The name comes from Ireland at around 350 AD.
The name is a Gaelic Irish Surname that originally referred to the 'Sept' of Ui Dublhaoidh who were Lords of Fertullagh in the County of Westmeath around that time. This is in the South East of Ireland. The Topographies of O'Heeran, O'Dugan, O'Brien, O'Halloran and others also refer to Dowlings as Chiefs of various clans in Ossory, Offaly and Leix (or Kilkenny, King's and Queen's County).
In the ancient kingdom of Leinster (a province which covers the South-East of Ireland) were the Irish Chiefs and Septs of Hy-Kinselagh and Cualan. In their lands the Dowlings were Chiefs of Siol Elaigh and the Lagan. Siol Elaigh is now in the Barony of Shilelagh in South of County Wicklow.
The original territory of the family was at Fearann ua n-Dunlaing (O'Dowling's Country). This area covered along Western bank of the River Barrow. The O'Dowling's were one of the Seven Septs of Leix, significant families in the County once called Queen's County.
In the 16th and 17th centuries the family was prominent, in that same locality, but subject to transplanting by the English to other parts of the island.
A large transplantation in 1609 took Dowlings to Tarbert on the border of Limerick and Kerry.
Whilst they can be found today in almost every county in Ireland they are still most numerous around Carlow, Kilkenny, Cork and Leix.
Dubh is Irish for black or dark (this could be black as in bad or dark skinned or dark featured or great, prodigious, or can mean burned). It is interesting to note here that Dublin or Dubhlinn, the capital city of Ireland, means black pool. It is near this pool that the Norsemen built their fortress in the 9th century.
Laodh is Irish for calf.
The o' or ua means grandson or perhaps more realistically a male descendant. It is important to note that Dowling in this very early context was probably not a surname as we understand it at all, as O'Dowling was a male descendant of a man whose baptismal name was Dowling.
That is not to say an O'Dowling is a male descended from a black calf! The true reasons for the name are lost in time. It is more likely that the calf, however described, was a symbol to indicate the individual. Perhaps the original Dowling owned the calf or used one to mark the entrance to his territory. Perhaps the expression was used in the way today we may use the expression 'black sheep of the family' to describe an outcast. It should be noted that it is very rare in Ireland, as opposed to England, to call people after places so it is unlikely to refer to being from a place.
The variation Dubhshláin means challenge.
There are a number of variations on the ancient Irish name, all about as liable to variation as the anglicised versions below, including:
- O'Dubhlaoich - more properly a translation of O'Dooley
- O'Dubhlaich - more properly a translation of O'Dooley (The Four Masters)
- O'Dubhlaoidh - more properly O'Dowling, Dooling, Doolin, Doolan (
- O'Dubhlaing - more properly a translation of O'Doolan (Connaught)
- O'Dubhlainn -more properly a translation of O'Doolan (Munster)
- O'Dunlaing - generally O'Dowling.
- O'Dunlainge - generally O'Dowling.
- O'Dobhailen - generally O'Dolan or O'Dolen.
- O'Dubhlain - more properly a translation of O'Dolan
The O' was, as with many other prefixes to Irish names, dropped in the practice of anglicisation which occurred predominantly around the 18th century. Direct religious persecution is not necessarily the cause as many still kept faith in those times but it was more a matter of social expression when communicating with protestants.
Further variations are common today as different branches stemming from the same tree:
Doolan, Doolen, Dolan, Dowley, Dulen, Dooly, Dooley and more.
Although Dowling is English in appearance, the name is rarely found originating in Great Britain. An English version is derived from 'Dolling' which is Olde English for Dull One.
Partly sourced from: Annala Rioghachta Eireann. Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters ... to 1616. Ed. by John O'Donovan Dublin 1851. from Irish Families- Their Names and Origins, Edward MacLysaght (1972) Allen Figgis and Co Ltd.