Sheehan Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Sheehan Meaning
Sheehan is the anglicization of the Gaelic O’Siodhachain, from siodhach meaning “peaceful.” The Sheehan sept traditionally used a dove of peace in its coat of arms.  Sheehan name variants are Sheahan and Sheen. The latter spellings have mainly appeared outside Ireland.
Select Sheehan Resources on The Internet

Sheehan Ancestry

Sheehan sept is believed to have originated in county Clare, but moved
southward to Kilcredan parish in county Cork by the 14th century.
Spellings in the 17th century show O’Sheaghan and Shyghan, as well as
Sheehan. Sheehans are still
in county Cork
. Almost 40% of
Sheehans in Ireland today live there. Sheehan Brothers,
for instance, have been traditional butchers in Cork since 1870. Sheehans are also in neighboring Kerry and
Limerick. Angela Sheehan of Angela’s Ashes
came from Limerick.

was particularly hard hit by the famine in the 1840’s. Many
Sheehans left at that time, to America and elsewhere. Sheehans
also left
later due to land evictions. The Sheehan numbers are now larger outside
Ireland than within.

Some Sheehans arrived in
America during the 18th century.
came in the 19th
century. New York and Massachusetts were
the main points of arrival. Among those
coming were:

  • Michael
    Sheehan who arrived
    around 1848 and started a wholesale liquor store in Troy, New York
  • another
    Michael Sheehan with his wife Ellen who
    came to Utica, New York in 1855
  • Patrick
    Sheehan from Dingle in Kerry who arrived in Boston in the 1860’s and
    moved to
    Fall River
  • and three Sheehan siblings
    from Cork – brothers Callahan and John and sister Mary – who came in
    the 1870’s
    and settled in the Boston area.

Carlson’s 1990 book The Sheehans in
was a portrait of an early Sheehan family in America.

Many did well
in the new land. George Sheehan,
and son
, became prominent New York cardiologists, the latter
making a name
for himself as a guru for recreational running. A
Sheehan family ran a dairy farm in Holyoke
in western Massachusetts in the 1930’s and 1940’s.
Their son Neil became a New York Times reporter
and won the Pulitzer Prize for his Secret History of the
Vietnam War.

Canada. Thomas
and Honorah Sheehan came to New Brunswick sometime in the 1830’s. Their first child was born in St. John in
1839 and their descendants are still to be found there.

Sheehans were also in Peterborough county,
Ontario. The 1851 census lists a number of
families. The oldest were four brothers
– Daniel, John, Michael and William – all born in Ireland between 1790
1800. Joseph and Margaret Sheehan from
Clear Island off Cork came with Peter Robinson’s settlers in 1825 and
made their home
in Ennismore township.

New Zealand
. Early
Sheehan arrivals (although not too many of them) were convicts. John Sheehan was transported to Australia for
life in 1823 for his part in a raid on the English barracks near his
home at
Doneraile in Cork. He married a fellow
convict Ann Toomey and, after they had obtained their ticket of leave,
settled in the Burrowa district of NSW and raised eight children. John died in 1858 but his wife Ann Sheehan
lived onto 1906

David Sheehan had
come with his family to Melbourne from Ireland around 1840, but moved
on a year
or so later to Auckland, NZ. They lived
in the Warkworth area and David was the landlord of the Governor Browne
in Auckland. His son John became a
lawyer and had a short-lived political career.


Sheehan Miscellany

Sheehans in Cork.  The name started to appear with some regularity in the records of Cork from the 14th century.  Kilcredan parish in the diocese of Cloyne was one place where it was to be found.  John Shyghan was a tailor in Youghal in 1617
and William Sheehan a town clerk there in 1688. Thadeus O’Sheaghan was the
Church of Ireland vicar of Inchigeelagh in 1639; John Sheehan appeared in
Petty’s Census of Ireland in 1659; and
Captain William Sheehan of Cork was on King James’s army list in 1689.

Cork’s most famous Sheehan is probably
Patrick Augustine Sheehan, universally known as Canon Sheehan of
Doneraile, a
Catholic priest, author of such works as My
New Curate
, and political activist in the early 1900’s.  He was a supporter of traditional rural
life.  His
great crusade was to try and stop people emigrating to England or
America, or
even moving to the big towns nearer home.
Here he was probably fighting against the tide of history.

A political activist of a different sort at
this time was D.D. Sheehan, the son of a tenant farmer in county Cork
experienced eviction.  He became a
political agitator for land reform.  But
he too had a vision for rural life in Ireland:

decay of village life in Ireland constitutes one of the most
tragic chapters of our history for the past half century.
But even if we cannot resurrect the spirit of
our former village life it is, however, well within our power to
reconstruct a
model village on up-to-date and practical lines, a village which we
trust may
become a pattern and an example to be copied with profit and advantage
in other
parts of Ireland.”

His legacy was the model
Irish village at Tower in county Cork.

Patrick Sheehan, A Victim of Eviction in Kerry.  Patrick
Sheehan was born in the parish of Castlemaine in county Kerry in 1845, the son of
Timothy and Bridget Sheehan.  He and his
wife Catherine and eight children lived at Castledrum where Patrick was a
tenant farmer until their eviction from the land in the 1880’s.  They found some accommodation beside the ruin
of an old church in Keel.  Patrick and
Catherine lived on there until they died, as did one of their sons Ned.  But all the other children emigrated.

first to leave was the eldest sister Mary.  She
came with two cousins to Coles county,
Illinois in 1891. There she married
Jeremiah Downey and they later moved to Indiana.  Her
nine brothers and sisters joined her in
America in stages between 1895 and 1907.

Ann Sheehan’s Death, Aged 92.  Ann Sheehan
died on December 27, 1906 aged 92 years and was buried near her husband at
Jugiong.  She had been in New South Wales
for 75 years and had outlived her husband, two of her five sons, and
all of her

following obituary appeared
in the Gundagai Independent on
January 2, 1907:

“One more of the sturdy stock of
pioneers has
gone, Mrs. John Sheehan (or “Granny” Sheehan as she was familiarly
termed) of Jugiong, having answered the Great Call on Thursday last.  The deceased was a native of Cork, Ireland.  As Miss Ann Toomey she was one of the county
belles in the days when the Irish race were being rack-rented and

When but 19 years of age, she
made a lengthy voyage to Australia on a sailing vessel and, shortly
landing in Sydney, she met the late John Sheehan.  At
Parramatta over 80 years ago, she became
his bride.  Coming up country Mr. and
Mrs. Sheehan took a fancy to the Burrowa district and there they stayed
for a
few years, their eldest child, the late Mr. Dennis Sheehan, being born
there. About 52 years ago the then young couple
“squatted” on the Nanangroe Run and it became one of the biggest
cattle stations in the south.

Mr. Sheehan died at Nanangroe his widow secured a holding at Nimbo,
Brungle, and stayed there about twenty years.  This
property the late Mrs. Sheehan sold to
Mr. McGruer, and for the remainder of her years she lived with her
children.  Her exact age seems to be
doubtful.  It was given as well up in the
“nineties,” but one of her grandchildren reckons the correct age to
be 103.”

Early Sheehans in America.  Four
Sheehans are identified as coming to America or
being in America during the 18th century.
They are:

  • Cornelius and Mary
    Sheehan from county Cork who came to Pennsylvania (Cumberland county)
    around 1750.  Some later Sheehans moved
    onto Columbiana county, Ohio.
  • William
    Sheehan who was born in Pennsylvania (Kensington) in 1753.
    He and his brother Cornelius served in the
    Pennsylvania militia and later moved also to Columbiana county, Ohio.
  • John and Rebecca Sheehan from county Cork who
    arrived in America in the 1790’s and undertook the crossing to
    Kentucky, settling in Washington county.
  • and
    William Sheehan who married Hannah Light in Virginia (Frederick county)
    1800.  These Sheehans later became Shanes.

Mike Sheehan, The Strongest Man in Iowa.  Mike Sheehan was a Davenport blacksmith who somehow became known as
“the strongest man in Iowa.”  In 1883 the boxing champion John
Sullivan was in town and Sheehan, aged then 35, agreed to meet him in a
Two of his five sons seconded him during the fight.  It was said
that Sheehan’s wife visited Sullivan in his hotel room asking that he
not fight her husband – because she was afraid her husband might kill

However, during the fight, Sullivan had no trouble with his
opponent.  He had him down in a matter of seconds and Sheehan
refused to continue.  Despite his lack of a real workout, Sullivan
paid his man a hundred dollars.

Sheehans, Sheahans and Sheens Today

Numbers (000’s) Sheehans Sheahans Sheens
Ireland    9    1    –
UK    6    –    3
America  10    1    1
Elsewhere    8    1    1

Angela’s Ashes.  Angela Sheehan, born in Limerick on the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Day 1908, is the principal character in Frank McCourt’s best-selling
book Angela’s Ashes.  As
his mother, she emerges from the
narrative as a woman who cares little for her hungry and cold family,
turns her
back on an alcoholic husband, and goes through life on a selfish quest
pity, charity and state handouts.

people who remember her say that this is a very distorted depiction of
her.  She was, by their accounts, a proud
stereotypical hard-pushed Irish slum mother who, like many of her
contemporaries, was willing to do whatever was necessary to ensure that
family would survive all the hardships that God threw in their way.

But there is a mystery about Angie which the
book does not fully explain.

Why did
Angie depart for America in the first place and why did she succumb to
McCourt on her very first night in New York?
We are told that she worked for a short time as “a charwoman,
skivvy, and
maid,” but that she could not manage the curtsy and for that reason her
mother had
her packed her off to America.

alternative story running around Limerick at the time of her departure
was that
she may have been pregnant and that her Catholic family could not face
disgrace of it and sent her away to their far-away cousins in New York.

We are instead asked to believe that a God-fearing, practically
teetotal young Irish Catholic woman arrives for no
reason in an unfamiliar country where on her first night she visits an
speakeasy where she meets up with a drunken stranger and in a matter of
is having sex with him in a back-alley in the dead of night.

George A. Sheehan Sr. and Jr, Father and Son Doctors in New York.  George Sr.
was a prominent physician with many wealthy patients, including the
mayor of
New York.  He was also a doctor to the
poor and a man of social conscience.  He
and his wife Loretto raised fourteen children at their large brownstone
home on
Park Slope in Brooklyn.  They would spend
their summers at The Reservation on
Monmouth Beach in New Jersey where the family had a house.

But George came to feel trapped by his
success.  The burden of maintaining his
large family and keeping up appearances became a constant strain.
family ended up living in a brownstone where the lights didn’t work,
clothes were often threadbare, and it was a challenge to scrounge up
change to go to the movies. George’s wife would often scream at the
children in
frustration: “We’re one step from the poor house.”

George Jr, born in 1918, was the oldest of
his fourteen children.  He followed his
father as a Catholic, as a father (he and his wife had twelve
children), and as
a cardiologist (said to be one of the best on the New Jersey shore).  Like his father, George came to feel that he
was not living the life for which he was meant. He had become a
competent and
successful doctor but constantly worried about his ability to support
his large

But then he discovered
running.  Running became his safety
hatch, his pressure valve.  And he
started to write a weekly column about running and fitness.  His
book Running & Being became a New
York Times
best seller.  His son Andrew
Sheehan published an
affectionate memoir of father and son entitled Chasing The
in 2001.


Sheehan Names

  • D.D. Sheehan was an
    Irish nationalist agitator and politician who became editor of the Dublin Chronicle in the 1920’s.
  • Michael Sheehan, Archbishop of
    Sydney in Australia in the 1920’s and 30’s, was a great proponent of
    the revival of the Irish language.
  • Winfield Sheehan was Fox
    Film’s producer and general manager during the 1920’s and ’30’s.
  • Dr. George Sheehan was a New York cardiologist who became the philosopher of the recreational running movement in the 1970’s and 1980’s.   
  • Barry Sheene, born in London, was a world champion motorcycle racer of the 1970’s.
  • Martin Sheen, the film actor, changed his name from Ramon Estevez because he thought he would gain more recognition with an Irish name than with a Spanish one.

Select Sheehan Numbers Today

  • 9,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 12,000 in America (most numerous in Massachusetts)
  • 20,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)


Select Sheehan 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.

Munster in SW Ireland covers the counties of Clare, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary, and Waterford.  Here are some of the Munster surnames that you can check out.





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