Ó Catháin

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Ó Catháin (English: O'Cahan) are a Gaelic Irish sept from the Uí Néill kindred of Cenél nEógain. They originated in the Laggan area of County Donegal, and from there moved eastwards in the twelfth century, ousting the Uí Conchobair from Keenaght and retaining their lordship of Keenaght and Coleraine until the seventeenth century (what is today County Londonderry).

They are descended from Eógan, son of Niall of the Nine Hostages. In the late Middle Ages, they were the primary sept under the Ó Néill clann of Ulster, holding the privilege of inaugurating the Chief of the Ó Néill by tossing a shoe over the new Chief's head in acceptance of his rule.


The surname has been anglicised O'Cahan, Cahan, McCaughan, O'Kane, Kane, O'Keane, O'Kean, O'Keene, Keen, Keene, Kain, O'Kaine, and similar variations thereof.


There is much historical evidence of the clann's ancient Ulster roots. These include Dungiven Priory which is reputed[who?] to be the tomb of Cú Mhaighe na nGall ("Cooey-na-Gall") Ó Catháin, who died in 1385. Cú Mhaighe na nGall means "Terror of the foreigner."

Toirdhealbhach Ó Catháin owned Dunseverick castle in medieval times,[citation needed] after participating in the First Crusade.[citation needed] Dunseverick was a 'key' ancient site in Ireland and one of the royal roads from Tara, seat of the Kings of Ireland, ended here.[citation needed]

Ulster chiefdoms in the late 15th century.

Ruaidri Dáll Ó Catháin, an Irish harpist of the 17th century most famous as the composer of Tabhair dom do lámh, may have penned the popular Irish tune the "Derry Air", in order to lament the destruction of Ó Catháin power.[citation needed] Consequently, it may have been originally called "Ó Catháin's Lament".[citation needed] The music is best known as the tune of the song "Danny Boy".

The Ó Catháin's long battle with the English crown ended in the early 17th century. With that defeat, its lands were contributed to the Derry plantation, during the Plantation of Ulster, as the County Coleraine, and now form the bulk of today's County Londonderry. After the Flight of the Earls in 1607, Domhnall Ballagh Ó Catháin, Chief of the Ó Catháin (and at one time knighted by the English Crown), was captured and sent to the Tower of London, where he died in 1626. There has been no Chief since.

In 2001, Lt. Col. (USAR-Ret.) Leonard M. Keane, Jr., of Massachusetts, submitted his application to the Standing Council of Irish Chiefs and Chieftains, claiming to be a descendant of Seán Ó Catháin, The Ó Catháin (d. 1498), great great grandfather of Domhnall Ballagh, but no action has been taken. The Genealogical Office has received no formal application from Keane. In any event, the Irish government ceased recognition of Chiefs of the Name in 2003 and the Standing Council has admitted no new members.



There are two other septs sharing the same name, though a different origin, these are;

Ó Catháin Uí Fiachrach[edit]

The Uí Catháin in Connacht were a branch of the Uí Fiachrach Aidhne (now south County Galway but rarely appear in the historic records.)

Ó Céin[edit]

The Uí Céin of County Waterford) have anglicised their name as "Kean(e)".

See also[edit]

External links[edit]