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An excerpt from www.HouseOfNames.com archives copyright 2000 - 2015

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 United States in the 17th Century

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

Cleary Settlers in 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 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

Cleary Settlers in Canada in the 18th Century

  • Jno Cleary, who arrived in Nova Scotia in 1750
  • Richard Cleary, who landed in Nova Scotia in 1776

Cleary Settlers in Canada in the 19th Century

  • William Cleary and his wife and five children who arrived in Quebec in 1825
  • James Cleary, aged 18, a labourer, arrived in Saint John, NB in 1833 aboard the ship "Britannia" from Sligo

Cleary Settlers in Australia in the 19th Century

  • John Cleary arrived in Adelaide, Australia aboard the ship "Birman" in 1840
  • Joseph Cleary arrived in Adelaide, Australia aboard the ship "Hindoo" in 1848
  • Margaret Cleary, aged 17, arrived in Adelaide, Australia aboard the ship "Elgin" in 1849
  • Margaret Cleary, aged 17, arrived in South Australia in 1849 aboard the ship "Elgin"
  • Cornelius Cleary, aged 45, a labourer, arrived in South Australia in 1851 aboard the ship "Prince Regent"

Cleary Settlers in New Zealand in the 19th Century

  • Ann Cleary, aged 18, arrived in Wellington, New Zealand aboard the ship "Seringapatam" in 1856
  • Mary A. Cleary, aged 23, arrived in Lyttelton, New Zealand aboard the ship "Apelles" in 1874
  • Robert Cleary, aged 58, a farm labourer, arrived in Auckland, New Zealand aboard the ship "Assaye" in 1874
  • Susan Cleary, aged 51, arrived in Auckland, New Zealand aboard the ship "Assaye" in 1874
  • Thomas Cleary, aged 7, arrived in Auckland, New Zealand aboard the ship "Assaye" in 1874


  • 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. Browning, Charles H. Americans of Royal Descent. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing. Print.
  2. Filby, P. William and Mary K Meyer. Passenger and Immigration Lists Index in Four Volumes. Detroit: Gale Research, 1985. Print. (ISBN 0-8103-1795-8).
  3. Fairbairn. Fairbain's book of Crests of the Families of Great Britain and Ireland, 4th Edition 2 volumes in one. Baltimore: Heraldic Book Company, 1968. Print.
  4. Harris, Ruth-Ann and B. Emer O'Keefe. The Search for Missing Friends Irish Immigrant Advertisements Placed in the Boston Pilot Volume II 1851-1853. Boston, MA: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1991. Print.
  5. Bowman, George Ernest. The Mayflower Reader A Selection of Articales from The Mayflower Descendent. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing. Print.
  6. Egle, William Henry. Pennsylvania Genealogies Scotch-Irish and German. Harrisburg: L.S. Hart, 1886. Print.
  7. Sullivan, Sir Edward. The Book of Kells 3rd Edition. New York: Crescent Books, 1986. Print. (ISBN 0-517-61987-3).
  8. Leyburn, James Graham. The Scotch-Irish A Social History. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1962. Print. (ISBN 0807842591).
  9. Grehan, Ida. Dictionary of Irish Family Names. Boulder: Roberts Rinehart, 1997. Print. (ISBN 1-57098-137-X).
  10. MacLysaght, Edward. The Surnames of Ireland 3rd Edition. Dublin: Irish Academic, 1978. Print. (ISBN 0-7165-2278-0).
  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 24 January 2015 at 21:47.

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