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Ward Family History

“Comme je fus”

As I was

Mac an Bháird- anglicised Ward, earlier MacAward, MacWard, meaning 'son of the bard'.

This surname was found all over Ireland from early times, but mostly associated with counties Donegal and Galway. During later times the name was often found in Dublin.

The most well known sept were perhaps the Wards of Co Donegal, who were bards to the O Donnells. The second sept of the name were of Uí Mhaine, a tribal grouping extending across the modern counties of Galway, Mayo and Roscommon; these were bards to the O Kellys and their territory was around Ballinasloe in Co Galway. Finally, there was a sept in Orghialla or Oriel, which consisted of counties Armagh and Monaghan, extending into parts of Down, Louth and Fermanagh.

Caution with Co Down Wards is required, because the well known family there is of English origin, and is headed by Viscount Bangor. As MacLysaght has noted in his 'Irish Families' series (1982, 1985), 'the arms often ascribed to Irish Wards belong to the Bangors, and do not appertain to the Gaelic Wards'. The same faux pas concerning arms occurs also with Lynch, Kenny, Carey, and no doubt several others, where the anglicised forms of these Irish names is identical to names of Anglo-Norman or later landowning settlers from Britain.

The English surname comes from the Old English word for a guard- 'weard' (pron 'waard').

In Sir William Petty's 'Census' of Ireland in 1659 (incomplete), the Irish name Ward appears as a 'Principal Irish Name' in the following counties:

Co Donegal
There is a BallyMcAward townland in Tirhugh Barony, but no Wards listed in that barony. There are 11 families (all figures are for families) of McAward in Boylagh & Banagh Barony; 6 of McAward in Kilmacrenan Barony.

The returns for Cos Galway and Mayo are missing.

Co Roscommon
Ballintobber Barony, 7 of McWard; Boyle Barony, 6 McWard; Athlone Barony, 10 McWard; Athlone Borough, 4 Ward.

Co Armagh
Barony of Ardmagh, 4 McWard.

Co Monaghan
15 McAward.

Co Down
Lecale Barony (East Down) Bernard & Nicholas Ward Esqrs (esquires) are listed as 'tituladoes' or landowners of Castleward. This would appear to be the English family (v. supra).

By the time of Griffith's 'Primary Valuation' (1847-64) most Ward households are found in counties Donegal (309), Galway (252), Monaghan (188), Down (125) and Mayo (95). The total Ward households are 2222, the next highest variants are Warde at 37 and McWard at 25.

Matheson's 'Special Report on Surnames in Ireland' (1909), listing birth distribution in 1890, shows most Wards in counties Donegal, Dublin and Galway.

Two famous Wards:

Peter Joseph Ward (1891-1970) A Co Donegal Ward. He was a Sinn Féin deputy in Dáil Éireann in the revolutionary period of 1919 -1924. He was pro-Treaty during the Irish Civil War, and joined the pro-Treaty party of Cumann na nGaedheal in 1923, when he was re-elected TD.

William Thomas Ward (1808-1878) American Brigadier General in the Union Army in the American Civil War. Ward led the XX Corps in the Atlanta Campaign, and was commended for conspicuous service at the battle of Peachtree Creek. He also led the brigade in Sherman's 'March to the Sea'.

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Areas of origin

  • Galway, Connaught, Ireland

    Learn more about Galway on Ireland101

  • Donegal, Ulster, Ireland

    Learn more about Donegal on Ireland101