Egan and Keegan – Tipperary lawyers and clergymen

History of the Irish name Egan. Image copyright Ireland Calling

Egan is a famous Irish name that is now common in several countries such as the USA, Canada, the UK and Australia. The name also has several famous variations such as Eagan, Keagan, Keegan, Kegan, Keigan, MacEgan. McKagan and McKiegan.

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History of the Irish name Egan. Image copyright Ireland CallingIt comes from the old Gaelic name Mac Aodhagái. The prefix ‘Mac’ means ‘son of’. Aodhagái comes from the word ‘aedh’ which meant ‘little fire’, it comes from the pagan god of fire, Aodh. The name was a nickname for a ‘little bright-eyed one’.
The motto on the Egan coat of arms states ‘Fortitudine et prudentia’ which means ‘With fortitude and prudence’.

School of learning

The clan originated in Co Roscommon and were hereditary lawyers. Over time they spread across Leitrim, Galway, Kilkenny, Cork and Tipperary. In the 14th century were granted Redwood Castle in Tipperary, which had originally been built by the Normans.

As hereditary lawyers, they established a school of learning at the castle which they patronised for centuries.

Owen MacEgan

Many members of the family later became high ranking clergymen.

Owen MacEgan was a bishop born in 1570. He was educated in Spain and eventually had access to the Spanish court. He was able to persuade King Philip III to send men and money to Ireland to support the Rebellion against the British during the Nine Year War.

The Spanish arrived in 1602 but MacEgan was captured and killed a year later.

Variations of the name develop

In the 17th century the British took total control over Ireland as Oliver Cromwell’s troops brutally swept through the country.

As they established control, they began to eradicate Irish culture in an attempt to anglicise the nation. English clerks would take down people’s names for tax purposes. They spelled the names as they understood in intuitive English. As many clerks interpreted the spellings slightly differently, variations of the same name became common.

Many people with Irish sounding names found it more difficult to find work. This led to families dropping the Gaelic prefixes such as Mac.

It was at this time that names such as Mac Aodhagái became Egan and many other variations. In the counties Dublin and Wicklow the name was most commonly changed to Keegan.

The name spreads across the world

Due to a surge in patriotism following the 1798 Rebellion, a lot of families reinstated the Gaelic prefix. This is why many people today still have names such as MacEgan.

Ireland was struck with disaster in the mid-19th century. A succession of potato crops failed to grow and millions of people died of either starvation or disease brought about from malnutrition.

Kevin Keegan. Photo copyright scartinho CC2
Kevin Keegan

Millions more had to leave the country in search of better opportunities elsewhere. They spread across the world to places such as the USA, Canada, Britain and Australia where they settled and had families.

Irish names such as Egan have been common in these countries ever since.

Famous Egans

Kian Egan is an Irish singer from Sligo. He is best known as a member of the hugely successful boyband Westlife. Westlife had several number one singles in the late 1990s and 2000s. They sold 45 million records worldwide.

Kevin Keegan was a professional soccer player from England. He played for Liverpool and won several honours including the league title and European cup. He was twice named European Footballer of the year and is remembered as one of England’s great stars.

He later became a successful coach and went on to manage his national team.

Colm Keegan is an Irish singer. He is a member of the popular Irish band Celtic Thunder who have had great success in North America. More on Colm Keegan
Richard Egan was an American actor who appeared in several movies in the 1950s and 60s.

Christopher Egan is and Australian actor. He has appeared in movies such as Resident Evil: Extinction, Crush and Letters to Juliet. HE has also appeared in a number of TV series such as Dominions, Kings, Vanished and Home and Away.

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