O’Leary Surname Genealogy

O’Leary is an anglicized form of the old Gaelic word O’Laoghaire which translates
literally as “keeper of the calves.” Laoghaire was the name borne
by a 5th century king of Ireland who reigned at the time of St.
Patrick. It is from him that the O’Leary sept claims descent.O’Leary and
are the two most common spellings today.
O’Leary is mainly found in Ireland, Leary outside.
O’Leary Resources on

O’Leary Ancestry

The O’Learys were a Cork clan. In the 12th century they were
recognized as the hereditary wardens of St. Fachtna’s monastery in Ross
Later they were pushed north and settled in an area south of Macroom
called Inchigeelagh.
Here they ruled
as chiefs under the MacCarthys of Muskerry. They appeared in the
16th century as a titled and relatively wealthy family.They lost out during Elzabethan times in the Nine Years War. For
this their chiefs were attained and their lands parceled out. But
because of the remoteness of their territory it was never carried out
and they remained safe for a while, until the Cromwellian
confiscations. In 1642
sixteen O’Learys were attainted, including Connor O’Leary of
Carrignacurra and
Auliff O’Leary of Cunnowley. The last
O’Leary lord of the old Gaelic order was Donal MacArt O’Leary who died
in 1657.
O’Learys prospered in the succeeding years.
Florence O’Leary, for instance set up a prosperous wholesale
business in the city of Cork and a later O’Leary of the family, Daniel
became a famous South American
. But other O’Learys
suffered at the time of
the Penal Laws.

“In 1773 Art O’Leary refused to sell
his prize-winning horse to an Englishman Abraham Morris and was made an
outlaw. At that time Catholics were obliged to sell their horse
to Protestants for no more than £5, irrespective of the animal’s true
value, if demanded to do so. Morris tracked O’Leary and shot him
on his horse.”

Art’s wife Eileen composed the famous Lament for Art O’Leary,
mourning his death and calling for revenge.

Many O’Learys emigrated. Those in Ireland are still mainly to be
found in
county Cork
. In the 1890 birth records, there were 134
occurrences of
Leary in Cork and 47 occurrences in Kerry. The celebrated 19th century
Irish language writer Peadar Ua Laoghaire was a
descendant of the
Carrignacurra branch of the family.

America. The main country
for emigration was America. Sizeable numbers were to be found in
New York, Boston, Chicago, and later California. John O’Leary had
arrived in New York from Kerry in 1879 and, after a brief period in the
police force, became a builder in the Bronx and a prominent member of
the civic community there.

Catherine O’Leary was alleged to have started the
fire in 1871 which became known as the Great Chicago Fire and burnt
down a large part of the city. She had in fact been used as a
scapegoat by a Chicago Tribune
reporter who later admitted that he had made up the story of a cow
kicking over a lantern to start the fire because he thought it would
make colorful copy. The popular refrain went:

“Late one night, when we were all in bed,
Old Mother Leary left a lantern in the shed;
And when the cow kicked it over, she winked her eye and said,
‘There’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight.'”

Her son Jim became a gambling boss and saloon owner in Chicago.
Danny O’Leary meanwhile was a mobster and bootlegger in Philadelphia
during prohibition.

Canada. Henry O’Leary
came to Richibucto, New Brunswick from county Cork in 1852, puchased
land there, and built a canning plant for lobster and salmon.
Over time his business expanded to sawmills and shipbuilding. Two
of his sons, Henry and Louis, became Catholic bishops at Charlottetown
in Prince Edward Island. Michael
was an earlier arrival in Prince Edward Island, in

John and Elizabeth O’Leary had arrived in Nova Scotia from Kilkenny
around 1820. Their son Michael later settled in New Brunswick.

O’Leary Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

O’Leary Names

Peadar Ua Laoghaire was
a Catholic priest and writer regarded today as one of the founders of
modern literature in Irish.
Johnny O’Leary, born on the
Cork/Kerry border in 1923, was one of Ireland’s most acclaimed
accordion players.
Timothy Leary was the
controversial American psychologist who in the 1960’s advocated the
taking of psychedelic drugs.
Michael O’Leary is the head of
the low-cost airline Ryanair.

Select O’Learys Today

  • 5,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 14,000 in America (most numerous in Massachusetts)
  • 18,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)



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