Kehoe is a medieval Irish name that originated in the south east of the country in Co Wexford. However, there are also origins in Galway and even France.
There are several variations to the name including Haugh, Haughey, Hoey, Hough, Hoy, Keogh, Keough, Kew, Keyho, Keyhoe, MacKeogh, O’Hoey and O’Hoy. Certain variations such as Haugh and Hough could also have separate English origins.
The name is most common in Co Wexford but is also popular in Ulster and Connacht.
It is derived from the old Gaelic name MacEochaidh. The prefix ‘Mac’ means ‘son of’ while Eochaidh was a personal name that came from the word ‘each’ which meant ‘horse’. So the surname meant ‘son of a horseman’.
In medieval times, families would take their name from the leader of their clan, usually a chief or warrior. It is likely that the Kehoes descended from a horseback warrior.
In Wexford, the Kehoes were distant relatives of the Byrnes, who were a powerful family in Leinster. The Kehoes were hereditary bards for the Byrnes.
Bards were poets and story tellers who would write about the heroic exploits of their tribes. Maolmuire MNacKeogh was a 16th century poet who was considered the finest of his era in Leinster.
Another group of Kehoes of French origin arrived in Ireland during the Norman invasion in the 12th century.
In France the name was given to people from the town of Caieu. The town no longer exists but was in the North West of France near Boulogne-sur-Mer. The French surname was Kew, which had a very similar pronunciation to the Irish Kehoe and Keogh.
Many Kews arrived in England in 1066 following the Norman invasion. Just over 100 years later, the Normans invaded Ireland. They arrived in Leinster in 1169. They mostly settled in Wexford but also spread to Waterford and Dublin.
The Kehoes in Connacht are thought to have descended from Domnall Mór Ua Cellaigh, who was King of Uí Maine. Uí Maine is also known as Hy Many and was a large kingdom that covered much of what is now Co Galway and Co Roscommon.
They were lords of Moyfinn and Athlone, Co Roscommon and Co Westmeath. There is a town in Co Roscommon called Keoghville, named after the family.
The name develops
In the 17th century, people all over Ireland began anglicising their names. Oliver Cromwell’s forces had taken control of Ireland and it was extremely difficult for people to find work if they didn’t have an English sounding name.
The MacEochaidhs dropped the Gaelic ‘Mac’ prefix and spelled the name in an English friendly way. In Wexford, the name became Kehoe, in most cases, while in Connacht the most common spelling was Keogh. In Ulster, the name deviated further and was rendered Hoy or Hough.
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