The Dunn Name and Interesting Trivia


Dunn is of Irish and Scottish origin. In Gaelic [old Irish] Dun means a heap, hill, mount[ain]; a fortress, a castle, fastness, a tower. The saxon version, Dunn, means brown, of a dark color, swarthy.


Name Variations and History

In Irish, Ó Duinn or Ó Doinn (doinn is the genitive case of the adjective donn - brown) is more often written Dunne than Dunn in English. The form O'Doyne, common in the seventeenth century, is now almost obsolete. In fact of 364 births registered for them in a given year, 313 had the final E and only 51 were Dunn. From this it can be estimated that the total number of people so called in Ireland today is approximately 15,000, giving them twenty-seventh place in the list of most common surnames in Ireland.

The Dunn name is first found in County Meath in Ireland where they held a family seat from very ancient times. A “seat” or “family seat” was the principal manor of a medieval lord, which was normally an elegant country mansion and usually denoted that the family held political and economic influence in the area. The term continues to be used in the British Isles today.
Shown above is a drawing of Brittas castle (discussed below), stronghold of our ancient ancestral family. Click on it to enarge it.

Some of the Many Variations of the surname Dunn:

Doyne [with alternative spellings of Doyen and Doying in one family from which I've received emails. I was also sent the following info by a man named Al Doyne: "I've also been in contact with a guy who grew up in Ireland, now in this country, who speaks Gaelic. according to him the original name O'Duinn [see below] in Gaelic is pronounced O'Doyne! O'Doyne being the Anglicized spelling."]
Ó Duinn
Ó Duinn
Ó Doinn



Trivia: A Disney Connection

Those of us raised with Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse should enjoy knowing that we are related (at least in a distant way) to Walt Disney. Consider the following.

About 1824-5, Major Laurence Esmond Dunne, born in 1782, son of Laurence Dunne of Ards, married Sophia Disney, daughter of one James Disney. They had a son, Arthur Disney Dunne, Barrister-at-law, in 1826. His
coat of arms shows the connection, for on it is included the name "Arthur Disney Dunne". (The “e” on the end is just one of many variations of the spelling of the ancient Dunn name.)

A researcher on a website I ran across reported that the Disney family had some genealogy work done by the “General Office”, and the Deputy Chief Herald of Ireland reported that the Dunnes/Dunns are distantly related to the Disney family - 23rd cousins, he reports.


Trivia: Sept vs. Clan

"Sept" is a term from Irish culture in the nineteenth century used to explain the use of a variety of surnames by members of a single clan. Where Scots would say "MacGregor and his clan" an Irish historian might say "O'Neill and his sept". The English word 'sept' is most accurate when referring to a sub-group within a large clan - especially when that group has taken up residence outside of their clan's original territory.

The Dunne sept originated in County Leix (Queen's County) and formed one of the principal families of Leinster, their chief being lords of iregan in that county. The sept is one of those specially mentioned in the mid sixteenth century official orders as hostile and dangerous to the English interest. It is in that part of the country that Dunnes are, appropriately, now to be found in greatest numbers, though they have spread far and wide.


Geographic Origin of the Spelling "Dunn"

The island of Ireland is divided into four historic regions: Ulster, Connaught, Leinster and Munster. Each region contains multiple counties. The counties of Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan in Ulster belong to the Republic of Ireland. The remainder of Ulster belongs to the UK and is known as Northern Ireland. Here's a link to a map that shows the relationship of Ulster to the rest of Ireland.

The significance of the above paragraph is that nearly all those who spell the name Dunn came from Ulster. This is a name to which the practice of resuming the discarded prefixes Mac and O does not apply - the form O'Dunn or O'Dunne is seldom if ever seen today.


Trivia: Selected Famous Irishmen

At least one [person] of the name is to be found in the gallery of famous Irishmen, viz., Gillananaomh O Duinn (1102-1160), the historian and poet. One was killed at the battle of Aughrim in 1391. Another very active Jacobite was James O'Dunne (circa 1700-1758). Bishop of Ossory, most of whose life was spent in France, in the service of which country several of his relatives distinguished themselves as
diplomatists and soldiers.

In modern times Charles Dunn (1799-1872), was a notable judge in the USA; and Col. Humphrey O'Dunne was famous for his bravery in the attack on Savannah in 1774.

The Irish-American author Finlay Peter Dunn, has been noticed in the article on Dooley (q.v.). Sir Patrick Dun (1642-1713), five times President of the Royal College of Physicians, Ireland, and Irish M.P., whose memory is perpetuated in Sir Patrick Dun's Hospital, Dublin, was of a Scottish family.



Trivia: U.S. Presidents of Irish and Scots-Irish Descent

Although not related to the Dunn name, an interesting bit of trivia I've found is that at least twenty-three of the fourty-four presidents of the United States have some Irish and/or Scots-Irish origins, although the extent of this varies. For example, both of Andrew Jackson's parents were Irish born, while George W. Bush has a rather distant Irish ancestry.

President John Kennedy had far stronger Irish origins, which fell much closer in terms of date. In addition, Ronald Reagan's father was of partial Irish Catholic ancestry, while his mother had some Scots-Irish ancestors. James K. Polk also had Scots-Irish ancestry. Within this group, only Kennedy was raised as a practicing Roman Catholic. President Barack Obama's Irish heritage originates from his mother, who was an Irish/English mix.

Here's a
link to the complete list of presidents with some Irish in their heritage.


Trivia: We Are Descended from Ancient Irish Royalty

I subscribe to an online group called "clanndunne", and from it received the message below. It’s of interest because Dunne is one variation of the Dunn name, and we're all related if we go far enough up our ancestral line.

In the message, the reference to "Mullach Abu: [meaning] The Summit to Victory" comes from the family crest, and was a Gaelic battle cry used by Dunns/Dunnes in ancient days, i.e., when knights were fighting on horseback, etc.


From: paddydunne29@hotmail.com
To: clandunne@yahoogroups.com

Subject: [clandunne] reunionDate: Fri, 04 Sep 2009

“Well hello to all my Dunne family. I am trying to get all the Dunnes I can together to have a reunion, hopefully in may 2010 in Co[unty] Loais, home to our greatest ancestors.

I need as many of you Dunnes as I can muster. I myself have about 60 family members who will come [brothers & sisters, aunts, uncles, and their children] so if you would like to help do this we need as many Dunnes as we can.

We are also trying to erect something in Brittas castle, where our forefathers came from. It was our stronghold - and to those who don’t know, we are descendants of Cathair Mor, High King of Ireland, so we are and were a very important family in Ireland.

So, let’s get the clan together. This is a once in a lifetime thing - something to tell the grandkids about - so please, I need a lot of help on this. Please email me and help get this started; email is paddydunne29@hotmail.com

Thanks; Mullach Abu: The Summit to Victory”


This message about a reunion prompted me to do a bit of research on the subject of the "Cathair Mor, High King of Ireland". This
site provides info about Cathair Mor, and makes references to his descendants, including the "O'Dunnes" and the "O'Nolans", both lines being part of our ancient ancestral families.

Bottom line: The information on that site indicates that we are descendants of a king of ancient Ireland through both our Dunn and Nolan lines.


Here’s another reference to the O'Dunne's being descended from a king of Ireland. From a
page titled, "The O'Dunnes -- an ancient and formidable tribe – Ancestral Research, Family History, Laois, Offaly, Genealogy" comes this:

"[The O'Dunne's are] One of the septs [similar to a clan] of Offaly descended from Ros Failghe, son of Cathair Mor, King of Ireland, and their early history is hid in the mists of the past; but State and other papers show them to have been a powerful tribe whose raids and forays caused anxiety to the English Pale, which they frequently harried with fire and sword, returning to their fastnesses laden with spoil…"

The English Pale

In the early 1500's, the O'Dunnes were a powerful tribe and ruled over a large area known as Hy-Regan. They frequently raided and harassed the English Pale and then retreated to the mountains.

The Pale, or the English Pale, was directly under the control of the English government in the late Middle Ages. Here’s a portion of the information I found about it.

“In the period immediately after the Norman Settlement was constructed the barrier, known as the "Pale," separating the lands occupied by the settlers from those remaining in the hands of the Irish. This barrier consisted of a ditch, raised some ten or twelve feet from the ground, with a hedge of thorn on the outer side. It was constructed, not so much to keep out the Irish, as to form an obstacle in their way in their raids on the cattle of the settlers, and thus give time for a rescue.”

The phrase "beyond the pale" dates back to the 14th century, when the part of Ireland that was under English rule was delineated by a boundary made of stakes or fences, and known as the English Pale. To travel outside of that boundary, beyond the pale, was to leave behind all the rules and institutions of English society, which the English modestly considered synonymous with civilization itself.

Last updated 6/15/2012

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