Recorded in the spellings of O'Keefe, O'Keeffe, and occasionally Keefe, this is an ancient Irish surname. The descent is from Art Caemh, chief of the clan O'Keefe, and the son of Fionghuine, King of Munster, who died in the year 902 a.d.. Originally the clan occupied territory throughout the Glanmore and Fermoy areas of County Cork. Eventually it is said they were driven further west by the Norman invaders after 1170, moving to Duhallow where in time their lands were given the name Pobal O'Keeffe meaning the O'Keeffe county. From the Gaelic the name translates as the "male descendant of Caomh", a byname meaning noble or gentle. O'Keeffe ranks amongst the top hundred surnames in Ireland, and unlike many O' names, is one which has retained the prefix consistently through the centuries. It is however said that the famous dramatist John O'Keeffe was for a time known as John Keefe. Granted a benefit at Covent Garden in London in the year 1800, and a royal pension in 1820, his works include "Merry Sherwood" and "Tony Lumpkin in Town". The clan coat of arms depicts a gold lion rampant on a green shield with two gold dexter hands erect. The first recorded spelling of the family name is believed to be that of Father Eoghan O'Keeffe. He was the president of the bards of Ireland, and appears in the records of North Cork, in 1680. 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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