Keane Surname Genealogy

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

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

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.
B. Keane

has been one of Ireland’s most esteemed modern playwrights.
Dublin has been one of Ireland’s most popular actresses.


was one of the most talented footballers ever to emerge from Ireland,
captaining both Manchester United and Ireland in his time.

Select Keanes 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)




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