It has been thought in our family the Riley was an Irish last name. As I mentioned last week, the family was originally using Ryley. I found it used, not only in the 1841 Census, but in baptismal records for the generation of Ezra's mother. Given the fact that the family was located in Lancashire, I believe it is not Irish but is derived as listed below:
From Surname Database:
This interesting surname is of Anglo-Saxon origin, and is a variant of Riley, which is either of locational derivation from Ryley in Lancashire or Riley in Devonshire, or a topographical name given to someone who lived at the rye clearing. Both the placenames and the topographical terms have the same derivation, that is, from the Olde English pre 7th Century "ryge", rye, and "leah", a wood or clearing. The surname itself is more likely to have originated from the place in Lancashire, as it is most widespread in the North of England.
Early examples of the surname include: Henry de Ryley, in the Subsidy Rolls of Derbyshire (1327); Johannes de Rylay, in the Poll Tax Records of Yorkshire (1379); and John Ryley, mentioned in the Coroner's Rolls of Nottinghamshire (1488). Sir Philip Ryley (died 1733) was surveyor of the royal woods and forests, having attended the Lord Treasurer of England before 1702, and after 1706, and was knighted in 1728. The family Coat of Arms depicts a fess between three black crosses pattee fitchee on a silver shield, and the Crest being a black dragon's head erased, charged on the neck with three bezants. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of John de Ryeley, which was dated 1284, in the "Court Rolls of the Manor of Wakefield", during the reign of King Edward 1, known as "The Hammer of the Scots", 1272 - 1307.
Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
Read more: http://www.surnamedb.com/Surname/Ryley#ixzz1B7daBFU7