genealogies of the families
Though it originated in Co. Sligo the sept of MacKeon may be regarded as belonging to the adjacent county of Leitrim, as it is there they are found located both in mediaeval and modern times. The name, in Irish Mac Eoghain, simply means son of John or Owen (in the Tuam area it is sometimes anglicized as Johnson). This sept had an important branch in Co. Galway: the sixteenth century "Composition Book of Connacht" refers to lands in the barony of Kiltartan then called Termon Brian MacOwen.
Another common spelling is MacKeown but, while some people so called are no doubt of the MacKeon sept referred to above, most of them, especially in the Six Counties of Northern Ireland, are the descendants of Scotsmen, originally called Bissett, who settled in the Glens of Antrim as early as the thirteenth century and became very numerous. Their name in Irish is MacEoin, Eoin (pronounced Owen) being one of the alternative forms of John in Irish. What has been said above is illustrated by two place names: Koenbrook is in Co. Leitrim and Ballymakeown near Belfast. It will be observed that the initial K in Keon or MacKeon is actually formed from the final letter of the prefix Mac. The name MacKeon is best known in Ireland in the person of General MacEoin, twice a minister in the Government of the Republic, who as "the blacksmith of Ballnalee" made an undying name for himself in the War of Independence (1916-1921). Miles Gerald Keon (1821-1875), the novelist, and Miles Keon who devised a new constitution for the Catholic Committee in 1792, were both Co. Leitrim men.
Irish families of Owens may be Mac or 0. MacEoghain is dealt with above. O hEoghain is of dual origin: a Clare sept of the same stock as the O'Neills of Thomond (quite distinct from the famous Ulster O'Neills), and an ecclesiastical family from the Lough Erne area. Members of the latter are usually called Owens in English speech. This is also true to a less extent of Co. Cork. The surname MacOwen (sic) was in 1659, when Petty's census was taken, one of the commonest names in Counties Cork and Limerick, being very numerous in almost every barony in both those counties and also to some considerable extent in Kerry. Yet to-day MacOwen scarcely exists as a surname there. Such of their descendants as survive are probably known as Owens now. They did not become McKeon. In this connexion, however, it must be remembered that many ephemeral surnames, formed by prefixing Mac to the father's christian name, were still common among the cottiers and small farmers of the mid-seventeenth century. In most parts of the country the two Gaelic surnames noted above have several forms in English: the 0 families have become Hynes as well as Owens, and the Mac families MacKeown, MacKeon, MacOwen etc. The sum total of all these makes a considerable section of the population, but those actually using the form Owens are little more than three thousand persons, some at least of whom are of Welsh descent. They are widely distributed.
Although not actually called Owens we may mention Robert Owenson (1744-1812), in his day a famous actor both in Dublin and London, because his real name was MacOwen. His daughter was Lady Morgan (1783-1859), poetess and patriotic Irish novelist. Another notable Irish actor was John Lonnergan Owens who flourished in Dublin at the time of Grattan's Parliament.
Finally it may be mentioned that in 1659 O hEoghain was anglicized O'Howen and O'Hone in Co. Femanagh. A different origin, however, is ascribed to the well known Hone family of modern times which produced the artist Nathaniel Hone (1718-1784), and his two sons, and in our own day Evie Hone (1894-1955), of stained glass fame. (I am informed by a member of the family that they came to Ireland from Holland.)
Source: Irish Families by Edward MacLysaght MA, D Litt, MRIA - Irish Academic Press 1991