Roots: The Mighty Moran Clan
By Maeve Molloy, Editorial Assistant
April / May 2008
The anglicized “Moran” can be traced to multiple distinct Irish names, and though commonly linked to County Mayo, forms of the name originated throughout middle Ireland in Counties Leitrim, Galway, Kildare, Offaly, and more. Moran is so heavily anglicized – from the French “Morrin” to the Irish “Moran” – that exact knowledge of each Moran’s lineage may be hard to trace. Most Morans will find it helpful in tracing their roots if they can determine the particular county or region of Ireland to which their family belongs.
The ancient form of Moran is the Gaelic Ó Moráin, from a diminutive of mór, meaning “big.” Roughly translated, Ó Moráin means descendant of the “Great One” or “little big man.” The Ó Moráins hailed from Mayo, notably in the northwestern area of the modern town of Ballina where the ancient kingdom of the Ó Móráin sept is believed to have been. After the Norman invasion of 1169, the Ó Móráins lost control of their territory to the Burkes and Barretts. Today Morans are located mainly in the southern region of Mayo and Galway, suggesting that the Ó Móráins migrated southward after their defeat.
Among the many different spelling variations of the name is O Moghrain, which was earlier O Mughrain, and connected to O Mughriain of Ui Maine, who was chief of Criffon in Co. Galway, which explains the presence of the Moran name in this area.
A third ancient form of the Moran name is Ó Murcháin, from the Gaelic “murchadha,” meaning “sea-warrior.” In modern times, Ó Murcháin is most often translated as Morgan or Moran (as a contraction of Morgan) though it has also taken the forms “Morahan” and “Morrin.” The ancient Ó Murcháin family hailed from eastern Offaly, near Kildare.
The Morans have distinguished themselves as statesmen, artists, athletes, businessmen and performers. Among notable Morans is the well-known folk-history figure Michael Moran (1794-1856), better known as Zozimus. A blind musician, Michael made his living on the streets performing ballads and recitations of famous works. A monument stands in his honor in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.
Daniel Keys Moran, a prolific American writer and author of The Tales of the Continuing Time series, is well known in the contemporary science fiction literary community, and has had several short essays and stories featured on National Public Radio.
The Morans have had influence on gender equality as well: Frances Moran (1893-1977) was the first woman Professor at Trinity College Dublin, and the first woman on the board of the college. She is also remembered as the first Irishwoman to become a senior counsel, and for blazing a trail for Irishwomen in academia and politics.
American actress Erin Moran holds a place in the hearts of classic television enthusiasts for her role as Joannie Cunningham on the sitcom Happy Days. Erin Moran followed the sitcom with her own series Joannie Loves Chachi as well as appearances on Love Boat and Murder, She Wrote.
Irish footballer Kevin Moran (born 1954) is the only sports player to have won both an All-Ireland Gaelic Football Medal and an English FA Cup Medal. He played Gaelic football with the Dublin team from 1975 to 1977 and won two All-Ireland medals before joining Manchester United and winning the FA Cup in 1983 and 1985. The dual star played for the Irish national soccer team 71 times.
Morans also distinguished themselves in the artistic field. The work of American landscape painter Thomas Moran (English-born, American Hudson River School 1837-1926) can be seen in museums throughout the country, including the Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco. One of his most famous images is of the Grand Canyon.
During the American Civil War, Union soldier Lt. Charles H. Moran took part in a daring escape from a Confederate prison in Richmond, Virginia. He was one of 109 escapees who crawled through a rat-infested tunnel to make their getaway. Fifty-nine succeeded in reaching Union lines, 48 were recaptured, including Moran, and two drowned in the nearby James River. Moran later wrote, “No tongue can tell how the poor fellows passed among the squealing rats, enduring the sickening air, the deathly chill, the horrible interminable darkness.”
Another member of the clan who made a great escape – from the porn industry – is Cissy Moran, the former Playboy and Hustler centerfold who embraced Christ and became a social worker.
On the other end of the community service scale, we have Father Moran, a Jesuit missionary from Chicago who went to India in 1919 and befriended Mahatma Gandhi.
And finally, the most famous Moran in Irish-American circles today is Thomas Moran who has managed to have a hugely successful career in corporate America while still finding time for many humanitarian and community causes. We are proud to name Tom as Irish America’s “Irish-American of the Year, 2008.”