Roots: The Finnegan Clan


By Maeve Molloy, Contributor
February / March 2008

James Joyce immortalized the name for all time in his 1939 novel Finnegans Wake. But literary giants aside, “Finnegan” is one of the most recognizable Irish surnames of our times.

The Finnegan name, also known as O’Finnegan, Finegan, O’Finegan, and Finigan, is common in Ireland and America; many early immigrants with the name Finnegan are recorded as landing in the U.S. between 1840 and 1860, during and directly following famine times.

The anglicized “Finnegan” comes from the Irish name Ó Fionnagáin or  Fionnagán, a  form of the Irish name Fionn, meaning “fairhaired.” The Finnegans hail from two distinct septs in Ireland. One sept was located on the border of Counties Roscommon and Galway between the modern towns of Dunmore and Castlerea.  In both Roscommon and Galway the Finnegans have left a mark with the areas of Ballyfinegan – one in the barony of Balymoe and the second nearby in the barony of Castlereagh.

The second Finnegan sept hails from Oriel and eastern Breffny, or the kingdom of Bréifne, in northwestern Ireland. Bréifne was home to the Irish tribal group known as the Uí Briúin Bréifne. Some early Finnegans have been linked to this tribe, though most modern Finnegans descended from the Ulster family of Oriel.

Though the surname Finnegan has spread throughout modern Ireland, the name is still most commonly found in the counties of Cavan and Monaghan.

Finnegans have made their way into nearly every sector of Irish American culture, from entertainment to literature, to politics, even brewing companies.

New York-based comedian Christian Finnegan (1973- ) keeps America laughing as a panelist on VH1’s Best Week Ever. Finnegan’s quick quips have gained him a regular appearance on the Today Show and guest performances on Last Call with Carson Daly and Tough Call with Colin Quinn. Finnegan’s career is on the rise, and his debut CD of stand-up comedy was produced by the biggest name in American comedy – Comedy Central.
Another performer in the Finnegan clan is American actor J.P. Finnegan, who gained popularity in the 1970s as a familiar face on television with regular guest appearances on such chart-topping shows as Colombo and Matlock.

The Finnegan contribution to revelry and entertainment wouldn’t be complete without a Finnegan brew, and Finnegan’s Irish Amber couldn’t be a better choice. Finnegan’s Irish Amber, brewed in Minnesota, is beer with a cause:  all of their proceeds go to the Finnegan’s Community Fund to assist those living in poverty in Minnesota.

So far they’ve donated over $50,000 to communities in Minnesota.

In sports, George Finnegan (1882-1913) is remembered as a prominent boxer. He won gold at the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis in the flyweight category. Later in the same Olympics he competed in the bantamweight category to win silver after gaining several pounds in just a few days. This stunt established him as one of only four boxers in history to win medals in two weight classes at the same Olympic games.

The Finnegan name has also made it to the top in business and politics. John Finnegan is president, CEO and chairman of The Chubb Corporation, while Michael C. Finnegan, who contributed “One Brief Shining Moment” to this issue, served as chief counsel to Governor George Pataki, and is now a managing director in the healthcare department at JP Morgan.

The literary value of the novel Finnegans Wake is debated to this day by Joyce scholars. Rambling, convoluted, and written in a variety of languages, the novel appeared in installments in the literary journal Transitions beginning in 1924, and was highly contested from the first installment. James Joyce borrowed the name Finnegans Wake from an Irish ballad believed to have gained popularity in Dublin in the 1850s as a comical Irish song.

68 Responses to “Roots: The Finnegan Clan”

  1. Hello, My name is Sky-Lynn FInnegan and I was just wondering where exactly the Finnegan’s resigned in Ireland? I have family up there that I have never meet but once when I was little, and I am interested in my family history. Whether I’m related to them or not is questionable but, at least I know how my ancestors have done and what they have gone through.

    • Stephen James Finnegan says:

      I am Stephen Finnegan and live in Surrey, UK. My dad’s family came from County Kerry. They came to England in the 1930’s during the war and made Uk their home. I have not been to Kerry and I believe my Gramp’s family are still there. Will be taking a trip sometime next year if time permits.

      • Brendan B. Finnegan says:

        Sky-Lynn, it seems to be a difficult name to trace – much like hunting down accurate Smith or Johnson roots in the UNited States. I have had zero luck finding my Irish roots beyond my 2nd Great Grandparents, and I only know who they were because of Massachusetts marriage records my Great Grandparents also listed their parents names on.

        • Michele Winant says:

          My mother was a Finnegan. Her family were from Massachusetts. My grandfather was a merchant marine. Can’t seem to find much out about him.

      • dar finnegan says:

        Hello. We have Finnegan family from Kerry County Ireand too. Patrick Finnegan came over..Could you please contact me so I can give you names and dates of them to see if by some chance we have the same family.
        Thank you for your time- D. Finnegan

        [email protected]

        • Jack Finnegan says:

          Hello Dar! I also have ancestors from Kerry (my sister named her son Kerry 50 years ago) and would love to know more about my history….Both my fathers parents came over in late 1800’s I believe to Buffalo, NY.

          • Dar Finnegan says:

            [email protected]

          • James (Finnegan) Noel says:

            The Patrick Finnegan we have in our family was born 28 January 1870 to Thomas and Bridget Finnegan in Williamstown Galway. Died 5 October 1909 in Galway.

          • Michael Finnegan says:

            That’s interesting. I’m 59 and I grew up in Buffalo. My dad, Robert still lives there. His dad , also Robert, came from Liverpool. I named my son Jack.

          • Charles H Fikes says:

            My great grand mother was named Katherine Finnigan. She married into the Fikes family. From her bible, we got to James Finnigan. What confused me was he came over from Glasgow, Scotland. My grandparents lived in Herkimer NY. near Syracuse. That’s in the neighborhood of Buffalo.
            Maybe we’re kin.

    • Samantha Carolan says:

      Hi skye-lynn, my paternal grandmother was finnegan, and I have many finnegan cousins all over the UK, my grandmother moved to uk in 1961, there is still plenty of my direct family, great aunt cousins 2nd cousins etc, in Bailibourgh Co. CAVAN ireland, and all I am aware of, the finnegan line for my family has been in County Cavan since the early 1700’s

    • James Noel says:

      I was born Jimmy Finnegan in South Boston but had my name changed when my dad died and mother remarried. As far as I know the Finnegan’s were mostly from County Roscommon. My son and I are going there this September.

      • Gerald Kelly says:

        Further to my last posting, I can find NO trace of Patrick Finnegan in either the 1901 or1911 census for Belfast. I now believe he may have originated in the Roscommon area.

        • James (Finnegan) Noel says:

          The Finnegan name also can be traced to County Galway. I have found my grandfather and great grandfather in tghe town of Williamstown, Galway.

          I used Irish Roots web site (rootsireland) for many of the birth and marriage certificates.

    • James (Finnegan) Noel says:

      Most of the Finnegans came from County Roscommon or County Galway.

      • Jack Finnegan says:

        I wish I knew more about my grandparents origins. They passed when I was only 10 years old. My grandfather John Michael Finnegan married my grandmother, Loretta O-neil, before they left Ireland to come to the US.

        • Jim (Finnegan) Noel says:

          Jack it is hard to find out about the person and who they were or what they were like but at least you can trace the roots and enjoy their journey hopefully with pride.

        • Michael Patrick Finnegan says:

          Yes, I believe your name looks familiar. You’re the one they also call “Father Finnegan”, I mean at least I do. I’ve heard the name is Gaelic for ” Wearer of legless sweatpants”.

    • Jennifer A. Hunter says:

      My great nana, Julia Ann was related to the Finnegan’s. Her parents died when she was a toddler in a wagon accident. She was born in the late 1890s in China town in Boston Mass. Her Daughter my nana was Elinor O’Laughlin (if i spelled it right). Both are past. My great nana’s husband was my great grandfather Frances (if its spelled that way) O’Laughlin. And they also had a son my great uncle Paul O’Laughlin. My nana & my great uncle grew up in Lowell Mass. I live in Haverhill Mass. I grew up in Tewksbury Mass

      • James Noel says:

        Most of the Finnegans reside in Galway. Specifically Williamstown and nearby Roscomon. I was born Jimmy Finnegan and have been back to Williamstown twice to meet my family, visit the graveyard that has several ancestors there and tour the Famine home that my family re-built. Presently I am funding a Finnegan gravestone for three of my relatives burried there that do not have one.
        I am from South Boston but now live near San Francisco.

      • Katherine says:

        My Grandmothers father was a Finnegan from Kerry Ireland and his wife was a Daley from Kerry

  2. Brendan B. Finnegan says:

    My name is Brendan. I was named after Saint Brendan, an Irish Monk and voyager hailed as the Saint of Navigators. I flew as a Navigator in the U.S. Air Force and trace my direct Irish roots to my Great Grandparents, John Finnegan and Winifred Burke. I know Winifred was from Castlerea, but I am not sure where John was from. I was told his name was Sean for many years. Maybe he changed it when he came to America in 1880? I am having many issues tracing the name into Ireland. I know his Dad was Malachi Finnegan. Any thoughts or help would be appreciated.

  3. sarah finnegan says:

    I know my relative’s came from mayo ireland

  4. laura finnegan roman says:

    My Finnegan’s came from Cladybeg, Armagh. I have been trying to find out who was the father of my 3rd great grandfather Peter Finnegan. I know he was married to Margret Vallel. In 1840 (born 1797) Peter was killed by a cart in the main street of Armagh, but there the trail just stopped. I would love to know who his father was, if he had brothers, etc.
    Margaret emigrated first to Canada, finally settling in Vermont with all her children. My 2nd great grandfather was Dennis, who moved his family to Worcester, Massachusetts where he had a son Joseph P. Finnegan (my great grandfather) who in turn had a son Charles J. Finnegan and he had my dad, Charles F. Finnegan.
    Does anyone know anything of Peter? I would be happy to help anyone with their search here in New England, USA

    Lauri Finnegan Roman

  5. laura finnegan roman says:

    oops Margaret Vallely

  6. Peter Coyle (Finnegan) says:


    I was trying to find some information on the Finnegan family from County Durham as my dad was john Finnegan who died and i was adoped when my mother remarried and called then Coyle. I was his first born and his only Child when my father died in 1972 and owned land many years ago in Durham where he grazed his animals how would i get any further information on the Finnegan family and my heritage.

    Yours Peter

  7. Autumn Finnegan says:

    Hi Peter, is a great place to start. Finnegan is a very common irish last name. My father was Thomas Patrick Finnegan and his father John Patrick Finnegan. We are from Monaghan county in Ireland who landed in Boston when coming to America and then Rhode Island. Where did your father live/grow up? Feel free to email me [email protected]

    Best, Autumn

    • MMichael finnegan says:

      Hi my. Name is Michael Finnegan and I live in Florida and Maine. My dad was Francis Thomas Finnegan who was born in 1915 in Buffalo New York. His father Frank? Worked the railroads and his father most likely came to Michigan around 1850. My father confirmed that our ancestors were from County Monaghan. If anyone has lineage that moved from. Michigan to Buffalo between 1880 and 1900 I would be interested in talking to them. My father had two brothers that he never knew and on Sister Margaret who ultimately moved to Illinois and Married a Coburn. We have not been able to discover where the two older brothers but we suspect one went to the Albany New York area.
      Having been to Ireland numerous times I am now retired and am curious to see what my Irish roots are going back to find any relatives that might exist in the old country. Always interested to hear other Finnegan family histories that originated in Monaghan county Ireland!
      Best to all Finnegans
      Mike Finnegan
      [email protected]

      • James W. Noel (Finnegan) says:

        I think we communicated earlier but if we did not I published an article in two of the Galway newspapers about our family reunion with the Finnegan’s in Williamstown Galway, Ireland. If you are interested in reading a .pdf copy of the article let me know and give me you e-mail so I can attache it.

      • Maura Finnegan says:

        Go onto Facebook and look up Maura Finnegan (not me). She lives in Monaghan and is married into the Finnegan family. Hope it helps you out.

      • Michael Finnegan says:

        Hi Mike. I grew up in Buffalo. My grandfather Robert James came to Buffalo from Liverpool. He married my German grandmother there in 1932. They had 3 do
        Aughters and my dad Robert Francis, who’s still there.

    • Hi Sister ?,
      Was doing some research and saw you here and knew it was you when you said Rhode Island haha. Hope the little one is doing GREAT ?❤️. I’m living in North Carolina now starting a new life with Gabriela…. Feel free to come and visit or just even give me a call some time. Love YOU ?!!!


  8. Esther Erin Smith says:

    So I jsut came across this site. I was adopted, but I knew my biological family (long story short) my paternal grandmother was Ruth Aldine Finnegan ~ either she came over from Ireland or her parents did, I am still working out the details. I was adopted at age 13 after only being in foster care for 4 years, it’s crazy because my own family did want me, the people who adopted me kinda “stole” me from my bio family and now some 30 years later I find all this out. I wish I knew earlier because I had the chance to see my grandmother when I was in the Navy and didn’t before she died. Now I want to learn all about my heritage. Does anyone know anything. I know she was 100% Irish, she spoke Gaelic. I remember her speaking it and some of my friends in the Navy say I would speak it in my sleep (weird I know). I so desperately want to just find FAMILY and the draw go to Ireland is so strong that it’s almost unexplainable. If anyone has any information that may be able to help me I would truly appreciate it more than anyone would know. Oh and my adoptive parents also changed my entire name but I was old enough to ask that my middle name be Erin so that I could hold onto something from my past so I chose “Erin” and that is what I go by pretty much all of the time ~ previously my name was Victoria Raye Walker ❤️

  9. Gerald Kelly says:

    \My grand father Patrick Finnegan born 1886 in Belfast Ireland married Margaret Hassan at St Peters cathedral Belfast in 1915. They had 2 children Sheila ( my mother) born 1922 and Joseph Patrick born 1926.
    It is thought Patrick left Margaret and went to the US sometime after 1930 and Joseph around 1950. Any one have any info ?

  10. Tiffane ONeil says:

    Hi there,

    I am trying to find out more information on my where my Finnegan family roots are from in Ireland. I have been able to trace my family back to my Great Great Grandfather, Michael Finnegan (1811-1900) who came from Ireland to USA and died in Bloomingdale NY in 1900. He married Mary Ann McCusker who also was born in Ireland (1819-1882) she died in Essex, Clinton NY. I know they had 12 children which one was my great grandfather. Does anyone have information about Mary Ann McCusker’s family in Ireland or Michael Finnegan’s? Thank you for any information.

  11. scott finnegan says:

    I too have trouble tracing back to far… i can only get to micheal finnegan who came to Canada in 1874 but resided fron Cork Ireland. Cant find anything before that.

  12. Matt Weinberg says:

    My grandparents were from Armagh,J.P. Finnegan was my uncle.Would love to connect with my family.UP ARMAGH!

    • Laura Finnegan Roman says:

      My great great grandfather was Dennis Finnegan from Armagh and
      his son was Joseph Patrick Finnegan. His son was my grandfather Charles Joseph Finnegan.
      Dennis came to Vermont via Canada.
      Does any of this sound like your family. My great great gramma was Margaret Vallely from Armagh

  13. Katherine veloz says:

    I recently discovered my Great Great Grandparents came from Kerry. Thomas finnegan and Margaret Daly born in 1847. Came to America in 1860 lived in New York and had a daughter Mary Finnegan born in 1867.

    • James (Finnegan) Noel says:

      Our Finnegan family came from Gallway and Roscommon. We visited with family last fall and visited the gravesite for my great grandparents. My grandmother came from Cork.

      My mothers side and my fathers side immegrated through Ellis Island then moved to Mass where I was born in Boston. My son Daniel Finnegan is the youngest bloodline for our Finnegan family in the states.

  14. Rhonda Wood ( Finnegan) says:

    My maidan name is Finnegan
    My father demand Clarence Finnegan his father patrick Finnegan from the county cork my grandmother O’Sullivan from county Clare in Ireland I believe came and landed in Boston USA and made their way up to Coe hill Ontario then to bellvile Ontario Canada.

  15. Rhonda Wood ( Finnegan) says:

    Ed Finnegan

    • My grandfather, Thomas Finnegan came from Williamstown, Galway, Ireland and settled in Boston where my dad and I were born. I have been to Williamstown last year to see the gravesites of my older family members and met many of the Finnegans who seem to come from Galway and Roscommon.

  16. Elise says:

    My great, great grandmother was Mary Finnegan who came from Drumuri , Corlesmore, Cavan. Does anyone have Finnegan family that came from that area?

    • JAMES NOEL says:

      All my Finnegan relatives came from Williamstown, Galway. We visited many of them last October 2017. I was born James W. Finnegan but was adopted when my father died.

      • Katheen says:

        We have traced our Finnegans back to Carrickmacross, County Monaghan through Irish Civil and church records. Peter Finnegan married Alice McConnan in the mid 1800’s. All 3 of their children eventually emigrated to the US…first in Massachusetts and then moved to RI.

  17. Edward Montovani says:

    My great grandparents were William Finnegan and Mary Finnegan (1841-1909) My grandparents were James Finnegan (1868-1938) and Annie McVeigh Finnegan (1872-1916). I believe James and Annie moved to USA around 1990. Anyone have a connection? Thanks

    • James Noel says:

      Ed see my grandparents above who arrived in the USA in the late 1800’s. My grandfather was Thomas E. Finnegan from Williamstown, Galway where there are several Finnegan’s still living there. We visited them last year. Since there are more than one line of Finnegan’s we are probably not related. My cousin who is a Finnegan married another Finnegan in that town who might be related his name is Leo Finnegan.

  18. Patrick Michael Ian Finnegan says:

    Hi my grandmother was Bernice F. Finnegan from Arkansas,USA. My name is Patrick Michael Ian Finnegan. Parents Robert and Mary Finnegan. The most I know was my Great grandfather immigrated to the US. I am looking for links to my Irish heritage and family. Any help is greatly appreciated….

    • JAMES NOEL says:

      I wish I could help since we have a good handle on our Finnegan family at least back through the late 1800’s. We have connected with our Finnegan line in Williamstown, Galway Ireland. I have the geneology chart done.

      I was born James W Finnegan but my father died when I was 6 months old so it took me many years to find my roots on that side of the family.

      Good luck.

  19. Diane Finnegan Horn says:

    My family are from Cork and Kerry. My great grandmother was Margaret Lucy from Ballyvourney in Cork. Her husband was a Finnegan. Any info appreciated.

  20. Thanks for giving me some insight on my family. Great thing is My father Tom Finnegan SR. Already told me these things as a child, but now that I’m 33 I realize he actually knew what he was saying. Like FINNEGAN is the original Irish name from all the other ones that sound like it Finnigan, Finley, Flanagan , Finn…. My grandfather Patrick Finnegan emigrated from Ulster, Ireland to Providence,RI in 1918. He Married my grandmother Assunta Mangacapra who emigrated from Naples, Italy to Providence RI in 1920. So I guess this means we love to drink, love to eat, and love to love. Thanks Nani, and Poppy!!!!! RIP

  21. Thomas C Finnegan says:

    HI. My name is Thomas Cornelius Finnegan. Both of my grandparents came from Castlerea, Roscommon County. His name was Cornelius “Connor” Finnegan, and My grandmother was Catherine Waldron. They both emigrated to Boston and had 9 children. Anne, Margaret, Mary, Kathleen, Peter, Patrick, Cornelius, William and Thomas. My dad was Thomas.

    • Sue B says:

      My great-grandfather, Patrick Finnegan (or Finegan) immigrated from Sligo about 1848. He married an lived in Lackawanna County PA. His son, grandson, and great-grandson were all named Dennis. One difficulty in researching Irish relatives is that they tended to reuse the same first names.

  22. Mary-Em Manley says:

    Hi! I did not find out I was a Finnegan until my Dad’s death in 1988 when we found his birth certificate that listed him as William Sherman Finnegan. My Grandfather Will Finnegan was in Vaudeville here in the Chicago area and married my Grandmom Grace Dolan. They had three children, my Dad, William, Uncle Peter and Aunt Patricia. When Vaudeville began to decline in popularity, in the late 30’s my Grandfather returned to Ireland, somewhere in the Roscommon area. Per my Aunt Patricia, my Grandmom told the kids that Pappy died and she changed the last name to LeRoy to be mote “Theatrical” and my Aunt was surprised that we never knew about this. I know my Uncle Pete lived in Florida and had 2 or 3 boys ( I think). I was born in 1952, and I think they were born slightly before me. My Aunt Pat had one son, Tracy, who I met once, I’m not sure if he lives in Colorado or Florida or?????. If anyone has a similar background, or knows someone who I mentioned please send them my way. Thank you, Mary-Em LeRoy Manley

    • James Noel says:

      My family came from Williamstown, Galway, Ireland which is on the border to Roscomon. Our family name is Finnegan and my birth name is James Finnegan from Boston. Parents from Lynn and Sharon, MA but none of your names match up to my family. Sorry. I have been there twice and have Finnegan relatives there. There is also another Finnegan blood line but not mine so I will write them for you and copy your information to see what comes to the surface.

  23. Mary Jane Stuart says:

    Hello. I am researching my father’s Finnigan Family. The immigrant ancestor is John Finnigan (or Finegan or Finnegan). I believe he arrived at Castle Garden in NY in May 1846. He traveled from NY to Providence, RI where he met and married Bridget Doonan. Within a year of their marriage, they moved to Manchester, NH. I cannot get “across the pond” because I do not know the names of their parents and where they lived in Ireland.

  24. Mary Jane (Finnigan) Stuart says:

    Hello. I am researching my father’s Finnigan Family. The immigrant ancestor is John Finnigan (or Finegan or Finnegan). I believe he arrived at Castle Garden in NY in May 1846. He traveled from NY to Providence, RI where he met and married Bridget Doonan. Within a year of their marriage, they moved to Manchester, NH. I cannot get “across the pond” because I do not know the names of their parents and where they lived in Ireland. Another brick wall I am experiencing is two of their children: Johanna E. born in 1861 and John William born in 1864. Is there any Finnigan descendant out there who can provide me with some information?

  25. James M. Greiner says:

    Charles H. Fikes, contact me, we are kin ! My great grandmother was Jessie Finnigan Burns

  26. Peggy Shafer says:

    I am looking for the Patrick Finnegan family. All I know is that Patrick married Margaret Connaughton in 1924 in the Castlerea Church. They were parents of Thomas Anthony Finnegan who went on to retire as Bishop of Killala. Bishop Finnegan passed away on Christmas Day in 2011. I would love to know if anyone has a connection to this family. Where was Patrick Finnegan from and who were his parents, etc. Thank you!

  27. Tiffany says:

    So I had a dream about the word Finnegan I am a black American and I have never heard of this word before something just told me to look it up i am amazed of what it means and where it came from

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