The Keane/Kane family were originally Mac Cathain of West Clare, O'Cahain of Ulster and O'Cain of Munster. In time their anglicisation as Keane, or Kane, made their topographical origins difficult to define. Their name derives from the personal name Cian.

Blosky O'Kane, who slew the heir to the throne in the 12th century, was the forefather of the MacCloskeys. Aibhne Ó'Cathain's descendants became the McEvinneys.

The Kanes tend to be numerous in Ulster while the Keanes are usually to be found in Munster and Connacht.

For centuries, both at home and far afield, the Kanes/ Keanes were active military men. In the eighteenth century there were 14 O'Kane brothers serving in Europe.

In the nineteenth century, Kanes and Keanes were prominent in the sciences, architecture and the arts. The great acting family of Edmund Kean and his son Charles had their origins in Waterford. The popular playwright-publican, John B. Keane, is a Kerryman.

John Keane and James Keane, at different periods, were two of the many Irish-Americans to fill the post of Bishop of Dubuque, Iowa.