Roots: A Look at the Laheys and the Leahys
By Kristin Romano, Editorial Assistant
April / May 2011
Have you always thought the surnames Lahey and Leahy were variations of the same name? Think again! Lahey and Leahy originate from two different Gaelic surnames. Lahey, Lahy, Lahiff, Lahiffe, Laffey, and Lahive all originate from the Gaelic surname O Laithimh, which itself is a variant of O Flaithimh. O Flaithimh derives from the Irish word flaitheamh, which means lord or ruler. By the 16th century, the name was found in Galway, Clare, Tipperary, and Kilkenny.
Leahy, Leehy, O’Leghy, and O’Leahy stem from the Gaelic surname O Laochdha. In Irish, laochdha means heroic. O Laochdha is an old Munster surname, which, by the 1890s, was found throughout Ireland. It is still most common in the counties of Munster: Counties Cork, Kerry, Limerick and Tipperary.
Frank Lahey, M.D. (1880-1953) founded the world-renowned Lahey Clinic in 1923, a non-profit teaching hospital of Tufts University School of Medicine. A famous surgeon, he was also a teacher and medical administrator. Lahey founded the clinic with the goal of gathering many specialties in one place, believing the best results came from a collaborative effort. Highly regarded for his extensive skill in thyroid and esophageal surgery, Lahey graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1904 and eventually became a professor of Surgery at Tufts University Medical School from 1913-1917. During World War I, he served as a major in the Army Medical Corps and director of an evacuation hospital. Ever committed to his work, he died eleven days after suffering a heart attack, right after he finished performing surgery.
John L. Lahey (b. 1946), our Irish American of the Year, has served as the President of Quinnipiac University in Hamden, CT since 1987. Lahey is the Vice Chairman of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee and served as the parade’s Grand Marshal in 1997. He dedicates a great amount of his time to educating the public on the Irish famine and its historical implications.
Jim Lahey is the owner and founder of Sullivan St. Bakery and Co. in New York City. His original ambition was to become a sculptor. Lahey’s passion for art took him to Italy, where, instead, he discovered the art of bread making. He returned to New York with the goal of giving the bread of the Italian countryside a home in New York City. In 1994, he opened Sullivan St. Bakery in Soho, eventually moving to Hell’s Kitchen. The bakery has developed an impressive reputation, with over 340 of New York’s finest restaurants using Lahey’s bread. In 2009, Lahey opened his first restaurant, Co. (pronounced as “Company”) and published his first cookbook, My Bread.
Lyle Lahey is an American political cartoonist based in Wisconsin. Born in 1931, he served a tour of duty with the Army in Korea. In 1968, Lahey began to contribute political cartoons to The Brown County Chronicle. His cartoons covered local, regional and national politics, the Green Bay Packers, world events and environmental issues. From 1968 to 1976, his work appeared in the Chronicle, and from 1976 to 2005 in The Green Bay News-Chronicle, which published The Packer Chronicles in 1997, a collection of Lahey’s cartoons about the Green Bay Packers. Lahey now creates political cartoons on his website, posting three new cartoons each week.
Heroic service to one’s country has been exemplified by several Leahys. Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, United States Navy (1875-1959) was the first member of the U.S. armed forces to hold a five-star rank. His father Michael Leahy fought in the Civil War as Captain of the Wisconsin Infantry Volunteers. William Leahy served on the USS Oregon during the Spanish-American War. During World War I, he served as captain of the dispatch boat used by then-Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt. He became the Chief of Naval Operations in 1937, serving until he was retired in 1939. He was then the Governor of Puerto Rico from 1939 to 1940, and the Ambassador to Vichy France until 1942, when he came out of retirement to serve as Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy. In recognition of his service, Leahy became the first Fleet Admiral (a newly created position) on December 15, 1944. During his distinguished career, he was awarded the Navy Cross, World War I Victory Medal with “Overseas” Clasp and the World War II Victory Medal. Leahy was still on active service when he died in 1959. In 1969, the USS Leahy was named after him.
Officer James Leahy was killed on September 11, 2001, trying to rescue people trapped in the World Trade Center in New York. Officer Leahy was a nine-year veteran of the New York City Police Department and at the time of his death he was assigned to the 6th Precinct. He was posthumously awarded the NYPD’s Medal of Honor for his heroic actions on that day.
Laheys and Leahys can be found throughout the world of arts and entertainment. Musician Kevin Leahy is a drummer and percussionist who has performed with artists such as Jennifer Nettles and Shawn Mullins. Leahy, the Canadian folk music group, has toured all over the world, releasing three studio albums and one live album. James Leahy is a Canadian artist who is represented in galleries in Canada, Britain and the United States. His work can be found in public and private collections.
The Laheys and the Leahys have left their unique mark on the world, and are likely to keep doing so into the future.