The original Irish for Hickey is Ó hIcidhe, from iceadh, meaning "healer". The Hickeys were part of the tribal grouping, the Dál gCais, which produced Brian Ború, the High King of Ireland who defeated the Vikings in 1014. This grouping had its territory in the area now part of Co. Clare and north Tipperary, and it is this area with which the Hickeys remain closely identified. Their surname arose because of their position as hereditary physicians to the royal O'Brien family.
From their original homeland, the name spread first into the neighbouring Co. Limerick, and from there even wider, so that Hickey is today one of the most common and widespread of Irish surnames.
In 1890 it was ranked 151st, with 139 births of the name, and with particular concentrations in the old areas of Clare, Limerick and Tipperary, but also in Dublin and Cork. By in 1996 it had risen to 116th.
There has been virtually no resumption of the initial "O".
The Hickey brothers, John (1756-1795) and Thomas (1760-1822) were prominent artists, as a sculptor and a portrait painter respectively.
John D. Hickey (1911-1977) was a controversial sports journalist with the Irish Independent for more than 25 years, often at loggerheads with the authorities in charge of Gaelic games.
Patrick Hickey (1927 - ) is one of Ireland’s most respected painters and printmakers. he was Head of painting at the National College of Art and Design from 1986 to 1990.