According to Irish lore, the MOONEY family comes from one of the largest and most noble Irish lines. They are said to be descendants of the ancient Irish King Heremon, who, along with his brother Herber, conquered Ireland, around the same time as Alexander of Macedonia was making his great conquest to the south. Heremon slew his brother shortly after their invasion, took the throne for himself, and fathered a line of kins of Ireland that include Malachi II, and King Niall of the Nine Hostages.
By the 11th century, the population of Ireland had grown and commerce had developed to such a level that people had to adopt surnames in order to distinguish themselves from others.
Neither the English nor Irish Gaelic language were yet standardized in the Middle Ages. Therefore, a name was often recorded under several different spellings during the life of its bearer. Although Irish names tend to vary widely in their spelling and overall form, the original Gaelic form of the MOONEY name is O’Maonaigh. This is derived from the word maonach, “meaning wealthy.”
In the early 17th century, the English further complicated matters with their policy of standardizing of Irish names. Prefixes like Mc and O’ were removed and literal translations into English were common. In 1893, the Gaelic League began encouraging the Irish people to reclaim old versions of their names. Unfortunately, records had not been kept well, and the restored names, though well-intentioned, were often quite historically inaccurate.
Spelling variations found in the search for the origins of the MOONEY family name include Meeny, Moony, Moonie, Mooney, Mennie, Manney, Mmeney, Menney, Mennie, Menney, Meenee, Meany, Meanie, O’Mainy, O’Meany, O’Meeny, O’Mooney, Meaney, Menie.
Baptismal records, parish records, ancient land grants, the Four Masters, and books by O’Hart, McLysaght, and O’Brien were all used in researching the history of the MOONEY family name. These varied and often ancient records indicate that distant septs of the name arose in several places throughout Ireland. The vest-known and most numerous sept came from the county of Offaly. The members of this sept were descended Chieftan Monach, son of Ailioll Mor, Lord of Ulster, who was descended from the Kings of Connacht. These family members gave their name to town lands called Ballymooney both in that county and in the neighboring county of Leix.
From this sept a branch settled later in Shanaghan in Raphoe. Ballymoon, however, remained the main seat of the Sept. They also branched to Lemanaghan and Tireragh in Sligo. Then, in the 17th century, they acquired Garris and Ringelstown in the county of Meath.
In Ulster, an O’Mooney sept descended from Monach, son of Ailioll Mor, and were erenaghs (church stewards) of Shanaghan, in the parish of Ardara, which was in the diocese of Raphoe. County Sligo was home to a sept of Meenys, who held a family seat in the barony of Tireragh and gave their name to four town lands called Ballymeeny in the parish of Easky. Lastly, there was also a Munster sept whos name was Anglicized from O’Maonaigh to Mainey.
Sadly, Irish families left their homeland in astonishing numbers during the 19th century in search of a better life. Although individual reasons vary, most of these Irish families suffered from poverty, racial or religious discriminations, lack of work opportunities and exorbitant rents in their homeland. Many decided to travel to Australia or North America in the hopes of finding greater opportunities and land.
The Irish immigrants that came to North America initially settled on the East Coast, but like the many other cultures to settle in North America, the Irish traveled to almost any region they felt held greater promise. As a result, many Irish with gold fever moved all the way to the Pacific coast. Others, before that time, left America for land along the St. Lawrence River and the Niagara Peninsula, or the Maritimes as United Empire Loyalist, for many Irish had sided with the English during the American War of Independence. Although many Irish families arrived prior to the Great Potato Famine of the 1840’s, the greatest and most desperate portion of the Irish migration occurred during that time.
An examination of early immigration and passenger list has reveled many people bearing the MOONEY name or one of its variants: Will Mooney was a laborer in St. John’s in 1779; James was a fisherman in St. John’s in 1782; Bartholomew, an Irish convict landed in Petty Harbour in 1789; George Mooney arrived in Philadelphia in 1808; Pat landed in Harbour Grace in 1810; Mary Mooney, her husband and three children arrived in Passamaquoddy, Main in 1822; Eleanor, from County Waterford was married in St. John’s in 1828; Andrew, Arthur, Catherine, Daniel, Hugh, James, John, Mary, Michael, Patrick, Richard, Thomas and William Mooney all arrived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania between 1840 and 1860; John and Andrew were planters in Gaskin in 1871.
The 1984 edition of the Report of Distribution of Surnames in the Social Security list the surname MOONEY as the 786th most popular surname in the United States.
For further reading, try “Mooney-Garner Ancestry” by George W. Mooney, “The Applings, The Mooneys, Through the years, 1685-1976” by Esther Gambrell Deviney.
Early Origins: King Heremon
Gaelic Name: O Maonaigh