Irish Roots

The surname Heenan is of Gaelic origin – most likely originating in Ireland. But even within Ireland the number of individuals with the surname Heenan is relatively small.

According to the Griffith’s Valuation, a survey of all land and property owners  between 1847 and 1864, there were 132 households with the surname Heenan. The majority of these households were in County Tipperary (67 households) and County Down (33). There are small pockets scattered across other counties, often just one or two families.

By the time of the 1901 census when the total population of the island stood at 4.45 million people there were 375 individuals with the surname of Heenan. They were grouped in 70 households, the majority of which (31) were still located in County Tipperary with County Down the second most populous (15 households). The 1911 census saw a further decline to 292 individuals and 67 households.

Migration was a significant influence on this decline of the Irish-based surname holders.

Where did these people go?

Not surprising they headed to  the UK mainland. My theory – though I have yet to prove this – is that Heenans from the north of the Emerald Isle went to Scotland and the industrial zones of northern England. Those from the south  went to Wales,

Others travelled much further afield: to New Zealand, Australia and North America. One of the first to settle in Australia was John Heenan, a 38-year old labourer who arrived in South Australia in 1851 aboard the ship “Osceola.” In 1849 Dennis Heenan arrived in Otaga, New Zealand, with his wife and eleven children. They settled near Dunedin.

Distribution of Heenan surname in UK

In 1881 there were just 241 individuals in the United Kingdom bearing the surname Heenan, making it the 10843th most common surname. These individuals were clustered in Motherwell (Scotland), Twickenham, Doncaster and Sunderland.

Ten years later and the pattern hadn’t changed significantly – Scotland and the northern counties still accounted for the bulk of the surname holders. The name can generally be found wherever there are heavy industries, ports or industrial zones.

Fast forward to the twenty-first century and the Heenan name has seen some growth. According to the UK Office of National Statistics in September 2002 there were 829 individuals with the surname of Heenan in the UK. It’s still very much a minority name however – with a ranking of 7685. Source:

Distribution of Heenan surname in USA

North America proved a magnet for holders of the Heenan name. Compared to the Kennedys, Kerrys, Hennesseys etc, the numbers are still small but there was a distinct jump in passengers heading across the Atlantic in the mid 1850s and lasting until the early 1870s. Most of these immigrants settled in the north eastern states but there were small clusters spread across most of the states by 1920. The majority of these people became farmers and labourers.