Keane Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Keane Meaning
and Kane
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 preponderant
in the rest of Ireland
. The
variant Kean can have Scottish origins.

Keane Resources on

Keane Ancestry

O’Cathains in Connacht were originally a branch of the Ui
Fiachrach in south Galway. They became Keanes, and sometimes
Cains or Canes. Keanes, as well as Keans, also derive from
the O’Cein sept in Waterford. And sometimes the
Ulster Kanes became Keanes.

O’Kanes who became O’Keanes or Keanes included those fled
Ulster as “wild geese” to the armies of France or Spain and some who
sought a new future in the south:

  • Eugene
    O’Keane for instance, killed in action
    in 1693, was one of four O’Keane brothers who served in France.
  • An
    O’Kane family from Derry became Keane at
    Beech Park in county Clare. Another O’Kane
    who lost their lands after the Battle of the Boyne resurfaced in
    Waterford. As Keanes after a suitable
    period of
    Government service, they established themselves at Cappoquin House as a member of what some have
    the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy.

side of Keane in Waterford was represented by the Keane hurling family
Kane) and by John Keane who reigned supreme as one of the greatest
players in the
game from the 1930’s to the 1950’s.

There were Keanes also in county Kerry. E.T.
Keane from the small town of Listowel was
an editor of the Kilkenny People. More
famously, the playwright John B.

was born in this town in 1928. John’s
nephew is the BBC journalist Fergal Keane.

Scotland. Kean
has been a clan name in Scotland, associated with the Macdonalds of
Glencoe. As such, it appeared in Argyll
and Ayrshire. There were also Keans at
Nigg in the Scottish Highlands dating back to the late 17th century.

Captain William Kean arrived in Newfoundland via New
England (and originally from Devon) in 1708. He
became St. John’s first Justice of the Peace.
Robert Kean held Hudson’s Cove at St. John’s
in 1820 which was said to have been “in the possession of the family
for more
than a hundred years.” Keans
out of
Bonavista Bay
were engaged in seal hunting during the 19th and
early 20th centuries.

America. Early Keanes to
America came as Kean
in the 1750’s from Ireland:

  • Samuel
    Kean from Armagh who settled in Alleghany
    county, Virginia
  • and
    Cornelius Kean who came to Philadelphia and settled in Mifflin county,

also around this time, there was the arrival of a young British
mariner James Kean in Charleston,
South Carolina.
His son John
became a merchant there and married into the well-established
Livingston family.

“From the time that James
Kean arrived in South Carolina, the Keans took pains to retain the
pronunciation of the name. It rhymed
with ‘rain’ rather than with ‘green.’ US
Senator Hamilton Fish Kean refused to have a mountain peak in the
Rockies named in his honor less passersby mispronounce it.
Family lore is that their Kean name came from
the Highlands of Scotland.

Their home in New
Jersey, Liberty Hall, is
now a museum and still showcases the contributions of the Kean and
families. Kean’s descendants have been
and continue to be a family prominent in New Jersey
politics and business – the
recent being Thomas Kean, New Jersey’s Governor from 1982 to 1990.

Keanes have been heavily outnumbered by Irish Kanes in the United
States by a factor
of six to one. But the Keane name was
not unknown in Iowa where two Keanes became Catholic bishops of Dubuque. The elder – John – arrived there in the
1880’s following a famine in his native Donegal. The
younger – James – had a more
international brief, serving in 1920 on the Anglo-Irish peace
commission and
supporting at that time the creation of the League of Nations.

Australia. Denis Keane and his
family from Clare sailed
from Liverpool on the Clyde in
1835. He ran a pub in the Yass area of
NSW, but died in the typhoid epidemic of 1840.
His wife Susan took over the pub and renamed it Erin
go Bragh
. Another Keane
from Clare settled in Willunga, South Australia.

Edward Keane, related to the Cappoquin Keanes
in Waterford, came out to Western Australia in 1882.
He was the civil engineer who built the rail
line from Perth to nearby Guildford. He
subsequently became Lord Mayor of Perth.


Keane Miscellany

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

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

The Keanes at Cappoquin House in Waterford.  Cappoquin House is an 18th century Georgian mansion built
on the site of an old Fitzgerald castle.  It dominates the
river at
the point where the river turns south and ploughs its way through the
hills to
the sea.  The five-acre south-facing garden, a combination of
formal and
informal planting, offers fine views over the Blackwater valley.

The Keane
family have lived at Cappoquin throughout that time.
George Keane had leased the town of Cappoquin
with extensive farm and mountain land from the Earl of Cork under three
year leases. Cappoquin House was built
by George Keane’s grandson.  It is little
changed today even though it was burnt to the ground during the
Troubles in
1922.  Sir John Keane, a senator in the
new Irish Free State but someone who narrowly escaped being shot by the
decided to restore the house.  The walls
were too solid to be damaged by fire but the Adams period plasterwork
carefully reproduced using old molds available from London.

The garden was laid
out in the middle of the 19th century but there are vestiges of earlier
in walls, gateways and streams.  It was taken in hand by Lady
Olivia Keane in
the 1950s and expanded by her in the late 1970’s.  It reflects
of her taste
and extensive knowledge of plants.

The village of Cappoquin was home to R & F Keane’s
factory in the late 19th century which made ploughs. Tivoli House, built in the 1820’s, was home at one time
to Harry Keane
who founded the original Cappoquin bacon factory in 1907.
It ran until 1980.  The
writer Molly Keane, who was married in 1938 to a
member of the Cappoquin House family, lived for a time at nearby
Belleville House.

Aspects of John B. Keane, Playwright.  John B. Keane was steeped in the traditions and lore of his native Kerry, which
the basis of much of his work.  For some,
his plays had an uncomfortable reality at a time in Ireland when the
raw side
of rural life was frequently ignored for the more acceptable version of
de Valera’s vision of happy maidens and cosy homesteads.
Loneliness, greed, and sexual repression were
themes he explored with considerable skill and courage.

was influenced by
the people of Lyreacrompane in Stacks Mountains between Listowel and
Castle Island
where he spent his early childhood summers.
He found their language to be an eloquent mixture, half-English
half-Irish.  “It had an extraordinary
influence on my early plays and on my own speech after.
For all its raciness it was still a very
measured language.”

also gathered material while
working in London as a roadsweeper and barman before returning to
Listowel in
1953 to buy his own bar.  He wrote his
first popular play Sive in

The Keans in New Jersey.  John Kean
the Charleston merchant was the patriarch of the Kean family in New
Jersey.  He had married into the Livingston
family and
William Livingston had become the first Governor of New Jersey.  But the Kean family entry into New Jersey
politics had to wait until the late 19th century and Kean’s great
also named John.

Born in the ancestral home at
Liberty Hall near Elizabeth, New Jersey, John Kean worked in banking
manufacturing before entering politics and being elected to Congress in
1883.  He failed to become Governor of
New Jersey in 1892 but was its Senator from 1899 to 1911.
Keansburg in New Jersey (formerly Granville)
was named in his honor.

His brother Hamilton Fish Kean was New Jersey Senator from
1918 to 1934, his nephew Robert Winthrop Kean was a Congressman from
New Jersey
from 1938 to 1958 (Kean University in New Jersey was later named in his
and his great nephew Thomas Kean was Governor of New Jersey from 1982
to 1990.  The Keans over this period
married into some
of the most prominent families of early American history, Stuyvesant
Winthrop as well as Fish.

Liberty Hall served as the family home until 2000 when
it was converted into a museum.  Mary Alice Kean was
the last family member to live in the house.  After
the death of her husband in 1949, she
devoted the rest of her life to preserving the family’s legacy and
her home for its future as a museum.  A
family collection of heirlooms and documents, many of them dating back
colonial times, was handed over to Kean University in 2007.

Abram Kean, Seal Hunter.  Abram Kean
was hailed as a master mariner but was also called “Killer Kean.”
archetypal sealing captain, he was accused, in legend and in popular
of responsibility for the loss of 77 lives in the Newfoundland sealing
of 1914.  He was said to have acted
in leaving 132 men from his son’s ship on the ice where many froze to
during a violent storm.

Exonerated by a court of inquiry, Kean kept his
formidable reputation as “the greatest seal killer of all time.” In
1934, when he surpassed his personal goal of more than one million
seals killed,
he was fêted by the Board of Trade and awarded the Blue Ensign.
wrote his
autobiography, Old and Young Ahead, in 1935.


Keane Names

  • Edmund Kean, born in London of an Irish father, was a celebrated English actor of the early 19th century. 
  • John Keane from Waterford was
    one of the greatest players ever in Irish hurling. 
  • John B. Keane has been one of Ireland’s most esteemed modern playwrights. 
  • Marie Kean from Dublin has been one of Ireland’s most popular actresses.   
  • Roy Keane was one of the most talented footballers ever to emerge from Ireland, captaining both Manchester United and Ireland in his time.

Select Keane Numbers Today

  • 7,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 4,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 18,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)


Select Keane 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.

Connacht in NW Ireland covers the counties of Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim, Galway, and Roscommon.  Here are some of the Connacht surnames that you can check out.




Click here for return to front page

Leave a Reply