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An excerpt from www.HouseOfNames.com archives copyright © 2000 - 2014

Origins Available: English, Irish

Where did the Irish Shay family come from? What is the Irish Shay family crest and coat of arms? When did the Shay family first arrive in the United States? Where did the various branches of the family go? What is the Shay family history?

Irish names tend to vary widely in their spelling and overall form. The original Gaelic form of the name Shay is O Seaghdha, which is modified to O Se. The surname is derived from the word seaghdha which means hawk like but has a secondary meaning of stately.

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Names from the Middle Ages demonstrate many spelling variations. This is because the recording scribe or church official often decided as to how a person's name was spelt and in what language. Research into the name Shay revealed many variations, including O'Shea, O'Shee, McShea, McShee and others.

First found in County Kerry (Irish:Ciarraí) part of the former County Desmond (14th-17th centuries), located in Southwestern Ireland, in Munster province, where they held a family seat from ancient times.


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This web page shows only a small excerpt of our Shay research. Another 232 words(17 lines of text) covering the years 1172 and 1500 are included under the topic Early Shay History in all our PDF Extended History products.

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Another 30 words(2 lines of text) are included under the topic Early Shay Notables in all our PDF Extended History products.

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To escape the religious and political discrimination they experienced primarily at the hands of the English, thousands of Irish left their homeland in the 19th century. These migrants typically settled in communities throughout the East Coast of North America, but also joined the wagon trains moving out to the Midwest. Ironically, when the American War of Independence began, many Irish settlers took the side of England, and at the war's conclusion moved north to Canada. These United Empire Loyalists, were granted land along the St. Lawrence River and the Niagara Peninsula. Other Irish immigrants settled in Newfoundland, the Ottawa Valley, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The greatest influx of Irish immigrants, however, came to North America during the Great Potato Famine of the late 1840s. Thousands left Ireland at this time for North America and Australia. Many of those numbers, however, did not live through the long sea passage. These Irish settlers to North America were immediately put to work building railroads, coal mines, bridges, and canals. Irish settlers made an inestimable contribution to the building of the New World. Early North American immigration records have revealed a number of people bearing the Irish name Shay or a variant listed above, including:

Shay Settlers in the United States in the 19th Century


  • John L Shay, aged 15, landed in North Carolina in 1812
  • Mary Shay, aged 20, arrived in America in 1821
  • Andw Shay, aged 26, arrived in America in 1821
  • Timothy Shay, who arrived in New York in 1850
  • Wm Shay, who arrived in New York in 1851


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  • Art Shay (b. 1922), American photographer
  • Dorothy Shay (1921-1978), American popular comedic recording artist
  • Ephraim Shay (1839-1916), American Inventor, entrepreneur, eponym of the Shay locomotive
  • Jerry Shay (b. 1944), former American NFL football player
  • Jennifer Mary Shay OC (b. 1930), Canadian academic and ecologist


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  • Shay Families with Roots in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania by Thomas P. Shay.
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  1. Sullivan, Sir Edward. The Book of Kells 3rd Edition. New York: Crescent Books, 1986. Print. (ISBN 0-517-61987-3).
  2. MacLysaght, Edward. Mores Irish Familes. Dublin: Irish Academic, 1982. Print. (ISBN 0-7165-0126-0).
  3. Somerset Fry, Peter and Fiona Somerset Fry. A History of Ireland. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1993. Print. (ISBN 1-56619-215-3).
  4. Bolton, Charles Knowles. Bolton's American Armory. Baltimore: Heraldic Book Company, 1964. Print.
  5. Matthews, John. Matthews' American Armoury and Blue Book. London: John Matthews, 1911. Print.
  6. Tepper, Michael Ed & Elizabeth P. Bentley Transcriber. Passenger Arrivals at the Port of Philadelphia 1800-1819. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1986. Print.
  7. Grehan, Ida. Dictionary of Irish Family Names. Boulder: Roberts Rinehart, 1997. Print. (ISBN 1-57098-137-X).
  8. Vicars, Sir Arthur. Index to the Prerogative Wills of Ireland 1536-1810. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co. Print.
  9. Bullock, L.G. Historical Map of Ireland. Edinburgh: Bartholomew and Son, 1969. Print.
  10. Bell, Robert. The Book of Ulster Surnames. Belfast: Blackstaff, 1988. Print. (ISBN 10-0856404160).
  11. ...

The Shay Family Crest was acquired from the Houseofnames.com archives. The Shay Family Crest was drawn according to heraldic standards based on published blazons. We generally include the oldest published family crest once associated with each surname.

This page was last modified on 8 December 2010 at 19:42.

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