The surnames O'SHEA, and SHEA rank among the fifty commonest surnames in Ireland. Families of these names are descended from the O'Seaghada sept which originated in the far west of County Kerry in the Iveragh barony. Branches of this sept migrated eastwards into County Tipperary and eventually some established themselves in County Kilkenny where they became prominent in the county town and are remembered also by the name of their ancestral seats, the townland of Sheastown in Shillelogher barony in that county. The inland Leinster county of Kilkenny is bounded on the north by county Leix, on the east by the counties of Carlow and Wexford, on the south by county Waterford and on the west by county Tipperary. The city of Kilkenny with its splendid Gothic cathedral on the hill, built of Kilkenny limestone, and its great castle on the Butlers, overlooking the River Nore, is the chief town of the county and of the towns of Leinster, second only to Dublin. In the 14th century King Edward III convened a parliament at Kilkenny and in the 17th century the city briefly enjoyed political importance when the Catholic Confederation met there in 1642. In the first half of the 16th century the 8th Earl of Ormonde and his countess brought Flemish master-weavers to Kilkenny to introduce the manufacture of tapestry, carpets and fine diaper. Ireland was one of the earliest countries to evolve a system of hereditary surnames, and indeed some were formed before 1000. The Irish prefixes of Mac (son of) and O (grandson or descendant of) gave rise at an early date, to a set of fixed hereditary names in which the literal patronymic meaning was lost or obscured. These surnames originally signified membership of a clan, but with the passage of time, the clan system became less distinct, and surnames came to identify membership of what is called a 'sept' of people all living in the same locality, all bearing the same surname, but not necessarily descended from a common ancestor. Adoption of the name by people who did not otherwise have a surname and by their dependents was not uncommon. Later, nicknames were in some cases to supersede the original clan names. This name is the Anglicized form of the Gaelic O'Seaghda meaning the descendant of Seaghda, a byname meaning 'one who is Fine and Fortunate'.
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