The Kearney or Karney Family

Kearney or Karney family crest

(Crest No. 143. Plate 19.)

THE Kearneys are descended from Milesius, King of Spain, through the line of his son Heber. The founder of the family was Cormac Cas, son of Olliol Ollum, first absolute King of Munster, A. D. 177, and Sabia, daughter of Con of the Hundred Battles, King of Ireland, A. D. 148. Thus the blood of the branch of Heremon is united with that of Heber in this family.

The ancient name was Cearnach, signifying “Victorious,” and was taken from one of their ancient chiefs, Cartharnaigh. The title of the head of this sept was Chief of O’Gearney, and the possessions of the clan were located in the present Counties of Meath and Westmeath. O’Dugan, in his topography, gives Cathairnaigh as head Prince of Teffia, whom he thus designates:

“High Prince of Teffia, who obtained renown,

Is O’Caharney of the battling arms.”

The name was rendered O’Kearney. The chief branch took the name of Sinnach O’Catharnaigh from Sinnach, Lord of Teffia. As the word Sinnach signifies “Fox,” the family name became Fox, and the head chief was generally designated as Sinnach, or the Fox. Their territory was called Muintir Tadhgain, and comprised an extensive district in Teffia, containing parts of the baronies of Rathconrath and Clonlonan, in Westmeath, with part of the barony of Kilcourcy, in Kings County. This name is common also in Cork, Limerick, and Clare. A clan of the O’Kearneys were settled near Kinsale, in the County of Cork, where they are placed on the map of Ortelius, and are mentioned by O’Heerin as Chiefs of Ui Floinn. The O’Kearneys were also Chiefs of Avon-Ui-Kearney, or O’Kearney’s River, a district about Six-Mile-Bridge, in the baronies of Tulla and Bunrathy, County Clare.

The O’Kearneys have always been distinguished as a martial race, both in Ireland and abroad.

Major-General Philip Kearny was one of the most dashing of American soldiers in the war with Mexico and in the late Civil War. In the former he was conspicuous for his bravery at Contreras and Cherubusco. He lost his arm in the latter engagement while charging the enemy at the head of his dragoons, following them within the City of Mexico. He afterward served with the French army in Algeria and in the war with Austria. In 1859 he again entered the French service. At the decisive battle of Solferino he commanded the cavalry under General Louis Morris, and captured the key-point of the position, holding the bridle in his teeth and his sword in his only hand while he led the charge. General Kearny was the first American ever honored with the Cross of the Legion of Honor by the French Government for military service.

General Philip Kearney at the Battle of Chentilly

At the Battle of Chentilly.

At the outbreak of the Civil War he obtained a command in the Union army, and signalized himself on various occasions, notably at Williamsburg, where, like Sheridan at Winchester, he snatched victory from defeat. General Kearny was killed at the battle of Chantilly, Va., September 1, 1862. General Scott said of him: “He was the bravest man I ever knew, and the most perfect soldier.”

Laurence Kearny, descended from this family, was born in New Jersey in 1789, and attained distinction in the United States Navy. He bore a prominent part in the War of 1812. He was subsequently engaged in clearing the West Indies’ and Florida coasts of pirates and in breaking up the strongholds of the Greek pirates in the Levant. In 1843, on his way home from the East, after aiding in securing our commercial treaty with China, he called at the Hawaiian Islands, and was instrumental in preventing the transfer of the island group to England. He was made a Commodore in 1867, and died in the following year.

Major-General Stephen W. Kearney, a cousin of the preceding, took a distinguished part in the War of 1842 and the Mexican War. After crossing the country and establishing a provisional government in New Mexico, which he seized, he proceeded to California, of which he became the first Governor, in 1846. During the campaign in Mexico he was appointed Military and Civil Governor of Vera Cruz and afterward of the City of Mexico.

The name is still numerous in Ireland and in the United States, where many of them occupy positions of prominence. Among the representatives of this family here may be mentioned Mr. M. J. Kearney of Brooklyn, N. Y.