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Waterford, Ireland's oldest city is believed to have been established by the Viking Ragnall (the grandson of Ivar the Boneless) in 914 AD

Main Street in Dungarvan ca. 1900.

County Waterford (Irish: Contae Phort Láirge) is located in the province of Munster.  The county contains the borough, market, and seaport town of Dungarvan; the seaport, market, and post-town of Dunmore; the seaport and market-town of Tramore; and the seaport town of Passage East. It also has the market and post-towns of Lismore and Tallow, as well as the post-towns of Cappoquin, Clashmore, Portlaw, and Kilmacthomas. There is also the maritime village of Bonmahon.

Its' extensive coastline has meant that there has been a great deal of travel to and from Waterford County and connections have been made over time with countries throughout the world, from 5th century incursions by the Irish into Wales to the vast exodus of Waterfordians to countries across the world. 

It is divided into the baronies of;

  • Coshbride and
  • Coshmore,
  • Decies-without-Drum,
  • Decies-within-Drum,
  • Gaultier,
  • Glenahiery,
  • Middlethird, and
  • Upperthird.

It got its name from Waterford city named after the Old Norse name of Vadrarfjord, which is said to mean Windy Fiord. It is also referred to as “The Déise” or Decie. The Déise is the name of a major tribe that migrated southward from Meath and settled in what is now County Waterford. Waterford City, however, was settled by the Danes in the ninth century and became one of their raiding settlements.

The Normans invaded Waterford in the twelfth century and Waterford City became their stronghold, second only to Dublin in importance. Part of the county was confiscated from its owners and given to English settlers in 1583 after the insurrection of the Earl of Desmond. King John granted the territory a charter in 1206. Due to a war with Hugh O’Neill many English settlers left in 1598. Waterford was part of the insurrection of the Catholic confederacy which fought Cromwell’s army in 1641 and lost. This led another small settlement in 1650.

The population was 261,865 in 1821 and grew to 312,956 in 1841. Its population decreased to 312,956 in 1851; an 18% decrease primarily due to the potato famine. The population continued to decrease until it was only 127,586 in 1926. In 2006, the population was 107,961 in 2006. 

Waterford genealogy questions Get the most from the County Waterford Message Board

Surnames of County Waterford

Colin Shelley who specializes in the origin and development of surnames from various sources in the English-speaking world takes us through the top 10 for Waterford during the 19th century. 

  • Power, The surname Power is of Norman French origin and was brought to Ireland with the Anglo-Norman invasion of the late 12th century.  Early versions were Le Poer and De Paor.  It is mainly found in Waterford.
  • Walsh, Walsh is a semi-translation of the early Gaelic Breatnach, meaning Welsh or Briton, which became Brenach, Waleys, Walensis, and finally anglicized as Walsh.
  • Flynn,O'Flynn and Flynn are surnames that derive from the Gaelic flann or floinn meaning "ruddy" and originally given as a nickname to someone with reddish complexion.  The O'Flynn name cropped up in a number of locations, most notably in Waterford, Cork, and Roscommon.
  • Murphy, A Gaelic raider took the title of "sea raider" in 1070 for his maritime exploits while king of Leinster.  Sea raider in Gaelic is Murchadh, composed of muir meaning "sea" and cath meaning "battle."  The spelling of the name eventually evolved to the more phonetic O'Murchu.  Today Murphy is the most common surname in Ireland.
  • McGrath, The McGrath surname is derived from the Gaelic MacGraith and the personal name Craith, meaning "grace" or "prosperity."  It is a view traditionally held that MacCraith was a name bestowed upon the descendants of Ahearne, the brother of Brian Boru.  The "th" in McGrath is generally silent.  The alternative spelling of McGraw came from county Down in Ulster and is common in America.
  • Ryan, The main source of this name was the old Gaelic O'Maoilriain (descendant of Maoilriain), the name of a Munster sept in Tipperary and Limerick.  O'Maoilriain abbreviated and anglicized over time to Mulryan and then to Ryan.
  • Fitzgerald, The surname Fitzgerald is a translation of the Norman "fils de Gerald" or "son of Gerald," where Gerald is a Norman first name meaning "rule of the spear."  The name was brought to England at the time of the Norman Conquest and the Norman Maurice FitzGerald went to Ireland and established the Irish line.
  • O’Brien, The early history of the O'Brien clan is as a Dalcassian tribe in SW Ireland and then with Brian Boru, the legendary king of Ireland who defeated the Norsemen at Clondorf in 1014.  The Ui Braians ruled over Munster after Brian Boru's death and, as O'Briens, emerged as one of the chief dynastic families of Ireland.
  • Foley, Foley is generally understood to be an anglicized form of the Gaelic Ó Foghladha, which translates loosely as “pirate” or “marauder.” This may imply distant Viking roots.
  • Whelan, Whelan derived from the Gaelic O'Faolain, descendant of Faolain which itself came from the Gaelic faol meaning "wolf." The usual pronunciation was "Fee-lan."  Both Phelan and Whelan emerged as anglicized surnames, with Whelans being more numerous.

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The County Waterford Community on IrelandXO

The County Waterford community has profiles of hundreds of its' county's diaspora, featured is Valentine Greatrakes, an Irish faith healer defended by the King of England, the story of Bill Egan written by his grandaughter Patricia Harty, Catherine Sage written by her great-granddaughter Lisa McCole, Bridget Kirby and Mary McGrath whose ancestors are looking for more information. Click the images below to browse the fascinating stories. 

Valentine Greatrakes Bill Egan Catherine M Phelan Sage Bridget Kirby Mary McGrath

Emigration during the Great Famine

The Cork Constitution of April 2, 1846 noted that “vessels were reportedly taking in emigrants at Shannon, Bantry, Skibbereen, Youghal, Dungarvan and Waterford. The poorest cottiers were the first to leave, followed by the small-holders and then the better off farmers and townspeople.” The cost of emigration in 1846 was between 50-60 shillings to Canada and from 70 shillings to 」5 to America. The cost for a labourer, his wife and three children came to about 」15, an entire year’s wages at that time.

Cecil Woodham-Smith states that 4,000 emigrants left from Waterford in the spring of 1847. In May of that year a newspaper in St. John, New Brunswick, noted that “The (Irish) provincial newspapers appear to be alarmed at the magnitude and character of the emigration from all parts, more particularly from the counties of Limerick, Waterford, Cork and Sligo.”

In June 1847 an Act was passed to enable funds to be raised via the Poor Rate to help towards emigration expenses. The requirements were that the applicant should be three months in a Workhouse. Assistance would be given in certain circumstances to poor people not residing in the Workhouse and those who had been less than three months in the Workhouse. A high proportion of the emigrants from Ireland were women. There was a great demand in America for Irish girls as domestic servants. In Australia there was an acute shortage of females.

Waterford Workhouse

In 1833 the Whatley Commission was established to examine how bad poverty was in Ireland. It suggested that institutions be established to provide “indoor relief” to the old, infirm, deserted, and orphaned children and widows. These proposals were rejected and instead, a Poor Law system based on the one introduced in England was introduced in Ireland. The Poor Law was introduced to Ireland in 1838 and operated until 1923. The country was divided into Poor Law Unions each of which had a workhouse run by elected and exofficio guardians. The Poor Law Commissioners until 1872 supervised these guardians and from 1872 until the demise of the system in 1923 the Local Government Board supervised them.

County Waterford had four poor law unions, Dungarvan, Kilmacthomas, Lismore and Waterford City.

  • Dungarvan Poor Law Union was formed in April 1839, the new workhouse was built in 1842 on a five acre site to the west of the town, see pictured below. Dungarvan, a potato growing area suffered greatly duirng the famine years. A relief committee was established in January 1846, which gave out Indian meal at subidised prices. In 1846 it recorded having 650 inmates, three years later the number of inmates rose to 2,751. The dead from Dungarvan workhouses are laid to rest in Slievegrine graveyard at Pulla. Prior to this, the old graveyard at Kilrush was used. 
  • Kilmacthomas was created in June 1850.It encompased the following areas, Annestown, Ballylaneen, Carrigcastle, Comeragh, Dunhill, Fews, Fox's castle, Gardenmorris, Georgestown, Kilbarrymeaden, Kilmacthoms, Knockmahon, Mountkennedy, Newtown, Stradbally and Tinnassaggart. It was errected on a six acre site to the south east of Kilmacthomas. It has its own graveyard to the north of the workhouse where the paupers were buried in unmarked graves. It closed in 1919. 
  • Lismore Poor Law Union was created in March 1839 and covred Ballysaggartmore, Cappoquin, Castlerichard, Kilcochlin, Lismore, Maccollop, West Modeligo, Tallow, Temple Michael. It was errected on a 4 acre site, half a mile to the south of Lismore.
  • Waterford Poor Law Union was set up in 1839 and covered Ballynakill, Croom


Researching your County Waterford Roots

Whatever stage you are at with researching your Waterford ancestry, we have the resources to help you find out more. Once you have tracked down your Waterford ancestors, be sure to add them to the IrelandXO Chronicles so that others can read their stories. Who knows? You may even find a connection you never knew you had.

We highly suggest checking out our Waterford  Message Board where our wonderful team of volunteers are waiting to answer your queries and help you to solve your family history mysteries. .

Much of the information here is from a book entitled " Desperate Haven", which is a definitive study of the Great Famine and its effects in towns and villages of West Waterford. To purchase click here 

In the meantime here are some pages that we have put together to help you on your genealogy journey. 

  • If you're not sure where exactly in Waterford your Ancestors lived then CLICK HERE for information on how to Find Your Waterford Parish.

  • Birth, Death and Marriage records from Jan 01, 1864 are available from the General Register Office (GRO). Waterford County Library has an online copy of Death Registers from 1864-1901 here. Before this, the Church recorded baptisms, deaths and marriages, alot of these parish records are now held by the National Library of Ireland. Copies for Waterford and Dungarvan can also be found at Waterford Heritage Genealogy Service.

  • Waterford County Archive Service, Dungarven Central Library. Find a detail description of surviving records HERE

  • If you want to know how the Famine affected Waterford CLICK HERE to read our handy guide

  • In 1837 the Lewis' Topographical Survey was published. This provides detailed snapshots of life in each Civil Parish just before the Famine. CLICK HERE for more information on Waterford

  • Lismore Castle Estate Emigration Database holds the records of those that emigration from Lismore Castle Estate during the period 1815-1905. The Lismore Estate refers to the estates of the Dukes of Devonshire and relates to lands largely situated in the counties of Waterford and Cork. Lismore Castle was and remains the seat of the Dukes of Devonshire in Ireland. More information HERE

  • The Archives Department at Waterford County Library holds a wealth of information, email

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