Kane Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Kane Meaning
and Keane
are both anglicizations of Cathain, a
personal name diminutive of cath
meaning “battle.”
were two main septs in Ireland called O’Cathain
O’Cahan, one from Ulster and the other from Connacht.
The former were generally anglicized as Kane, the latter as
Keane. The
present day distribution of these names reflects this former division,
with Kane
preponderant in Northern Ireland
and Keane in
the rest of Ireland.
The spelling generally progressed from O’Cahan to O’Kane to Kane.
There has recently been a revival in O’Kane in the heartland
Derry. In America Kane may be a Jewish name, from the German Kahn
or Kuhn.

Kane Resources on

Kane Ancestry

of Keenaght and Coleraine in county Derry were a powerful and important
Ulster sept, although probably not of much account before the 12th
century when, emerging from east Donegal, they succeeded in ousting the
O’Connors of Dungiven
from their territory.

Once established
at Limavady by the Roe river, they retained their ascendancy in Derry,
despite internal feuding, until the coming of the Ulster Plantations in
the early 17th century. At that time a large tract of land,
known as O’Cahan’s country, was targetted by the Government for English

The last chief of the O’Cahans was Donnell Ballagh. He
joined up with the O’Neills in the rebellion against the English.
the Flight of the Earls in 1607 he was arrested and imprisoned in
Dublin Castle and then in the Tower of London where he died. O’Cahan’s
, thought to have been written about this time, is
believed to have been the basis of the song Danny Boy.
The final
conflict between the O’Cahans and the English occurred at Gelvin near
in 1641. The O’Cahans were defeated.

remained in Ulster after the defeat (those who
headed south often became Keanes).
Griffith’s Valuation in the mid-19th century showed that 40
percent of
the Kanes in Ulster were still based
. The Kane
name is particularly
common in the Coleraine district of Derry.
Folk singer Damien O’Kane hails from Coleraine, the boxer Eamonn
from Dungiven.

America. Bernard
and Martha O’Kane brought their family over to America from Ireland in
1756. As Kanes they settled in
Philadelphia where they became an influential family.
Thomas Kane was a Union general during the
Civil War, his brother Elisha a naval officer and Arctic explorer. The family home Anoatok,
named from one of Elisha’s Arctic expeditions, was located
in Kane, Pennsylvania. Many of Thomas’s
sons were noted surgeons.

about the family was auctioned off in


Many Kanes stayed on the Eastern Seaboard, others headed
west. Among the latter Kanes were:

  • John
    and Suzanna O’Kane from Tyrone who in the 1820’s were one of the early
    settlers in
    Franklin county, Indiana
  • Patrick and Bridget Kane from Roscommon who came out to
    Dubuque, Iowa in the 1860’s
  • Hugh O’Kane who
    arrived in New York from county Antrim in the late
    1860’s, headed west and, after an adventurous time, settled down in
  • and James Kane from Mayo who came
    with his family to San Francisco in 1901. He
    survived the earthquake and was a policeman.

Canada. Paul Kane, born in
Cork of English parents, came to Toronto as a boy in the early
1820’s. He became famous for his paintings of First Nations
people in the Canadian West. His home in Toronto still stands.

Alice Kane, who arrived with her parents in 1921 when she was thirteen,
also made her home in Toronto. She is remembered as a wondrous
story-teller (as evidenced in her
Songs of an Ulster Childhood
). The Alice Kane Award
commemorates this story-telling.

Australia. Early
Kane arrivals in Australia were convicts.
came Kane settlers. Stephen Kane from county Clare came to
NSW with his wife Elizabeth in 1841. His brother Michael
followed him
in 1855. Thadeus O’Kane arrived from London in 1865. He was
one of the most colorful and hard-hitting figures in early Queensland
journalism, losing count of the number of libel actions he had to face.


Kane Miscellany

Kane and Keane in Ireland.  Kane and Keane were ranked as the 67th and 65th most common names in all-Ireland in
1996.  But their rankings were very
different in the Republic of Ireland and in Northern Ireland (Ulster).

Ulster Rest of Ireland
Kane    21st    145th
Keane 181st     37th

Donnagh Ballagh and the Beggarman’s Prophecy.  A tale was told of the last of the great O’Cathain
chiefs, Donagh Ballagh O’Cathain, mounted on a superb horse with his
daughters, visiting the fair at Enagh.
On his entry to the hill a beggarman solicited alms. O’Cathain’s response was the lash of his
riding whip.  The beggarman drew himself
up to his full height and said in a tone that strongly impressed the

the hill without a fair,
O’Cathain without a

It was a prophecy that was later fulfilled.

O’Cahan’s Lament and Danny Boy.  The Londonderry
, on which the hugely popular song Danny Boy
is based, was first collected
by Jane Ross of Limavady in Londonderry and submitted to a book The Ancient Music of Ireland which was
published in 1855.  The origin of the
tune remained for a long time mysterious as no other collector of folk
had encountered it.

Some say that Londonderry
was originally called O’Cahan’s
and came about as follows:

confiscation of the O’Cahan lands was to
enrage the blind harper Rory DalIO’Cahan, a chieftain of the clan, for
he and
his people had a deep attachment to the land where the O’Cahans had
lived for
generations.  The situation was to
inspire him to compose a tune of such pain and passion that it would
touch the hearts of people worldwide.

A story has been told that he had too much
to drink one evening.  He left his castle
on the banks of the Roe, staggered along the riverside and eventually
in a hollow.  The servants at the castle,
who were sent to bring him back, were attracted by the sound of his
harp in the

When they found Rory Dali he
was lying unconscious.  But mysterious
invisible fingers were playing a most beautiful tune on the harp.  After Rory Dali gained consciousness he
became aware of the haunting music being played by the fairies.  He listened attentively and when he was
confident he could play it he made his way back to the castle where he
entertained the guests.

Denis O’Hampsey, another blind harper from the Roe
valley, brought the melody down to the 19th century.
Denis was to introduce this air throughout
Ireland as a result of his travels.”

present-day Danny
lyrics were written by an English lawyer, Frederic Edward
Weatherly, in
1910.  His version was unsuccessful until
his sister-in-law sent him the melody to the Londonderry
.  The melody
matched nicely with his words and became an instant success, especially
in America.

Distribution of the Kane Name in Ulster.  The
following were the Kane numbers in Ulster in
Griffith’s Valuation compiled in the 1850’s:

County Numbers Percent
Derry    326    41
Antrim    151    19
Tyrone    125    16
Armagh     70     9
Down     65     8
Elsewhere     63     7
Total    800   100

Ulster Kanes Transported to Australia.  The table below shows some of the Kanes who were tried in
Ulster and sentenced to transportation to Australia in the first two
decades of the 19th century.

Year Convict County Offense Sentence
1801 Daniel O’Kane Derry
1812 Patrick Kane Dundalk stealing seven years
1816 John Kane Down seven years
1816 Sarah Kane Antrim robbery seven years
1817 Hugh Kane Donegal breaking & entering life
1817 John Kane Donegal breaking & entering life
1817 John Kane Monaghan stealing a cow seven years

Hugh O’Kane, Western Adventurer.  Hugh O’Kane was born in Antrim in 1857. As a young boy, he
illegally immigrated to America by stowing away on a New York bound
ship.  By the age of 12, he was selling
and shining shoes on the streets of New York City.
He later learned the tailoring trade, but was always looking for

In the
1870’s, he packed supplies in North Dakota and Montana for the US Army
in its
campaign against the Sioux Indians.  At
the time of the battle of Little Bighorn, O’Kane was supporting General
column. Later he mined gold in the Black
Hills, making a $50,000 fortune, only to lose it all gambling.
From there he
moved west, packing provisions for pioneers and miners in Montana and

In 1881, be became manager for Tom
Cannon, a champion wrestler.  O’Kane led
Cannon’s wrestling troop on a fourteen month tour of Europe.  He later became manager for Ed Skinner and
Marley Kettleman, both champion sprinters, taking them on a tour of
Australia.  He then traveled around the
United States racing
horses, which turned a profit.

In 1903,
O’Kane and his wife moved to Bend, Oregon, where they built the Bend
Hotel, which
quickly became an Oregon landmark.  It
down in 1915.  But his O’Kane Building in
Bend, completed a year later, is now listed on the National Register of
Historic Places.

By the time his
building opened, O’Kane weighed three hundred pounds.  He
would spend most afternoons lounging in a
chair propped against his building.  From
there, he told colorful stories to visitors or just slept. Late in his life O’Kane moved to Portland
where he died in 1930 at the age of 73.


Kane Names

  • Cui Maige na nGall O’Cathain, a mighty O’Cathan
    chieftain, died in 1385 and is said to be buried in Dungiven Priory. Cui Maige na nGall 
    means “terror of the foreigner.”
  • Echlin O’Kane was one of the famous
    Irish harpists of the 18th
  • Thomas Kane was an American attorney,
    diplomat, abolitionist, and Civil War general. 
  • Paul Kane was a 19th century
    painter of native people in the Canadian West.
  • Citizen Kane, directed by Orson Welles, is considered by many to be one of the greatest films ever made. 
  • Harry Kane was England’s captain and leading goal scorer in the competition in the 2018 football World Cup. 

Select Kane Numbers Today

  • 17,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 19,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 15,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)


Select Kane and Like Surnames 

The Irish clan or sept names come through the mists of time until they were found in Irish records such as The Annals of the Four Masters.  The names were Gaelic and this Gaelic order was preserved until it was battered down by the English in the 1600’s.

Some made peace with the English.  “Wild geese” fled to fight abroad.  But most stayed and suffered, losing land and even the use of their language.  Irish names became anglicized, although sometimes in a mishmash of spellings.  Mass emigration happened after the potato famine of the 1840’s.

Some surnames – such as Kelly, Murphy and O’Connor – span all parts of Ireland.  But most will have a territorial focus in one of the four Irish provinces – Leinster, Munster, Ulster, and Connacht.

Ulster in NE Ireland covers the counties of Derry, Antrim, Down, Tyrone, Armagh, Fermanagh, Cavan, Monaghan, and Donegal.  Here are some of the Ulster surnames (excluding the Scots Irish surnames) that you can check out.




Click here for return to front page

Leave a Reply