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Kearney – victorious soldiers of Co Meath

There are many people named Kearney, or one of its variations, spread across the world but the origin of the name can be traced back to Ireland.

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Kearney is an anglicisation of two Gaelic names; O’Catharnaigh and O’Cearnaigh.

These were two proud family names. Catharnaigh was a name referring to a soldier, and Cearnaigh was a name for a victor in battle.
Kearney – victorious soldiers of Co Meath
Many Irish names have an O prefix which meant ‘grandson of’ or ‘descendent of’. So O’Catharnaigh meant the descendent of Catharnaigh and the same for O’Cearnaigh.

These were two powerful tribes in Ireland who both lived in the region that is now known as Co Meath.

As Ireland was invaded by British forces, many Irish people were forced to anglicise their names as it was seen to be beneficial when trying to find work.

This is when the names O’Catharnaigh and O’Cearnaigh turned into Kearney.

As the names were being written down by British officials, various spelling and pronunciations of the names developed including Kearny, O’Kearney.

During the years of the Great Famine, millions of people left Ireland in order to survive. The name Kearney was then spread across the world to countries such as America, Australia, Canada and the UK.

Famous Kearneys

There have been several notable people named Kearney throughout history.
Rob Kearney. Photo copyright Warwick Gastinger CC2
Rob Kearney was an international rugby player for Ireland and one of the best players of his generation. He helped Ireland win the Six Nations Championship on four occasions, including completing the Grand Slam in 2009 and 2018.

Elfric Wells Chalmers Kearney was an Australian engineer patented the underground monorail railway system. The Kearney High-Speed Tube used the effects of gravity to increase and decrease acceleration of his trains as they travelled in a rollercoaster type along the dipping tracks between stations.

Peadar Kearney was an Irish republican and musician. He wrote several rebel songs many of which are still sang today by Irish folk bands. His most notable work was in writing the lyrics to the Soldier’s Song, which is now Ireland’s national anthem. He was also the uncle of famous writers Brendan and Dominic Behan.

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