History of the Hamill Name

Irish Hamill Crest
The Irish Hamill
Family Crest

This information was compiled by Jack Hammill. His website is here.


Above is the crest of the family O'hAdhmaill with the motto of the family "Esse Quam Videri" (To Be Rather Than To Seem). The origin of the motto is lost to history, but is the same motto as that used by the Hammills of Scotland and Normandy. The crest is described as "A blue shield with two horizontal bars of ermine fur, representing the Girdle of Honour worn in ancient times by senior public officials. On top of the shield is the coronet, or crown, of a duke (although this does not necessarily signify royal blood). Atop the coronet is the figure of a leopard in profile, sitting with its face to the viewer's left."

In some countries it is technically illegal for anyone to display publicly a coat of arms which has not been inherited by him through the line of eldest sons of the family. However, in North America, titles of nobility and the accouterments which accompany them have no legal standing. The crest may therefore be used by any member of the Hamill family as a means of identification, and this would include the various spellings of Hamil, Hamel, Hamell, Hammil, Hammel, Hammill and Hammell. Regardless of the spelling, we're probably all related in some way.


This history of the Hamill family does not apply to any one family of Hamills, but is a general overview from Irish history sources. Much of the information about ancient Ireland is legend, and should be taken with a grain of salt. The Irish of today are believed to have originated when a group known as the Milesians reached Spain. The Milesians, named for a King Mileseus, "...invaded and possessed themselves of Ireland a thousand years before Christ", or at about the time of King Solomon of Israel. These Milesians formed the basis for a large group which we know today as the Celtics. One of the tribes of this group were the Gaels or Gaelics, which populated the island now home to the Republic of Ireland and northern Ireland.

The island of Britain, which is now home to England, Scotland and Wales, was populated by another tribe, the Britons, who were also Celtics. These tribes, the Gaels and the Britons, were barbarian and warlike. The Gaels regularly crossed the Irish Sea to the island home of the Britons to pillage and plunder. Ireland itself was divided into a northern and southern kingdom by the Milesians. The southern kingdom was initially ruled by Heber, and the Romans referred to the entire island as Hibernia after this king. Later, the island would be known as Ireland, after a ruler of the northern kingdom, Ir.

Beginning in 379 AD, a powerful king named Niall ruled Ireland. The reign of Niall of the Nine Hostages ended in 404 AD when he was killed during a Gaelic raid into France. Niall's descendants became the Clan O'Neill. The Hamills are a part of the Clan O'Neill, although there is disagreement as to which family branch they belonged. The family O'Donnell, descended from Conal Gulban, settled what is now County Doneghal in northwestern Ireland, and the name O'Hamill has distant roots there. However, Edward MacLysaght says that Hamill, or more properly O'Hamill, is a "...branch of the Cenel Eoghain found in Counties Armagh and Monaghan." The Historical Research Centre of Ireland says that "...They, the O'Hamills, held territory in the neighborhood of south Tyrone where, from the twelfth century onwards, they were noteworthy as poets and ollavs (learned men) to the O'Hanlons. They were, however, also found to be engaged in warlike activities." We may never know which branch, the O'Donnells or the O'Neills, provided the initial association for the O'Hamills, but the O'Hamills are clearly of the Clan O'Neill, and originated in Ulster, or northern Ireland.


One researcher of Irish surnames, a Father Woulfe, claimed that the name Hamill originated with the Gaelic word "O hAdhmaill" meaning "active" or "alert". However, other researchers say that it might originate with an earlier Gaelic word, "adhmall", meaning just the opposite or "passive". A third source states that the Norman origin of the name "Hammill" is a variation of Hamill, a name derived from Old English and Middle English, and is the nickname for a scarred or mutilated person.

These explanations for the origin of the name say that it comes from Ireland, Scotland and Normandy, but these differences are not necessarily contradictory. From the time of Niall's death until the name appeared in Scotland as a Norman name, eight hundred years had passed. Long before Niall himself, the Gaels had been making raids and other voyages to Scotland and to France, including the Norman coast. It is entirely possible that, after Niall's death and the beginning of the O'Hamill name, these journeys produced descendants of the Irish O'Hamills in both Scotland and Normandy. The name probably spread to include relatives in Normandy and Scotland, and then later coalesced again in northern Ireland in the 12th century.

During the period when the English established their rule over Ireland, the name was anglicized to Hamill (as were many Irish names). It remained Hamill from then on, and perhaps gained the additional "m", becoming Hammill, through a transliteration from Gaelic to English or through a clerical error.

Northern Ireland is not cleanly divided between Protestant and Catholic, but Protestants form a large majority in the eastern counties closer to Scotland, while Catholics predominate in the western counties. In spite of the continuing trouble between Catholics and Protestants, the two groups often intermarried even when the Catholics were the subjects of severe discrimination. This is significant because native Irish are almost exclusively Roman Catholic, while those who settled Ireland under the English occupation are Protestant. Even today, Catholic parishes in the Republic of Ireland fall under the Archdiocese of Armagh, the seat of the cardinal of Ireland, and Armagh is in northern Ireland under continuing English rule. The Catholic church would have permitted marriage between a Catholic and a Protestant but only on condition that it was a Catholic marriage and that any children were raised as Catholics.


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