The O’Shea or Shea Family

O’Shea or Shea family crest

(Crest No. 203. Plate 56.)

THE O’Shea family is descended from Milesius, King of Spain, through the line of Heremon. The founder of the family was Brian, son of Eocha Moy Veagon, King of Ireland, A. D. 350. The original name of the family was Searn, signifying “The Youth,” and was taken from Seagha, one of the chieftains. The possessions of the sept were located in Kilkenny.

The O’Sheas who changed their name to Shee were formerly very numerous in that county, and belonged to the O’Sheas of Munster. 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, Conn 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 Scotland. A son of Cairbre Riada obtained large possessions in South Munster, in the present Counties of Cork and Kerry, and from him the O’Sheas of Munster are descended.

The O’Sheas were known as Chiefs and Kings of Ibh Ratha or Iveragh, in the County of Kerry, where they possessed the present barony of that name. They retained these possessions until after the Anglo-Norman invasion, when they became somewhat scattered in consequence of the disturbed condition of the period. The O’Donoghues having been forced from their original possessions by the English invaders, retired further south, where some of their kindred were settled, and drove out the O’Connells from the barony of Magunihy; and the O’Connells in turn recouped themselves by appropriating the lands of the O’Sheas, who were of the same Conarian origin as themselves.

The O’Sheas have won honors and distinctions both in Ireland and abroad. They were stanch adherents of King James the Second in the war in Ireland, and we find that eight cavaliers of the Kilkenny branch were attainted and despoiled of their estates by the Williamites after the close of the war. The O’Sheas contributed many officers to the Irish Brigade in France, as well as to many French regiments, where their descendants hold high rank to-day. Several of them were honored with the Order of Chevalier of St. Louis, and others of the family obtained distinction and reward in the service of Austria.

Sir Martin Archer Shee, the distinguished painter, born 1769, died 1850, was an intimate friend of Edmund Burke and Sir Joshua Reynolds in early life, and became President of the London Royal Academy and Fellow of the Royal Society, and other honors to which Catholics in England in his day were little accustomed. In America, too, the name has been honorably known, the late distinguished American historian, John Gilmary Shea, being a scion of this ancient Munster sept.

The late George Shea, formerly Chief Justice of the Marine Court, New York, was a descendant of the Cork branch of the O’Sheas, and a son of John Augustus Shea, a poet and writer of merit. The well-known London war correspondent, journalist, and author, John Augustus O’Shea, is also a descendant of the Cork branch of this family.