This unusual and ancient Irish surname derives from the Gaelic form of "O Cnaimhsighe", which early research took to be from a (probably) obsolete female christian name. More recently it has been suggested that in effect the name is locational and a transposition of the Gaelic "An Cnoc Muire", meaning "The hill of Our Lady". This is possible, but unlikely, as only a handful of Irish surnames out of an estimated six thousand are of ocational origins. The name is most numerous in Co. Donegal, where it is also recorded as Neaphsy and Neecy, and to a lesser extent in Co. Mayo. The records of Ireland are sparse; they were usually destroyed in conflict, and this is particularly sad as Gaelic surnames preceded almost all others in Europe. When the records exist, they are disjointed, usually, as in this case, with many centuries between the events. Following the first recording, five hundred years elapsed to that of Philip MacShane Neasy, in 1584, who was one of Lord Viscount Roche's men, and a protestor against the rule of Sir Walter Raleigh. Lord Roche was the loser, and it may be that the "Kneafseys" were exiled to Donegal from (possibly) their native County Cork. Recordings include; Thomas (aged 31), Biddy (aged 24) and Mary (aged 24) Knavesy (as spelt), passengers on the ship "Cornelia" of Liverpool, to New York, who embarked on April 10th 1847, at the time of the Great Famine. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Scannlan O'Cnaimhsighe, which was dated 1095, recorded in the "Annals of Ireland", as Confessor (Anamchara) of Lismore, Cork, during the reign of The O'Briens, Kings of Munster, 1022 - 1169. 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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