The O’Kane, Kain, or O’Cahan Family

O’Kane, Kain, or O’Cahan family crest

(Crest No. 45. Plate 47.)

THE O’Kane or O’Cahan family is descended from Milesius, King of Spain, through the line of his son Heremon. The founder of the family was Eogan, ancestor of the Northern Hy Nials and son of Nial of the Nine Hostages, King of Ireland, A. D. 379. The ancient name was Cahane and signifies “Beloved.”

The title of the chiefs of the O’Kanes was Prince of Cianacht of Glean Geibhin, or Keenaght of Glengiven, and the possessions of the sept were located in the present County of Londonderry. The O’Kanes were also chiefs of the Creeve, now the barony of Coleraine, and in after-times possessed the greater part of the County Derry, which was called “O’Kane’s country.” They also, at an early period, possessed part of Antrim and had their seat at the Castle of Dunseverick, the ruins of which still remain. This territory obtained its name, Cianachta—a name still preserved in the barony of Keenaught, County Derry—from the O’Conors, who were chiefs of Cianachta before the O’Kanes and were descendants of Kiann, son of Olliol Ollum, King of Munster, A. D. 177.

The territory of the O’Kanes extended from the Foyle to the Bann. The ancient possession of this family was granted by O’Neill and, according to local tradition, was meted out in the following rather whimsical manner: O’Neill, in return for important services, granted to O’Cahan, or O’Kane, a stretch of land as far as his brown horse could run in a day, and also the fisheries of the Bann at Coleraine. Accordingly, starting from Burn Follagh, in the parish of Comber, he rode eastward to the Bann, which was henceforth to constitute his boundary in that direction.

The power and authority of the chieftains of this family entitled them to the distinction of throwing the shoe over the head of the O’Neill, on the day of the inauguration of these princes on the hill of Tullahogue. The chief residence of the head of the clan was near Newtown Linavady, situated on a high cliff nearly a hundred feet above the river, and adjacent to the cascade of Linavady, or the Dog’s Leap, surrounded by the most delightful scenery in the Valley of the Roe. The site of the castle and the rath, or fort, by which it was defended on the land side, can yet be seen.

The last of the O’Kanes was a stanch supporter of O’Neill in his contest against the power of Elizabeth, and his estates were confiscated. He was thrown into prison and afterward banished and his castle demolished.

Sir Henry Docwra, in April, 1600, obtained possession of Derry, after many unsuccessful attempts on the part of the English. He immediately set to work to build fortifications and to erect an English town. In providing the materials required for that purpose, he not only levied on the woods and quarries around the locality but tore down the houses of the inhabitants. As he himself writes, he employed “the two ships of warre, with soldiers in them, to coast all alonge the shore for twenty or thirty miles, and willed wheresoever they found any houses, they should bring away the timber and other materials to build withall, and O’Cane having a woode lying on the opposite side, with plentie of growne birch, I dalie sent some workmen with a guard to cut it down, and not a sticke of it but was well fought for.”

The “O’Kane’s country,” previous to its confiscation under James the First, embraced 31,187 acres.

In the reign of Charles the First the Duchess of Buckingham, wife of the Earl of Antrim, her second husband, raised a levy of a thousand men in aid of the King on the Antrim estates, and by order of the Deputy, Lord Westmeath, marched them to Linavady. It is related that the Duchess was induced by curiosity to visit the wife of O’Kane, the chieftain above mentioned. The old lady continued to live in the seat of her family; she had kindled a fire of branches within the roofless walls to keep off the rigors of the season; the windows were stuffed with straw; and the Lady O’Kane herself was found by her noble visitor wrapped in blankets sitting by the fireplace in the smoke, an affecting illustration of the ruined fortunes of her fallen and noble house. Her only son was sent to college by order of the King but no trace was ever after found of him or of his subsequent history. Several members of this family were restored to their lands at the planting of the county and became freeholders under the crown.

The O’Kanes are still very numerous in the north of Ireland, and many of them have attained prominence in America and the British colonies. Elisha Kane, the celebrated arctic explorer, was a member of this family. His son is at present a captain in the British navy, and was the only commander who got his ship out to sea in safety on the occasion of the disastrous hurricane in the bay of Appia, Samoa, a few years ago.

Among the many men of this name who have achieved success and distinction in New York may be mentioned ex-Judge William J. Kane and Hon. James Kane, ex-Register of the City of Brooklyn, N. Y., and in the ranks of the clergy, in which this name is also honorably represented, the Most Rev. John J. Kain, Coadjutor Archbishop of St. Louis, Mo.