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OR: People Who Live in Glasshouses Should Not Throw Stones

by Nora M. Keohane Hickey

Copyright 1992

Virginia Mahoney's reference to our conversation re surnames has provided the theme for this article about ancestral research in Irish parish and other records. Five years of parish indexing in the Bandon Heritage Centre in County Cork (and please note that the centre closed December 1989 - and that letters addressed personally to me at that address are not passed on) has indicated that much of the failure to find that elusive progenitor may lie in not recognising the form of the surname. The following points to consider are based upon my genealogical and research experience in County Cork, but I firmly believe that similiar developments in surnames happened throughout the country. Much research remains to be done into this question of surnames, and it must be approached on a local and regional, and not national, basis.

One obvious reason for these variations records are the alternative spellings. For example, there were twenty-nine ways fo spelling Maloney/Moloney in the Church of Ireland registers in Bandon alone. Remember that surnames were written by the minister, according to his version of the name, and probably phonetically. And even if one could read what is written in the register - and today the baptismal registers is not written usually within sight of parents and godparents - one would not dare contradict the priest or minister. Therefore Maloneys should always look for Moloney, Mullowney and so forth. The parish registers will show the surname and all other records, Tithe Applotment Books, Griffith's Valuations, etc. as perceived by the writer. Very few indexes make allowances for the different spellings/versions of the same surname, even separating e.g. Flynn from O Flynn. Surnames written in the Griffith's Valuation depended on the perception of the surveyor. For example, in the Bantry area Keohane was spelt Keohane; in Barryroe the local engineer wrote it as Keoghane - a form never found in the many variations in the parish registers. The form "Cohane" is also represented in the GV.

All indexes, e.g. National Library GV list, the legal BMD indexes show surnames as spelt and therefore one will have to search in several parts of all indexes. Surnames beginning with such letters as C and K, e.g. Carney/Kearney, Cavanagh/Kavanagh or H and A, e.g. Ahearn/Hearn, Anglin/Hanglin or E and H, e.g. Enright/Henright, and H and Wh, Whooley/Hooley; Houlahan/Whoulahan are obvious examples. Houlahan is anglicised as Holland - and I have seen the different versions refer to the same family in both church and legal records. The Anglo-Norman names of "de" or"d" should also be treated with caution. Courcy/Coursey is interchangeable with de Courcy, d'Arcy has became Darcy, and D'Amery has developed into Amery or Dammery. In other words, there are always two areas in indexes to search for these surnames.

Interpretation of difficult, and often carelessly written handwriting often leads to surname confusion. Examples of this include: Buckley/Brickley, Long/Song, Lidwell/Sidwell, Sugrue/Lugrue and Feagan/Teagan. The capital letter "C", when written in nineteenth century hand is often read as "E", so Carbery is misread as Earbery. Therefore if you do not find what you are seeking under the normal spelling, think where else it might turn up. One major area of confusion is in deciding whether a name is Regan or Ryan. Among the Bandon RC parish entries were families that were definitely REGAN; there were also families that were definitely RYAN, but the majority of families were mixed- and how can one decide, in the absence of other information, whether they should be indexed under REGAN or RYAN? I opted for majority rule, with notation at the beginning of the indexes, but I cannot be positive that this resulted in a 100% correct allocation. However, anyone looking for either Regans or Ryans in Bandon, or anywhere else in Ireland, should be aware of this problem - and I know a few people in Ireland who are not 100% happy about the Ballyporeen REGAN entry!

Another example of surname confusion is shown by Coughlan and Coholan - and their spelling variations. All the experts, including Edward MacLysahgt {THE SURNAMES OF IRELAND} and Kenneth Nicholls, University College, Cork {lecture to the O Mahony Society, 1986} state that these are two separate surnames, with completely different origins. I do not dispute this statement, but the reality in the parishes of West Cork is that the two surnames are used synomynously. Even today, I know of two brothers, and a father and son, who use the two surnames [1] Cogan appears in the Bandon registers as Cogan, Gogan, Googin, Goggin and Cogane; when one also discovers that the surname of Gookin also developed into Googin...! More headaches for the researcher. we developed a saying: "Some Archdeacons are Codys; some Codys are Archdeacons; but not all Archdeacons are Codys, and not all Codys are Archdeacons!"

Members of the same family/sept who had the same surname - and the development of the surname is outside the range of this brief explanation - would add another name to differentiate. Thus MacCarthy Mor, MacCarthy Reagh or Riabhach {striped or swarthy}, MacCarthy Spainneach {Spanish}, MacCarthy Cairbreach, MacCarthy Rabach, MacCarthy Glas {green}, and MacCarthy Crimeen, now the name Cremin. Mickie Cremin of Barryroe parish was listed as Michael MacCarthy only twice in his life - Butlerstown School register and his obituary notice in the CORK EXAMINER. His funeral was poorly attended, and so when his sister, Katie Cremin, died, the death announcement included both Cremin and MacCarthy! (Cremins are lucky because the "real" surname is always MacCarthy).

What causes problems for research is the dropping of the actual family name and thus the secondary name becomes the surname used today. An example of this is Whooley, Hooley, Coffey. Cadogan, Kerukan, Bohane - all of these are O Driscoll surnames. Bohane may also be an O Sullivan surnames as in Bogue/Bouig. Lordan, Hourihane, Grahan, Mongain, Manning and Corcoran are among the secondary names for O Brien in the Barryroe area.

Another method of identifying families of the same surnames was by adding a description: Donovan Ban, Barrry Ban, were the families with white hair. Was the Ban dropped favour of the real surname? Was it anglicised into White? Or confused with the English name of White? I do not yet have a definite answer to these questions, because, as is true of so many of these surname variations, the answer lies in whatever was the local custom, and will only be revealed with a locally based search for your ancestor - or detailed research within a parish. {2} Maol (bald), Meirgeach (generous), Liath (grey- haired) are other examples of descriptive surnames - and vary from locality to locality. {3} And if you have a Canniffe (Caniv) ancestor, you are really an O Mahoney, from Ceannduibh, the black-haired Kean.

In Barryroe parish the family secondary name of Mac an Mhaighister (son of the master) was given to one of the many Fleming families in the parish because William Fleming was the school master of a hedge school in Vallinvillish, townland of Ballinvrokig, and he is listed in Griffith's Valuation as William Fleming (Master). My father was at school with some of this family - and never knew until we were doing our own family research that their surname was really Fleming!

The same principle applies to topographic names. In the Sheeps Head peninsula the surname Mountain is among the register entries. These were the Donovans living on the mountain. The Hurleys Carriga were those descended from the Hurleys of Ballincarriga Castle (Enniskeane parish), but in neighbouring bandon parish Carriga means MacCarthy. the 021 County Cork telephone directory lists three "Carrig" surnames, from a family originally on a rock, but which rock? and where? And in Barryroe, "The Randals" were a branch of the Hurleys, descended from Randal Hurley and the name "The Yeardleys" was given to another family of Hurleys.

The Rosscarbery RC registers show exactly what I mean by the several secondary names given for O Donovan. In the earlier years the two names were listed, Donovan Rua, Donovan Bui (yellow/fair-haired), Donovan Rossa, Donovan Asna, and so on. Gradually, only the secondary name was given. Father James Coombes, eminent historian and P.P. of Timoleague, Co. Cork, has listed all the secondary names from the parishes of Barryroe and Timoleague, in his TIMOLEAGUE & BARRYROE. Again, I stress that these secondary names are very localized.

Now to discuss the "O" and the "Mac". During the nineteenth century these were NOT usually written in the parish registers. Why? Remember that Daniel O Connell, the Roman Catholic clergy et al. were preaching the doctrine that the only way to improve one's status and move out of the land was to learn English and become upwardly mobile - and indeed this was true. Therefore Irish names were anglicised, and "O" and "Mac" omitted. With the development of nationalism and the Gaelic Revival towards the end of the century, "O" and "Mac" were returned to the surnames. Before I incur the wrath of historians, I stress that this is a very simplistic statement for a very complex issue - but it illustrates the point that you may or may not find your surname with or without "O" or "Mac". And several Irish experts deplore the habit of writing O', deeming it an English term, meaning "of the", and insist that O, as in O Mahoney or O Brien, is the correct form. Likewise the Norman Fitz (fils=the son of) was often left out of the register entries, e.g. Gerald or Garrett for FitzGerald. Some surnames did not bring back the "O", Murphy and Crowley being notable examples.

These two surnames also illustrate the usage of "-y or -ey". Most early nineteenth century entries were "-y" (or "-ey"). By 1900 several surnames, but not all, were using "-ey" instead of "-y". Buckley, Crowley and Hurley are among the surnames that included the "e" but Murphy and Mahony did not. A few families in Ireland do use the Mahoney spelling to this day, but these are in a definite minority. The reverse is true in the U.S.A.

Which leads to another surname thought, ripe for research! I do not think that Irish surnames in the USA and Ireland developed at the same time, or to the same extent. For example, most of the O Mahony sept in the USA use the Mahoney spelling and a three syllable pronunciation e.g. Ma-ho-ney, without the "O". When one thinks of the Gaelic form O Mathuna, (Ma-Hu-na) and the Irish pronunciation today of Ma- ny, one wonders who is keeping the correct version? I believe that the Gaelic versions of pronunciation, if not also the spelling, were transported across the Atlantic, and retained there for longer than in Ireland, where the process of anglicisation continued until the early twentienth centurn. I found proof of this during my US visit in 1991.

The Keohane name is found in the USA as Cohane, a version of O Ceochain - the Gaelic form, far far later than in Ireland, but it developed into Keohane (usually) in both countries. (Remember that the old Gaelic language of 20 letters did not include "K"). I found an excellent family history of the descendants of William Cohane and Johanna Burke of Bandon, Co. Cork, in the library of the Western REserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio. William McCourtie, prior to writing the family history in 1914, had visited Bandon and found no one of the name left there. He wondered if his William Cohane ancestor had wandered in from Wexford? Alas, by the time of his visit, the name in the Bandon area was Keohane - and nobody he spoke to recognised Cohane. So now I know that distant relative, George M. Cohan, did not change his name, as previously thought! Cousin Jim in Florida still uses the Co-Han pronunciation, whereas I say Keogh-hane (courtesy of a British education) and in West Cork it is said as Q-hain.

The point of the sub-title, which might also read "The biter bit!" Within the past year, I found out that the Keohanes, a surname found only in West Cork and South Kerry, were the Crowleys that were lost in a mist, and thus became the Crowley Ceochains!

NOTES: {1} Mathieson's SURNAMES OF IRELAND records several examples of this anomaly, e.g. Falconer & Faulkner use different spellings withing the same family. {2} I have grave reservations about the standardisation of surnames in the IGP database. Not least is the fact that the base names are those from Co. Sligo, but because I firmly believe that each parish should be computerised separately and then alalysed for the surname variations. These often show up by looking at the mothers' names. After that process is completed, standardisation may take place. In the IGP database, entries are standardised almost immediately. {3} The Irish Folklore Commission Schools Manuscript Collection of 1937-1938 was a National Schools Survey. The pupils collected the oral traditions of their areas, including many of the local secondary names - now lost, alas, from the Irish oral tradition. (The discovery of television has much to answer for!)