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Irish Surname - Kennedy

The Kennedy surname in Irish is O'Cinneide, from a compound of the words 'cinn' meaning 'head', plus 'eide' translating variously as 'grim' or 'helmeted'. O'Cinneide was anglicised O'Kennedy but the prefix O was later discarded in the period of Gaelic and Catholic depression in the 17th and 18th centuries, leaving the name in modern times as Kennedy.

The surname came into being in the 11th century and derives from the O'Cinneide sept that was based in Thomond in County Clare, where their name is still immortalised in the parish of Killokennedy, near Killaloe.

The original Cinneide, from whom the family claim descent, was a nephew of Brian Boru, High King of Ireland (1002 - 1014). Cinneide's descendants were a very powerful family in the famous Dal gCais (Dalcassian) tribal grouping, who moved from Killaloe in Clare into nearby north Tipperary, where they prospered and multiplied in their new territory of Ormond. As early as 1159 in the 'Annals of the Four Masters' there is reference to their then chief who was Lord of Ormond, a title they held for over four hundred years up to the 16th century.

The surname continued to spread further afield to other counties including Antrim, becoming one of the most numerous and widespread in Ireland. Kennedy is now amongst the twenty most frequently found surnames in Ireland.

In Griffiths Valuation c1850s, there were 4820 Kennedy households recorded, a quarter of which (1112) were in Tipperary. Limerick had 262, Antrim 258, Kilkenny 232 and Down 211.

Famous People

The most famous Kennedy in modern history is John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th president of the United States, who was a descendant of a Wexford branch of the family. He was the first man of Gaelic-Irish ancestry on both sides to hold the office of President of the United States of America. He was elected in 1961 and held office until he was assassinated on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas. In June 1963 Kennedy visited Ireland and took time to visit his ancestral home - the original cottage at Dunganstown, near New Ross, where previous Kennedys had lived before emigrating to America. Proudly addressing the crowd in Dunganstown President Kennedy said: "This is where it all began".

Matthew Kennedy (1652-1735) emigrated to France and was a notable literary figure in Paris, being part of St. Germain’s court and popular for his life-long enthusiasm for the Irish language.

Author Patrick Kennedy (1801-1873) was born in Wexford but moved to Dublin in 1823, where he later owned a bookshop at Angelsea Place. He is associated with the Celtic literary renaissance and is credited with reviving and continuing much of the Irish folklore. In one of his famous books 'Legendary Fictions of Irish Celts', Kennedy re-tells stories and legends that he had heard in childhood, ranging from ghost stories and local legends, to heroic adventures.

Hugh Kennedy (1879-1936), a brilliant lawyer, was the first Attorney-General of the Irish Free State, and later the first Chief Justice of the Irish Free State. As a member of the Irish Free State Constitution Commission, he was also one of the constitutional architects of the Irish Free State.

Jimmy Kennedy (1902-1984) from Omagh, County Tyrone, was a world-famous songwriter who composed such songs as 'Red Sails in the Sunset' and 'Teddy Bear's Picnic'.

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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