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Family History: The Global Diaspora

After several centuries of emigration and secondary migration, descendants of the great O'Nuallain family are now found throughout the world, albeit predominantly in English-speaking countries. 'Nolan' is, by far, the most common variant spelling of the original O'Nuallain family name, accounting for about 85-90% of all descendant households. This, however, does not mean that, there are not areas in the world where descendants bearing other variants (i.e. Nowlan, Nowlin, Nolin, Nolen, etc.) are more numerous. Two such areas, which have been identified, are the Province of New Brunswick where 'Nowlan' is more prevalent and the Province of Quebec where 'Nolin' is more prevalent.

The New World Book of Nolans, published by the Halbert Family Heritage group in 1997, identified over 43,000 Nolan households worldwide with a projected total population of over 97,000. Taking into account the fact that 10-15% of Nolan descendants bear other variants of the family name, the worldwide population of Nolan descendants in 1997 would have been somewhere around 110,000.

In order of decreasing numbers, the Halbert Family Heritage group found the following number of Nolan households in English-speaking countries:

  • 17,045 in the United States of America
  • 6,621 in the United Kingdom (including 174 in Northern Ireland)
  • 2,458 in Australia
  • 2,395 in the Irish Republic
  • 1,374 in Canada
  • 257 in New Zealand
  • 232 in South Africa.

There were also 135 Nolan households in continental Europe distributed as follows:

  • 55 in France
  • 42 in Germany
  • 21 in Italy
  • 8 in Switzerland
  • 7 in the Netherlands.

A quick analysis of the above numbers reveals that over 55% of Nolans reside in the USA, over 21% in the UK, over 8% in the Irish Republic, over 7% in Australia, over 4% in Canada and about 5% elsewhere. This worldwide distribution of the O'Nuallain family is consistent with a more general distribution estimate for the Irish diaspora which states that now only a tenth of those with Irish blood reside in Ireland. Strong support for this estimate is also found in the fact that, today, out of a population of 300 million or so for the United States, a quarter or more can trace some ancestry back to Ireland.

A further analysis of the worldwide distribution of Nolans reveals that their presence is pervasive in those English-speaking countries where they are found. In fact, there are today Nolan households in each state of the United States of America, in each state of Australia, in each province of Canada, and in each county of the Irish Republic and Ulster.

Within Ireland itself, the home country, we note that the migration of Nolans to other parts had already occurred by the mid-1800s. Land records of the time show that, by that time, there were Nolan landowners in each of Ireland's thirty-two counties. Griffith's Valuations of the early 1850s also reveal that the largest number of Nolan landowners were to be found in County Carlow, numbering 330. Nolan landowners in County Mayo, which had received an influx of Nolans in the 16th century and earlier, numbered 67.

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