This famous Irish surname is recorded in many spellings including O'Coffey, O'Coffie, O'Cohey, Coffee, Coffey, Coshey and Cowhiy. It is an Anglicized form of the pre 10th century Gaelic O' Cobhthaigh, meaning the descendant of "Cobhthaigh", the latter being a tribal personal name translating as "The victorious one", no doubt a reference to a legendary warrior of ancient times. There were three main septs in Ireland making up the clan. The first sept belongs to "Corca Laoidh" or South West Cork, where local pronunciation produced the spelling forms Cowhig and Cowhey. It is claimed that the Cork sept is of the same stock as the great sea-faring clan O' Driscoll, although quite why this should be so is one of the mysteries of Irish mythology. The hamlet of Dunocowhey in County Cork is named after the clan. A second "Cobhthaigh" sept of considerable importance belongs to the county of Westmeath, in the province of Leinster. This sept were renowned as a great bardic family, the first nameholder as shown below being a famous Gaelic poet. Charles Coffey (1700-1745), the Dublin dramatist and actor, was the first to introduce Irish airs in a play. A third minor sept was a branch of the O' Maddens in the ancient territory known as Ui Maine. This comprised the modern counties of Galway and Roscommon, in the midlands and west of Irleand. Curiously "Rathcoffey" occurs as a placename, not in those counties but in County Kildare and County Leix, suggesting that the tribe may have migrated at an earlier period. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Dermot O' Coffey, which was dated 1580, in the "Records and charters 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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