Select Daly Surname Genealogy

The O’Dálaigh was an Irish bardic sept which came to prominence early in the 12th century, with Cui Connacht O’Dalaigh, the first recorded of that name, in Westmeath.  The Irish annals hailed him as "the first ollamh of poetry in all Ireland."

O’Dalaigh means descendant of Dálach.  It is thought that the name came from the same root as dáil meaning "assembly.”  Dálach therefore probably meant "assemblyman" or "councillor.”  The name later became O'Daly and Daly.  In America it is also Daley and Dailey. 

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Ireland.   Cui Connacht O’Dalaigh, the first of that name, founded a bardic school in Westmeath in the early 12th century.  From county Westmeath and from the bordering parts of county Meath, the O’Dalaighs then spread to Clare.  From Meath came the 13th century Donagh Mor O'Daly, called “the Irish Ovid,“ who based himself at Kinvarra in county Clare.

they were resident bards with the O’ Reillys in Cavan and they were also to be found with the O’Neills in Munster and the O’Connors in Connacht.  Diarmuid Og O'Daly was made the official poet of the MacCarthys of West Cork in the 16th century.

The end of the prominence of the Gaelic-speaking nobility of Ireland, epitomized by the Flight of the Earls in the early 17th century, meant the eclipse of bardic families like
the O’Dalaighs that had depended on their patronage. The name O’Dalaigh also changed, becoming anglicized to Daly.  With the subsequent loss of land in the wake of rebellions against English rule, most branches of the O’Dalaigh became, to a greater or lesser extent, impoverished.

One prominent exception to this trend was the Daly family of Dunsandle in Galway, starting with Dermot O’Daly in the late 16th century.  They cut their cloth with the English and became part of the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland.  Generations of this family served as mayors and MP’s of Galway.

Some Dalys have more recently reverted to their ancient O prefix. Prominent among them was the Irish language devotee Cearbhaill O’Dalaigh.  Born in modest circumstances in county Wicklow, he became a judge in the Court of justice of the European Communities and, for a short time, was President of Ireland.  He resigned in dramatic circumstances and died shortly afterwards in 1978.

Today, the concentrations of Dalys, outside of Dublin, are in Westmeath and Cork.

Caribbean.   Colonel Tomas O’Daly, a Galway native who served in the Spanish army as an Irish exile, was sent to Puerto Rico in 1765 with the purpose of revamping the island’s defenses.  He stayed and developed a sugar plantation.  In 1781 he died and his brother Jaime took over the family property and helped raise his three children.  One of these sons Demetrio rose to the rank of Field Marshal in the Spanish army

Peter Daly of the Galway Dalys of Dalysgrove came to Jamaica in the early 1800’s.  His son James was a merchant and planter along the Black river.  He is best remembered in Jamaican history as being the guardian of George William Gordon who was hanged by the British in 1865 and later made a Jamaican national hero.  The Daley name is mainly to be found in St. Elizabeth parish today.

  Daly, Daley and Dailey are the three main spellings in America, their share today being approximately:
  • 37% Daly
  • 27% Daley
  • and 36% Dailey. 
Many Dalys came to New York:  
  • Charles P. Daly, born in New York in 1816, descended from the O’Dalys of Galway but was the son of poor immigrant parents.  He managed to learn the law and, at the age of just 28, was appointed a judge.  He held the position of Chief Justice in New York for 42 years.   
  • Joseph Daly, the son of an Irish sea captain from Limerick, held a similar position of Chief Justice from 1870 to 1896.  But it was his brother Augustin who was the more famous of the family.  Drama critic, theater manager and playwright, he became the first recognized stage director in America.  He formed a permanent company in New York and opened Daly’s Theater there in 1879.   
  • while David Daly, the son of Dalys from county Mayo who came in the early 1850’s, was Clerk of the Superior Court in New York from 1891 to 1905.  His family settled in Middletown, New York. 
James E. Daley was a butcher in New York, the son of immigrant parents who had arrived from Waterford during the famine years.  The family later moved to Chicago.  Richard J. Daley, born there, was the founder of a Chicago political dynasty.  He was mayor of Chicago for 21 years, his son Richard M. Daley for 22 years. 

Two enterprising Dalys/Daleys struck out west for California by ship in the early days before the overland route had been established:
  • John Daly had departed Boston for California in 1853 at the tender age of thirteen and later started a dairy farm in what became San Mateo county.  The town of Daly City was named after him. 
  • Robert Daley meanwhile came out from London in 1855 at the age of fifteen to live with his sister in San Francisco.  In 1868 he moved to southern California and built a log cabin which became the Daley Ranch near what is now Escondido.  The ranch still stands today.
Also heading west was Marcus Daly who had arrived in New York as a fifteen year old from county Cavan in Ireland in 1858.  He too travelled by ship to San Francisco where he also had a sister.  He learnt the mining business there and made his fortune from the Anaconda copper mine in Bute, Montana, which he bought with money from various backers in 1880. 

Canada.  John Corry Wilson Daly, born in Liverpool but educated in Ireland, came out to Canada with the Royal Navy in 1834.  He was the first Mayor of Stratford, Ontario and generally considered its founder.  His grandson Thomas headed west and was the first Mayor of Brandon, Manitoba in 1882.  The Daly House there is now a museum. 

Michael Daley and his family from Offaly were early settlers in Osgoode township near Ottawa in the late 1820’s. 
Many of the Dalys from county Cavan who settled in Rawdon in Quebec province were baptized at the Ste. Ambroise-de-Kildare church.  No fewer than 42 were recorded there between 1830 and 1906. 

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

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Cui Connacht O’Dalaigh who died in 1139 was the first recorded of the O’Dalaigh bards. 
Dermot O’Daly was the first of the Galway Dalys who later became Barons of Dunsandle.
Daniel O’Daly was a Dominican priest who found his metier as a 17th century diplomat in Spain.
Marcus Daly developed the Anaconda mine in Montana and was one of the copper kings of America.
Richard J. Daley
was Mayor of Chicago for twenty one years and the first of the Daleys that were to dominate Chicago politics for generations.

Select Dalys, Daleys and Daileys Today
  • 18,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 36,000 in America (most numerous in New York) 
  • 40,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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