O'Connor Surname Meaning, History & Origin
comes from the Gaelic O’Conchobhair
(descendant of Conchobhair),
meaning “hound of desire.” In Irish legend Conchobhar was a king
of Ulster who lived at the time of Christ. O’Connor clan members
claim descent from later Conchobhars of the 11th century.
out in a
number of different forms today, the principal
ones being, in addition to O’Connor, Connor, Conner, and Connors.
It was English pressure or prejudice which caused the “O” in O’Connor
to disappear in many cases.
- The O’Connor Clan.
O’Connors and the O’Connor clan.
- Clonalis and O’Conor History.
O’Conors as Kings of Connacht and High Kings of Ireland.
- Probable Usefulness.
Connors from Ireland to Australia.
The O’Connor or O’Conor name has been borne by six distinct septs in
different parts of Ireland, of which four have survived in considerable
- the O’Connors of Connacht
- the O’Connors of Kerry
- the O’Connors of Corcomroe (in north Clare)
- and the O’Connors of Offaly.
The O’Connors of Connacht
were the most important of these septs. Their chief Turlough Mor
O’Conor, who ruled in the early 12th century, was also the King of
Connacht and the High King of Ireland. The three main
branches of these O’Conors – the O’Conor Don, the O’Conor Sligo, and
the O’Conor Roe – all descended from Turlough.
Clonalis in Roscommon was the ancestral home of the O’Conor Don (it is
still in their hands today) and Ballintober castle their stronghold
from the 14th to the 17th century. Owen O’Conor, who took up arms
against Cromwell, was the last master of Ballintober. His family were
impoverished and left a residue of their lands at Ballinagare
(the same fate befell the O’Conor Sligo). They remained
steadfastly Catholic during the period of harsh Penal laws.
O’Conors were men of letters and Charles Owen O’Conor in the late 19th
century was President of the Royal Irish Academy and author of The O’Conors of Connacht.
The O’Connors of Kerry
derived their name from a different Conchobhar. Their chiefs were
called Hycain air Cairuidhe, a contraction of O’Connor Kerry of
Carrigafoyle castle (their fortress). They are the most numerous
of the O’Connors in Ireland today, from their base in Kerry and the
adjoining counties of Cork and Limerick. The Conner/O’Connor family of Cork
may have been a branch. The O’Connor side of this family was
strongly implicated in the 1798 Rebellion and later supported the
Irish cause from England and Australia. Other O’Connors made names
for themselves in America.
The O’Connors of Corcomroe
(the clan Corc) on the north Clare coastline fared no better than the
other O’Connor septs in the 17th century. As one early account
the fields for alien hosts in miserable huts constructed in the shelter
of the cloud-supporting hills of Burren.”
The O’Connors of Offaly,
the fourth of the surviving septs, had lost most of their estates by
the mid 16th century. The name
has continued in the county as O’Connor-Morris.
Today Cork, Kerry, and Dublin account for the main numbers of O’Connors
in Ireland today. Only 10% call themselves Connor or Connors as
opposed to O’Connor.
America. An early
O’Connor in America was in the service of Spain.
Hugo O’Conor had left Ireland as a young man in 1750 to join the
army. At the time he was just following in the path of his
grandfather Daniel who had been an army officer there in an earlier
era. They sent him to Mexico and he was made acting governor of
Texas in 1767 (the locals called him El Capitan Colorado because, it
was said, of his flowing red hair). He later founded Tucson in
Arizona and there is a statue of him there today.
James O’Connor, another victim of English prejudice, left his native
Sligo for Norfolk, Virginia in 1794. A newspaper publisher back
in Ireland, he was the owner and editor of the Norfolk Herald until his death on
1819. Thomas O’Conor, said to be one of the rebels of 1798,
departed Roscommon for New York City in 1801, also to pursue an
interest in journalism (he started The
Shamrock, the first Irish-American newspaper). His son Charles O’Conor
was arguably the
greatest lawyer of his time and the first Catholic ever to have been
be President of the United States.
Little is known of the circumstances which caused Richard O’Conner to
leave his native Westmeath for Maryland around 1715. Son Richard
Conner headed out to the western frontier and joined up with Moravian
missionaries in Michigan. One son Henry, an Indian trader,
Indians, was renowned for his great strength. He was a superior
interpreter and trader. He fought with Harrison in the battle of
the Thames and was present at the death of Tecumseh.”
Another son William, also an Indian trader, was an early pioneer in
Indiana. His original brick home in Fisher, Indiana still stands.
Later came O’Connors fleeing the potato famine in Ireland, among them
- Maurice O’Connor from Kerry, who arrived in 1847, at first to
find his lost wife who had come over earlier. Maurice settled in
Vermont and worked on laying track for the new railroads being built in
- Patrick Connors who left Ireland at 12 with his family on the Patrick Henry in 1850.
He settled in Westchester county, NY. Son Michael worked in road
construction and travelled around a lot.
- Michael and Felix O’Connor, brothers from Sligo, who came to
Boston in 1858. They changed their name to Connor to avoid an
Canada. O’Connors from
Ireland came to Newfoundland soon after the British had taken control
from the French in the 1760’s. Michael and Peter Connors were
fish merchants from Cork who decided to stay in Lawn after the summer
fishing. There were soon a number of other Connors families –
many of them from Kerry – to be found in Placentia Bay, Harbor Grace,
and the Trinity Bay area. Timothy O’Connor came to
Clattice Harbor in the early 1800’s.
Newfoundland with its fishing had appealed to the displaced Irish who
sought not only political and religious freedom but a means of economic
survival. Some Connors did move away to New York in the early
1900’s. Chuck Connors the actor came from one
Other Connors came to Nova Scotia, PEI, the Niagara
peninsula, and the
Ottawa valley. Daniel O’Connor was an early settler in Bytown
near Ottawa, arriving there in 1821 from Cork. He became a local
magistrate. O’Connor Street was named after him. Cassie
O’Connor was the fictional heroine of Hazel McIntyre’s Lament in the Wind. She fled
the famine in Ireland for a new life in New Brunswick.
Caribbean. There is an
O’Connor line in Trinidad. It is said that they are descendants
of Daniel O’Connor of Sligo, an officer in the Irish brigade, and more
directly from James Lynch O’Connor, a medical officer in the British
army, who was posted there in 1817.
Australia. Joseph Connors
had been transported to Australia in 1832 for the political crime of
“whiteboyism.” After he received his ticket of leave in 1840, he
was a stockman on many of the cattle runs in the Monaro district of
NSW. He married in 1847 and they had a large family. There
are many descendants.
Daniel Connor arrived in Western
Australia in 1850 also as a convict. He died in Perth in 1898 as
one of the
richest men of the colony. His son Michael, who became a local
politician, adopted the name of O’Connor in order to distance himself
from his convict father. Another rags-to-riches story was that of
who had come to Sydney from Tipperary with his parents in 1854.
His up-and-down life ended with his death in an asylum in Sydney in
The O’Conor Dons – High Kings of Ireland and Kings of Connacht. Sir William Betham, the Ulster King of Arms, completed an O’Conor
pedigree in 1823. This pedigree listed no fewer than eleven High
Kings of Ireland and twenty six Kings of Connacht over time.
The greatest O’Conor chief was probably Turlough Mor O’Conor, the High
King of Ireland in the early 12th century. He built stone bridges
and had a fleet of ships on the Shannon and in the Atlantic. He
maintained a mint to coin silver money and he plundered every part of
the country, as was the custom. His son Rory, who
tried but failed to repel the Norman invasion, was the last High King
The chiefs of the O’Conor sept were also recognized as the Kings of
Connacht until the late 15th century. Cathal Crovedearg (Charles of the
Wine Red Hand), the half-brother of Rory and another son of Turlough
Mor, emerged as a powerful King of Connacht. The last four of
these kings were:
- Toirdhealbhach Og Donn mac Aodha meic Toirdhealbhaigh, who died
- Cathal mac Ruaidhri O’Conchobhair Donn, who died in 1439
- Aodh mac Toirdhealbhaigh Oig O’Conchobhair Donn, who died in 1461
- and Feidhlimidh Geangcach mac Toirdhealbhaigh Oig O’Conchobhair
Donn, who died in 1474.
The coronation or inauguration stone of the O’Conors can still be seen at their ancestral home of Clonalis in Roscommon.
The O’Conor Don chiefs have extended down to the present day and to
Desmond O’Conor Don who inherited the title in 2000. At that time
the Irish Times wrote: “It
is generally acknowledged that the holder of the title would be the
foremost claimant to the Irish throne if one were proposed.”
Impoverished O’Conors. Denis O’Conor was nephew and heir to Major Owen O’Conor, the last master of Ballintober castle in Roscommon. He had taken up arms
against Cromwell and had mortgaged his lands to finance a troop of
cavalry for the cause of James II. When that cause failed, Owen
was captured and imprisoned in England where he died in 1692.
Although living in poverty, Denis retained the dream of recovering his
ancestral lands. With the help of his uncle he fought a law case
in Dublin in 1720. Tradition has it that he was so impoverished
that he walked to Dublin barefoot. The result of his action was
that he was restored to a small portion of his ancestral lands,
approximately 500 acres of boggy land around the village of Ballinagare
in Roscommon. There he built a small house, Ballinagare House,
which soon became a rendezvous for the ill-fated Catholic gentry of
Connacht. It was said that “his hospitable door was never shut
against those in misfortune or distress.”
An ancient gravestone was found in a wood in Ballinagare in 1917. It read:
“For his ancestors and father and
grandfather have buried,
who were to faith and virtue much addicted,
and to religion and fatherland most constant
but who for the defence of both were
reduced, despoiled, dispersed. This monument was erected by Denis O’Conor of Ballinagare in 1735.”
His son Charles wrote in 1756:
“My poor father was finally cast on the
shore on a broken plank (a reference to the poor lands re-granted him
in 1720). I have succeeded to him. This is the plank which from it is now
hoped I may be driven by a Penal Law. I struggle to keep my hold
and if I am left nothing to inherit but the religion and misfortunes of
a family long on the decline, the victim is prepared for the sacrifice
resignedly indeed though not willingly.”
O’Connor and Variants. O’Connor comes out in a number of different forms today, the principal
ones being, in addition to O’Connor, Connor, Conner, and Connors.
The table below gives the approximate numbers in these various
spellings around the English-speaking world today.
The Conners/O’Connors of Cork. The Conners of Cork have sometimes claimed that they were
descended from Rory O’Conor, the last High King of Ireland. This is unlikely. They may have been Kerry O’Connors or even possibly English Conners (as they were Protestant).
The first record of these Conners was Cornelius Conner, a
churchwarden in Bandon, Cork in 1681. It was his son Daniel, a
merchant in Bandon, who established the base of the family’s wealth and
purchased various estates in Cork – including Manch House in Ballireen
with its 4,200 acres of land. The Conners remained squires of
Manch House through the 18th and 19th centuries.
Arthur Conner of this family, being pro-Irish, changed
his name to O’Connor. He joined the United
Irishmen in 1798 and was arrested, tried for high treason,
several times, and deported to France in 1803. There he became a
general in Napoleon’s army.
Arthur’s elder brother Roger also joined the United
Irishmen. This led to him serving a term of imprisonment in
Scotland. His home Dangan castle burned down after he had given
it a suspiciously high insurance cover. He was tried for robbing the
Galway mail train and in his defense claimed that he “had just wanted
to obtain from the mail some letters incriminating a friend.” In
later life he was “a sportsman and a spectacular spendthrift.” In
fact he was outrageously eccentric and took to writing imaginary
Roger’s elder son Francis became a general in Simon
Bolivar’s war of liberation in South America. He lived onto old
age in Bolivia. His descendants there continued with the family
tradition of tinkering with their genealogy. Only one child of
his marriage – a daughter – actually did survive.
Feargus was a barrister in England
and a supporter of the 1832 Reform Bill. A man with lots of
energy and the gift of the gab, he formed a
committee of radical unions which led to the setting up of the
“physical force” Chartists. He was subsequently imprisoned for
seditious libel. He began to deteriorate mentally and in 1852
was declared insane and put in a home. It was said that when he
was buried in Kensal Green in London, fifty thousand people attended
One line of these O’Connors extended down to Australia
where Richard O’Connor became a well-known Sydney barrister and
judge. Richard had heard stories of his forebears’ escapades in
1798 and supported the Irish cause from afar.
Timothy O’Connor in Newfoundland. Anthony O’Connor recalled the following about his ancestor who first
made the crossing to Newfoundland:
“My first ancestors sailed from
county Cork in Ireland in the early 1800’s. They came by wooden
vessel, crossing the Atlantic to the nearest landmark – which was
Newfoundland. It was a vessel in full sail and they settled in
what was known as the “Back Gulch” in Clattice Harbor, located on the
western coastline of Placentia Bay.
This ancestor (my great
grandfather Timothy O’Connor) and his wife (Sara Carter) built a log
cabin two miles in from the sea. They constructed an outdoor
stone fireplace to cook on; one side was the oven, the other side was
open. A swing out kettle was placed in it for cooking
purposes. I saw the cabin’s foundation still standing in the
early 1900’s as a young boy when my father took me there.
Other settlers moved in and
Timothy and Sara had a son named Timothy who married Agness Ballard (my
grandparents) and my grandparents had a son named Timothy Joseph (my
father) who married first to Jane Ann Brewer (my mother).”
Early Connor Marriages in Halifax, Nova Scotia
|1777||John Connor||Jane Glashing|
|1780||Timothy Conner||Barbara Fancy|
|1781||Cornelius Connor||Margaret Tomlinson|
|1783||Andrew Conner||Elizabeth Lawrence|
|1783||Constant Conner||Margaret Cody|
|1800||Peter Connor||Mary Simpson|
|1803||Bartholomew Conner||Margaret Connor|
|1809||Dennis Connors||Anne Bartling|
|1816||George Connors||Elizabeth Evans|
|1819||Patrick Connor||Judith Reily|
Charles O’Conor versus Boss Tweed. When Charles
O’Conor passed away in 1884, many seemed to concur in opinion with Samuel J. Tilden that O’Conor “was the greatest jurist among all the
had reached the front ranks of the profession in 1846, not only in New
York but in the whole of the United States. Perhaps his most
celebrated case occurred after the Civil War when Jefferson Davis was
indicted for treason and Charles O’Conor became his counsel.
In 1871, he commenced
with enthusiasm as counsel for the State of New York proceedings
against William M. Tweed and others who were accused of frauds upon the
New York. He declared that for his professional
services he would accept no compensation.
In the autumn of 1875
and while these proceedings were uncompleted, he was prostrated by an
illness which seemed mortal and the Cardinal Archbishop administered
the sacraments. Slowly,
however, he regained some measure of strength and, on February 7,
1876, roused by a newspaper report, he left his bedroom to appear in
court, “unexpected and ghost-like” (according to an eyewitness), that
he might save from disaster the
prosecution of the cause of the
State against Tweed.
Daniel O’Connor’s Up-and-Down Life in Australia. Born in Tipperary, Daniel O’Connor came with his family to Australia in
1854, settling in Sydney. He joined his father working in a
butcher’s shop. By the early 1870’s he had his own butchering
business and had accumulated fourteen houses and £7,000 in the
bank. This was all lost through his speculation on goldmining
shares. But he bounced back and had regained his fortune by the
end of the decade.
There followed a lengthy period in politics, serving in the New South
Wales Legislative Assembly until 1904. On leaving Parliament O’Connor
embarked on a world tour, visiting England and Ireland before heading
to the United States. He was in San Francisco during the 1906
earthquake and lost all of his belongings there. He died at the
Liverpool asylum in SW Sydney in 1914 and was buried in the Catholic
section of the Waverley cemetery.
Select O’Connor Names
Turlough Mor O’Conor, chief of the
O’Conors in the 12th century, also ruled as the High King of Ireland.
Charles O’Conor of Ballinagare
was a leading Irish campaigner against the penal laws of the 18th
Feargus O’Connor was a popular
and formidable Chartist orator in the 1830’s and 1840’s.
Flannery O’Connor was an
influential author of the American South.
Sandra Day O’Connor in 1981 was
the first woman to be appointed to the US Supreme Court.
Jimmy Connors was a leading
American tennis player of the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Sinead O’Connor is
an internationally acclaimed singer from Dublin.
Select O’Connor Numbers Today
- 53,000 in the UK (most numerous
- 65,000 in America (most numerous
in New York)
- 97,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland).
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