The name, Keena, is almost certainly an anglicised version of the Irish name, O’Cianaigh. O’Cianaigh means the descendants of Cian, and is pronounced O’Keeney. Who the original Cian was I do not know. Other English versions of the name are common in the Sligo-Leitrim area where the English version is spelled variously as Keany, or Keaney, or Keeney.
The first Irish census ever taken was made by the Cromwellians in 1659 for the purpose of enforcing a poll tax. The original papers no longer exist, but abstracts survive which list the most common names in different areas. The name Keena does not appear, but there were a small number of families called Keny in Co. Westmeath. It appears to me to be very likely that the name Keny was an attempt by the enumerator to present an English form of the name O’Cianaigh. As was common practice with the English authorities he would have ignored the ‘O’, An individual of the name O’Cianaigh’ would be referred to in Irish as ‘An Cianach.’ It is easy to see how this could become Keena in English.
The next Irish census was taken in 1821, and following that there was a census every ten years. Unfotunately, all the 19th. century census papers were burned in the Four Courts during the civil war in 1922.
Under the Penal Laws every occupier of agricultural land, however small the holding, was obliged to pay tithes to the Protestant ministers. This caused a lot of trouble and unrest, as demands varied from place to place. In order to regularise things a survey of occupiers of agricultural land was made in the 1820s. The result has survived in the Tithe Applotment Books which are in the National Archives. According to these books there were only six occupiers of agricultural land with the name Keena in the thirty-two counties of Ireland. All of these were in the western end of County Westmeath.
The next important source of information on family names is the Poor Law Valuation, sometimes called the Griffith Valuation, made in 1854. Every house and holding in the country was listed in this and a rateable valuation assigned to each. It also named the occupier of every house and holding in the country. The original papers are in the National Archives. The survey threw up a total of forty-four rated occupiers with the name Keena in all of Ireland. Of this number, thirty-one were resident in Co. Westmeath, thirteen in Co. Longford, and one each in Offaly and Roscommon. Today the telephone directories show the name Keena in most Irish counties, and also in such places as Canada, USA, Argentina, Australia, and Great Britain.
Patrick Keena, a native of Ballymore, Co. Westmeath
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