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WILSON Family History
Wilson- gaelicised (rarely) as Mac Liam, the Irish form for William being Liam. The root is 'wil' an Old Germanic word which has passed into modern German and English as 'will' with perhaps the original meaning of 'desire' (for power, conquest etc). This would have been a Teutonic personal name.
The surname Wilson occurs as Scotland's third most common name, and the present writer believes this would be the provenance of most Irish Wilsons, especially in the north. That being so, Wilson is also the eighth most common surname in England and Wales, and one would expect a fair sprinkling of these in Dublin.
A key document is the 1659 'Census' conducted by Cromwellian bureaucrat Sir William Petty. Should a name appear as a 'Principal Irish Name' this would suggest an entry into Ireland earlier than in the mass settlements of the early 1600s in the north, and the later 1650s Cromwellian plantations throughout Ireland. However, on perusal it appears that Wilson is a name introduced in the above 17th century incursions, particularly in the earlier Jacobean Scottish settlement in Ulster.
From an examination of the 1659 'Census', the only entries of Wilson I found are in Co Antrim, Barony of Masareene: listed with the 'Principal Irish Names', there are 11 families of Wilson, and they are specified as 'Scotch'. From there they would appear to have spread throughout the north.
By the time of Griffith's 1850s 'Primary Valuation' of Irish households, the name had become numerous: most Wilson families appear in counties Antrim (479), Down (405), Tyrone (324), Armagh (247), Derry (218) and Donegal (201).
In Matheson's 'Special Report on Surnames in Ireland' (1909) on births distribution in 1890, most Wilson entries occur in counties Antrim, Armagh, Down, Tyrone, Dublin and Derry. The figures are: Ulster 287, Leinster 49, Munster 22 and Connacht 8.
Two famous Wilsons:
John P. Wilson (1923-2007) born in Co Cavan. He was a Fianna Fáil minister (3 times), for Education etc., and Tánaiste. He was a classical scholar, an alumnus of London University, and a fine Gaelic footballer in his youth, winning two all-Ireland medals with his county. The kind of man to keep you company on a long train journey!
Sean Wilson is a contemporary Irish singer and accordion player, whose soft northern tones charm listeners and audiences across the globe. His first accordion was bought for him when he was 10.