This formed the nucleus of the vast estates he was to bequeath to his numerous family on his death in 1643, by which time he was Earl of Cork and had held high government office. The best known of his sons (born in Ireland) were Roger Boyle (1621-1679) Earl of Orrery, and Robert Boyle (1627-1691), chemist and experimental physicist. It is worthy of note that of 15 Boyles in the Dictionary of National Biography 14 belong to this Anglo-Irish family. Some Gaelic-Irish Boyles or O'Boyles have also distinguished themselves, notably William Boyle (1853-1922) Abbey Theatre dramatist, John Boyle (d. 1832) the well-known wit, and Richard Boyle (1822-1908) the railway engineer whose heroism during the Indian Mutiny was renown. The name is common (being included in the fifty most numerous in Ireland), particularly in the Ulster counties of Donegal, Tyrone and Armagh (it takes third place in the first named). It is only in comparatively recent times that the discarded prefix O has been at all widely restored.
Return to the O'Boyle/Boyle page...