This very interesting surname is of Irish origin, and is an Anglicized form of the Old aelic "Mac Giolla Chainnigh". The Gaelic prefix "mac", denotes "son of", with "giolla", literally meaning "servant", but used here in the transferred sense of "devotee", and the saint's name Cannach (Canice); hence "son of the devotee of St. Canice". Traditionally, Irish family names are taken from the heads of tribes or from some illustrious warrior, but in some instances, sept names indicate veneration of a particular saint, as in Kilcash, from "Mac Giolla Chais" (devotee of St.Cas). The Great "Mac Giolla Chainnigh" sept were of the ancient Cenel Eoghain population group, and were located in Tyrone and south Derry. St. Canice, whose place of origin was Drumachose in County Derry, was a hermit and abbot who founded monasteries in Drumachose and Cluain Bronig in County Offaly. His name alternatively appears as St. Kenny, which is nearer to the original Irish phonetically. In the process of Anglicization "Mac Giolla Chainnigh" has acquired several variant forms including Kilkenny (North Connacht) and MacElhinney with MacIlhenny (West Ulster). The county name Kilkenny, written as "Cill Chainnigh" in Gaelic, means "the church of St. Canice". David de Kilkenny was bishop of Achonry, Co. Sligo, from 1312 to 1344, but the modern surname is rarely of locational origin. Paddy Kilkenny, the wandering piper of renown, was born at Clifden, Co. Galway, circa 1882. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of William de Kilkenny, Bishop of Ely, which was dated 1256, in the "Medieval Ecclesiastical Records", during the reign of King Henry 111, known as "The Frenchman, 1216 - 1272. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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