Bowles DNA Project
The Bowles of Canada and their Roots in Ireland and Great Britain

Home  My Story  My Bowles Family  Bowles in Canada  Bowles in Ireland  Bowles in Great Britain  Bowles in the US

Origin of the Name  People's Lives  Related Links  New Additions

The Origin of the Bowles Surname in the Northern Counties of Ireland

Back to The Origin of the Name
While there are exceptions, it can be generally said that in Leinster and Munster, the two southeastern provinces of Ireland, the Bowles surname arrived through settlement from England while its origin in the northwestern provinces, Connaught and Ulster, is much more complicated.
note: by Bowles I am also referring to Boles, Boals, Bolles and many other similar sounding surnames which are generally associated with the Bowles name.  In these early days very little attention was paid to the spelling of surnames, it just wasn't considered to be that important.
The 'w' in the surname most commonly appears in the southeastern provinces while the Boles and Boals spellings appear most frequently in the north.


England occupied Ireland starting from a foothold in Dublin and Wicklow in the 1100's followed by organized settlement in Cork and Tipperary and then filling in the space in between in several stages including the formal plantation of the renamed Kings (Offaly) and Queens (Laois) counties in the 1500's.  The native Irish population was gradually pushed further and further to the north and east.  Around 1600 Queen Elizabeth I called for a final push to drive the last of the rebellious Irish chieftains out of the country.  This was accomplished with sweeping attacks from the south by the largest army that England had ever fielded.  Meanwhile another force was landed on the north coast, in the chieftain's homeland, not to fight as there were few defenders, but to lay waste to the land so as to cut off the chieftain's supply lines and to force them to divide their troops to return north to defend their homes.  This venture was successful and the entirety of Ireland came under British rule in 1607. 

The Re-settlement of the North

However, that left the province of Ulster sparsely populated.  England started a formal forced plantation of the Ulster counties of Donegal, Londonderry, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Cavan and Armagh by seizing all the land and redistributing it to new settlers brought largely from England and some from Scotland.  In either case they were required to be Protestant (including Presbyterian) and English speaking.  The minority which arrived from England may have included some Bowles but the majority were lowland Scots among whom there were Boyles, some of whom were to become Boals/Boles/Bowles in Ireland.
But the Boyle surname was already well known in Ireland.  Connaught, as the last corner of Ireland to not be actively settled by English or Scottish settlers, was left with the highest concentration of the native Irish.  One of the largest Irish septs in the north, the O'Baoighill clan, whose lands were originally in county Donegal, was one of the most common surnames in the northwest but was often anglicised as Boyle/Boyles, a name which came more easily to their Anglo landlords' tongues.  Some of those became further anglicized as Bowles.  An example would be Michael Bowles, the Irish born conductor, who lived until the age 15 in Boyle, co. Roscommon where his grandfather owned a shop which had their family name O'Baoighill over the door.
Separate from the government's plantation of the Ulster counties of Donegal, Londonderry, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Cavan and Armagh, private settlements of Protestant Scots were also carried out in Antrim and Down.  In one case, Bangor and Killyleagh in county Down were founded in 1611 by James Hamilton, 1st Viscount Clandeboye originally of Ayrshire, Scotland.  He planted them with Protestant Scots tenants including the Presbyterian Minister at Killyleagh, John Bole, sometimes written Boile or Boill, possibly from the Boyle clan of Ayrshire. A rent roll of the Hamilton Estate in 1691 includes a William Bole at Ballow in Killinchy parish near Killileagh town and there are Boals living in that area today. 
Over time the Scottish Boyle(s), Boal(s) and Bole(s) families migrated throughout northern Ireland, through inter-marriages and by younger sons looking for their own land, some becoming Bowles in the process as did the O'Baoighill/Boyles.
The lack of records from this period makes tracking these families extremely difficult and often impossible to document in a family tree but the ever improving science of DNA analysis has the best potential to at least point us in the right direction.
By that I do not mean the ethnic mix results which are all that you will get from autosomal tests such as AncestryDNA offers.  Anyone serious about discovering their origins will only obtain useful results from companies such as 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA both of which can do Y-DNA and/or mtDNA testing with the results being matched against a large database of other Y and mtDNA test results.  Y-DNA testing follows the male direct line of descent, the most frequent objective of family history research as it is usually the family's surname which is being followed, while mtDNA testing follows the mitochondrial DNA passed from the mother to a child.
Anyone with a Bowles/Boles/Boals etc. ancestry is urged to have a Y-DNA test done through the Bowles DNA Study on FamilyTreeDNA.  I would recommend the Y-DNA37 test.

This site was last updated 03/14/20