Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A note from my father on the name Heneghan

by Patrick Heneghan/Pádraig Ó hÉighneacháin 

Dear Liam
I start by saying that tracing the origin of Irish family names is a rather dodgy business.  Statements often end up with a warning note along the lines of:  ‘It is also possible that the name originated from the name of some local person, usually the head of a break-away sept of the major clan’.

In our family the expert was Uncle Tom.  His version of the name in Irish was Tomás Ó hÉighneacháin.  He also admitted that the version Ó hÉidhneacháin could be used.  He believed that the name had reference to the Ivy plant.

This is reasonably convincing.  The English-Irish dictionaries give the translation of Ivy as Eidhneán, without the ‘síne fada’ on the E, and with ‘d’ rather than ‘g’.

My Irish-English dictionary gives the translation of the word ‘eidhneachán’  as an ivy branch, and this seems also to me to be good evidence that our name is strongly related to the ivy plant.  One can imagine the clan as going into battle with shields and standards bearing images of the ivy.

My cousin Paddy of Ballinrobe is married to a Co. Clare lady who believes that we are an Irish branch of the famous Heiniken lager family, so you can see how far-fetched some people can be to come up with that one!

 I believe I know how the change to Bird by some of the family came about. Éan is the Irish for bird and some who emigrated from Irish-speaking backgrounds and mistakenly concluded from the sound of the name that ‘bird’ rather than ‘ivy’ was a good translation.   There is an avenue in south Dublin City which was originally named Ascal Ó hÉighneacháin, and for some reason this was changed to Bird Avenue.

I hope this answers your question.

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