Guild of One-Name Studies
One-name studies, Genealogy
Variants: Carnaghan, Carnahan, Carnohan, Kernahan, Kernoghan, Kernohan
Category: 1 - A study where research using core genealogical datasets and transcriptions is in its early stages.
Contact: Mr Alan Jones
My mother was a KERNAGHAN from Co Antrim, Ireland. My research into her ancestors has taken me back 4 further generations to a James Kernaghan b. abt. 1797 in Connor, Co Antrim. The family belief is that my Kernaghan line originated in Co Donegal but migrated east to mid-Antrim in the first half of the 17th Century. I have discovered a Census Substitute from the 1660s (Hearth Money Roll) which lists a James and an Alexander Carnekan, both of Connor, Co Antrim. Interestingly, James and Alexander alternate as primary first names in our line however I have not been able to bridge back from my James b. 1797 to those two from the 1660s. During my research over the last 8 years I have made contact with a couple other Family History researchers on the Kernaghan (and variants) lines.
In my Review of the Censuses from the turn of the 20th Century* - 1901 for IRELAND, ENGLAND, SCOTLAND AND CANADA, and 1900 for the UNITED STATES, I came across 33 Surname Variants of KERNAGHAN, the most common being
CARNAHAN (especially in USA),
*(Note – the 1901 Census records for AUSTRALIA and NEW ZEALAND are non-extant).
There may also now be GAELIC spellings (eg O Cearnachain) or prefixed spellings (Mc or Mac) more commonly used but none were observed by me in the 1900/01 Censuses.
The 33 Surnames I encountered are, alphabetically, as follows
My research into the Origins of the surname KERNAGHAN involved review of a number of ancient and other texts, such as “The Four Masters - Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland” (see below), as well as of material on various websites. As can be evidenced from the following, it is clear that the Kernaghans were an ancient Irish Clann, and quite powerful at various stages of Ireland's medieval history.
KERNAGHAN (and its variants) is the anglicised version of the Gaelic name O CEARNACHAIN, which derives from the Gaelic word ‘cearnach’ meaning ‘victorious’.
It is accepted that Ireland was the first society in Europe to adopt the hereditary name. This was from the late 10th Century with adoption of surnames replacing the earlier practice of patronymic naming (e.g. Tadhg, son of Cearnachan). The structure of these surnames was invariably pre-fixed (Mac or Mc meaning Son of – and - O or Ua meaning Descendant of (usually grandson or great-grandson ). The substantive prefix ‘Ua’ eventually became replaced by ‘O’ from the 1300's onwards.
The first record of surname UA CEARNACHAIN is in Meath in 1012AD when “Maelsechlaimi gave them battle, in which Ualgarg Ua Ciardha, king of Cairbri, and Tadhg Ua Cearnachan, sub-king of Breifne, and many others, were killed by him”. (from “The War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill”, Translation from the Irish – by - James Todd, 1867)
Then, again in the Kingdom of Meath, in 1030 - “a battle was gained by the Gott, ie Domhnall, wherein fell Ua Cearnachain, Lord of Luighne”.* (from “The Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters” - Completed in 1636, and translated from the original Irish by John O’Donovan, 1854).
However, earlier records of patronymic CEARNACHAN associated with the Barony of Luighne take us back to 896AD when “a rival was killed by the Luighne i.e. by the sons of Cearnachan”. (ibid – O’Donovan)
From these citings, we can speculate which CEARNACHAN might have been the family’s eponymous ancestor, accepting that the Tadhg Ua Cearnachain who fell in battle in 1012 (see above) was possibly the first of the line to have the surname. Perhaps that illustrious ancestor was the CEARNACHAN, King of Breifne, who died in 931.
The last mention of UA CEARNACHAIN in The Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland was in 1159, once again in relation to a battle in Meath, wherein - “these were the Chieftains slain of the Ui-Briuin : Mac-na-haidhche Ua Cearnachain”
The following is a translated extract from “A Topographical and Historical Poem” by John O'Dubhagain, who died in 1372
Look over Luighne of the full lakes,
Make a commemoration of the Ui-CEARNACHAIN
Good is every habitation of that people ;
O'Gadhra is of that fine race.
(* Luighne, a Barony in the then Southern O'Neill's Kingdom of Tara. The Barony is now spelt LUNE and is in the western part of modern County Meath, in the Province of Leinster. It comprises 4 parishes, the largest of which is Killaconnighan).
Patrick Woulfe in “Irish Names and Surnames” ,1923 - has the following notation for the surname O CEARNACHAIN – “the name (1) of a Meath family who were anciently chiefs of Luighne; and (2) of a Tirconnell family who were the chiefs of Tuath Bladhach (now angl. Doe) in the barony of Kilmacrenan”
Medieval Tirconnell is now County Donegal and it was from that county that many of us believed our Irish KERNAGHANs originated from. Kilmacrenan, at the very north of Co Donegal, is quite a distance from the Kingdoms of Meath and Breifne of the UA CEARNACHAINs (from whence that surname has now been part of the living language of Ireland for over 1,000 years).
In the Ancient Texts, the first we hear of the O CEARNACHAIN Clan in DONEGAL is in the 12th Century and this again is in “A Topographical and Historical Poem” by John O'Dubhagain, (d. 1372AD)
To MacGillatsamhais the stout,
Belong Ros-GuiU and Ros-Iorguil,
Two other chieftains, it is certain to you,
Are over the victorious Tuath-Bladhach.
Of them is O'CEARNACHAIN of valour
Some of whose prosperities I have proved.
Of them is the royal host of prosperous tribes,
The bountiful Muintir Dalachain* .
* Under a “List of Irish Clans”,the entry for Muintir Dalachain (the lands of Dalachain) has -
These Dalachain lands are in the north eastern part of Co Donegal’s Barony of Kilmacrenan and were within the Kingdom of Tyrconnell, the Lords of which up to the 14th Century were the O’Donnell’s.
Separately, we can place our KERNAGHAN Clan in this part of Donegal to the 12th Century, per - “the following clans and chiefs in Tir Connail in the Twelfth Century are given....X. O’Çearnachain, or O’Kernaghan; and O’Dalachain, Chiefs of the Tuath Bladhaigh” From The Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland” translated from the original Irish of The Four Masters, and with commentary, by Owen Connellan, 1845 -
Additionally, “Baronies of Ireland” states for the Barony of Kilmacrenan that - “Other medieval septs include O'Kernaghan of Clondavaddog”,
That Parish, Clondavaddog, also in the Barony of Kilmacrenan, covers most of the peninsula of Fanad in the extreme north of Co Donegal and is adjacent in the south and west to where the lands of Dalachhain are.
Unfortunately, dating is not given for either of the references to Ó CEARNACHAIN in 'List of Irish Clans' – and – 'Baronies of Ireland'). Nevertheless, from Connellan’s text above, we can place the O’ÇEARNACHAINs in Tir Connail (modern Co. Donegal) to within a couple of centuries after their first mentions in Co. Meath but we don’t know if (and when) the Meath clan moved to Donegal after their defeat in 1159.
In the second half of the 14th century however, most of the Barony of Kilmacrenan in Donegal was taken over by the MacSweeneys Clan who then settled their own people throughout the land, displacing many of the earlier inhabitants.
It is from this latter (Tir Connail) era that many of us believed our Irish KERNAGHANs had originated in County Donegal. However, even as early as 1665, when the Hearth Money Rolls were conducted in County Donegal, there were no KERNAGHANs (nor surname variants) recorded in that county. All the Kernaghans that were recorded in the Hearth Money Rolls were listed in County Antrim. Similarly, there were no Kernaghans etc in Griffiths Valuation of 1857, a comprehensive listing of all Householders in County Donegal.
Finally, O'KERNAGHAN is listed twice under the Principal Ancient Celtic Families (together with the Counties in which they were located) in "A Topographical and Historical Map of Ancient Ireland by Baronies" by Phillip MacDermott, 1846, which covers Ireland from 1171 (the English Invasion). The first entry is for County Donegal in Ulster while the second is for County Sligo (which borders Co Donegal in the south but is in the Province of Connacht). The Map of Sligo has O'Kernaghan, C (indicating Chief) in the Barony of Leyny however there is no text attaching to the Map to support sourcing of this nor to indicate time-frame and we have no other evidence of O'Kernaghans in Co Sligo.
1900 and 1901 CENSUSES
My analysis of various Censuses from the turn of the 20th Century - 1901 for IRELAND, ENGLAND, SCOTLAND and CANADA, and 1900 for the UNITED STATES - shows that Name Variant distribution of the KERNAGHAN surname in 1900/1901 differed markedly between the OLD WORLD and the NEW WORLD. (Note – the 1901 Census records for AUSTRALIA and NEW ZEALAND are non-extant).
In IRELAND's 1901 Census, 78% of the 14 Total Name Variants counted (population of 840) were either KERNAGHAN (44%) or KERNOHAN (34%). 710 of this 840 population lived in the Protestant north-eastern counties of Antrim (69%) and Down (16%) and this is reflected in the Religion distribution were less than 5% of the total count were Catholic. Surprisingly there were no Kernaghans or surname variances recorded in Co Donegal which is where the KERNAGHANs originated from.
In SCOTLAND’s 1901 Census, the largest Name Variant was CARNACHAN (27% of Total 218), this having a more Scottish style of pronunciation, and hence spelling. Interestingly there were no CARNACHANs recorded in either of the Ireland or England 1901 Censuses.
ENGLAND's 1901 Census had 131 Kernaghan and Variants, 65% of whom were KERNAGHAN or KERNAHAN. They mostly lived in straight across the Irish Sea from Ulster in England's north-western counties of Lancashire, Cheshire and Yorkshire. Over 40% of this 131 population were either Irish-born or the children of Irish-born parents.
With the USA’s 1900 Census, there were 28 Variants on the surname KERNAGHAN with a Total Population of 2,946 persons. Amazingly a whopping 83% of this number fell under one name - CARNAHAN.
Only 10 out of those 2,457 CARNAHANs in the US disclosed that they were born in Ireland, which compares to the remainder of the KERNAGHAN Surname Variants population where 8% were Irish-born. This reveals that the CARNAHANs go much further back in terms of migration to, and settlement in North America
In CANADA's 1901 Census, 44% of the total Kernaghan variants population of 334 were CARNAHAN.
While CARNAHAN was an ancient name from 16th Century Ireland (see ORIGIN above) yet in IRELAND’s 1901 Census, there were only 24 Carnahans representing 3% of Ireland’s total of Kernaghan and Variants.
More detailed papers covering each of these Censuses, and my observations, will be included as attachments.
You may find our other Guild websites of interest: