The Irish Roots of a Yankee Doodle Dandy

Did you know that Mr. Yankee Doodle Dandy himself - George M. Cohan - has deep Irish roots? Read on to find out more about his Irish family origins and more.

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The Irish Roots of a Yankee Doodle Dandy

If you examine a list of popular, modern Irish baby names, you will see that many old Irish names have started to come back into fashion. Names like “Tadhg”, “Cormac” and “Fiachra” for boys or “Grainne”, “Aoife” or “Ashling” for girls. However, one boy’s name that has yet to make a return is “Eocha” (pronounced “Yucca”) which probably means a “horse-man” in old Irish.

Over time, many of these boys’ names evolved into the Irish surnames that we know today. “Eocha” became the root of surnames like “Keogh” and “Haughey”. It also formed the root of the surname we will focus on in today’s letter which is “Keoghane” (pronounced “ka-yo-HAAN”).

The Irish Roots of a Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Michael Keohane was born near the town of Bantry in west County Cork around the year 1810. He served his time as a tailor and married a local girl called Jane Scott. They then emigrated to Boston in the USA where they started a family shortly after arrival.

One of their children, Jeremiah, had a good ear for music and the ability to keep friends and neighbours entertained – probably a trait that came through from his Irish roots. He eventually became a professional entertainer. He met and married a fellow stage-performer called Nellie Costigan. The pair continued as stage partners performing in the up and coming vaudeville scene. As each of their two children reached an appropriate age, they joined their parents in the act. By 1888 they had become known as “The Four Keohanes”.

Actually, they weren’t called “The Four Keohanes” – they were called “The Four Cohans”.

You see, Michael Keohane had his fine west Cork surname changed to “Cohan” on arrival in the USA and that surname spelling stayed with the family down through subsequent generations.

Among the ranks of “The Four Cohans” was the youngest of the Cohan family, George Michael Cohan, better known as “George M. Cohan”.

George M. Cohan went on to co-write more than 50 broadway shows and over 300 songs. These included the popular  “Give My Regards to Broadway” and “The Yankee Doodle Boy”. By the early 1900s he was known as “the man who owned Broadway” and had become the most famous writer of American musical comedies.

We also know him from the Oscar-winning movie “Yankee Doodle Dandy” in which he was played by Jimmy Cagney. Who can forget Jimmy belting out George’s own words:

“I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy

A Yankee Doodle, do or die

A real live nephew of my Uncle Sam

Born on the Fourth of July”.

George M. Cohan is remembered today through the wonderful musicals, songs and performances that are still played around the world. It’s not surprising that there is a statue of the man himself in Times Square, New York City and also in Providence, Rhode Island, the place of his birth.

However, I think it is time that Bantry town got their act together and put their own statue up for George M. and his Cohan family – the Keohanes of West Cork. What do you think?

Slán for now,


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