Families of this name, invariably in use without its prefix 'O', will descend from one of the O'Cobhtaigh sept. One was from south-western County Cork, another belonged to County Westmeath and another to County Roscommon; the first of these appears to have the largest progeny as Coffey families are most numerous in Munster. 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 Murragh O'Cobhthaidh, who was the bishop of Derry and Raphoe in the year 1173. Thomas le Coffey was documented in Ireland in the year 1298. Thomas Coffee and Winifred Hillman were married at St. James's, Clerknwell, London in the year 1704. William Jakins and Bidey Coffee were married at St. George's, Hanover Square, London in 1803. At first the coat of arms was a practical matter which served a function on the battlefield and in tournaments. With his helmet covering his face, and armour encasing the knight from head to foot, the only means of identification for his followers, was the insignia painted on his shield, and embroidered on his surcoat, the draped and flowing garment worn over the armour. Surnames as we know them today were first assumed in Europe from the 11th to the 15th Century. The employment in the use of a second name was a custom that was first introduced from the Normans. They themselves had not long before adopted them. It became, in course of time, a mark of gentler blood, and it was deemed a disgrace for gentlemen to have but one single name, as the meaner sort had. At first the coat of arms was a practical matter which served a function on the battlefield and in tournaments. With his helmet covering his face, and armour encasing the knight from head to foot, the only means of identification for his followers, was the insignia painted on his shield and embroidered on his surcoat, the flowing and draped garment worn over the armour.
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