Select Keane Surname Genealogy

Keane and Kane 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 preponderant in the rest of Ireland.   The variant Kean can have Scottish origins.

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Select Keane Ancestry

IrelandThe O'Cathains in Connacht were originally a branch of the Ui Fiachrach in south Galway. They became Keanes, and sometimes Cains or Canes.  Keanes, as well as Keans, also derive from the O’Cein sept in Waterford.  And sometimes the Ulster Kanes became Keanes.

O'Kanes who became O’Keanes or Keanes included those fled Ulster as “wild geese” to the armies of France or Spain and some who sought a new future in the south:
  • Eugene O'Keane for instance, killed in action in 1693, was one of four O’Keane brothers who served in France.  
  • An O’Kane family from Derry became Keane at Beech Park in county Clare.  Another O'Kane family who lost their lands after the Battle of the Boyne resurfaced in Waterford.  As Keanes after a suitable period of Government service, they established themselves at Cappoquin House as a member of what some have called the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy.
The Gaelic side of Keane in Waterford was represented by the Keane hurling family (pronounced Kane) and by John Keane who reigned supreme as one of the greatest players in the game from the 1930’s to the 1950’s.

There were Keanes also in county Kerry.  E.T. Keane from the small town of Listowel was an editor of the Kilkenny People.  More famously, the playwright John B. Keane was born in this town in 1928.  John’s nephew is the BBC journalist Fergal

Scotland.  Kean has been a clan name in Scotland, associated with the Macdonalds of Glencoe.  As such, it appeared in Argyll and Ayrshire.  There were also Keans at Nigg in the Scottish Highlands dating back to the late 17th century.

Canada.  Captain William Kean arrived in Newfoundland via New England (and originally from Devon) in 1708. He became St. John’s first Justice of the Peace.  Robert Kean held Hudson’s Cove at St. John’s in 1820 which was said to have been “in the possession of the family for more than a hundred years.”  Keans out of Bonavista Bay were engaged in seal hunting during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

America.  Early Keanes to America came as Kean in the 1750's from Ireland:

  • Samuel Kean from Armagh who settled in Alleghany county, Virginia
  • and Cornelius Kean who came to Philadelphia and settled in Mifflin county, Pennsylvania.  
Then, also around this time, there was the arrival of a young British mariner James Kean in Charleston, South Carolina.  His son John became a merchant there and married into the well-established Livingston family.

"From the time that James Kean arrived in South Carolina, the Keans took pains to retain the proper pronunciation of the name.  It rhymed with ‘rain’ rather than with ‘green.’  US Senator Hamilton Fish Kean refused to have a mountain peak in the Canadian Rockies named in his honor less passersby mispronounce it.  Family lore is that their Kean name came from the Highlands of Scotland."

Their home in New Jersey, Liberty Hall, is now a museum and still showcases the contributions of the Kean and Livingston families.  Kean’s descendants have been and continue to be a family prominent in New Jersey politics and business - the most recent being Thomas Kean, New Jersey’s Governor from 1982 to 1990.

Irish Keanes have been heavily outnumbered by Irish Kanes in the United States by a factor of six to one. But the Keane name was not unknown in Iowa where two Keanes became Catholic bishops of Dubuque.  The elder - John - arrived there in the 1880’s following a famine in his native Donegal.  The younger – James - had a more international brief, serving in 1920 on the Anglo-Irish peace commission and supporting at that time the creation of the League of Nations.

Australia.  Denis Keane and his family from Clare sailed from Liverpool on the Clyde in 1835.  He ran a pub in the Yass area of NSW, but died in the typhoid epidemic of 1840.  His wife Susan took over the pub and renamed it Erin go Bragh.  Another Keane from Clare settled in Willunga, South Australia. 

Edward Keane, related to the Cappoquin Keanes in Waterford, came out to Western Australia in 1882.  He was the civil engineer who built the rail line from Perth to nearby Guildford.  He subsequently became Lord Mayor of Perth. 

Select Keane Miscellany

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

Select Keane Names

Edmund Kean, born in London of an Irish father, was a celebrated English actor of the early 19th century.
John Keane from Waterford was one of the greatest players ever in Irish hurling.
John B. Keane has been one of Ireland’s most esteemed modern playwrights.
Marie Kean from Dublin has been one of Ireland's most popular actresses.
Roy Keane was one of the most talented footballers ever to emerge from Ireland, captaining both Manchester United and Ireland in his time.

Select Keanes Today
  • 7,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 4,000 in America (most numerous in New York) 
  • 18,000 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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