Kehoe/Keogh/Hoy – former lords of Roscommon

History of the Irish name Kehoe. Image copyright Ireland Calling

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.

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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.

Horseback warrior

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.

Wexford Kehoes

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.

Norman Kehoes

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.

Connacht Kehoes

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.

Myles Keogh
Myles Keogh

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.

Notable Kehoe/Keoghs

John Keogh was born in 1740. He was a political activist and was an early leader in the campaign for Catholic emancipation.

Myles Keogh was an Irish solider born in Co Carlow in 1840. He fought for the Union Army in the American Civil War. He became a commander in the US Army and died in the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876. The Army named Fort Keogh after him.

Sir Chris Hoy. Photo copyright Mark Harkin CC2
Sir Chris Hoy

Charles Haughey was an Irish politician and former Taoiseach of Ireland. He had three terms as leader of Ireland – from 1979-81, then briefly in 1982, and finally from 1987-92. In part, he was highly regarded as a politician capable of getting things done. However, his reputation was tarnished due to his vanity and extravagant lifestyle. His career was marred by scandals such as a 27 year extra marital affair and financial wrongdoings.

Famous Kehoe/Hoy/Keoughs

Jack Kehoe is an American actor well known for his roles in crime drama movies. He has starred opposite Al Pacino in Serpico, Paul Newman and Robert Redford in The Sting and Robert De Niro and Sean Connery in The Untouchables. He has also appeared in classic films such as Midnight Run, Car Wash and Melvin and Howard.

Sir Chris Hoy is a Scottish athlete. He is an 11 time world champion cyclist and has won more Olympic gold medals than any cyclist in history. He has also won more Olympic gold medals than any other British athlete.

Riley Keough is an American actress. She has appeared in movies such as The Runaways, The Good Doctor and Magic Mike. She is the granddaughter of Elvis Presley.

Video histories of popular Irish names

Irish names and their meanings

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