Kane and O’Kane are the most common anglicised versions of the Irish O Cathain, from at diminutive of cath, meaning ‘battle’. Kane and O’Kane are most frequent in Ulster, where O Cathain arose as a surname in the Laggan district of east Donegal, as part of the Cineal Eoghain, the large group of families descended form Eoghan, son of Niall of the Nine Hostages, the fifth-century monarch who founded the Ui Neill dynasty and was supposedly responsible for the kidnapping of St Patrick to Ireland. In the twelfth century these Ulster O Cathain conquered a large territory to the east of their original homeland around Coleraine and Keenaght in what is now Co. Derry, and remained powerful and important in that area down to the wars of the seventeenth century. Their last chief died in the Tower of London in 1628. Two other common surnames, McCloskey and McAcinney, are offshoots of O Cathain, stemming respectively from the twelfth-century Bloskey O Cathain, and Aibhne O Cathain. Kane remains particularly common in the Coleraine district of Co. Derry, and the adjoining county of Antrim.

Kavanagh, along with its variants Cavanagh, Cavanaugh etc., is the English version of Caomhanach, one of the very few Gaelic Irish surnames not to include ‘O’ or ‘Mac’. It means ‘follower of (St) Caomhan’, a name which is itself a diminutive of caomh, meaning ‘gentle’ or ‘tender’. It was first borne as a surname in the twelfth century by Donal, illegitimate son of Dermot MacMurrough, King of Leinster. He became known as ‘Donal Caomhanach’ through having been fostered by a successor of the saint based probably at Kilcavan in Bannow parish in south Co. Wexford. Although this Donal was the first bearer of the name, in fact the majority of the Kavanagh septs that proliferated from the fifteenth century on descend from Art MacMurrough Kavanagh, King of Leinster, who died in 1418. The territory of the Kavanaghs at this period was huge, comprising nearly all of the modern Co. Carlow, and most of north and northwest Co. Wexford. This was known as the ‘Kavanaghs’ country and with good reason: Art held complete control over it, even receiving dues from the English crown, the ‘black rent’ as it was known. The chiefs of the family continued to take the ruling title MacMurrough, bur by the mid-sixteenth century their power was on the wane, and was decisively broken by the start of the seventeenth century, when English rule was established and north Wexford planted with English settlers. Despite their loss of power and property, the line of descent from the last duly inaugurated Chief of the Name, Bran Kavanagh, the MacMorrough, remains unbroken; the title is now held by his descendant Andrew MacMorrogh Kavanagh of Borris, Co. Carlow. The most famous modern bearer of the name was Patrick Kavanagh (1904-1967), who was the first poet of modern Ireland to give voice to the realities of life in the new state, as well as being a powerful polemicist.

Like Keane, Keane is an anglicisation of O Cathain, from a diminutive of cath, meaning ‘battle’. As an anglicisation, however, it is much more common in Connacht than in Ulster, the homeland of Kanes. This is because O Cathain arose separately as a surname in Co. Galway, where the family were a branch of the historic Ui Fiachra tribal grouping. Traditionally it has been believed that the prominent Clare Keanes were an offshoot of the Ulster O Cathain, but the closeness of Clare and Galway must make this doubtful. A distinct family, the O Cein from Co. Waterford have anglicised their name as ‘Kean’, but without the final ‘e’. The famous actors Edmund Kean (1787-1833) and his son Charles (1811-1880) were of this family.

Kearney is common and widespread in Ireland, and has a number of different origins. In the west it originated in Co. Mayo, near Moynulla and Balla, the territory of the O Cearrnaigh (from cearnach, meaning ‘victorious’), where it has sometimes also been anglicised as Carney. A separate family of the same name, but anglicised as (O) Kearney, arose in Clare, and migrated in early times to the area around Cashel in Co. Tipperary. In Ulster the name derives from Mac Cearnaigh, also from cearnach; they were part of the Cineal Eoghain, the large group of families descended from Eoghan, son of Niall of the Nine Hostages, the fifth-century monarch who founded the Ui Neill dynasty and was supposedly responsible for the kidnapping of St Patrick to Ireland. The most historically important family, however, were the O Catharnaigh, from catharnach, meaning ‘warlike’. These were chiefs of a large territory in the midlands, in the modern counties of Meath and Offaly; one of their number became Baron Kilcoursey, from the placename in Offaly. The composer of the Irish national anthem was Peader Kearney (1883-1942).

Although Keating is found as a surname in England, where it derives from the Old English Cyting, from cyt, meaning ‘kite’, in Ireland it is almost always of Norman origin. The family arrived with the Cambro-Norman invaders in the twelfth-century and soon became thoroughly Irish, settling in south Leinster, and particularly in Co. Wexford, where the name is still very common. The most famous historical bearer of the name was Geoffrey Keating (or Seathrun Ceitin) the poet and historian who lived in the first half of the seventeenth century and wrote Foras Feasa ar Eirinn, the narrative history of the country defending it against the accounts given by foreign writers. In modern times the painter Sean Keating (1889-1977) specialised in traditional scenes, and was president of the Royal Hibernian Academy for fourteen years.

Kelleher, and its variants Kiliher, Kellahar etc., are the English versions of the Irish name O Ceileachair, from ceileachar, meaning ‘uxorious’, ‘overly fond of one’s wife’. The original Ceileachar from whom the family claim descent was a nephew of Brian Boru, and part of the Dal gCais tribal grouping. Although the family originated in Clare, homeland of the Dal gCais, they migrated southeast to Co. Cork in the fourteenth century and it is now in that county and the adjoining Co. Kerry that the surname is most frequently found. It is sometimes abbreviated to ‘Keller’, a name more usually associated with Germany, and in this form is recorded in Co. Cork.

Kelly comes from the Irish O Ceallaigh, based on the popular personal name Ceallach, which may mean either ‘bright-haired’ or ‘troublesome’. The popularity of the name meant that it was incorporated into permanent surnames in between seven and ten different places, including Co. Meath, north Wicklow, the Antrim\Derry area, Co. Sligo, Galway\Roscommon, north Down and Co. Laois.The most prominent of these families are the O’Kellys of Ui Maine, or Hy Many, an ancient territory taking in east Galway and south Roscommon, also known simply as ‘O’Kelly’s Country’. Their pedigree takes them back to Maine Mor, first chief of the area bearing his name, who lived in the fifth century. His descendant Ceallach (died c.874) was the twelfth chief , and it is from him that the surname derives. His great-great-grandson Tadhg Mor, who died at the battle of Clontarf in 1014, was the first to use the name in true hereditary fashion. Despite the loss of most of their possessions in the catastrophic wars of the seventeenth century, a loss shared with most of the rest of the Gaelic aristocracy, the succession to the position of head of the sept has continued unbroken down to the present incumbent, Walter Lionel O’Kelly of Gallagh and Tycooly, Count of the Holy Roman Empire, known as ‘the O’Kelly’, and recognised as such by the Chief Herald of Ireland. Today, Kelly and O’Kelly are almost as numerous in Ireland as Murphy, and are to be found throughout Ireland. Individuals of the name have been prominent in all spheres of Irish life. The best-known modern Irish sculptor was Oisin Kelly (1915-1981); Charles E. Kelly (1902-1981) was one of the founders of Dublin Opinion, the most famous satirical magazine to appear in Ireland, and James O’Kelly (1845-1915) had a remarkable career as a war correspondent and member of Parliament.

Kennedy in Irish is O Cinneide, from a compound word meaning ‘ugly-headed’ or ‘rough-headed’. The original bearer of the name, from whom the family claim descent, was a nephew of Brian Boru. His descendants were one of the most powerful families in the famous Dal gCais tribal grouping, and migrated from their homeland near Killaloe in Clare into adjoining north Tipperary, to become Lords of Ormon for over four hundred years up to the sixteenth century. From there the surname spread farther afield, becoming one of the most numerous and widespread in Ireland. In Ulster, many Kennedys are originally of Scottish stock, the Mac Kennedys being a branch of the Clan Cameron. The surname is now also very common in Galloway and Ayrshire. The most famous modern bearer of the name was, of course, John F. Kennedy, thirty-fifth president of the U.S., descended from a Wexford branch of the Dalcassian family.

In Irish Kenny is generally O Cionaodha, from the personal name Cionadh, of uncertain origin. It was borne by a high-king of Ireland Cionaodh mac Irgalaig in the eight century, and seems to have become popular after this. At any rate O Cionaodha arose as a separate surname in a number of places, including Co. Tyrone, and the Galway/Roscommon region. This latter family was the most important historically, lords of Munter Kenny, and it is from then that the majority of Irish Kennys spring. In Ulster, Kenny was also the anglicisation of the separate O Coinne, based in Co. Down, and became a synonym for a number of other names, including McKenna, Canning and Keaney. The stage designer and director Sean Kenny (1933-1973) had achieved international fame when he died suddenly.

Keogh, and its variant Kehoe, are the anglicisations of the Irish Mac Eochaidh, from eoch, meaning ‘horse’. It arose as a surname in three distinct areas. The first was in south Roscommon, around Moyfinn in the barony of Athlone, which used to be known as ‘Keogh’s country’. This family was part of the Ui Mhaine tribal grouping. The second was in west Tipperary, near Limerick city; the placename Ballymackeogh marks the centre of their territory. The third and most important, both numerically and historically, was in Leinster, where the original homeland was in north Kildare, whence they migrated first to Wicklow and then south to Wexford. It is in Wexford that the name has been most commonly anglicised Kehoe. The surname is now most frequent in Leinster, though it has become widespread throughout Ireland.

Kerr is Scottish and northern English in origin, describing a person who lived near overgrown marshland, kerr in northern Middle English. As might be expected, it is principally found in Ulster, where the majority of those bearing the name are descended from one of the Scottish Border riding clans, whose enforced migration in the seventeenth century also brought large numbers of Armstrongs, Johnstones and others to the province, where they settled, initially at least in Co. Fermanagh. A separate Scottish family of the name is part of the Clan Campbell in Argyllshire. As well as Scottish origins, however, Kerr (along with Carr) was used as the anglicisation of a number of native Ulster names, including Mac Giolla Chathair and Mac Ciarain (Kerin) in Donegal, O Cairre and Mac Cairre in Co. Armagh, and Mac Giolla Cheara in Co. Monaghan.

Kiely is the anglicised version of the Irish O Cadhla, from cadhla, meaning ‘beautiful’. It was popular as a personal name among the tribal grouping the Dal gCais, who acquired the high-kingship of Ireland under Brian Boru in the eleventh century. Their base was in the Clare/Limerick area, and this is the part of the country in which the surname is still most numerous, although it has now spread widely throughout Munster. The best known contemporary bearer of the surname in Ireland is the journalist and novelist Benedict Kiely, whose stories and essays are well-loved for their relaxed, anecdotal style.

King is one of the most common surnames in Ireland, and is distributed throughout the country. In Ulster, many, though not all of those of the name, will be of English stock, bearing the English surname which originated simply as a description of someone of kingly bearing. The majority, however, are of native Irish origin, since King was used as a (mis)translation of a number of Irish names which contained sounds similar to ri, ‘king’. Among the many such names are Mac Fhearadhaigh (‘McAree/McGarry’) in Co. Monaghan, O Maolconaire and O Conraoi (‘Conroy/Conry’) in Co. Roscommon, Mac Conraoi, (‘Conroy’) in Co. Galway ( where the change to King was almost total), O Conaire (‘Connery’) in Munster. In Ulster, in counties Antrim, Tyrone and Down, Mac Fhinn (‘Maginn’) was also changed, by phonetic misrepresentation rather than mistranslation, to King.



Leary and O’Leary derive from the original Irish O Laoghaire, from Laoghaire, meaning ‘a keeper of calves’. Although there was a fifth-century king who gave his name to Dun Laoghaire, the port south of Dublin, no connection exists with the surname, which originated in Co. Cork and is even today to be found predominantly in that area. The family originally inhabited the rocky sea-cost of southwest Cork, between Roscarbery and Glandore, but the coming of the Normans displaced them, and they migrated to the mountains of Iveleary, which now incorporates their name, where they were and are particularly associated with the district of Inchigeelagh.

In appearance Lee is a common English name, used either for a person who lived near a pasture or meadow, from the Old English lea, or for a person from one of the many places so called, such as Lea in Shropshire, and many bearing the name in Ireland today will be descended from English settlers. In the majority of cases, however, Lee is the anglicised version of a number of original Irish names: O Laoidhigh, from laoidheach, meaning ‘poet’ or ‘poetic’, which arose separately in Connacht in west Galway, and in the south in the Cork/Limerick area, and Mac Laoidhigh, (‘McLee’) from the same stem, which is found in Co. Laois. In Ulster Mac an Leagha (‘McAlee’), was also sometimes anglicised as Lee, as was, in Co. Monaghan, Mac Giolla Eachaidh (‘McCloy’). The most historically notable of the families were the O’Lees of Galway, powerful subchieftains under the O’Flahertys.

Lenehan is the anglicised version of the Irish O Leannachain, possibly from leannach, meaning ‘sorrowful’. It appears to have arisen separately in two localities, in Co. Roscommon in the west, and in the south in the Limerick/Tipperary region. Bearers of the surname are found in both areas today, but is most common in the south. The most prominent contemporaries of the name are Brian Lenihan (1924-1996) and his younger sister Mrs Mary O’Rourke, of the Roscommon family, who both served in a variety of ministerial positions in the Irish government from the 1970s to the 1990s.

Lennon is primarily the anglicised form of the Irish O Leannain, from leannan, meaning ‘lover’. However, O Leannain has also sometimes been anglicised as ‘Linnane’ or even ‘Leonard’. Additional uncertainty is caused by the fact that Lennon has occasionally been used as the English version of completely different Irish surnames, in particular O Lonain or O Lonagain (‘Lenane’ or ‘Lannigan’) based in west Cork, and O Luinigh (‘Lunney’) originally from Donegal and now strongly associated with the adjoining Co. Fermanagh. The primary Irish source of Lennon, O Leannain, arose separately in east Co. Galway, in Co. Mayo, and in Co. Fermanagh. Historically, the most important were the Fermanagh family, who held land and ecclesiastical office in the parish of Inishmacsaint. Today, Lennon remains common in Ulster, but elsewhere has spread from its traditional homelands to become most frequent in the eastern province of Leinster.

In appearance at least Long is a typical English surname or Scottish name, derived from a nickname for a tall person. In addition, the Norman names de Lung and de Long have become ‘Long’ over the centuries. No doubt many in Ireland bearing the surname today are of English, Scottish or Norman descent. However, there were also two native Gaelic families, the O Longain and the O Longaigh, whose name have been anglicised Long. O Longain, also anglicised as ‘Langan’, arose initially in Co. Armagh, but quickly spread throughout the northern counties, and is now most common in Ulster in Co. Donegal. It seems likely that it shares its probable linguistic origin with O Longaigh, deriving from long, ‘ship’, and therefore meaning ‘seafarer’. O Longaigh arose in the south of the country, in Co. Cork. The earliest records of the family, dating from the fourteenth century, show then as prosperous hereditary occupiers of church lands in the parish of Cannovee, in the barony of Muskerry in mid-Cork. This, together with the neighbouring parish of Moviddy, is the area with which the family remain most strongly associated down to the present. They took part on the losing side in the wars of the seventeenth century and, like virtually all of the native aristocracy, lost their possessions. Unlike most of the others, however, the descent from the last duly inaugurated Chief of the Name, Dermod O’Longy, remains unbroken. The official title is ‘O’Long of Garrenelongy’, referring to a townland in the parish of Moviddy, and the current holder, officially recognised by the Chief Herald of Ireland, is Denis Long.

Lynch, which is today one of the most common surnames throughout Ireland, is unusual in that is has tow completely distinct origins. The first is Norman, from de Lench, possibly derived from a placename now forgotten. The family settled initially in Co. Meath, and a branch then established itself in Galway, where they rapidly became one of the strongest of the ‘Tribes of Galway’; one of their number, James Lynch, mayor in 1493, is reputed to have hanged his own son for murder when no one else could be found to carry out the sentence. The second origin for the name is Gaelic, from the Irish O Loinsigh, from loinseach, meaning ‘seaman’. This arose quite separately in a number of areas, including Clare/Limerick, Sligo, west Cork, Cavan, Donegal and the north Antrim/Derry region, where they were chiefs of the old kingdom of Dal Riada in medieval times. As the variety of geographical sources implies, the Gaelic origin is responsible for the wide frequency of the surname today.

Lyons is one of the commonest surnames in Ireland particularly in the three southern provinces. In Ulster especially it may be a variant of the English and Scottish surname ‘Lyon’, which can derive, as a nickname, from ‘lion’, from the first name Leo or Leon, or from the placename Lyon-la-Foret in Normandy. Elsewhere, however, Lyons is virtually always the anglicised version of one of two Irish names, O Laighin, from laighean, meaning ‘grey’. O Laighin originated in two areas, in Co. Kerry and in east Galway, where the family’s territory was centred on Kilconnell. In Kerry, however, the name was almost invariably anglicised as ‘Lyne’. The O Liathain family are reputed to have originated in Co. Limerick, but are now to be found much more frequently in Co. Cork, particularly in the north of the county, where the village of Castlelyons records their presence. O Liathain has also been anglicised as ‘Lehane’.