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The original Irish from which the name derives is O'Cahill from the common personal name Cathal sometimes anglicised Charles which may in turn derive from the Old Irish catu-ualos meaning strong in battle. Families of the name arose separately in different parts of Ireland in Kerry, Galway, Tipperary and Clare. Originally the Galway family located in the old diocese of Kilmacduagh near the Clare border were most prominent but their position was usurped by the O'Shaughnessys and they were declined. The southern families flourished and the name is now most common in countries Cork, Kerry and Tipperary while it is relatively infrequent in its other original homes. The arms illustrated are those of the Munster Cahills.

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