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Irish Surname - O'Keefe

Recorded in the spellings of O'Keefe and O'Keeffe, this is an ancient Irish surname and is the anglicised version of the Irish O'Caoimh, from the gaelic word caomh, meaning 'kind' or 'gentle'. The original Caomh, from whom the family descended, lived in the early 11th century and was a descendant of Art, King of Munster from 742 to 762.

Originally the clan occupied territory along the banks of the Blackwater river in County Cork. They were driven further west by the Norman invaders after 1170, and they moved into the barony of Duhallow, where their territory became known, and is still known, as Pobal O'Keeffe. It was there that the senior branch of the family had their seat at Dromagh in Dromtarriff Parish. The last chiefs of this branch were Domhnall O'Keeffe of Dromagh (died c1655), who was prominent in the Catholic Rebellion of the 1640s, and his son Captain Daniel O'Keeffe, who was killed fighting for King James at the Battle of Aughrim in 1691. Although they family were eventually dispossessed, Pobal O'Keeffe is still the area in which the surname is most common, with surrounding areas of Cork, Kerry and other Munster counties also having many of the descendants.

Unlike most O surnames, O'Keeffe is one which has retained its prefix fairly consistently: in the 1880's registration of O'Keeffes and Keeffes was about equal but to-day the O'Keeffes largely predominate.

Although the surname is not very numerous outside County Cork, it is still strong enough to be included in the list of the hundred most common names in Ireland.

Noteable People with O'Keefe as their Surname

The first recorded spelling of the family name is believed to be that of Father Eoghan (Owen) O'Keefe (1656 - 1726) of Glenville, County Cork. He was a Gaelic poet of notable achievement who became president of the bards of North Cork. Following the death of his wife he entered the Church and was parish priest of Doneraile until his death. Many of the songs he composed are still sung in his native County Cork.

It is said that the famous Irish actor and dramatist John O'Keeffe was for a time known as John Keefe. He was born in Dublin in 1747 and was one of the most produced playwrights in London during the late 1700's. He died in 1833, leaving behind over fifty comedic works, including 'The Poor Soldier, 'Merry Sherwood' and 'Tony Lumpkin in Town'.

Constantine O'Keeffe (1672-1745) and General Patrick O'Keeffe (1740-1809) were both long serving officers in the Irish Brigade. Constantine O'Keeffe was admitted to the French aristocracy in 1740 on the basis of his long service and his Irish pedigree. The surname 'Cuif', found in the Champagne district of northern France, is descended from the O'Keeffe soldiers.

Born in Wisconsin, USA, to an Irish father, Georgia O'Keefe (1887-1986) was an outstanding artist of her generation. Her paintings showed her love for the American Southwest and the desert environment with its big colourful flowers and high rocky hills was the subject of many of her works. Her paintings are shown all over the world and more than one million people have visited the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in New Mexico since it opened in 1997.

Dan O'Keeffe (1907-1967), was a member of the Kerry senior inter-county team from 1931 until 1948. He won 7 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Medals with Kerry, in the 1930's and 1940's. He was the first player to win 7 All-Ireland medals, a record which wasn't exceeded until 1986.

Johno O'Keeffe (born 15 April 1951 in Tralee, County Kerry) was a member of the Kerry senior inter-county team from 1969 until 1984. He won 7 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Medals in the 1970's and 1980's. He was named the Texaco Footballer of the Year in 1975.

The O'Keefe Coat of Arms

The clan coat of arms depicts a gold lion rampant on a green shield with two gold dexter hands erect.

Please Note

There is often limited information available on a specific coat of arms and motto for an Irish surname. Sometimes there are many variations, sometimes none, we have compiled a representative, but by no means exhaustive, selection. Please visit our Coat of Arms and Motto page for more information.

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