Kiernan is an Irish name that is mostly found in the Counties of Mayo, Galway and Cavan.
There are several variations to the name including O’Tierney, MacTiernan, MacKiernan, McKernon, Kiernan, Kernon. Tierney, Tierny, Tiernaney, O’Tierney, Tearny, Tearney and Terney
Traditionally Irish surnames were taken from the head of the tribe. Usually it would mean taking the personal name of the leader such as O’Neill or O’Brian.
However, the Kiernans, Tierneys and other surnames are derived from the ancient Irish name Tighearnaigh. Rather than being a personal name of a leader, the word itself meant ‘Lord’ or ‘Master’.
As the generations passed, the descendants of the head of the tribe would have added prefixes to the name such as ‘Mac’ which means ‘son of’ or ‘O’ which means ‘grandson of’.
Possible links to the O’Dowds
In the 10th century they were Lords of Teallach, Co Cavan. The family had connections to the Uí Fiachrach Muaidhe dynasty in North Connacht, who were ancestors of the O’Dowds.
However, historians are undecided on whether the Ó Tighearnaighs were a branch of the Uí Fiachrach Muaidhe, or were simply allies of the dynasty.
Some historians believe that the Ó Tighearnaighs were actually a Partraige people, who could possibly be traced back to the pre-Celtic days of Ireland.
Flann Ó Tighearnaigh
One early recorded leader of the family was Flann Ó Tighearnaigh, who lived in the 13th century. Flann was Lord of Carra until his death in 1273.
According to the Annals of the Four Masters, he was killed by a rival tribe.
The entry reads: “Flann O’Tierney, Lord of Carra, was slain by the O’Murrays in a dispute concerning the lordship of Carra, and through the power of Hugh, son of Felim O’Conor.”
The ancient Irish surname develops
As the centuries passed by, the surname developed into the several variations that we know today.
Perhaps the biggest influence in the development of Irish names was British rule over Ireland. The Irish never accepted British rule and the British tried to anglicise the Irish.
Irish names became anglicised for a number of reasons. One of which was that it became increasingly difficult for a man with an Irish name to find work and therefore look after his family after Oliver Cromwell and his troops had taken control of Ireland.
Another reason was that when people’s names were taken for tax reasons, they were written down by English clerks, who would have spelled the Irish names in a way that made sense to an English speaking person.
This led to several variations in Irish names as each clerk may interpret the spelling of a surname slightly differently to the next.
There was a surge in Irish nationalism following the 1798 Rebellion, which saw several families restore the original Irish prefixes such as ‘Mac’ or ‘O’ to their surnames.
By this time, the majority of Irish people spoke English and so the rest of the surname would remain with the anglicised spelling, resulting in popular surnames such as O’Tierney or MacKiernan.
Over the centuries the surname travelled around the world as Irish people left their home in search of better opportunities.
Irish surnames are now popular in every corner of the globe especially countries such as the UK, the USA, Canada and Australia.
Famous Kiernans or Tierneys
Gene Tierney was an American actress from Hollywood’s golden age. She was known as one of the industry’s most beautiful leading ladies and was nominated for a Best actress Oscar in 1945 for the movie ‘Leave Her To Heaven’.
Patrick Kiernan is a Canadian-American news reporter who is well known in New York City for his feature ‘In the Papers’. He has also appeared as a reporter in several movies such as Ghostbusters, Ironman 3, The Avengers and Night at the Museum.
Tom Kiernan was an Irish rugby legend who at the time of his retirement had set Irish records for most appearances and most points scored in international matches.
Tom’s nephew Mike Kiernan was also a rugby star who played 43 times for his country and represented Ireland in the 1987 World Cup.
Caitlín Kiernan is an American science fiction writer who has published over 200 novels, comic books and short stories.
Walter Kiernan was an American journalist who was also a pioneering game show host in the early days of television.