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An excerpt from www.HouseOfNames.com archives copyright 2000 - 2014

Where did the Irish Cleary family come from? What is the Irish Cleary family crest and coat of arms? When did the Cleary family first arrive in the United States? Where did the various branches of the family go? What is the Cleary family history?

The name Cleary originally appeared in Gaelic as O Cleirigh, from the word "cleireach," which means "clerk" or "cleric." The name denotes a descendant of Cleireach, who was born around 820 AD, and descended from Guaire the Hospitable, the famous king of Connacht.


Lacking standardized spellings, scribes and church officials recorded people's name according to how they sounded. This practice often led to the misleading result of one person's name being recorded under several different spellings. Numerous spelling variations of the surname Cleary are preserved in the archival documents of the period. The various spellings of the name that were found include Clery, Cleary, Claree, Clarey, Cleare, Clearey, Clerey, O'Cleary, O'Clery, Macchlery, Clerkin, Clark and many more.

First found in County Galway. A descendent of Guaire, Cleireach, the namesake of the O'Clerys, was born around 820 AD, about two hundred years before hereditary surnames came into general use. [1] However, the name O'Clery first appeared around 950 AD, making it one of the earliest recorded hereditary surnames. The O'Clerys were the dominant sept in what is now the diocese of Kilmacduagh in the county of Galway, but declined in power until they were forced out of their original territory by the mid-13th century. The most important branch of the family settled in Counties Derry and Donegal and became prominent historians and poets. The branch that settled in County Cavan has seemingly all but vanished. However, the English surname Clarke has been widely substituted for O'Clery there, following the Plantation of Ulster, and many Irish Clarkes may actually be O'Clerys, rather than descendants of English settlers. Another branch is still fairly common in the counties of Kilkenny, Waterford, and Tipperary. The name is presently found mostly in Munster and Dublin.


This web page shows only a small excerpt of our Cleary research. Another 191 words(14 lines of text) covering the years 1172, 1636, 1450, 1507, 1507, 1781 and 1860 are included under the topic Early Cleary History in all our PDF Extended History products.


Another 67 words(5 lines of text) are included under the topic Early Cleary Notables in all our PDF Extended History products.


A great wave of Irish migration occurred during the 19th century as a direct result of English colonial rule and tight-fisted absentee landlords. Many of these Irish immigrants boarded passenger ships bound for North America. Those who migrated early enough were given land in either British North America or the United States; those who came in the late 19th century were typically employed in industrial centers as laborers. At whatever age they undertook the dangerous passage to North America, those Irish immigrants were essential to the speedy development of the two infant nations to which they arrived, whether they broke and settled land, helped build canals, bridges, and railroads, or produced products for consumer consumption. An examination of immigration and passenger lists has uncovered a large number of immigrants bearing the name Cleary or one of its variants:

Cleary Settlers in the United States in the 17th Century

  • George Cleary, who was on record in Barbados plantation between the years 1679 and 1680

Cleary Settlers in the United States in the 18th Century

  • Darby Cleary, who came to America in 1736
  • John Cleary, who landed in Boston, Massachusetts in 1764
  • James Cleary, who arrived in New York in 1789

Cleary Settlers in the United States in the 19th Century

  • Edmund Cleary, who landed in America in 1806
  • William Cleary, who arrived in America in 1810
  • Andrew Cleary, who arrived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1816
  • Daniel Cleary, who landed in New York in 1820
  • Philip Cleary, who landed in New York in 1820


  • Robert J Cleary (b. 1955), American lawyer, lead prosecutor in the Unabomber case (1996-1998) and the US attorney for New Jersey in 1999-2001
  • Beverly Cleary (1916-1981), American author, recipient of the 1981 National Book Award in category Children's Fiction and the 1984 Newbery Medal
  • William John "Bill" Cleary (b. 1934), American gold and silver medalist hockey player
  • Brian P. Cleary (b. 1959), American humorist, poet and author
  • Jon Cleary (b. 1962), American musician
  • Nikki Cleary (b. 1988), American singer
  • Thomas Cleary (b. 1949), American author & translator
  • William J. Cleary (1870-1952), American politician from the U.S. state of Michigan
  • Brendan Cleary (b. 1958), Irish poet
  • Joseph Christopher "Joe" Cleary (1918-2004), Irish Major League Baseball pitcher for one game in 1945



  • Clary (also Cleary) Genealogy by Ralph Shearer Rowland.

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  1. ^ MacLysaght, Edward, Irish Families Their Names, Arms and Origins 4th Edition. Dublin: Irish Academic, 1982. Print. (ISBN 0-7165-2364-7)

Other References

  1. Weis, Frederick Lewis, Walter Lee Sheppard and David Faris. Ancestral Roots of Sixty Colonists Who Came to New England Between 1623 and 1650 7th Edition. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1992. Print. (ISBN 0806313676).
  2. Browning, Charles H. Americans of Royal Descent. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing. Print.
  3. Burke, Sir Bernard. General Armory Of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Ramsbury: Heraldry Today. Print.
  4. Best, Hugh. Debrett's Texas Peerage. New York: Coward-McCann, 1983. Print. (ISBN 069811244X).
  5. Robb H. Amanda and Andrew Chesler. Encyclopedia of American Family Names. New York: Haper Collins, 1995. Print. (ISBN 0-06-270075-8).
  6. The Norman People and Their Existing Descendants in the British Dominions and the United States Of America. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1975. Print. (ISBN 0-8063-0636-X).
  7. MacLysaght, Edward. The Surnames of Ireland 3rd Edition. Dublin: Irish Academic, 1978. Print. (ISBN 0-7165-2278-0).
  8. Woulfe, Rev. Patrick. Irish Names and Surnames Collected and Edited with Explanatory and Historical Notes. Kansas City: Genealogical Foundation, 1992. Print. (ISBN 0-940134-403).
  9. MacLysaght, Edward. Irish Families Their Names, Arms and Origins 4th Edition. Dublin: Irish Academic, 1991. Print. (ISBN 0-7165-2364-7).
  10. Magnusson, Magnus. Chambers Biographical Dictionary 5th edition. Edinburgh: W & R Chambers, 1990. Print.
  11. ...

The Cleary Family Crest was acquired from the Houseofnames.com archives. The Cleary Family Crest was drawn according to heraldic standards based on published blazons. We generally include the oldest published family crest once associated with each surname.

This page was last modified on 6 April 2014 at 12:04.

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