This document is published here with the consent of the author, and is taken from his book, James Bluford Coffey, His Ancestors and Descendants in America, and the supplement, Vol. II: Ancestors. This work was copyrighted by the author in 1984, and again in 1994. It may not be copied, or reused by anyone in any publication of any type, electronic or otherwise, for any purpose without the express written consent of the author.
Ancient Origins of The Coffey Family
by Marvin D. Coffey
In considering this subject it should be understood that we do not know the specific origin of our Coffey line. However, all of those coming to America seem to have originated in Ireland. The name Coffey is an English rendering of the Irish Cobhthaigh or Cobhthach, which means "victorious" . As is true with many other Irish names it was in earlier times given as O'Coffey and O'Cobhthaigh, meaning "of the family of" or "descendant of". The name Cobhthaigh is Gaelic, originating from Celtic bands that roared over much of Europe in the 3rd and 4th centuries, B.C. and invaded Ireland sometime later. The Cobhthaigh line is traced back to Cobhthaigh's grandfather Olliol Flann Beag, King, of Munster (about 240 A.D.), and from there to the brothers Ithe and Bile, relatives of Milesius, King of Spain. In 803 A.D. Fergus Mos O'Cobhthaigh brought the leaders of the 3 most powerful warring clans of Eire, the O'Briens, O'Niels, and McCarthys, together
at Tara, the ancient capitol of Eire, where a peace treaty was signed. For his diplomacy and respect for law and order he was made supreme judge of Eire, a position which has been hereditarily held by the family for seven generations.
Members of this family seem to have settled in various parts of Ireland, but there were 3 main septs. The best known was O'Cowhey, O'Cowhig, or O'Coffey of Fuin Cleena, chief of Triocha Meona, now the barony of West Barryroe, Corca Laoighe (Cork county)in Munster. These once powerful chiefs had seven castles
along the coast and ruins of them still exist.
A second group was Ui Maine (counties Galway and Roscommon in Connaught.) They lost their lands and influence in the Cromwellian and Williamite confiscation's of the 17th century. The Irish Civil War of 1641 is credited with being the cause of the Comnonwealth confiscation's in Ireland. Because of their devotion to faith, King, and country the estates of the Irish Papist" landed gentry were almost wholesale confiscated to make room for the Cromwellian settlement. In 1649 Cromwell became Commander-in-Chief of all English forces in Ireland and soon conquered most of the country. There followed a great deal of redistribution of the land. In 1675 12 1/2 million acres were redistributed, nearly 81 million acres passing into the hands of English and Scottish settlers. During the Williamite confiscation's, 1688-1702, 1,060,792 acres and much personal possessions were forfeited by Irishmen loyal to King James the Second. About one-fourth of these were eventually returned to their former owners (by the Treaty of Limerick), but most went to personal friends of King William the Third. Another consequence of the Commonwealth confiscation of Ireland was the suppression of prefixes like O'. Some families later returned to this use but the Coffeys did not.
Some of the Coffeys transplanted or otherwise removed from their lands included in 1653-54: Thomas Coffie, Balligiffe, county Westmeath; Edward Coffy, Ballinkeny, county Westmeath; Murtagh Coffy, Rogerstown, county Westmeath; and Daniel Coffey, Province of Connaught. Others, date and locality not given, were: Teige Coffie, and Hugh and Owen Coffy.
The third Coffey family was that of county Westmeath in Leinster, a celebrated bardic family. In ancient Ireland the bards ranked next to royalty. They preserved the folklore, handing it down from generation to generation by word of mouth. A bardic Coffey family also lived in Connaught.
There are genealogical charts listing descendants from Ithe through over 90 generations down to an Edward Coffey in America in the 1800s. However, we do not know at which point our line branched from this genealogy. It is quite possible the ancestor went from Ireland to England for sometime before coming to America. The later (nineteenth century) Coffeys who came to America from Dublin were probably of the Munster sept (largely from county Cork.)
If one wishes to trace their origins further than the above a good source is O'Hart's Irish Pedigrees and The Annals of the Four Masters by O'Clery, et al. After listing the generations from Adam to Noah as given in the Bible, and that Noah's son Japhet was given Europe and most of Asia as an inheritance, O'Hart mentions some descendants of Japhet that settled and developed the Scythian nation. Ireland was invaded by a series of sythian groups in very early times but the most prominent were the Melesians. They seem to be descended from Japhet's son Magog (as were the earlier groups) but through the latter's son Baoth and several generations of descendants who spent some time in Phoenicia, Egypt, and Crete before one Brigus conquered large areas around the Mediterranean, including what is now Spain. He had 2 sons, Ithe and Bile. The latter was King of these conquered countries and his son Milesius succeeded him. Milesius was quite an adventurer. He went to Scythia where he became a general and married the King's daughter. Because he was so popular the King became jealous of him and ensuing events led to Milesius slaying the King. He then went to Egypt where the Pharaoh made him his general and gave him a daughter, Scota, in marriage, Milesius now being a widower. At length he took leave and returned to Spain. Some years later he sent his uncle Ithe along with the latter's son Lughaidh to Ireland. Ithe was subsequently killed by the ruling group there. Lughaidh and some of the men escaped to bring word back to Milesius who then dispatched his sons and many men to conquer the Island. Milesius' son Heremon eventually became the sole ruler of Ireland and his brother's sons received large land inheritances. He also gave a part of Munster to Lughaidh.
The Milesians ruled Ireland for 2,885 years down to their submission to the Crown of England in the person of Henry the Second. The Heremonian nobility includes all the Kings of Scotland down to the Stuarts and the Kings and Queens of England from Henry the Second down to the present time.
From Ithe's son Luighaidh O'Hart gives the descendants down to Cobthach Fionn, a name meaning "Fairhaired Victor." Cobthach is synonymous with Cobhthaigh. His son was O'Cobhthaigh and as mentioned earlier, local dialects were anglicized to O'Coffey, O'Cowhig, Cowhey, Caughey, Coffey, Coffy, and Coffee. The name O'Coffey exists at least from as early as 1213 A.D. when Ainmire O'Coffey died. He was an "abbot of the Church of Derry, an ecclesiastic of noble birth, distinguished for piety, charity, wisdom and other virtues." He was also a near kinsman of Erlile, number 104 on the Nicholson line.
A list of the principle or well-known families in Ireland from the llth to the beginning of the 17th century included O'Coffey, chief in Westmeath, O'Coffey in Galway and O'Coffé'(location not mentioned). In 1960 there were listed as being 4,250 Coffeys in Ireland.
Since Ireland was invaded by many groups over the centuries, the O'Coffey line as well as others must have been well mixed. Goiner, another descendant of Japhet, is thought by most scholars to be the ancestor of the Cimmerians who in turn were the source of, among others, the Gaelic and Celtic peoples, some of whom settled Ireland. It should be mentioned that the terms Gaelic and Celtic have come to be almost synonymous in terms of origin.
There is another source that suggests that the name which means "fairhaired victor" (Cobthach Fionn) must have come from a Norserax, during the Norse invasion in the 9th and 10th centuries), who stayed around and married a native Irish girl. This does make more sense as one would not expect a line from Spain or Southern Europe to produce someone who was "fairhaired" and we know that the Norsemen did remain in Ireland for several centuries and intermarried with the Celts and others who were already there. However, I know of no other records indicating this to be the case and it would seem that the name Cobthach (or Cobhthaigh) Fionn was used before the Norsemen came.
O'Hart makes a strong point for the similarity of the Irish language with the ancient Scythian and claims this (the Celtic language) was the Adamic language of Eden, the Irish is the most pure form of it, and is a key to the modern languages of Europe.
MacLysaght, Edward, Irish Families, Their Names, Arms, and Origins, 3rd Ed, New York: Crown Pub. 1972
MacLysaght, Edward. A Guide to Irish Surnames, Baltimore: Gen. Pub. Co., 1964
O'Hart, John. Irish Landed Gentry When Cromwell Came to Ireland, Dublin: James Duffy & Sons, 1887
MacLysaght, Edward. More Irish Families, Galway: O'Gorman, 1960
Hackett, Francis. The Story of the Irish Nation, New York: The Century Co., 1922
MacManus, Seuman. The Story of the Irish Race, 4th Ed. New York: The Devin-Adair Co., 1944
O'Hart, John. Irish Pedigrees or the Origin and Stem of the Irish Nation, Dublin: James Duffy & Co., 1892
O'Cleary, Michael, Conary & Cucogry O'Cleary, & Ferfeasa O'Mulconry. Annals of The Four Masters, Orig. Pub. 1632, 7 vols.
Genesis, Chapter 5
Moore, Frank R. The Coffey Clan from 1690, Laguna Beach, CA 1969
Copyright 1998, Coffey Cousins' Clearinghouse