Boyle, with its variants Boal and O'Boyle, is now one of the fifty most common surnames in Ireland; it was ranked 49th in 1890 and 46th in 1996. In Irish the name is Ó Baoghill, the derivation of which is uncertain, but thought to be connected to the old Irish geall, meaning "pledge". In the middle ages, the family were powerful and respected, sharing control of the entire north-west of the island with the O'Donnells and the O'Dohertys, and the strongest association of the family is still with Co. Donegal, where (O)Boyle is the third most numerous name in the county.
The majority of those bearing the name are of Gaelic origin, but many Irish Boyles have separate, Norman origins. In Antrim and Down, a significant number are descended from the Scottish Norman family of de Boyville, whose name comes from the town now known as Beauville in Normandy; many Boals are thought to be of this connection. A Welsh branch of the same Norman family were the antecedents of the most famous Irish family of the surname, the Boyles, Earls of Cork and Shannon, descended from Richard Boyle, who arrived in Ireland from Kent in 1588 and quickly amassed enormous wealth. His earliest known ancestor was Humphrey de Binville, a Norman lord in Herefordshire in the eleventh century.
In 1890 there were 17 births giving the surname as Boal, principally in counties Antrim and Down; 20 O’Boyles mainly in Antrim and Mayo and 273 Boyles, in Antrim, Donegal and Mayo. In Co. Down the surname has also been anglicised as "Bohill"..Robert Boyle (1627-91), son of the 1st Earl of Cork, is best known - at least to generations of science students - as the formulator of Boyle’s Law ("the volume of a fixed quantity of gas at a constant pressure is inversely proportional to its pressure"). His advocacy of scientific experimentation was extremely influential, and he was one of the founders of the Royal Society.
Richard Boyle, the 3rd Earl of Burlington (1695-1753) and a great-grandson of the Earl of Cork, is today remembered for his passion for Palladian architecture, in particular Burlington House in London.
John J. Boyle (1851-1922) was an American sculptor of Irish extraction, famous for his Indian Family in Lincoln Park in Chicago.