This surname O'KEARNEY denotes descent from either one or two O'Cearnaigh septs, one located in County Mayo in Connacht, and the other in County Clare, whence is members moved to Tipperary. O'Catharnaigh is the other sept, located at Kilcoursey, County Offaly, the descendants of whom took the name FOX. These varying origins account for the wide distribution of the name today. The name in Gaelic is O'CATHARNAIGH, meaning war-like. The tradition of surnames in Ireland developed spontaneously, as the population increased and the former practice, first of single names and then of ephemeral patronymics or agnomina of the nickname type proved insufficiently definitive. At first the surname was formed by prefixing 'Mac' to the father's Christian name or 'O 'to that of a grandfather or earlier ancestor. Early records of the name mention Richard Kearney, 1547, Ireland. Elizabeth Kearney was documented in the year 1746. Ireland is one of the earliest sources of the development of patronymic names in northern Europe. Irish Clan or bynames can be traced back to the 4th century B.C. and Mac (son of) and O (grandson or ancestor of) evolved from this base, the original literal meaning of which has been lost due to the absence of written records and linguistic ambivalences which subtly but inexorably became adopted through usage. Genealogists and lexographers accept that the patronymic base does not refer to a location, quite the contrary. The use of the prefix 'Bally' (town of) attaching to the base name, identifying the location. The base root was also adopted by people residing in the demographic area without a common ancestor. These groups called 'Septs' were specially prevalent in Ireland. The first Normans arrived in Ireland in the 12th and 13th centuries to form an alliance with the King of Leinster. Under Elizabeth I in the 16th century, settlers from England established themselves around Dublin, then under English control and Presbyterian Scots emigrated to Ulster, introducing English and Scottish roots. The associated arms are recorded in Sir Bernard Burkes General Armory. Ulster King of Arms in 1884. Registered in Ireland. The lion is the noblest of all wild beasts which is made to be the emblem of strength and valour, and is on that account the most frequently borne in Coat-Armour.
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