Select Dillon Surname Genealogy

Dillon is a surname in Ireland of Norman or Irish origins.  In Leinster Dillon derived from the Norman family of de Leon (meaning either "of Lyon" or "of the lion").  There is an old Irish saying: "All the Dillons descended from Henry de Leon."  But the Dillon name also came from the anglicization of the Irish O'Duilleain (from Dalian meaning "little blind one") in Munster and Connacht. 

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Ireland.  The first person to come to Ireland with the Dillon name was Sir Henry de Leon, from Brittany in France.  He had come in 1185, immediately after the Anglo-Norman invasion, to act as secretary to Prince John and was awarded large tracts of land.  As the de Leon family multiplied and spread out over the country, it began being called by its Gaelic form O'Duilleain,which over time became the anglicized Dillon.

The base for these Dillons was Westmeath where they had built Portlick castle.  In fact they owned so much land there that Westmeath was popularly known as Dillon's country.  The two main Dillon branches, ennobled in the 17th century, were:
  • the Viscount Dillons who fled to France after the Jacobite defeat in 1691 and thus lost their Irish estates.
  • and the Earls of Roscommon.  In addition, the Dillons of Drumreany were to be found at Dillon's Grove, Roscommon in the 18th century.
The Dillon name was and continues to be common in Meath, Westmeath and Roscommon.

France.   The Dillons in exile from Ireland made their mark in France.  Sometimes called "the Irish Dillons," they mixed in the highest levels of French society.

Sir James Dillon had fled the Cromwellians and in 1653 he raised the famous Regiment of Dillon.  It was to be led by a Dillon for over a hundred years.  Son Arthur, who fled Ireland after the Jacobite defeat in 1691, served in the French army; as did grandson James who commanded the Irish Brigade which helped defeat the English at Fontenoy in 1745. 

Theobald Count Dillon became a Field Marshall of France and fought with Washington in the American War of Independence.  When fighting the Austrians in 1792, he was massacred by his own troops in a tragic misunderstanding.  He lies with Napoleon in the Pantheon.  Arthur Dillon also fought in the American War of Independence.  But he was accused of being a Royalist and was guillotined during the French Revolution.

From Dublin in 1744, from the Kilcornan branch of the family, came the merchant Robert Dillon and his brother Thomas.  They purchased the large Terrefort estate in Blanquefort, Bordeaux from which later came the Chateau Dillon wines.  Robert died in 1764; but his sons carried on the family name in Bordeaux.  One, nicknamed "le beau Dillon," was a particular favorite of Marie Antoinette. 

America.  Dillons made it to America.  Possibly the first was Luke Dillon, a Quaker from county Armagh who arrived in Nantucket in 1710.  These Dillons were to be found later in Hopewell, Virginia.  Meanwhile Peter Dillon and Mary Veghte of Somerset county, New Jersey date from the Revolutionary War period.  Other Dillons fought in this war on the French side.

Timothy Dillon also fought in the Revolutionary War and later eked out a living as a farmer in upstate New York, in what was then Montgomery county.  His son Sidney started work as a water boy for one of America's earliest railroads and rose to be President of the Union Pacific.  Another branch of this family moved west to Iowa in 1838.  John Forrest Dillon became prominent there as a judge.

Canada.  Edward Dillon came to Cape Breton in Nova Scotia with his parents from Ireland in 1787.  At the age of 12, some ten years after his arrival, he was rendered an orphan when the rest of his family bar one sister was slaughtered by Indians. 

Edward Dillon was an Indian captive for about five years and was then set free by an European trader who noticed Edward trying to show a squaw how to compass a box.  This trader convinced his owner to exchange him for ammunition and blankets. 

Edward married and settled down at Main-a-dieu. 

Australia and New Zealand.  A Dillon family from Tipperary came to Melbourne in 1849.  That year John Dillon acquired the Horse and Jockey Inn at Chiltern some 200 miles north of Melbourne.  The inn remained in Dillon hands until 1920.  Another John Dillon family from Tipperary came to the Nelson area in New Zealand in 1870 and then migrated to Melbourne in the 1890’s. 

Constantine Dillon, a younger son of the Viscount Dillons at Ditchley in Oxfordshire, sailed for New Zealand with his family in 1842.  He acquired land to farm in Marlborough’s Waihopai valley.  In 1851, on his ninth wedding anniversary, he wrote:

"May the next nine years of our lives, if we should be spared as long, be as productive of joy and comfort to me as the last nine, and may God give me to be a stay and comfort to her whom above all other created beings, I loved and adore."

However, two years later he drowned while crossing a river on his property.  Heartbroken, his wife Fanny and their children returned to Oxfordshire.  But some of the family later returned and Dillons have continued to live and farm on this land

Select Dillon Miscellany

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

Select Dillon Names

Sir Henry de Leon
was the forebear of the Norman Dillons in Ireland.
Sir James Dillon fled Cromwell for France and was the first of the Dillon French line.
John Dillon was an Irish Home Rule activist and the last leader of the Irish parliamentary party before independence.
Sidney Dillon was an American railroad executive, President of the Union Pacific Railroad from 1874 to 1884.
Clarence Dillon, born Clarence Lapowski, was an American financier who grew rich through his Wall Street company Dillon, Read and Co.
Matt Dillon is a popular American actor.

Select Dillons Today
  • 10,000 in the UK (most numerous in Glasgow)
  • 18,000 in America (most numerous in California) 
  • 17,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)

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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