In these day of standardisation, initially with the introduction of decimal measure and then the euro, it is interesting to recall the variety of measurements of area that existed in Ireland in times past. There was the gniomh, anglicised gneeve, the ceathru, anglicised carrow, baile biathach, anglicised ballybetagh, etc., the polls in Cavan and the tates in Fermanagh.
There was the statute acre, the "plantation" acre, the English acre and the Cunningham acre. "The prevalence of the English acre in east Co Cork and west Co Waterford evidently stemmed from the Munster plantation, and in Ulster the distribution of statute and Cunningham acres matched the pattern of English and Scottish influence respectively" (Plantation Acres: J. H. Andrews). These were based on the `plantation' statute, and Cunningham perches. The Cunningham perch of south-west Scotland is sometimes thought to have originated in Gaelic Ireland. The surname Cunningham is territorial in origin from the name of a place in Ayrshire. It is a hybrid name from Gaelic (cuinneag, "milk pail", Ir cuinneog), to which the 12th century scribe added - ham, "village". Of the 50 Scottish undertakers of the Ulster plantation, five were named Cunningham, all of whom were granted lands in Co Donegal.
One, the recipient of 1,000 acres, had his land taken from him, though he and his descendants remained in the area. The other four got 5,000 acres but the only one who remained and prospered was John Cunningham from Kilbline, Ayrshire. He is remembered in the towns Newtown Cunningham (An Baile Nua), and Manorcunningham (Mainear Ui Chuinneagain ) in Co Donegal.
Cunningham is among the 75 most numerous names in Ireland, distributed over the four provinces. The majority are in Ulster, in cos Down and Antrim, these being mainly of Scottish origin. In the late 19th century, there were as many as 20 synonyms for the name in Ireland, being widely adopted as an anglicisation of several Irish surnames.
Among those were O Cuinneagain and O Coinneachain. The first of these derives from the personal name Cuinneachan, a diminutive of Conn, while the second appears to derive from the personal name Cainneachan, a diminutive of Cainneach. Edward Mac Lysaght in The Surnames of Ireland says O Cuinneachain was a sept located south of Athlone, and gives (O) Kinahan as its anglicised form.
Bell's Ulster Surnames locates O Cuinneachain around Lisburn, Co Antrim, and in Co Derry where it is anglicised Coonaghan.
Today most O Cuinneagains and O Coinneachains are concealed under the name Cunningham, and it would be very difficult to separate these three from each other. Owners of Land of One Acre and Upwards (1876) shows 18 small to medium Cunningham holdings in all four provinces, though predominantly in Ulster. The largest was the 10,470 acres of Robert A. Gun Cunningham, Mountkennedy, Co Wicklow. There was but a single Kinahan holding, the 158 Co Offaly acres the property of Dublin resident Robert Kinahan.
The 1659 census lists Cunninghams as tituladoes in Down and Tipperary, but mainly in Co Donegal. The name was listed among the principal Irish names in the Donegal baronies of Raphoe and Boylagh and Bannagh, and the Co Antrim barony of Toome. Thomas Cunegan was titulado of Mulick (? Meelick), Co Roscommon; Bryan Cunigane was titulado of Carrick Drumrush (Cora Droma Ruisc, Carrick-on-Shannon), Co Leitrim, and O Cunigane was among the principal Irish names of the Co Clare barony of Tulla.
The Irish Fiants of the Tudor Sovereigns lists Teig O'Conegan among the pardoned of 1572 (probably Co Donegal); in 1578 Rorie, Owen and Ervin O'Conigan were among the pardoned servants of William Apeslye, esq., sheriff of Co Limerick; pardoned in 1584 was Earywan m'Shane Y Conigane of Coolsallagh in the Co Cork parish of Liscleary; Gillepatrick O Conigan was among those pardoned in a Co Clare group in 1592; pardoned in 1601 were Teige O Kineghan, yeoman, of Co Kilkenny, and Bryan m'Gohery O Conighan of Temple brianid (? Co Cork).
Still in Munster, with which this family is not generally associated, The Ormond Deeds relate that in 1553 "Donald McKrai alias Don yll Edoller late of Newchapel, kern, and Donald O'Connegane of Rathbritty stole a horse of John McAuley. Now Rathbritt, in the Co Tipperary parish of Kilconnell, this derives from the Irish Rath an Bhriotaigh.