Whelan


Select Whelan Surname Genealogy

The Irish surname Whelan derives from the Gaelic O'Faolain, descendant of Faolain which itself comes from the Gaelic faol meaning "wolf."

The usual pronunciation was "Fee-lan."  But in some parts of Kilkenny it could be "Fay-lan" or "Way-lan." Thus both Phelan and Whelan emerged as anglicized surnames.  There are more Whelans than Phelans around today.  Other surname variants have been Whalen and Phalen.  Whalen is more common in America.

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Select Whelan Ancestry

IrelandO'Faolain was the name of an Irish sept that held sway in SW Ireland before the arrival of the Normans.  Their chiefs were Princes of the Decies, an ancient title.  Faelan mac Cormac was recorded as succeeding his father as chief in 966.  One account of the time described them as follows:

"Two gentle chiefs whose names I tell rule the Decies.  I affirm it.  O'Bric, the exactor of tributes, and with him the wise and fair O'Felan.  In Moylacha of the fertile slopes rules O'Felan for the benefit of the tribe.  Great is the alloted territory of which O'Felan holds possession."

O'Faolain was the first Irish chief to fall in resisting the invading Normans in the 1170's.  Soon most of his territory was lost.  Some O'Faolains managed to stay in Waterford while a branch of the sept moved north into SW Kilkenny.  The early anglicized names were Felan and Faelan.  These names would become Phelan and Whelan in Waterford and Kilkenny.  The Whelan name also extended into Wexford, Carlow and Wicklow in SE Ireland.

Martin Whelan, born in Carrickbeg (Waterford) in 1846, emigrated to America in the 1880's and a West Waterford man named Pax Whelan led the anti-treaty forces in Dungarvon town in 1920.  From Carlow came Sir Thomas Whelan, alderman and lord mayor of Dublin in the 1830's.  His son Edward joined the British army but died in India in 1854.  Griffith's Valuation showed 96 Whelan occupiers and tenants of land in Wicklow in 1854.

Billy Whelan, born in Dublin, was one of the Manchester United footballers killed in the Munich air crash of 1958.  In 2006 a railway bridge in Dublin was renamed in his honor.  Ronnie Whelan, another footballer from Dublin, was part of the dominant Liverpool side of the 1980's.

AmericaEarly Whelan emigrants included Whalen emigrants to America who had come to Virginia from Ireland in the 1770's. There was Solomon Whalen and there was Patrick Whalen, the latter marrying Susannah Leach in Virginia in 1777. 

Both Whalens moved to Kentucky in the early 1800's.  Solomon Whalen and his sons Solomon and Henry began to appear in the tax rolls of Harrison county, Kentucky in 1803.  The family built their log cabin at Havilandsville in 1835 and the Whalens were to remain there until Squire Whalen's death in 1931 at the ripe old age of ninety six.

The Whalen spelling, perhaps because of pronunciation, has continued to predominate in America.  Whalens outnumbered Whelans by almost three to one in the 1920 US census and remain more numerous today.

Canada.  Canada also has more Whalens than Whelans, although the spelling in the early days may have been quite flexible.  Johanna Whalen was born in Newfoundland in 1786 and moved with her husband to Prospect, Nova Scotia sometime in the 1810's (on an island called Betty's island after their daughter Betty). John Whalen was born in the province in 1833 and became a farmer in Chester, Nova Scotia. 

Edward Whelan arrived in Nova Scotia with his mother as a young boy from county Mayo in Ireland in 1831.  Growing up, he made a name for himself as a newspaper man, founding his own paper in Charlottetown, PEI.  He later moved into politics and was one of the backers of Canadian confederation in the 1860's.

Australia and New Zealand.  Charles Whalan, a convict on the Third Fleet in 1791, made good in the NSW Corp and through his friendship with Governor Macquarie. 

Thomas and Bridget Whelan left their home in county Clare at the time of the potato famine in 1849 for Melbourne.  They started out in the Victoria goldfields and later moved back to Melbourne, while some of the family crossed over to Otago, New Zealand.   Adam Whelan came to Melbourne on the Schonberg in 1855. 

Martin Whelan arrived in New Zealand from Laois in 1864.  He married Elizabeth Walsh in Auckland a year later and they made their home in the Bay of Plenty. 

Select Whelan Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:


Select Whelan Names

Sir Thomas Whelan
was Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1831.
Edward Whelan, a Prince Edward Island newspaper man and delegate to the Quebec conference in 1864, was one of the fathers of the Canadian Confederation.
Philip Whalen was a West Coast poet and Zen Buddhist close to the Beat generation of the 1950's.
Dave Whelan bought JJB Sports, a Wigan sportswear company, in 1971 and is the successful owner of the Wigan football and rugby league teams.

Select Whelans Today
  • 10,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 6,000 in America (most numerous in New York) 
  • 24,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)

Select Surname List


Ainsworth 
Chambers Hammond 
Middleton  
Stevenson 
Andrews Chandler Hayes Morrison Stone
Arnold Cole Hodgson Norman Sutton
Atkinson Cummings Howe North Tate
Barclay Cunningham Hunt O'Leary Thorpe
Barry Dickinson Innes O'Reilly Townsend
Beattie Dillon Irvine Oliver Underwood
Beck Dodd Jeffries Payne Unsworth
Bentley Doherty Jennings Penn Vance
Bernstein Duncan Kemp Pennington Venables
Bird East Kerr Pettigrew Walton
Boone Edgar Knight Phelan Watkins
Brady Emerson Lawrence Quigley Waugh
Branson Everett Leary Quirk West
Brooks Faulkner Levine Regan Whelan
Buck Fettiplace Levy Reilly Whitney
Burke Ford Lloyd Rhodes Wolfe
Bush Goldberg McIntosh Sharp Woodward
Carr Goodman McLaren Sheehan Yates
Carson Gordon McMillan Sinclair York

For other surnames check the select surname list where there are to be found the history and genealogy for more than 800 common and notable surnames in the English-speaking world.