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Sheehan, Sheahan, Sheen.

Sheehan Coat of Arms


The beautiful name Sheehan or Sheahan, sometimes contracted to Sheen or Shean, is the anglicisation of the Irish Ó Siodhacháin, from a diminutive of siodhach, meaning 'peaceful'. The eponymous ancestor of the family is disputed, but must have been unique among the Irish of the day to have deserved the description "peace maker". Not every scholar accepts this origin of the name, but given the fact that the sept's traditional coat of arms features a dove of peace, there will be few of the name who will want to consider any alternative. One ancient genealogy places the sept's ancestor as a brother of Brian Boru while another has him as a member of the Scanlan sept. The Book of Leinster refers to "Muintir Sidechain" from a distant relative of Brian Boru.

Cormac Cas was King of Thomond (Tuathmhumhan, modern county Clare with adjacent parts of Limerick and Tipperary) around the fifth century and he spawned a tribal grouping known as the Dál gCais or Dalcassians which dominated Munster until the final suppression of the old Gaelic order in the seventeenth century. Their most famous family is that of O'Brien, but the group includes other well known families such as McNamara, O'Grady, Heffernan, McMahon, Hickey, Clancy, etc. Regardless of the precise identity of their ancestor, the sept of Ó Siodhacháin is believed by most authorities to be part of the Dál gCais, having a chief residence in Lower Connello, Co. Limerick. O'Sheehan, O'Meehan and O'Cullane all served as chiefs in that barony. Over the centuries, however, the members of the sept migrated southwards and in modern times the name is most common in County Cork, though also found in Kerry and Limerick. The name starts to appear regularly in the records of Cork from the fourteenth century mentioned in connection with Kilcredan parish in the diocese of Cloyne on several occasions. We find John Shyghan of Youghal who was a tailor there in 1617. In the same town we find William Sheehan as town clerk in 1688. We also find one Thadeus O'Sheaghan as a Church of Ireland Vicar of Inchigeelagh in 1639. In 1689 we find one Capt. William Sheehan in King James army list.

It is one of Ireland's very numerous surnames: combining the alternative spellings it holds the seventy-fifth place in the list thereof, with an estimated total population in Ireland today of about eight thousand five hundred persons of the name. Of these the great majority were born in Co. Cork or, on its borders, in the adjacent counties of Kerry and Limerick.

Some more exotic variants of the name which appear in old records include O'Sheaghane, O'Sheehane, O'Sheghane, Shehane and Sheghane. One or more of the name of Shyhane are given as tituladoes in Costlea barony in Limerick in the 1659 census. The rather rare spelling of McSheaghan was found as late as the 1890 birth index. This may represent an entirely different family, i.e. stemming from a name like Mac Sheehy, or may simply be a variation of the spelling of O'Sheehan.

Although the name has little present-day association with Connacht it should be stated that there was in mediaeval times a sept of the Ui Maine called O'Sheehan: they were hereditary trumpeters to O'Kelly, the O'Lonergans being the harpers to the same leading chief.

O'Sheaghyn, mentioned in the Fiants of 1543 as Chief of his Nation in southern Co. Galway, was not, as might be supposed, an O'Sheehan: O'Sheaghyn is there the somewhat grotesque attempt of a foreign official to write down the name O'Shaughnessy.

The two most distinguished persons of the name in Irish life have both been Catholic priests, viz. Patrick Augustine Sheehan (1852-1913), universally known as Canon Sheehan, author of My New Curate etc., and Michael Sheehan (1870-1945), Archbishop of Sydney, who was associated with Ring College and the revival of the Irish language.

In modern times, Jeremiah (Jerry) Sheehan, an agricultural inspector in Moate, County Westmeath, indulged his passion for local history and genealogy. His efforts resulted in several useful publications pertaining to the Westmeath area: South Westmeath Farm and Folk, Westmeath as others saw it and Worthies of Westmeath. He was also instrumental in publishing a facsimile copy of The Annals of Westmeath. Jerry sadly passed away in the mid 1990's.


Arms: Azure in a mount in base vert a dove argent holding in the beak an olive branch proper. Crest: A dove argent holding in the beak an olive branch proper.