Nolan surname history

Nolan (or Nowlan) is now among the most common surnames in Ireland. It the anglicised form of O Nuallain, from a diminutive of nuall, meaning "famous" or "noble". The family are strongly linked with the area of the modern Co. Carlow, where, in pre-Norman times, they held power in the barony of Forth, whence their ancient title of "Princes of Foharta". Their power was greatly diminished after the arrival of the Normans, but the surname is still strongly linked with the area. The prevalence of the surname in the modern counties of Mayo and Galway is explained by the migration of a branch of the family to that area in the sixteenth century; in 1585 Thomas Nolan of Ballinrobe in Mayo was given large grants of land as payment for acting as Clerk of the county. He also obtained lucrative licenses to sell wine and spirits throughout the West. He and his relatives prospered and their descendants are many. There was also a separate family, in Irish O hUallachain, based in West Cork, whose name was also anglicised as Nolan.

In 1890 the name was ranked 38th most common, with 321 births. By 1996 it had risen to 34th, based on telephone listings - the uneven geographical spread is illustrated clearly in the discrepancy in 1996 ranking between the Republic and Northern Ireland: in the north it was only 147th, while in the south it was 23rd.

The most famous modern bearer of the surname In Ireland was Brian O'Nolan (1911-1966), better known under his two pen-names of Flann O'Brien and Myles na Gopaleen, whose genius for comic invention has only been fully appreciated since his death. His best-known work is At Swim-Two-Birds. Sir Sidney Nolan (1917-92) was one of the best artists of his generation, and the first Australian painter to become internationally famous. In acknowledgment of his Irish roots, he donated a large collection of his paintings to Ireland in 1986. Christopher Nolan (b. 1965) was born quadriplegic and language-impaired but has had a remarkable literary career. His autobiography Under the Eye of the Clock won the Whitbread Prize in 1988.

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