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Ó Laoidhigh, a surname meaning - poetical, anglicised early as O Leye and later as Lee, was to be found in early times in Connacht. Another sept was located in counties Cork and Limerick.
Mac Laoidhigh - same meaning - was an ancient sept of county Laois.
There are also several families in Ireland of Mac An Leagha, meaning 'son of the physician', which was used, to make matters more complex, by the (Mac) Donleavy family as an alias! (P. Woulfe, 'Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall' 1923). Of renown were the Connacht septs, one being the chiefs of Ui Briuin Eola, also of Annadown, who were hereditary physicians to the O'Flahertys.
In the 15th century a learned member of this family translated into Irish a Latin treatise on medicine, which originated in the arabic lands. This book is in the Royal Irish Academy's library.
In William Petty's 1659 'Census' we find Lee as a 'Principal Irish Name' in Co Cork in baronies: Kinalmeaky, Leaue (6 families); and in Carbery East, Leagh (26 families) and Carbery West, Leah & Leagh (20 families). The name must be distinguished from Leahy/Leaghy (Ó Laochdha) which is also found in the 1659 'Census'.
In Griffith's 'Primary Valuation' of households (1848-64), most Lee households were in counties Cork (130) Cavan (101) and Galway (87).
Lee in England can be a variant of Lea or Leigh, meaning 'wood' or 'clearing' (Middle English). There are also Chinese people who render their name in English as 'Lee'.
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