Recorded in the variant spellings of O'Shee, McShee, Shea and Shee, this surname is an anglicized form of the Old Gaelic "O'Seaghdha". The Gaelic prefix "O" indicates "male descendant of", plus the personal byname "Seaghdha", "hawk-like" with the implied meaning of "dauntless". The O'Sheas were primarily a County Kerry sept, and were Lords of Iveragh in that county prior to the 12th Century. The great majority of the names are found there to the present day, and O'Shea is one of the fifty most numerous names in Ireland. A branch of the sept migrated to County Tipperary in the late 14th Century when the surname was first recorded (see below). Some leading clan members moved to the adjoining County of Kilkenny, where the O'Sheas became established as the most influential of the Ten Tribes of Kilkenny. These were of Milesian blood (from Milesius, a legendary King of Spain). Robert Shee was Sovereign (chief burgess) of Kilkenny city in 1499. Captain Robert O'Shea, an officer of the Irish Brigade in France, was a devoted follower of Prince Charlie and was with him at Culloden. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Odoneus O'Shee, Lord of Sheestown, which was dated 1381, in the "Medieval Records of County Tipperary", during the reign of King Ard MacMurrough, King of Leinster, 1376 - 1417.
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