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Cooney – descendants of an elegant chief

Cooney is a common Irish surname that dates back to before the 11th century. It is popular all over Ireland, particularly in the Munster counties, although it actually originated in Ulster.

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The name derives from the old Gaelic name O’Cuana. The ‘O’ prefix means ‘grandson of’ or ‘descendent of’ while ‘Cuana’ was a personal name which meant ‘elegant one’.

In medieval times, tribes and clans usually took their surname from their chief. This means that Cooneys are highly likely to be descended from an elegant chief.
History of the Irish name Cooney. Image copyright Ireland Calling
There is another theory that the surname comes from the personal name ‘Cuan’ which means ‘little wolf’. This would mean the Cooneys are descended from a wolf-like chief.

However, it is a more widely held belief that the name comes from the word meaning ‘elegant’.

Virtue is the only nobility

There are several variations to the surname including Coonan, Coonahan and Coonifer. See the end of the article for a list of variations to the Cooney surname.

The Cooney coat of arms features a hand (which signifies faith, sincerity and justice), an arrow (which symbolises that they are ready for battle) and is set on a green background which signifies hope, joy and loyalty in love. The motto of the clan is ‘Virtue is the only Nobility’.

The Cooney clan first originated in Co Tyrone before the 11th century. Over the years they migrated to Co Roscommon and Co Sligo. They became an established family in Co Sligo and eventually spread throughout the country.

Notable Cooneys

Dearmid O’Cuana was a holy man who lived in the early 13th century. He was known as the ‘Great Priest of Elphin’. He was a priest of the Diocese of Elphin, which was the site of a monastic house that had been established by St Patrick in around AD 450.

Many Cooneys headed to America in the 19th century in the Great Migration. Ireland lost half its population as people left their homeland to escape starvation caused by the potato famine.

Jimmy Coonan was an Irish American mobster from Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan, New York. The Gambino crime family are said to have murdered rival gangster Mikey Spillane as a favour to Coonan. Years earlier Spillane had kidnapped Coonan’s father and badly beaten him.

Joan Ganz Cooney
Joan Ganz Cooney

After a long career in violent crime, Coonan was eventually jailed for life for racketeering in 1988.

Famous Cooneys

Joan Ganz Cooney is an American TV producer. She has had a long and successful career and won countless awards for her work in radio and TV. She is a co-founder of the Children’s Television Network.

Gerry Cooney was an Irish-American heavyweight boxer. He was known as Gentleman Gerry and had an exciting attacking style of fighting. He only lost three fights in a 13-year career and almost made it to the top. He fought in glamorous venues such as Madison Square Garden, New York and Ceasar’s Palace, Las Vegas. He fought for a world title in 1982 but lost to the great Larry Holmes.

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Daniel Coonan is an English actor from Devon. He has appeared in several stage productions as well as TV series. He has appeared in Silent Witness, Inside Men, Casualty and EastEnders.

Variations of the Cooney surname

Variations to the Cooney surname include; Cooihan, Coomey, Coona, Coonahan, Coonan, Coonie, Coonifer, Coonihan, Coony, Coumey, Cuana, O’Cooney, O’Conney, O‘Cuanaicand O’Cuanaich


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