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Irish Surname - Cunningham

The surname Cunningham or Conyngham is among the 75 most numerous in Ireland, with the majority of the name being found in the Ulster counties of Down and Antrim and also in the Connacht counties of Galway and Roscommon.

The name Cunningham, taken from the place of the same name near Kilmarnock in Ayrshire, was brought to Ireland by settlers from Scotland who arrived in Ulster during the 17th century Plantation of Ulster. Descendants of those settlers today form the bulk of those bearing the surname in that province, where it is most numerous. However, some of the Ulster Cunninghams acquired their surnames differently. There was a small sept of MacDonegan in County Down, one of whom, John Donegan or MacDonnegan, was Bishop of Down from 1395 to 1412. This surname was first corrupted to MacConegan and later some of these MacConegans changed their names to Cunningham in imitation of the Scottish settlers.

The Connacht Cunningham families are mostly native Irish and trace their descent from two sources - one branch from Fiachra, brother of the famous Niall of the Nine Hostages, which was located in County Sligo; the other a sept of the Ui Maine (often called Hy Many), a widespread group of septs centred in counties Galway and Roscommon.

The original native Gaelic forms were first written as O'Cunnigan and Mac Cuinneagain. Later under the influence of three centuries of British occupation, many old Gaelic families dropped the O or Mac and adopted Cunningham as the anglicised version of their names.

There is hardly another surname in Ireland which appears under so many different guises. Among these are Coonaghan, Counihan, Cunnighan, Kinningham, Kinighan, Kinagam, Kinnegan and MacCunnigan in Ulster, while Conaghan and Kinaghan are two of the many variants elsewhere.

Famous People

John Cunningham (1729-1773), Irish actor, playwright and poet. Born in Dublin, he started to write in the age of twelve. He began by writing songs, and then at the age of 17 he wrote the play 'Love in a Mist', a farce which appeared at the Capel Street Theatre. The Dublin-printed edition contained a prologue lamenting that 'no bard can thrive unless he cross the water'. Soon afterwards Cunningham went to England as an actor, but was more successful with pastoral poems, eventually published (1766) as 'Poems Chiefly Pastoral'. Cunningham died on 18 September 1773 at Newcastle upon Tyne and was buried at St John the Baptist; his table monument still exists to the present day.

Another most distinguished Irishman of the name was Timothy Cunningham (d1761), who was a barrister of Gray's Inn. He was a member and benefactor of the Royal Irish Academy and in 1789 Timothy left a bequest to the Academy of £1000. With this money the Academy established the Cunningham Medal to award to outstanding members of the Academy.

Henry Conyngham, 1st Marquess Conyngham (26 December 1766 - 28 December 1832) was a politician of the Regency period. He was one of the first Irish representative peers and a man of influence in England in the reign of George IV.

Researching Irish Surnames

We have researched many sources for the origins of Irish surnames and extracted a fair representation of the origins of each. As there are many variations we have compiled a representative, but by no means exhaustive, selection.

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