Legends and Lore: The origin of the Carney Family Name

Name in Gaelic: O’Catharnaigh (Descendent of Catharnach, meaning Warlike), O’Cearnaigh (Son or Descendent of Cearnach, meaning Victorious)


“Kearney and its variant Carney, are the surnames bourne by several distinct Irish septs established in all four provinces of Ireland. During the Middle Ages, the most prominent was the O’Catharnaigh sept of Leinster. Their ancestor, Maine, was the son of Niall of the Nine Hostages, the King of Ireland from 379 to 406. Originally Chiefs of all Teffia, their territory comprised most of County Westmeath and adjoining areas of Offaly. Even after their influence was diminished, they retained extensive acreage in Kilcoursey barony in the latter country. Some of the sept adopted the surname Fox, from their Chief, Catharnach Sionnach or Kearney the Fox, who was slain in 1084. This family held the title, Baron Kilcoursey. In neighboring Meath, another sept held sway in Dunboyne barony. They were seated at Ballymacarney.


There were three O’Cearnaigh septs based in Derry, Clare, and Mayo. Kearneys in Connacht were a branch of the Ui Fiachrach, descending from Fiachra, son of Eochaidh Muighmheadhion, 4th century monarch of Ireland. Possessing a sizeable portion of Carra barony, they maintained strongholds around Moynulla and Balla; their modern representatives still reside near Castlebar. Munster Kearneys were of Dalcassian lineage. Cormac Cas, their forebear, was the son of Oilioll Olum, 3rd century King of the province. Pressure from the Anglo-Norman invaders in 1171 pushed them eastward into Tipperary, where they acquired vast estates in Cashel. To the north in Ulster, the Kearneys were erenaghs (hereditary stewards) of the church lands of Derry. They gave their name to the village of Kearney on the Upper Ards penninsula.”


-This text comes from one of those wall-hangings you can buy at various ethnic stores; this particular one I purchased at The Leprechaun Shop in Clare, Michigan, USA.


“Several origins exist for this name. Anciently one family can be found as O’Ceamaigh in Mayo near Moynulla, another was found in the Clare/Tipperary area. The most noted descend from O’Catharnaigh of Kilcoursey (Teffia), Co. Offaly.


Keatings History mentions that the O’Kearneys were a clan near Kinsale, in Cork, where they are placed on the Map of Ortelius, and where they are given by O’Heerin as chiefs of Ui Floinn.


The O’Keareys of Clare were chiefs of Abhuin Ui Chearnaidh, or O’Kearneys river, a district around Six-Mile-Bridge, in the baronies of Tulla and Bunratty.


O’Dugan gives O’Kearney, as prince of Teffia and says “High princes of Teffia, who obtained renown, is O’Caharey of the battling arms”.Their name was rendered O’Kearney and they possessed extensive lands in Teffia, or Westmeath, and many of the name remained there. The chief branch of the name was called Sinnach O’Cathamaigh, and the word Sinnach, which means fox, led to the chief of the name being called ‘an Sinnach’ or ‘The Fox’.


They were of the race of Ui Neill, and their territory comprised extensive districts in Teffia, containing parts of the baronies of Rathconrath and Clonlonan in Westmeath, and parts of the barony of Kilcourcy in Kings Co.


In the 1890 index ‘Carney’ was only given in Mayo.’Kearney’ was given in Dublin, Cork and Antrim with 3 times the population of ‘Carney’.


In 1659 ‘Kearney’was a principal name of Tipperary and found in Waterford. ‘Kearny’ was a name of Kilkenny. ‘O’Carney and O’Carny’ were principal names in Donegal and’Camey’was a name of Tipperary and Louth.”


-The O’Kearney/Carney entry in O’Lochlainn’s “Book of Irish Families Great and Small”


“Descendants of the O’Cearaigh sept whose territory was in the barony of Carray, Co. Mayo, have adopted Carney as an anglicization of their name, and families of the name are still to be found today in the neighbourhood of Castlebar. However, the form Carney was also adopted sometimes rather than the much more frequent form Kearney (q.v.) by descendants of the Mac Carnaigh sept of Ballymacarney, barony of Dunboyne, Co. meath, of the O’Cartharnaigh sept who once held sway in the barony of Kilcoursey, Co. Offaly, and of an O’Cearnaigh sept anciently established at Cashel, Co. Tipperary.”


-From Irish Family Names, Arms, Origins and Locations by Brian de Breffny