This name, with variant spellings O'Coffey, O'Coffie, O'Cohey, Coffee, Cos(h)ey and Cowhiy, is an Anglicized form of the old Gaelic O' Cobhthaigh. The Gaelic prefix "o" indicates "male descendant of", plus the personal byname Cobhthaigh meaning "Victorious". There were three main septs of this name in Ireland. One belonged to Corca Laoidh (South West Cork) where local pronunciation gave the forms Cowhig and Cowhey. The sept is of the same stock as the great sea-faring O' Driscolls, long associated with Baltimore in South West Cork. The placename Dunocowhey in this county is named after them. A second sept of considerable importance belonged to the Leinster county of Westmeath where they were renowned as a great bardic family. Charles Coffey (1700-1745), dramatist and actor, was the first to introduce Irish airs in a play. A third minor sept was a branch of the O' Maddens of Ui Maine, (comprising the modern counties of Galway and Roscommon). The placename Rathcoffey occurs both in Co. Kildare and Co. Leix. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Dermot O' Coffey, a Gaelic poet, which was dated 1580, in the "Records of County Westmeath", during the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1, known as "Good Queen Bess", 1558 - 1603. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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