Select Kane Surname Genealogy

Kane and Keane are both anglicizations of Cathain, a personal name diminutive of cath meaning “battle.” There were two main septs in Ireland called O'Cathain or O'Cahan, one from Ulster and the other from Connacht. 

The former were generally anglicized as Kane, the latter as Keane.  The present day distribution of these names reflects this former division, with Kane preponderant in Northern Ireland and Keane in the rest of Ireland.

The spelling generally progressed from O'Cahan to O'Kane to Kane.  There has recently been a revival in O'Kane in the heartland Derry.  In America Kane may be a Jewish name, from the German Kahn or Kuhn.

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Select Kane Ancestry

IrelandThe O'Cahans of Keenaght and Coleraine in county Derry were a powerful and important Ulster sept, although probably not of much account before the 12th century when, emerging from east Donegal, they succeeded in ousting the O'Connors of Dungiven from their territory.  

Once established at Limavady by the Roe river, they retained their ascendancy in Derry, despite internal feuding, until the coming of the Ulster Plantations in the early 17th century.  At that time  a large tract of land, known as O'Cahan's country, was targetted by the Government for English investors.

The last chief of the O'Cahans was Donnell Ballagh.  He joined up with the O'Neills in the rebellion against the English.  After the Flight of the Earls in 1607 he was arrested and imprisoned in Dublin Castle and then in the Tower of London where he died.  O'Cahan's Lament, thought to have been written about this time, is believed to have been the basis of the song Danny Boy.  The final conflict between the O’Cahans and the English occurred at Gelvin near Limavady in 1641.  The O’Cahans were defeated.

O'Kanes remained in Ulster after the defeat (those who headed south often became Keanes).  Griffith’s Valuation in the mid-19th century showed that 40 percent of the Kanes in Ulster were still based in Derry. The Kane name is particularly common in the Coleraine district of Derry.  Folk singer Damien O’Kane hails from Coleraine, the boxer Eamonn O’Kane from Dungiven.

America.  Bernard and Martha O’Kane brought their family over to America from Ireland in 1756.  As Kanes they settled in Philadelphia where they became an influential family.  Thomas Kane was a Union general during the Civil War, his brother Elisha a naval officer and Arctic explorer.  The family home Anoatok, named from one of Elisha’s Arctic expeditions, was located in Kane, Pennsylvania.  Many of Thomas’s sons were noted surgeons.  Much memorabilia about the family was auctioned off in 2003.

Many Kanes stayed on the Eastern Seaboard, others headed west.  Among the latter Kanes were:
  • John and Suzanna O’Kane from Tyrone who in the 1820’s were one of the early settlers in Franklin county, Indiana
  • Patrick and Bridget Kane from Roscommon who came out to Dubuque, Iowa in the 1860’s 
  • Hugh O’Kane who arrived in New York from county Antrim in the late 1860’s, headed west and, after an adventurous time, settled down in Bend, Oregon  
  • and James Kane from Mayo who came with his family to San Francisco in 1901.  He survived the earthquake and was a policeman.
Canada.  Paul Kane, born in Cork of English parents, came to Toronto as a boy in the early 1820's.  He became famous for his paintings of First Nations people in the Canadian West.  His home in Toronto still stands.

Alice Kane, who arrived with her parents in 1921 when she was thirteen, also made her home in Toronto.  She is remembered as a wondrous story-teller (as evidenced in her Songs of an Ulster Childhood).  The Alice Kane Award commemorates this story-telling.

Australia.  Early Kane arrivals in  Australia were convicts.  Later came Kane settlers.  Stephen Kane from county Clare came to Bathurst, NSW  with his wife Elizabeth in 1841.  His brother Michael followed him in 1855.  Thadeus O'Kane arrived from London in 1865.  He was one of the most colorful and hard-hitting figures in early Queensland journalism, losing count of the number of libel actions he had to face.

Select Kane Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select Kane Names

Cui Maige na nGall O’Cathain, a mighty O’Cathan chieftain, died in 1385 and is said to be buried in Dungiven Priory.  Cui Maige na nGall means “terror of the foreigner."
Echlin O'Kane was one of the famous Irish harpists of the 18th century.
Thomas Kane was an American attorney, diplomat, abolitionist, and Civil War general.
Paul Kane was a 19th century painter of native people in the Canadian West.
Citizen Kane, directed by Orson Welles, is considered by many to be one of the greatest films ever made.

Select Kanes Today
  • 17,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 19,000 in America (most numerous in New York) 
  • 15,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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