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Ó Caoimh.

O'Keeffe (Irish: Ó Caoimh), also known as simply O'Keefe or Keefe, is an Irish Gaelic clan based most prominently in what is today County Cork, particularly around Fermoy and Duhallow. The name comes from caomh, meaning "kind" or "gentle"; some reformed spellings present it as Ó Cuív and the feminine form of the original is Ní Chaoimh. As the primary sept of the Eóganacht Glendamnach, the family were once Kings of Munster from the 6th to the 8th centuries.


The original Caomh, from whom the family descend, lived in the early eleventh century, and was descended from Cathal mac Finguine, celebrated King of Munster and the most powerful Irish king of the first half of the 8th century. See the main article, Eóganachta, for more discussion, as well as Eóganacht Glendamnach, the specific sept of the family.

The O'Keeffes are famous for claiming descent from the goddess Clíodhna and have a beloved story about her marriage to Caomh (Franklin, pp. 81 ff). Her sister Aibell competed for his affections but Clíodhna ultimately triumphed using sorcery.

For all of their history the family has been strongly associated with County Cork. Originally the territory of the family lay along the banks of the Blackwater river, near modern Fermoy, and were active in the wars of the twelfth century between the O'Connors and the Eoghanacht dynasties of Munster.

However, the arrival of the Normans displaced them, like so many others, and they moved west into the barony of Duhallow, where their territory became known, and is still known, as Pobal O'Keeffe, where 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 (d. c. 1655), 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. The family estates were confiscated in 1703, and sold to the Hollow Blades Company.

Even today, Pobal O'Keeffe is still the area in which the name is most common, with surrounding areas of County Cork also including many of the name. It remains relatively rare outside that county. In 1890, more than two-thirds of the births under the name are recorded in County Cork.

Like many of the dispossessed Irish nobility, the O'Keeffes were active in the service of the Catholic monarchs of Europe. In 1740 Constantine O'Keeffe (born c. 1670) was admitted to the French aristocracy on the basis of his Irish pedigree, and his long service. The bearers of the surname "Cuif", found in the Champagne district of northern France, are descendants of O'Keeffe soldiers.

The original spelling is with 2 ff's (O'Keeffe), and church officials recorded names as they were wrongly spelled, then often resulting in the name of a single person being recorded under several spelling variations, such as O'Keefe, Keefe, Keeffe, Keiffe, and others

Ó Caoimh

People named O'Keefe

People named O'Keeffe

Fictional characters

  • Calvin O'Keefe, major character in Madeleine L'Engle's Time Quartet series
  • Jimmy Keefe, cousin of Tommy Gavin from Rescue Me TV Series
  • Polly O'Keefe, protagonist of the Madeleine L'Engle novels

Other uses

See also




  • Byrne, Francis J., Irish Kings and High-Kings. Four Courts Press. 2nd edition, 2001.
  • Charles-Edwards, Thomas M., Early Christian Ireland. Cambridge University Press. 2000.
  • Franklin, D., "Cliodhna, the Queen of the Fairies of South Munster", in Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, Volume III, Second Series. 1897. pp. 81 ff
  • MacLysaght, Edward, Irish Families: Their Names, Arms and Origins. Irish Academic Press. 4th edition, 1998.

External links