Surnames and variants of the Beara Peninsula

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Surnames and variants of the Beara Peninsula

Post by admin » Tue Feb 06, 2018 10:08 am

by Riobard O'Dwyer ©1999. All rights reserved by the author.

NOTE: This material was submitted by email to the Beam List in a series often posts between February 15 and March 6, 1999. O’Dwyer is a retired schoolteacher who has dedicated his life to researching and preserving the history and genealogy of Beara, and is now a professional genealogist. You can write to him at Eyeries Village, Beara Peninsula, County Cork, Ireland,
email "Riobard O'Dwyer" <riobardodwyer©>
His website is : and IGSI's website is
O’Dwyer currently has books for sale on the Parishes of Allihies, Bere Island and Castletownberehaven.

A few words on Christian names and nicknames: Sometimes, in different parts of Ireland, one could come across many variations of Christian names. Here in Beara, Cormac was never equated with Charles (or Cathal). They were completely different names. And the name Giles was never ever equated with girls’ names Sheelagh/Sheila, Cecilia, Cecily, Celia or Julia. Here Giles (Gabriel) was always a man's name. e.g. Giles Sullivan, the father of a family. This led to the surname/ appendage O‘ Sullivan (Giles). A lot of those who were baptized Bridget / Brigid here changed their names, mostly to Delia and Beatrice, when they emigrated to the States in the olden days when ”no lrish or Blacks need apply" for jobs in certain areas. Girls named Bridget occasionally took other names as well. A few years ago a lovely lady came to me to help trace her mother’s side of the family. Besides getting a few other details from her, I asked her what was her mother’s Christian name. She said “Agnes.” Off I went to my files. Back I came to her and told her that her mother wasn’t Agnes - that she was Bridget. The lady wouldn't believe me. I knew it by the look of astonishment on her face. So I puy her in touch with relatives who happened to be living a few miles away. Off she went to them.

Then it suddenly dawned on her that 0’ Dwyer wasn’t as big a fool as he seemed to be. Her mother had obviously changed her name from Bridget to Agnes when she got to the States - and never told her own daughter! And need I ask what the mother’s surname was here in Beara? SULLIVAN (to make it more complicated, as if it weren’t complicated enough already).

Here are a few variations of Cornelius: Curney, Corney, Curley/ Corley, and a very old Irish version, Cud (pronounced cuud, like a bird cooing). Variations of Mary were Molly, Maem, Maymie, Minnie, Maenie etc, with a very unusual version: Mayrick, and what I regard as a most beautiful version, a very, very ancient one: Muireann, from the old Gaelic version of the name for the Blessed Virgin Mary, Muire.

Christian names very much associated with some of the local surnames were CAIN Houlihan. EDWARD, MAURICE, and PIERCE Power, JUSTIN McCarthy, ANDREW and PHILIP Uonhi. Uonhi, which, once would have been reckoned as a surname on its own, is now, in Beara, both an O'Sullivan and Harrington branch name.

Especially after the Famine some of the old Gaelic surnames (put down as such in the Parish Records here) were changed as follows: RAHILLY to Reilly/ 0’ Reilly. LEHANE to Lyons, MULLIHEEN to Mullins, and HOULIHAN to Holland. Circa 1879, Jeremiah Houlihan, a copper miner (with his wife and their twelve surviving children out of a family of sixteen), left Allihies Village and travelled to faraway Butte, Montana. Jeremiah was the great-grandfather of Jeffrey Holland who was at one time President of Brigham Young University in Utah and is now one of the twelve Apostles of the Mormon Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) worldwide.

Once upon a time there was hardly a person in Butte, Montana, who hadn‘t a nickname. Among one of the milder versions there was that of a very popular barber (originally from Coulagh Ard in the Parish of Eyeries) known as Mickey the Bird. Mickey was so named. because he was exceptionally light on his feet, being an accomplished stepdancer. I heard of a man with a very thin, sharp nose who was christened Split the Hailstone. Another man with a waddling walk was known as Paddy the Duck. A man with a slow, deliberate gait who was very careful as to where he would place his feet while walking was duly named Steal upon Birds. Back in Beam there was an old butcher who used keep a few rams in one of the rooms upstairs. He was known to all and sundry as Tady the Ram. Another man had very big bushy eyebrows and, when he blinked, they were like two sheeps’ fleeceswhich gave rise to his nickname The Woolwagger. There was this man who had a large moustache and he was mighty fond of drinking porter. He was known as Cur (pronounced “coor” , like a pigeon cooing). Cur is the froth that you would see on the top of a wave when it is "breaking" over a rock. Every time that Cur put his mouth into the pint of porter, his moustache came up out of it covered with ”froth.” Hence his nickname. I knew a very, very tall man one time, and he was known as Hand Me Down The Moon. One of my own ancestors was a schoolmaster in Castletownbere. He was a thin, hardy, wiry, man wearing a goatee beard. He strode around the classroom like an oncoming hurricane and some wag in the town "christened” him Fury the Goat!

There were cases, especially where there were many Sullivans, of adding mothers’ Christian names to their sons' Christian names e.g. Timmy Mag (Mick), Paddy Biddy, Tim Katty. The job a man had was often added on to his Christian name e.g. Paddy the Ambulance, Mike the Cooper (a Cooper made hoops for barrels), Paddy the Baker, Sean Saw Bheara (he was Kelly who was in charge of a big sawmill in what is now known as “The Sawmill Field" on the Ballydonegan side of Allihies Village). That sawmill, the biggest of its kind in Beara, was used principally for making props for the shafts in the nearby copper mines.

Then there were Christian names with miscellaneous connections. Two come to mind immediately. One was Donal a’ Bhearla -Donal (or Daniel) of the English Language. In those early days the people of that particular district of the Allihies Parish spoke all lrish (Gaelic), and Donal was the only person there who could speak a bit of the English language. Hence his ”christening."

There was a famous man in the townland of Faha in the Parish of Adrigole and he was known as Donal na Slinne - Donal of the Slate (slinn is the Gaelic for slate). Donal was the first man in the Parish to put a slate roof on his house. Up to then all the roofs were made of thatch.

I'll just include a few other ”localisms” Christian names associated with Feast Days: Catherine (Jan. 31 st when people made the ”rounds" saying decades of the Rosary in a field in which there was a holy well (”tobaireen beamuithe“) right behind what is now ”The Shamrock" Guesthouse owned by Joe and Noreen O'Sullivan, Strand Road, Eyeries. The ancient name for the Eyeries Parish - the Parish of Kilcatherine is from "The Church of Catherine.” CILL is an old Irish name for a church. The walls of that Church are still standing within the Kilcatherine Cemetery). Bridget or Brigid, Feb. 1st; Quinlan, July 8th - people from the Beara Peninsula travelled to Kilmackillogue, near Lauragh, in the nearby County Kerry Parish of Tuosist to make the “rounds” at Loch Caoinleana - St. Quinlan’s Lake - during what was known as ”The Pattern Day}.

That St. Quinlan was the famous St. Killian who was later martyred in Wurzburg, Germany.

HARRINGTON: In 1582, when Pope Gregory X111 updated the calendar, there was a diffence was of 10 days bbetween the old Julian calendar (which had been in existence for about 1500 years) and the new Papal (Gregorian, or New Style) one. Many people accepied the new updated calendar; others did not. Among those who did not agree with it were the monks on this Skeiligs Rock off the coast of County Kerry, but close to the Beara Peninsula as well. In those days marriage during Lent was not allowed; so if people weren't married by Shrove Tuesday night, they would have to wait until Easter. But those who kept to the old calendar rather than is the updated one of the Pope could go out to the Skeiligs Rock and have one of the monks perform the marriage ceremony up to 10 days after the Papal date for Shove Tuesday had expired. This also gave rise to the renowned "Skeiligs List” when some local wits made up poems matching together all the eligibie unmarried peopie who hadn’t “tied the knot" by ShroveTuesday night. Fun and sarcasm abounded among the verses in the descriptisns of the unmarried people being coupled together, and the reciting of the Skeiligs Lists was a source of “amusement” in pubs or in gatherings in houses at night until, of course, some one of the eligible bachelors “coupled up" found out the name of the "poet” who composed the the rhyme making fun of him. Then there followed the real meaning of the old Irish saying " Tis often a man's mouth was the cause of getting his nose broken." Anyhow, back to the Papal “new dates” calendar. For example, the new Papal date for Easier was 10 days ahead of the date according to the old calendar. Same Harringtons in the Beara peninsula followed the old calendar. But the other Harringtons there adopted the new Papal calendar giving the new date. Easter is CASC (pronounced CAWSK). These Harringtons were thereafter known as Harrington CASKA (in other words the Harringtons of the new Easter), now known as Harrington CASKEY/ CAUSKEY (pronounced CAWSKEY), and were often put into the old Baptismal Records as CASCA/CASKA rather than Harrington in order to differentiate them from several other Harrington branch names ‘like CAPY/CAUPY, MERIGEACH, TROCIRRE/ TROKERY, CAOBACH/KEABOUGH, CAHERAGH, URDAIL, UONHl/OWNEY, etc. “however, to make Beara genealogy more difficult, the ancient name UONHI (and the several variations of its spelling) is also associated with the name Sullivan/O’Sullivan, giving rise to the surname/branch name of O’Sullivan Green (a literal translation of Uonhi is the colour Green).

Here are the meanings of some other Harrington branch names.
GREASAI (pronouced like "greysee") is the Gaelic for a shoemakor.
MERIGEACH is freckled.
CAPY (pronounced like ”cawpee“ and by some as ”capey”) comes from “capa" pronoomed like ”cawpuh” a cape. This branch of Harringtons wore capes at a protest march in the dim and distant past - or so tradition has it.
DUVE (the ”e” is silent) is black-haired/dark haired.
GOW (or the Gaelic ”Gabha”) is a smith/blacksmith.
TROKERY/TROKIRRE (pronounced like ”throwkirreh”) means merciful. or having pity for people.
STACK comes from a Harrington man who worked originally at the Stack in the Allihies Copper Mines, more or less the equivalent the area of the Gallows Frames (or Head Frames) of the mines in Butte Montana! TAILUUR (premunmd iiké "thawlewer”) is a tailar.
SLATER is a man whose job it was to put slates on a roof. It would be an every day occurrence nowadays, but it was a very important job in the days when roofs were changing from thatch to slates.
CAHERAGH were a branch of Harringtons said to have come to Beara from Caheragh between Drimoleague and Skibbereen.
DOCTORS were a branch of Harringtons in the Parish of Castltownbere who had the gift of being very good at curing sick animals. Their work would have been (though they were not qualified as regards examinations) something like that of a vet in medern times.
CAOBACH/KEABOUGH means a 'black backed seagull - a quite strong willed dominant bird; the meaning must have been transferred to manly qualities
VARRIG. There was well known (later merchant) Harrington man in the Castletownbere Parish in the olden days known Tadhg a'Varrig Bearrach. The possessive case in grammar, bearraigh, is a heifer or a young cow.
In days gone by dairymen were employed by the bigger farmers, so Tadhg’s ancestor must have been a dairyman.
BEECHER I have yet to get a satisfactory meaning
URDAIL The URDAILS adapted the surname Harrington.
UONHIS/OWNEYS adopted both the Harrington and O’Sullivan surnames
BAWN means white (or in reality fair-haired) It can also come from the townland af BAWN in the Parish of Adrigole. The branch name BAWN can also mean Murphy, O’Shea, Q’Neiil, Downey/Downing, Hartnett, or Sullivan/O’Sullivan, depending on where in the Beara Peninsuia those BAWN’S were living.
Harrington (FOLEY), known as the FOLEYS in the kilmacowen area of the Eyeries Parish, were also called after a Foley woman from Urban who arried a Harrington in Kilmacowen. There was a ”nest” of Harringtons all over Kilmacowen, so these particular family were thereafter called the FOLEYS.
(SLASHER). This branch. name in Bare Island came from a famous Island man knawn as "Jack the Slasher" who at the time held the U.S. record for the record speed with which he slashed/drilled mine shafts in Arizona.

CROWLEY: (CEOHANE/ COHANE) Most of the Crowleys in the old Church records in Beara are entered with the above branch name, and several with teh branch name only. Many came to Beara from around the Dunmanway area. and some even from as far away as Kinsale. Tradition has it that members of this branch of the Crowleys were on their way from the west of Ireland to help the Irish army in the Battle of Kinsale in 1601, but somewhere along the journey a heavy fog descended. It was difficult enough to move through the rough terrain of the time in good weather, but the foggy conditions made any reasonable travelling speed almost impossible, so much so that the Battle was over by the time they arrived.

CEO (pronounced KEOW) is the Gaelic for fog, hence this branch name. Had the heavy fog not hindered them and had they been Able to arrive in time, the question stands "Would there have been a different result to the battle?". My good friend Tom Crowley in Akron, Ohio, of the the top men now in the officership of the Crowley Clan, would agree that the English Army might have been overturned, as the Gaelic for Crowley is CRUALAOCH. CRUA = hardy or tough. LOACH = warrior.

O’NEILL: (RINEY) All those who were known in Beara as RINEYS brought that branch name with them from the Parish of Tousist in the nearby County Kerry, but they reverted to their surname O'Neill when they emigrated to the States. There is a story of Mike Riney who was living in the townland of Cahirkeem in the western end of the Parish of Eyeries. Times were bad in the mining industry in Allihies around 1883, so Mike travailed to Ardgroom Village, sold his horse for £5 to make the price of his ticket to America, and later became a Mine Superintendent in Butte, Montana.

BAWN (explained already under Harrington).
CUDEEN comes from the old Gaelic name for Cornelius/Con/ Neilly/ Neilus - CUD.
MAHEESH comes from a combination of two Gaelic words MAITH (silent "t") meaning good. and AOIS meaning age. Obviously the person around whom the branch name originated lived to a good age or, as they would say here, ”a great old age.”

MINIHANE was a branch name always associated with the surname O’Driscoll in Beara,
MARTIN (from a Christian name) with the surname O'Connor.
RINN (pronounced REEN) meaning tough or stubborn;
DANA (pron. DAWNUH) is bold;
and BUEE (from the ancient name BAOI BHEARA for Dursey Island) were branch names associated with the surname O'Leary. They were obviously hardy lads. Nobody was going to walk on top of them!

CUMMINS: The surname CUMMINS here has many variations. One is COMMONS. But the one that sets the other variations in motion is COMHANE. COMHANE is pronounced like CAMAN (COMAWN) which is the Gaelic for a HURLEY. That in turn gives rise to the Gaelic for HURLEY which is (O) MUIRTHILLE (silent “t”) from which follow MURHILLY, MURLEY, MURHIL MURIL and MORLEY. Last year somebody in the States told me that her ancestor was HURLEY and that she couldn't find him anywhere. On going through all the variations, I eventually found him in the Allihies Parish under MURLEY.

MCCARTHY: The McCarthys were descended from Kings of Munster (southern Province of Ireland) going back to the third century AD. The surname in Gaelic is MAC CARTACH - son of Carthach. Carthach, from whom the name originated was King in Cashel (County Tipperary) around 1040 All The McCarthys (sometimes written in the old Church Records as Car-thy) later moved further down south principally into the area which is taken up by the present day counties of Cork and Kerry with which they have been ever since most strongly clans, the McCarthys, being very numerous, eventually had to have various branch names in order to differentiate one section from another.
The most prominent branch name associated with them in Beara is ROHANE. Tradition has it that this section of the McCarthy Clan came here originally from the district of Carrigrohane which is close to Cork City . (The well known Carrigrohane straight road runs from the Ballincollig side right up to the city suburbs along by the River Lee).
The McCarthy branch name STROCK (found in Glenbeg and Cummeendeach in the Ardgroom District of the Eyeries Parish) derives from the Gaelic word STRACAIRE, a big, powerfully~built man.
A mixture of a sad and humorous branch name is McCarthy (BAWNEE). These McCarthys were evicted from their farm in the Lauragh district of the Tuosist Parish, County Kerry, which is close to the Eyeries Parish, County Cork. They settled for some time in the townland of Clashduve in the Parish of Adrigole. One of them eventually headed off from there to settle near the town of Bantry, and he brought with him a white cow named BAWNEE . There were so many McCarthys around Bantry that this cow gave rise to a new branch name McCarthy (BAWNEE).

A famous schoolmaster, descended from the Callaghan McCarthys of Canfie (Ardgroom District) was Stephen McCarthy who taught in Ballycrovane National School near the original Coastguard Station (now Murphy's house) and later as Principal Teacher in the old thatched-roofed Urhan School (this building now long gone) in the 1860s-1870s. He was known to all as ” Master Mac." Money was very scarce in that Urhan School in those days, and there was no map available for the teaching of geography, But Master Mac was a firm believer in the old saying that necessity is the mother of invention. He sent one of his pupils over to William O'Dwyer’s garden to pull up a big turnip. With a penknife Master Mac cutout a map of the world on the turnip and began teaching his geography lesson. After a while, there was a knock on the door. The Master went out to the porch to talk to the caller. While he was out, one of the pupils got hungry and began eating the turnip. When the Master returned after a quartet of an hour. the turnip was nowhere to be found. His pupil with the healthy appetite had eaten the ”world” in 15 minutes flat!

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