This surname, formerly MacSheehy, in Irish Mac Sithigh, belongs to Munster which at the end of the last century was the home of about ninety percent of the Sheehy families in Ireland. The name is also spelt SHEEKEY, SHEACH, SHIACH, SEATH, McSHEEHY, McSHIEHUE, McSHIHY and McKEITH. Within that province the name is commonest in County Kerry followed by County Limerick. The ancestors of the Sheehys were not, however a native Munster sept or even a native Irish one, but gallowglass fighters from Scotland who came over to Ireland as mercenaries and were established near Rathkeale, County Limerick, by the early 15th century where they were in the service of the FitzGerald Earls of Desmond.
A notable member of the name was Francis Joseph Christopher Sheehy-Skeffington (1878-1916) the Irish pacifist and feminist, born in Cavan, the son of a school-inspector. He was educated at the University College, Dublin. On the outbreak of World War 1 he was sentenced to six months imprisonment for campaigning against recruiting, being released after six-days hunger strike.
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 dependants was not uncommon. Later, nicknames were in some cases to supersede the original clan names.
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