James Aloysius Kane

Michael Kane

Michael Kane, Sr.


by Willie O’Kane

O’Kane is the Anglicized form of OCahan and is variously rendered as Kane, Keane, Kayne, Keaney, OKeeny, Keyne, Cahan, OCain, Cain and Keny. In addition, it embraces McAvinney, McEvinney and McQueen.  Another large sub-sept of OCahan is McCloskey (McCluskey, Cluskey and McLuskey), a numerous north Derry name. McCloskey Bloscaidh OCathain (Bloskey OKane), who, in 1196, slew Murtagh OLoughlin, heir to the Irish throne.

The north of what is now County Derry was the heartland of OCahan country. Their territory spread out from the Limavady region, north across the Faughan and Roe valleys, east beyond Binevenagh Mountain to Coleraine and the Bann, and south through the upper Roe valley to Dungiven and the Sperrins beyond. The OCahans were overlords of these lands from the late twelfth century onwards. It is believed they came from the west of Ireland, having been displaced by Anglo-Norman invaders in the 1170s. Moving north through Ulster, the OCahans, in turn, drove out the OConnors from the latters lands around Glengiven (Dungiven) and established their overlordship for the next four centuries.

In the earlier part of their dynasty there were periodic encounters with English and Norse invaders. In 1179 John de Courcy led a plundering army through the Roe valley, but was overtaken and defeated by a band of the OCahans on the strand of Lough Foyle. There are also references to the last battle against the Danes, near Dungiven, where the Danish chief was killed and where the place-name Strangemore commemorates the fallen leader. The OCahans are also mentioned in the Annals of Ulster as feuding with the McQuillans of Antrim, and there is evidence that their influence extended as far as the Scottish Isles through their association with the McDonalds. Certainly, by the fourteenth century, OCahan chieftains were making use of Scottish galloglasses, and the beautiful ballad Finvola, The Glen of the Roe, tells of an OCahan maiden who marries a chief from the Scottish Isles.

OCahan chieftains had strongholds, or castles, at several sites. One, on a rocky prominence on the Roe near Limavady, was probably the principal power base, while at Dungiven, Dermot OCahan is reputed to have founded an Augustinian priory. Today, in the ruins of the old church on this site can be seen the magnificently engraved monument to Cooey Na Gall, an OCahan chieftain who died in 1390. The monument, in the Anglo-Norman style, depicts the regal form of the chief, laid out in military dress on a stone slab and supported by six smaller figures variously interpreted as his sons or, more likely, Scottish galloglasses.

Among the Ulster clans OCahan was second only to ONeill,and took part in the inauguration of any new ONeill chieftain. Tradition relates that in the ceremony OCahan performed the ritual of throwing a golden slipper over ONeills shoulder, symbolically pledging his and his peoples loyalty.

The last OCahan chieftain was Donnell Ballagh OCahan, inaugurated in1598, who with ONeill, ODonnell and many other Ulster clans, resisted English encroachment to the end, only to suffer the loss of his lands and imprisonment in the Tower of London, where he died, without trial, in 1628.

The OCahan sept has since produced some notable scions in all walks of life. Sir Richard Kane (1666-1723) was a noted soldier and military strategist, while Echlin OCahan (1720-90) was one of the foremost harpers of the eighteenth century. Sir Robert John Kane (1809-90) achieved fame as a scientist and writer, publishing in 1845 The Industrial Resources of Ireland, a definitive economic survey that greatly influenced subsequent thinking. Elsewhere, John Kane was prominent in Australian politics and Walter Keane was a leading American artist. In 1875, Archbishop McCloskey of New York became the first American cardinal. In our own day, of course, writer John B. Keane and singer Dolores Keane have each made outstanding contributions to Irish popular culture.

Source:  Irish Roots Magazine in which it was first published as part of the feature article, Surnames of County Derry, in issue 2, 1993.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s