This famous surname can be either English or Irish. It is found in both countries in several and overlapping spellings including Riley, Ryley, Reily, Reely and Reilly, as well as the pure Gaelic McReilly, O'Reilly and O'Ralilly. It has two possible and quite distinct origins. In England the surname is usually locational, from the village of Riley Green near Blackburn or possibly Riley Hill, near Lichfield, in Staffordshire. Various publications also mention a place called Riley in Devonshire, but if such a place ever existed, that no longer seems to be the case. The meaning of the name is probably "Rye Farm" from the Olde English pre 7th century "rygh - leah", but other translations are possible such as Reed Farm. In Ireland the surname can be a planter surname from the same English source, but is more usually from the pre 10th century Gaelic O'Raghailligh, meaning the descendant of Raghallach, the latter being an early personal name. In the 16th century the Gaelic prefix was largely lost, but in some cases has been restored. The surname in its various forms is one of the most popular in Ireland, particularly in County Cavan and neighbouring counties, where they were known as the chiefs of Breffny. Five O'Reilly's have held the primacy of Ireland as the archbishops of Armagh, notably Hugh O'Reilly and Edmund O'Reilly (1609 - 1669). Early examples of the surname recording include Henry de Ryley in the Subsidy Tax Rolls for Derbyshire in 1327, Hugh O'Reilly (1580 - 1653), whilst on December 21st 1575, Alice Riley was christened at St. Giles Cripplegate, in the city of London. The first recorded spelling of the family name is believed to be that of John de Ryeley. This was dated 1284, in the Court Rolls of the manor of Wakefield, Yorkshire, during the reign of King Edward 1st, 1272 - 1307. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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