Sheehan is a common name in Ireland, and also around much of the English-speaking countries in the world. There are also variations of the name such as Sheahan, O’Sheehan and O’Sheahan.
The origins of the name can be traced back to the 10th and 11th centuries, the time of the ancient clans in Ireland.
It would have originally come from the word síocháin, which meant peace. So the name would have been given to a man of peace, maybe a religious leader or maybe a former warrior who chose to lay down his weapons.
Síocháin became the name of a clan in the areas now known as County Clare. The members of the clan were the O’Síocháins. In ancient Ireland, it was common to add an ‘O’ prefix in front of a name. This signified that the person was a ‘descendant of’ the clan leader. So the O’Síocháins were the descendants of Síocháin.
The O’Síocháins were close allies of the famous O’Brien clan in Ireland. The two families were committed to supporting each other, in military and political matters.
The O’Síocháin family were one of many Irish clans that fell victim to the British invasion in 1549. Led by Oliver Cromwell, the British forces swept across Ireland, confiscating land and killing any clans that tried to resist.
The land was given to British settlers and the Irish people were forced to work as peasants, or leave the country to try and start a new life.
The name altered during this period to O’Sheehan and even Sheehan. As the British settlers mixed and integrated with the Irish people, many of the traditional Irish names became anglicised. A lot of Irish families also dropped the ‘O’ prefix from their names, because an English sounding name would give them a better chance of finding work.
The name spread around the world in the mid-1800s, when millions of people were forced to leave Ireland because of the ‘Great Famine’. These emigrants included thousands of Sheehans and O’Sheehans, and the name spread to America, the UK, Australia and beyond.
Famous Sheehans around the world
There have since been several successful and noteworthy people named Sheehan from all over the world.
Billy Sheehan is an American bass guitarist who has been voted the Best Rock Bass Player five times by readers of Guitar Player Magazine.
Susan Sheehan is an American writer who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. Her husband Neil Sheehan is also a writer, and won the Pulitzer Prize himself in 1983.
John Sheahan is a legend of Irish music. He is the fiddle player in the evergreen folk band The Dubliners.
Patty Sheehan is an American professional golfer who has won six major championships. She was inducted into the World Gold Hall of Fame in 1993.