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Surname & Spellings

by Anthony Okieffe

O'keefe, also spelled O'keeffe, O'keiffe, O'kieffe, Keeffe, Keefe and Cuif in France are the anglicized versions of the original Irish surname Ó Caoimh, from the word Caomh meaning “gentle” or “kind”. Ó means "grandson of" or "descended from". The O'Keefe's are famous for claiming descent from the goddess Clíodhna and have a beloved story about her marriage to Caomh (Franklin, pp. 81 ff). Her sister Aibell competed for his affections but Clíodhna ultimately triumphed using sorcery. Caomh, from whom the family descended, lived in the early 11th century and was a descendant of Art, King of Munster from 742 to 762.

Originally the clan occupied territory along the banks of the Blackwater river in County Cork. However, the arrival of the Normans displaced them, like so many others, and they moved west into the barony of Duhallow, where their territory became known, and is still known, as Pobal O'Keeffe, where the senior branch of the family had their seat at Dromagh in Dromtarriff Parish.

Even today, Pobal O'Keeffe is still the area in which the name is most common, with surrounding areas of County Cork also including many of the name. Although the surname is not very numerous outside County Cork, it is still strong enough to be included in the list of the hundred most common names in Ireland.


O'Laughlin, Michael C. Families of County Cork, Ireland. O'Laughlin Press Ltd., 1997.