O’Connell Family

The O'Connells are an ancient family in the Barony of Iveraagh.  It is true that they are quite numerous in Cork, especially west Cork, but the center of the family lies in County Kerry, Ireland.

The surname O'Connell, according to the authority of Irish writers, came from Conal Gabhr, an ancient Prince of the royal line of Heber, son of Milesius, from whom the districts of KUPper and Lower Connelloc, County Limerick, acquired their names.  From this district, the O’Connells moved to Iveragh, in the western extremity of Kerry. The family motto reads, "Ciall agus Neart", "Reason and Strength."  The crest features a brown stag centered on a white and green shield with four three-leaf white shamrocks.

The O'Connells were not a powerful sept in the Middle Ages, but they were hereditary constables of Ballycarbery Castle, the westernmost stronghold of their overlord, McCarthy Mor, Gaelic Lord of Desmond (south Munster.)

Jeffrey O'Connell, born in the 1500s and dying 25 APR 1635, is the first "high sheriff" or constable whom we know by name.

In 1560, the O'Connells were forced by the Cromwellian government to dismantle and abandon Ballycarbery, the ruins of which can still be seen two miles west of Cahirciveen.  On leaving Ballycarbery, Jeffrey's second son, Daniel MacGeoffrey O'Connell, settled at Tarmons near Waterville.  Having taken no part in the insurrection of 1641, this Daniel was able to preserve the estate.  He married Alice, daughter of Christopher Seagrave of County Dublin.  They had two sons:  John, his heir, and Maurice, who died in 1715.  Daniel's grandson was a captain in the service of Holland.

Captain John, son of Daniel MacGeoffrey, raised a company of foot soldiers for the service of James II.  He joined this company, with that of his cousin Col. Maurice O'Connell.  He served at the siege of Aughrim. He returned to Limerick with his shattered regiment and was included in the capitulation of that city.  He re-located from Tarmons to Ferryman in 1702.

This John married Elizabeth, daughter of Christopher Conway of County Kerry, and had twenty-two (22) children.  With 22 O'Connells to choose from, plus numerous cousins, all living in the same area, it would be difficult NOT to be related to this family and thus be a descendant of Conal Gabhra and the O'Connells of Ballycarbery Castle.

We have some information regarding four of the above mentioned 22 children.  Daughter Eileen, for instance, married Art O'Leary.  She was a poet and had written a famous lament for her husband.

Son Muiris (or Maurice) "Hunting Cap" had no family so Derrynane was inherited by his nephew Daniel.  Another son, Count Daniel, was a General in the French Army.

A third son of Daniel (Donal Mor) and Mary (Maire ni Dhuibh) was Morgan. Morgan is best known for being the father of Daniel O'Connell, the Liberator.  But he provided additional trials for the genealogist, as well. He fathered six daughters and three sons.

His daughter Ellen married a cousin, Daniel O'Connell of Tralee.  His famous son Daniel also married an O'Connell cousin, Mary, daughter of Edward O'Connell, M.D., also of Tralee.  Edward, bless his heart, had had ten children:  all named O'Connell, no doubt.  Morgan died in 1809, so we are getting closer to 1820-1830.

I do believe we are related to these Ancient O'Connells and there are oodles of more information regarding them -- but just exactly through which individual in the prolific group, we do not know.

We do know that in December of 1820 or possibly 1830, one of the offspring of these O'Connells struck out for himself, boarded a ship, and set sail for America.   His name was John. 

Out of Ireland

The Irish famine struck in the autumn of 1845 forcing millions of Irish to migrate to America, Australia and other parts of the world in search of life itself.  It should be remembered, however, that many persons of Irish descent were already in America, including the first John O'Connell of our line.

Chuck and Dianne O'Connell visited Ireland in May of 1984.  We toured the country, learned much about the history of the old O'Connell families, but even with the assistance of the nation's Chief Herald, Donal Begley, we were unable to find record of our particular John O'Connell or his immediate family.  We did not have accurate information regarding his immigration date or place of origin.

Upon return, we sent an inquiry to Dubuque, IA, where we knew our first O'Connell had resided.  We were sent a copy of a page in the telephone book listing all the O'Connells with telephones in that area in 1984.  I wrote them all.

Sure enough, in July, we received a note from Henry J. O'Connell of Durango, IA.  Here it is in total:

Dear Folks:

How good to hear from you.  I believe you are in touch with the right O'Connells.  We have been wondering about you but could not find any leads to make a connection.

Daniel and Mary were my grandparents.  Their children were John, Ella, Alice, Henry, and George.  Henry was my father. I will send you a continuation of the family tree later.

The only information we would have on John I is that he landed in New Orleans on 25 DEC 1820; stayed there some years before coming up the river to St. Louis  and later to Dubuque and Bankston.  Most of the O'Connells came from County Cork in Ireland.

Hoping to hear from you and happy to be of any further help, I remain,


Henry J. O'Connell

Box 818

Durango, Iowa 52039

In 1989, we were visited in Anchorage by one of Henry's nieces, Ann Burd, whose mother was Rosemary O'Connell Burd of Peosta, IA. Rosemary later sent considerable information regarding her branch of the family, which is incorporated under John I's son by his second wife, Daniel.  It is from a letter that Rosemary received from a distant relative (Nan Kennedy) in 1934 that the 1820 immigration date for John O'Connell was obtained.

The 1820 arrival date seems quite early:  John would have just turned 13 years of age the day before arriving in New Orleans.  This is possible, but an 1830 arrival date would seem more likely.   John would have just turned 23.  The Port of Entry being New Orleans was a new piece of data. Researchers in New Orleans did not turn up a positive identification for our John O'Connell, but did identify several from which to choose. 

John stayed in New Orleans "some years".  A biographical sketch later written about his grandson William Henry O'Connell in Montana, offers "prior to 1834" as when the family first arrived in Iowa.  We know that John was in Iowa by 1845 because he showed up in the 1850 census for Dubuque, along with his five-year-old son, John Jr. (listed as born in Iowa.)

John Sr. was careless about reporting his age accurately.  In 1850, for instance, he says he is 35 (making his birth year approximately 1815.) When he died, however, his heirs tell the church he was born 24 DEC 1807.  Being a solid Catholic boy, it is probably that John was more accurate with the church than with the government.

John Sr. was a successful farmer.  By October 1850, he and his son have accumulated $1,500 worth of real estate.  John's wife, Margaret (Sweeney) O'Connell had died in January of 1850.  The 35-year-old woman died in labor "after a ten day illness," according to the mortality schedule.  We don't have a record of the child's name.  We assume both mother and baby died together.

At the time of the 1850 census, countless families with distinctly Irish names lived in the Dubuque area.  As we were peering into microfilm readers at the Seattle Federal Archives, Chuck and I were initially discouraged.  Not an Irishman to be found from county to county.  But when Chuck O'Connell slipped on the Dubuque County tape and began cranking away the microfilm pages, he knew he had arrived home – the Irish Catholic influence was everywhere.  Irishmen were everywhere -- and nowhere else in the surrounding area.  It was like a ghetto.  Dubuque today is heavily Irish Catholic, so Irish Catholic that the city once elected a Roman Catholic nun as mayor.

In 1850, a Timothy O'Connell was 44 years old.  His family was all born in Ireland:  wife Ellen, 44; and children William, 22; Cornelius, 15; Daniel, 13; Michael, 11; and John, 6. Timothy was also a farmer but had only amassed land worth $100 at the time of the census.  Timothy and his family had been in the state for nine years.

Daniel O'Connell and his wife Bridget were both 60 years old.  They and their 16-year-old son Daniel had lived in the state for eight years.  All three were born in Ireland.

William O'Connell and his wife Hannora, both 35 years old, were the parents of Daniel, 5, and Bridget, 2 (grandchildren of Daniel and Bridget, age 60, above?).  William had been in the state for 10 years and Hannora for 15.  William and Hannora were born in Ireland; their children in Iowa.

The state of Iowa took its own censuses, in addition to those taken by the federal government.  In 1856, the Iowa census reported our John as 40 years old (born in 1815 or 1816?).  After the death of his wife Margaret, he had married Ellen Regan.  In 1856, the couple was raising John Jr., now 8, and younger brother Daniel, 2.  The elder John was reported as having lived in Iowa for eleven years, making his arrival in that state in 1845.  Wife Ellen had lived in Iowa for seven years.

We don't know that these families are related -- that of Timothy, William, Daniel, and our John -- but common sense, aided by the similarities in the names of their children, says that they might be.  It was common practice for one member of a family to migrate to America, save up some money, and send for the next member.  Together, they would work, save up, and send for others.  Daniel and Bridget arriving the latest might indicate that the three older brothers eventually brought over their parents and youngest brother. There may have been some sisters, as well.

By 1860, the clan had steadily added to their possessions.  John is listed with $2,400 worth of property; Timothy with $3,000; William with $1,000; and old Daniel with about $400.  By 1870, the ledger reports $8,000 for John and $500 for Daniel.  Timothy and William are not listed:  Timothy having died in 1863 and William probably retired.

William died two years later in 1872.

By 1880, now listed as 74 (making his birth year 1806), our John is again widowed.  He is living with his younger son, Daniel, 26, his daughter-in-law Mary, 23, and their children John, 2, and Ellen, nearly a year old.

In 1880, Daniel and Mary and the children are living on the farm belonging to Grandpa.    Much more information can be found regarding the relationship between Old John and his sons John Jr. and Daniel.

Looking for clues to the origins of the family, we checked out the records of the St. Clement Catholic Cemetery, Bankston, IA (outside Dubuque).  We direct the reader to notes under Daniel (?) O'Connell (RIN 280) -- the question mark indicating that we have not proven that he is actually the father of our John, and we strongly believed that he was.

That was until we received the following e-mail, June 24, 2002:

Dianne.   I saw your postings concerning the O'Connells in Bankston, Iowa, and I am wondering how we might be connected. I have a Daniel b. 1792 and Bridget b. 1799, who had seven children, but to my knowledge they did not have a son John. Looking at your information I also noted the dates.  If your John was born 1807, Bridget would be only eight years old.  I know there was a John O'C who married an Ellen Regan 11-7-1850 at St. Clement's church, but do not know his parents. What is your connection to these people?  I am descended from Daniel and Bridget through their daughter Bridget. I would like to share our info. and hopefully clear up any confusion.  Any help would be appreciated.   Judith

John and Margaret (Sweeney) O’Connell were the parents of:

1.                  John Jr.2, born JAN 1846.

John and Ellen (Regan) O’Connell were the parents of:

1.                  Daniel2, born 20 SEP 1852.

Click to Return to Index Book V