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This rare Irish surname is unlikely to have a Scottish clan origin (Mac Raith- usually anglicized Rae, Ray, Reigh & c.). Nor is it likely to be connected etymologically to Reeve, which as an English surname is borne by settler families in Ulster and elsewhere in Ireland. Looking at the Roman Catholic provenance of the surname in Co Antrim, a county intensively settled by British, especially Lowland Scottish, Protestants in the 17th century, and its main rural location being originally at the southern end of the Glens of Antrim, in the Ballymena Union, we can be fairly certain that the origin of the surname and its variants is a native one. O’ Rawe is described as an exclusively Co Antrim surname by the Registrar General, Robert E. Matheson’s ‘Special Report on Surnames in Ireland’, 1909 (based upon the Birth Index of 1890).

Neill O’Raw was a householder in the town of Ballymena in 1851 (Valuation of Ireland, Richard E. Griffith, 1847-64).

The following places feature in the birth records 1864-1916:

O’ Rawe : Belfast (30), Ballymena (10) O’Raw, variant: Ballymena (45), Antrim town (19), Belfast (7). There is also a pocket of the latter in Dublin south (11).

Maclysaght (‘The Surnames of Ireland’, MacLysaght E., Dublin, 1985) suggests that the ancient Co Down surname of Ó Rhimheadha is a possible source of the Antrim surname. Woulfe, on the other hand (‘Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall’, Woulfe P., Dublin 1923) writes that this Gaelic-Irish surname of the Ards of Co Down is anglicised as Reeves, and chiefly found in modern times in Co Limerick. I think this latter is the less likely of the two options, and has led to confusion.

In the 1890 Birth Index:

O’Rawe is registered with 10 births, all in Ulster.

As far as the y-DNA type R-M222 is concerned, family names associated with the cluster are almost entirely Irish or Scottish. In late 2005 a research team from Trinity College Dublin published a report that identified this cluster, based on the distinctive values at DYS390 and 392. The research team called this pattern the Irish Modal Haplotype, or IMH, and suggested that the haplotype was to be linked to the Ui Neill dynasty, which descended from the fifth century warlord Niall of the Nine Hostages. Since then research has developed and linked this distinctive haplotype, itself a sub-clade of the Haplogroup R-L21 or S-145, in a pattern encompassing both Northern Ireland and Lowland Scotland. R-M222 in Ireland is most concentrated in Donegal (nearly 20 percent of the population) and then nearby counties to the south and west (five to 10 percent). It is also found in Lowland Scotland and the Western Isles. The ‘Downstream’ subclade R-DF109 or S660 is predominantly found in Ireland (25%), then Scotland (10%), Northern England (10%) and Wales (5%). (Various scientific sources: familytreedna, anthrogenica, Trinity College, Dublin, 2006).

Sponsored by Daniel O’Raw from Galway, of Cushendall descent
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    Hi, I have been retracing my family tree as our surname was always somewhat of a mystery and I wanted to see where it derived from. My surname is O’Rowe, which seems to have been O’Rawe in the early 1900s and ORaw in the 1800s.
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    Daniel O'Raw

    Hi, Did you confirm if the name used to be O'Rawe? If so how did you figure it out? From what my research tells me O'Raw/O'Rawe originated in North Antrim. It is very numerous around the Glenravel area in Kilconway townland. If I go with the assumed belief that it is connected to Ó Rímhéa/ Ó Rìmheadha which in turn is also the Irish for Reeves then it seems that the name started in the ards of Down then around the time of the Norman Invasion the name moved to Armagh where they were recorded as Tithe Collectors in the 1600s and 1700s. The name can then be traced to North Antrim in the mid 1700s through to present day with a greater number emigrating to UK, Australia and USA and closer to home in Belfast, Dublin, Glasgow, Manchester etc. It's very hard to pinpoint the origin of the name but it has been spelled O'Raw in recorded history as far back as the 1600s in Armagh. This may either point to it emerging during the plantations of Ireland or during Cromwells Invasion in around 1649.
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