Máirín ní Dubhthaigh

Duffy is a name which comes from the Old Irish word "dubhthaich" which means "of the dark house". The Irish Duffys are a sept of the Scots Clan Macfie or McFie, which originated on the Island of Colonsay. The Scots Gaelic form of the name is "MacDubhsithe", which means "son of the People of Peace", or the faeryfolk.

This name is now the single most common name in County Monaghan, where it originated. Its (modern) Irish version is Ó Dubthaigh, which means black, probably referring to hair.

One of the most notorious holders of this name from County Monaghan was General Eoin O'Duffy, Chief Commissioner of the Garda Siochanna (the Irish police force) after independence. He was sacked from his position by the incoming de Valera government in the early 1930s and went on to found the extreme right-wing, fascist-style organisation known as the Blueshirts. An earlier Duffy with an altogether more heroic career was Sir Charles Gavan Duffy (1816-1903), Premier of the colony of Victoria, Australia. He too was born in Monaghan town.

There were anciently in Ireland several independent septs of Ó Dufaigh, one which held territory around the modern town of Strokestown in County Roscommon. This sept distinguished themselves in ecclesiastical affairs in the early centuries of the second millennium and were associated with the royal abbey of Cong.This family was much occupied with ecclesiastical art and was responsible for making the famous Cross of Cong. Among the many abbots and bishops whose names are recorded in the Annals and in the Rental of Cong Abbey, compiled by Tadhg O'Duffy in 1501, the most noteworthy were Cele (also called Cadhla and Catholicus) O'Duffy, Archbishop of Tuam, who was King Roderick O'Connor's ambassador to Henry II in 1175, and Muiredagh O'Duffy (1075-1150), also Archbishop of Tuam.They are traditionally believed to have originally been located in east Leinster, of the same stock as the O'Byrnes and O'Tooles.

The same origin is claimed for the O'Duffys of Monaghan. There, too, they were remarkable for their contribution to the Church; but in this case not for mediaeval dignitaries, but for the extraordinary number of parish clergy of the name: for example, in the lists of priests and sureties compiled for Co. Monaghan in accordance with the Penal Laws in the eighteenth century Duffy is by far the most numerous name.

In Ulster, Dowey is a common variant. It is found in Munster to some extent but there is often takes the form Duhig, while in parts of Donegal it has become Doohey and Dowey. These variants arose from local pronunciations of the Irish O Dubhthaigh. There were several distinct septs of O'Duffy. One belongs to the parish of Lower Templecrone in the diocese of Raphoe, Co. Donegal, the patron saint of which is the seventh century Dubhthach, or Duffy. His kinsmen the O'Duffys were erenaghs and coarbs there for eight hundred years. The Connacht sept, the centre of whose territory was Lissonuffy or Lissyduffy near Stokestown, named after them, was remarkable for the number of distinguished ecclesiastics it produced, particularly in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

One other priest must be mentioned, though he has no apparent connexion with these, since he was vicar of Tubrid in the diocese of Waterford, viz. Father Eugene (or Owen) O'Duffy (c. 1527-1615), a famous preacher who always used the Irish language in his sermons: he was the author of the well-known satire on the apostate bishop Miler Magrath.

In other spheres O'Duffys have distinguished themselves in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Among these we may mention Edward Duffy (1840-1868), the leading Fenian in Connacht, who died in an English prison; Monaghan born James Duffy (1809-1871), the founder of the well-known Dublin publishing firm; and three members of the Gavan Duffy family (which, by the way, is not a hyphenated name) - Sir Charles Gavan Duffy 91816-1903), also of a Co. Monaghan family, founder of the Young Ireland party and The Nation newspaper, subsequently Prime Minister of Victoria, Australia; his son John Gavan Duffy (1844-1917), also a member of the Victoria government, though born in Dublin; and on the third generation a very prominent figure in modern Irish politics, George Gavan Duffy (1882-1951), one of the signatories of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1922 and later President of the High Court of Justice of Ireland.

The variant Duhig occurs in Munster. Sir James Duhig, the late Archbishop of Brisbane, was born at Limerick in 1871. He held that position for 46 years. The Mayo surname O Doither, formerly anglicized O'Diff, presents an example of the absorption of uncommon names by common ones: the O'Diffs have now become generally Duffys and so are hardly distinguishable from the O'Duffys or the adjoining county of Roscommon.

A Mayo sept, Ó Doithe (or Ó Duithche), held territory in central Mayo. Their surname survived in the townland of Ballyduffy (Baile Uí Dhoite) between Crossmolina and Pontoon where a ruined castle of the sept can still be found. Their surname was, in the eighteenth century, occasionally anglicised as O’Diff but in the last century became generally translated as Duffy. In the early years of the Irish Free State, when primary school registers began to be kept in the Irish language, the surname Ó Doithe was frequently used to represent the surname Duffy.

The Catholic St. Brighid, a figure largely if not wholly derived from the Celtic Goddess Brighid, was spoken of as "Bridget the daughter of Dubhthaich of Cill Dara"  or Bridget Duffy of County Kildare. It has been handed down in our family that the branch of the Duffys to which we belong originated in Kildare and was descended from this very Saint!!!

(The information above was collected from DUFFY SURNAME HISTORY (CO.MAYO)  by Gerard M. Delaney This Surname History is reproduced with the kind permission of Irish Roots Magazine in which it was first published as part of the feature article, Surnames of County Mayo, in Issue 1, 1995.)

My father was Owen Henry, who was born July 13th, 1916, in Saranac Lake, New York. His father's name was Henry Leo Duffy, and his father's name was Hugh, who married Mary Sandiford from London, England. Her father, Owen Sandiford, was reputedly a dancing master in London. My father's mother was Anna Teresa McGuire. If anyone has any information about any of the names mentioned here, please email me.

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