Select Rowan Surname Genealogy

The Irish and Scottish surname Rowan has derived from the old Gaelic Ó Ruadain (pronounced o’roo-ahn), meaning “descendant of the red one.”  The root is the Gaelic word ruadh meaning “red.”  What is this red?  Does it mean red-haired, ruddy cheeks, or red with blood from battle?  Opinions are divided.

In Scotland Rowan could be a variant of the Roland name.  William Rowan of Aberdeen in 1513 appeared earlier as William Rolland.  Irish variants to Rowan have been Ruane and Roane
.  The Northern Ireland pronunciation of Rowan is said to sound like "cow"-an.

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Select Rowan Ancestry

Scotland.  The early Scottish Rowans reflected more than one origin of the name.  It has been mainly a Lowland name, found principally in the Glasgow/Ayrshire coastal areas.

The line from John Rolland in Glasgow in the 15th century devolved to later Rowans; while Rowans were prominent in the Govan community from the 1600’s onwards. 

“The Rowan family, old renters from the Church, had obtained a charter from James VI after the Reformation granting them perpetual rights to their land.  James Rowan of Marylands, a descendant, purchased the Bellahouston estate in 1726.  When his descendant Thomas died in 1824, the estate then passed out of Rowan hands.” 

Meanwhile Stephen Rowan was born at Govan in 1690.  Another line began there with Matthew Rowan who was born in Govan in 1753.

There was Rowan emigration to Ulster in Ireland in the 17th and 18th centuries.  Their numbers included Andrew Rowan, the son of John Rowan of Greenhead in Govan.

. The Rowan name, originally O’Ruadain, was mainly to be found in the West of Ireland – from Galway southwards to county Cork.  Saint Ruadain of Lorrha lived in Tipperary in the sixth century.  Imar Ua Ruaidin was the Bishop of Kilmacduagh in Galway who died in office in 1176, Felix O'Ruadhain the Archbishop of Tuam in 1215.

There were two principal early O'Ruadhain septs:
  • one belonged to the Ui Maine (an ancient territory embracing mid Galway and south Roscommon)
  • and the other was located in Ui Fiachrach (north Mayo, Sligo and south Galway).  The latter were described as “people of property and importance in the barony of Gallen in Mayo.”  O'Ruadhain here sometimes became Ruane, sometimes Rowan.
In addition to these two septs, there was the small sept of O’Robhachain in Clare which became Rowan. They are recorded as accompanying the O’Gradys in the unsuccessful attack on Ballyalla castle in 1642 when all but one of their number were killed.  In Petty’s 1659 Census, the name was prominent among the nobility of Bunratty and East Carbery in Clare and Cork.

Scots Irish.  Rowans in Ulster meant Scots who had crossed the Irish Sea to Ulster.

The Rev. Andrew Rowan from Govan came to Ulster in 1655.  He was a Presbyterian minister and was inducted into the rectory of Clough in county Antrim in 1681.  His notebook, which has been preserved, provides valuable insights about his life and times there.   Andrew Rowan was the ancestor of the Rowans of Mount Davys and Callybackey in Antrim and of the Rowan Hamiltons of Killyleagh in county Down – from whom sprang that remarkable character Archibald Hamilton Rowan

Related to these Rowans was Robert Rowan, an impoverished landowner at Ahoghill in Antrim in the late 1700’s.  He and his wife raised ten children, of whom three turned out to be special:  
  • the eldest, John, was a major in the Antrim militia and a Justice of the Peace  
  • Sir Charles was a soldier who fought at the Battle of Waterloo and was the first Commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police (from 1829 to 1850).  
  • and Sir William was also at the Battle of Waterloo and later became a Field Marshal, serving as Commander-in-Chief in Canada.  
Sir Archibald Roane from Argyllshire was said to have been granted land in Antrim after the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.  Two of his sons came to America.  Andrew was the grandfather of Archibald Roane, the Governor of Tennessee in 1801.

America.  The Rev. John Rowan, a Presbyterian minister in county Antrim, had a number of sons who crossed the Atlantic to America in the early 1700’s:
  • Matthew Rowan came to North Carolina around the year 1724 and was a merchant and shipbuilder in the colony.  He served as acting governor of North Carolina in 1753.  Rowan county was later named in his honor.
  • his brothers Robert, Hugh and Aicheson followed him there at later dates.
  • meanwhile Andrew Rowan arrived in Pennsylvania in 1732, settling in York county.  His line was covered in John Young’s 2008 book The Rowan Book – The Families of Andrew Rowan.  The main line of descent was through his son Captain William Rowan.
Other early Rowans to America were:
  • Henry Rowan who came to Pennsylvania from Ulster in 1739 and settled in the Manor of the Maske in York later Adams county.  Some of his descendants migrated to Ohio around the year 1800. 
  • John Francis Rowan who arrived in Maryland at the same time.  His son the Rev. John Rowan survived a British cavalry charge at the Battle of Brandywine.  He later moved with his family to Randolph county, West Virginia.  Mabel Baker’s 1980 book The Rev. John Rowan Family charted his family.  
  • and John Rowan who left Ballyhay in Monaghan in 1764 with 300 other Presbyterians following the Rev. Thomas Clark to America.  He settled in Salem, New York.  
Kentucky.  Captain William Rowan migrated with his family from Pennsylvania to Kentucky in 1784, eventually settling in Bardstown.  William’s son John was appointed Kentucky’s Secretary of State in 1804.  He made his home at the Federal Hill mansion in Bardstown.  This house was later immortalized in Stephen Foster’s song My Old Kentucky Home.

Alexander Rowan was a plantation owner in Ohio county, Kentucky in the 1830’s.  One of his slaves adopted the Rowan name.  Harry and Catherine Rowan are the forebears of eight generations of African American Rowans that now hold annual reunions

Canada.   John Rowan was a shoemaker from Newry in county Down who came to Canada in 1831 with his five sons, settling in Manvers township, Ontario.   They were all farmers in the area.
Charles Rowan arrived in Bytown near Ottawa from Sligo with his family in 1833.  He was an early land speculator there and kept a hotel for many years.   His son James ran a hotel in Ottawa.   Later members of his family moved to Chicago.

"In 1898 John Rowan was attending a Knights of Columbus dinner in Chicago and was dressed in evening clothes.  He was later found unconscious at his front door.  He had been clobbered on the head, leaving a trail of blood.  He died the next day at the age of forty.  The culprits were probably Orange radicals."

Select Rowan Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select Rowan Names

Felix O'Ruadhain was the Archbishop of Tuam in Galway in 1215.
Archibald Hamilton Rowan was a founding member of The Dublin Society of United Irishmen in 1790 and a celebrated advocate for Irish liberty.
Sir Charles Rowan
 served as the first head of the London Metropolitan Police in 1829.
Judge John Rowan’s
home in Bardstown, Kentucky provided the inspiration for Stephen Foster's song My Old Kentucky Home

Select Rowans Today
  • 5,000 in the UK (most numerous in Glasgow)
  • 6,000 in America (most numerous in California) 
  • 5,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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