Lá Fhéile Muire ~ St Mary's Day (August 15th) is celebrated on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven. It was marked as a Holy Day of Obligation in the Roman Catholic Church and as a festival (under various names) in the Anglican Communion.
In 1856, this day made international headlines when a Roscommon landlord fired 22 Catholic laborers for refusing to work on Mary's Day. READ MORE
Such was the Catholic devotion to the Virgin Mary that the name was very often given as a middle name to boys (e.g Joseph Mary Plunkett) and as a double first name to multiple girls in the same family (e.g. Mary Pat, Mary Kate, Mary Jo, etc).
How Irish is the name Mary?
Mary / Marie has long been a popular given name for Irish girls. According to Wolfe, one-quarter of the population of Ireland was christened "Mary" in 1923.
But how far back does the tradition of this name go in Ireland?
Devotion to Naomh Muire (St. Mary) aka the Blessed Virgin came to Ireland with the Normans, who established shrines and chapels in her honour across the island. Out of respect, the Gaelic name Muire was reserved for Our Lady. The Irish would never a christen a child Muire but Máire instead, and even this was rare before the 17th century.
Máire meaning "sweet/ drop of the sea/ bitter" in Gaelic Irish is pronounced differently according to regional dialects: Munster = Moira / Myra | Connacht = Maura | Ulster = Moya.
In Roman Catholic baptisms (traditionally recorded in Latin) the Gaelic name Máire was often recorded as Maria / Mariae or Mariam.
Click on the links (on the name variants below) to see how they appear on record in the Irish Census of 1901.
|Máire||Old Irish||Mary, Marie, Maura, Mare, Mar|
|Máire||Modern Irish||Marie, Mari, Moya, Moira, Moyra|
|Maria||Latin||Mary, Marie, Maria, Miriam, Mariah|
|Máirín||Little Mary||Maureen, Móirín, Moreen, Minnie, Marina|
|Muireann||Modern Irish||Mary Anne, Marianna, Mariana, Marion, Marian|
|Molly||Nickname||Molley, Moll, Mo, Moe, Mally, Mollie, Polly|
|May||Nickname||Mae, Mia, Mame, Maisie, Maisey, Mamie, Mamsie, Memsie|
If you are having difficulty finding her on records, remember that nicknames associated with Margaret aka Máiréad (e.g Margery Marjory, Marjery, Polly) and Méabh (Maeve, Meave) were sometimes given to Mary as well.
Mary was a popular middle name too. Irish households often contained relatives of the same name (children named after an unmarried aunt or uncle living with them) and in many cases the child may have gone by their middle name, to avoid confusion. This is worth considering when a match for census records can't be found in baptismal records.
Sometimes census records inverted a double Christian name in error (e.g. Mary Michael misrecorded as "Michael Mary") so keep an eye on the gender.
Over to you...
Got a 19th-century Mary or Maria in your family tree? We'd love if you added her to our Ancestors roll-call here: