Roots: O’Muimhneachain, Moynihan, Moynahan, Minihan

By Michael Sihksnel, Contributor
December / January 2005

O’Muimhneachain is the old Irish form of the name Moynihan. The name originally came from the province of Munster and actually means “Munster man.” Today different branches of the clan are still to be found in Munster, mainly in West Cork and Kerry, where the name is among the most popular in the county, and has been that way since the 17(th) century.

The first record of a Moynihan passing through Ellis Island is in 1892, a year when several families of that name immigrated to the U.S. Their primary places of origin are listed as Killarney and Tralee. A Moynihan family is also recorded in the 1850 U.S. census in Middleton, Pennsylvania.

The Moynihan family’s name does not often appear in records of ancient Ireland, however, one frightening account in Civil Wars in Ireland, mentions that in 1588 six friars were slain in the monastery of Moynihan under the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

The most famous American beating the name may be Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927-2003) former Senator from New York. He is best known for his report with the Department of Labor The Negro Family: Cause for National Action, which was criticized by civil rights activists when it was released in 1965, but is now regarded as one of the most accurate analyses of poverty in the African-American community. His book Beyond the Melting Pot had a major impact on Irish America, where he argued that the ethnic identity is stubborn in New York, and that the Irish did not become American in their first generation.

Senator Moynihan is not the first politician to bear the name. Moynihans active in public life can be traced back to Seán and Muds O’Muimhneachain. These brothers from Co. Clare worked closely with Eamon de Valera (1882-1975) in shaping both the Irish Free State and the Irish Republic. Seán and Muds served in various departments of the government up until the 1950s.

Today there are three Moynihans serving in the Irish Oireachtas (parliament): Breeda Moynihan Cronin (TD Kerry South), Donal Moynihan (TD Cork North West), and John Minahan, a member of the Seanad (the Senate).

The Moynihan name is also popular in the word of entertainment. Actress Bridget Moynahan, our cover story, is fast becoming a well-known face in Hollywood. She most recently appeared in I, Robot with Will Smith. (See page 32). And while Bridget’s Dad is a scientist, now retired from the University of Massachusetts, there are several over Moynihans who, like Bridget, have embraced the world of films. Sean Moynihan directed the 2001 Gwyneth Paltrow and Jack Black hit Shallow Hal. He also acted in the 2003 success Stuck on You. He’s not to be confused with another Sean Moynihan, the soap opera star from the 1960s. Today, Christopher Moynihan is an aspiring actor from New York, who has had guest appearances on According to Jim and The Hughleys. He is now working on his own sitcom, which he is writing and producing with Conan O’Brien.

Meanwhile, at home in Ireland, one of the biggest influences in Irish music has been Johnny Moynihan. He introduced the bouzouki in the 1960’s to Irish listeners. He was in several groups including Sweeney’s Men and Planxty, which are considered two of the most influential bands in the post-Dubliners timeline. Traditional piper Diarmaid Moynihan is a leader in the pan-Galician movement, and he has introduced a Breton influence to his Uillean pipes. On the other hand, Michael Moynihan’s band Blood Axis is often accused of being white supremacist and fascist.

Maura Moynihan, daughter of the late New York Senator, also has a plethora of accomplishments to her credit. Along with being an award-winning musician and acclaimed human rights activist, she recently became an author with the book Yoga Hotel, detailing experiences by British and American expatriates in India. She told an interviewer, “This is so much a product of being Irish, and of being my father’s daughter. Writing is the most important thing in my family.”

Another writer in the clan is Brian Moynahan who wrote an acclaimed history on Rasputin, the Russian monk who greatly influenced the imperial family. Rasputin: The Saint Who Sinned, has been hailed as the first serious work on the mystic monk.

In the world of sports, the name Moynihan is synonymous with Gaelic football. As far back as 1893, we can find references to famed athletes. A. Moynihan was on the 1893 Munster championship team, the Cork Dromtarrife. One of the best players in the league right now is Seamus Moynihan, who returned from an injury to help seal Kerry’s victory in the 2004 All-Ireland final. ♦

One Response to “Roots: O’Muimhneachain, Moynihan, Moynahan, Minihan”

  1. Maureen Moynihan says:

    This needs updating, there are many Moynihans that entered the US before Ellis Island.

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