The O’Connell Family

O'Connell Family heraldry

(Crest. No. 16. Plate 4.)

THE O’Connell family is descended from Milesius, King of Spain, through the line of his son Heber. The founder of the family was Cormac, King of Munster, A. D. 483. The ancient name was Conailbhe, which signifies “Friendship.” The head of the O’Connells was styled Lord of Hy Connell, and the possessions of the sept were located in the present Counties of Kerry and Limerick. They took their name from Conghaile, chief of Magh O’g Coinchinn.

The O’Connells were originally chiefs of Hy Cuilean, a territory southeast of Abbeyfeale, in the barony of Upper Conello, on the verge of the County Limerick, toward the River Feale, and the borders of Cork and Kerry. According to O’Halloran, the O’Connells had their chief residence in Castle Connell, in the County of Limerick.

In the twelfth century the O’Connells settled in Kerry, where they had a large territory on the borders of their ancient possessions. According to the same authority, the O’Falvies, Admirals of Desmond; the O’Connells, of Kerry; the O’Sheas, chiefs of Muskerry, in Cork, and several other chiefs were descended from the Clan na Deaga, celebrated chiefs of Munster, originally a branch of the Heremonians of Ulster.

Of the Clan na Deaga was Conaire the Second, monarch of Ireland, who was married to Sarad (daughter of his predecessor, Con of the Hundred Battles, monarch of Ireland in the second century), by whom he had a son named Cairbre Riada, from whom were descended the Dalriedians of Ulster and of Scotland. A son of Cairbre Riada secured large possessions in South Munster, in the present Counties of Cork and Kerry; from him the O’Connells, O’Falvies and O’Sheas are descended.

The O’Connells, chiefs of Magh O’g Coinchinn, now the barony of Magunihy, in Kerry, were a branch of the O’Connells of Thomond, descended from Conaire the Second, the hundred and eleventh monarch of Ireland.

There were O’Connells, or Connells, also chiefs in Cavan. Others of the name were chiefs of the territory from the River Grian, on the borders of Clare, to the plain of Maenmoy, comprising parts of the barony of Leitrim in Galway, and of Tullagh in Clare. These O’Connells and the MacEagans were marshals of the forces to the O’Kellys, princes of Hy Maine, and of the same descent as the O’Kellys, namely, that of the Clan Colla.

The O’Connells, having been driven from their original possessions in Connelloe, County of Limerick, by the O’Donoghues, expelled in turn the O’Sheas from their patrimony of Iveragh, in the County of Kerry. Their chief seat in this new territory was situated at Ballycarbery, near Cahirciveen, where, as hereditary Castellans, they were followers of the McCarthy More until the seventeenth century. From the period of the Anglo-Norman invasion the name of O’Connell has been prominent in Irish annals.

In 1337 Hugh O’Connell was commissioned by King Edward the Third to reduce to submission certain clans in the County of Limerick. Another Hugh O’Connell, son of the former, married a daughter of the Prince of Thomond, of the blood of Brian Boru, and vigorously defended his possessions against the Geraldine invaders. His grandson, Daniel O’Connell, is mentioned as chief of his “nation,” or sept, in a treaty dated 1421. He married a daughter of the house of O’Sullivan Beare, and his son Hugh formed another strong family alliance by marrying the daughter of McCarthy More. This chief was knighted, and rewarded by King Henry the Seventh for “promoting the interests of England.” His son Maurice supported the impostor, Perkin Warbeck, against Henry the Seventh, in Ireland, but subsequently managed to secure the king’s pardon.

During the reign of Edward the Sixth Morgan O’Connell was his high sheriff for the County of Kerry, and his son Richard served in Elizabeth’s army during the wars of Desmond. Daniel O’Connell of Aghgore, in Iveragh, abstained from taking any part in the rebellion of 1641, and thereby succeeded in retaining possession of his estates. The head branch of the family, however, he was removed by Cromwell into the County of Clare.

In the Revolution of 1688 the O’Connells took a conspicuous part on the side of King James the Second, supplying many distinguished officers to his armies in Ireland. Maurice O’Connell of Iveragh and of Ash Tower was Brigadier-General and Colonel of the king’s guards, and John O’Connell of Aghgore and Derrynane raised and commanded a company of foot, serving with distinction throughout the contest from the campaign of Derry in 1689 to the battle of Aughrim in 1691. This latter was a great stickler for discipline in petty things, and a story is told of his reprimanding one of his men at the battle of Aughrim, who had neglected to shave himself before going into action. To which the soldier replied: “Oh, your honor, whoever takes the trouble of cutting my head off in battle, may take the trouble of shaving it when he goes home.” This Captain John was the great-grandfather of Daniel O’Connell, the champion of Catholic Emancipation.

In spite of the operation of the Penal Laws, the O’Connells generally managed to preserve their landed property, and Morgan O'Connell, father of “the Liberator,” even contrived to acquire an estate by purchase. This was effected by having Protestants to hold the property in trust for the rightful owner. Many of the Catholics succeeded through this means in retaining possession of their estates during the penal period. O’Connell once remarked, in this relation, to a priest who had expressed his surprise that the operation of the Penal Laws had left any Catholic estates in possession of their rightful owners, that “there would not have been any, only that individual Protestants were found a great deal honester than the laws.”

The Freeman family of Castlecor were trustees for a large number of Catholic gentlemen in the County of Cork. In Kerry there was a Protestant named Hugh Falvey who acted as trustee for many Catholic proprietors there. In Dublin there was a poor Protestant, in very humble circumstances, who was trustee for several Catholic gentlemen, and discharged his trust with perfect integrity. This is certainly more honorable to Irish nature than to English law.

Daniel O’Connell possessed an estate also called Glencara, near the Lake of Cahara, which had been held by the family from a period ante-dating the Penal Laws. When asked how it had escaped confiscation, he replied: “Oh, they did not find it out. It is hidden among wild mountains in a very remote situation, which was wholly inaccessible in those days from the want of roads, and thus it escaped their clutches.” And he added: “If ever I took a title, it would be Earl of Glencara, the place the English didn’t find out.”

In the military service of France Major-General Count Daniel O’Connell, uncle of “the Liberator,” gained signal distinction. Having served with honor in the Seven Years’ War in Germany, he was attached to the Corps of Engineers, and became one of the best engineers in France. He materially assisted in the capture of Fort Mahon from the English in 1779, and signalized himself at the unsuccessful siege of Gibraltar, in September, 1782. After examining the plans of assault, he pronounced against the attempt; but when overruled, he claimed the honor of leading his troops to the attack. He was wounded nine times during the assault. He was afterward appointed Inspector-General of all the French Infantry, with the rank of General Officer. This change involved the organization of the general code of military discipline, and his regulations were adopted by the French armies after the Revolution, and have since been imitated with advantage by every army in Europe. He remained loyal to Louis the Sixteenth at the outbreak of the Revolution, and refused a military command pressed upon him by Carnot. He died in 1833, ninety years of age.

Of the family of the great Daniel O’Connell none arose above mediocrity. His son John sought to succeed his father as tribune of the Irish people, but it was the absurd attempt of a pygmy to wield the club of a Titan. He is best remembered as the editor of the “Life and Speeches of Daniel O’Connell,” and the author of some publications of interest on Irish affairs of his day.

There are many worthy representatives of this family in Ireland, the British Colonies and the United States. Among the latter may be mentioned Mr. Charles Underwood O’Connell of New York, and Mr. J. D. O’Connell of Washington D. C., and Monsignor O’Connell, President of the American College, Rome.