O'Hara Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select O’Hara Meaning
an Irish sept name. It was an anglicized
form of the Gaelic O’hEaghra, meaning
“descendant of Eaghra.” The O’Haras
claimed descent from Eaghra (pronounced “Ara”) who was lord of Leyney
in Sligo
and died in 976. The meaning of the name
Eaghra is not known.

O’Hara Resources on

O’Hara Ancestry

O’Haras have been strongly associated with county Sligo.
The first record there was that of Dermot
O’hEaghra around the year 1350. At that
, the O’Haras were
beginning to divide themselves into two groupings:

  • the
    O’Hara Buidhe (the brown-faced ones) who
    were based around Collooney
  • and the
    O’Hara Riabhach (the rough-faced or grizzled ones) at Ballyharry, a
    spelling of Ballyhara.

In the 14th
century a branch of the family migrated east to Antrim and settled in
area now known as Ballymena.

Cromwellian times the O’Haras were lords of Leyney from their castles
Castlelough and Memlough, as well as being large landlords in Sligo and
Mayo – at one time holding over 20,000 acres at Coopers Hill and
Annaghmore. The Book of O’Hara is an
18th century document commemorating the O’Hara chiefs.

Those in Sligo who supported the English
cause were ennobled as the barons of Tyrawley in 1706:

  • this
    line included two prominent officers in
    the British army, James O’Hara and his illegitimate son Charles O’Hara. The
    had the distinction of losing to both Washington and Napoleon.
  • also pro-British was Robert O’Hara of Raheen in county
    Galway. He was the father and
    grandfather of two notable British soldiers. Son
    Walter distinguished himself in the Napoleonic Wars
    emigrating to Toronto in Canada in 1826. Daughter
    Anne Louisa married James Burke and their son
    Robert O’Hara
    Burke was the leader of the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition to
    Australia from south to north.

there were also O’Haras on the other
side – such as James O’Hara, a general
on Washington’s side during the Revolutionary War, and Kean O’Hara,
prominent in the 1798 Rebellion.

included O’Haras, left Ireland at the time of the famine or in the
years after. In the 1860’s, one can trace
one O’Hara family from Derry in
another O’Hara family from Cavan in
. Others sought work in
England and Scotland, or migrated to Canada or New Zealand.

apart from Dublin, Sligo and Antrim
remain the two regions where the O’Hara name is most concentrated.

England and Scotland. O’Haras migrated to the
industrial towns of northern England and Lowland Scotland during the

Early arrivals were Patrick
O’Hara and his wife Catherine and two brothers who settled in Bradford,
Yorkshire in 1831. Their descendants,
through eight generations, are now spread over Yorkshire and further
afield. John
had left home in county Derry for Glasgow as a young
boy at the time of the famine and was one of the founders of Glasgow
football club in 1888.

America. James O’Hara came to America
in 1772 and
distinguished himself during the Revolutionary War, being appointed
Quartermaster General by Washington. By the 1790’s he had become
a prominent
early American businessman, starting up a number of industries in
and investing in real estate there. He
owned Schenley Park, which his descendants donated to the city of
Pittsburgh in 1889.

O’Hara, a political exile after the 1798 Rebellion, came to America and
in Kentucky where he became a notable educator.
His son Theodore was a Confederate colonel in the Civil War and
also a
poet. His poem Bivouac of the Dead has
been quoted thousands of times. Lines like:

games eternal camping ground
their lonely tents are

glory guards with solemn
round the bivouac of the dead.”

have been inscribed on
granite and marble at Gettysburg and at hundreds of other other
cemeteries all
over America.

The early O’Hara emigrants to America were affluent or
well-educated, while later emigrants were escaping poverty at home. Boston was a favored destination for new arrivals
in the 1860’s like John O’Hara from Derry and another John O’Hara from
Rush near Dublin.

Felix O’Hara from Antrim had come with the British army to
America and
in 1765 was one of the first English-speaking settlers in Gaspe, Quebec. He prospered there and on his death in 1805
his sons substantial landholdings. Three
of his sons – Oliver, Edward and Hugh – distinguished themselves in the
region. There is still an O’Hara
cemetery in the center of Gaspe.

The O’Hara Mill village in Madoc township,
Ontario began with the arrival of James O’Hara (originally from Derry)
and his
wife Mary in 1823. Once the family
settled there they planted strong roots and never moved again. They started a sawmill there in 1850 and their
buildings and
properties were passed through the years from children to grandchildren
over a
span of four generations. Their
homestead is now part of an 85 acre conservation area.

Latin America. There
is an O’Hara branch in Peru that was started by Bernard O’Hara Coor
Liverpool who went there to farm in the mid-19th century.
He had eleven children, the third of whom, named
Santiago, apparently became a national hero when he died fighting
against Chile
at the Battle of Miraflores in 1881.


O’Hara Miscellany

The Book of O’Hara.  A famous
manuscript known as The Book of O’Hara
is still in existence and contains a full record of the chiefs of the
clan.   The work, entitled Leabhar
I Eadhra
in Gaelic, has poems on
the O’Haras from 1550 to 1700. The
modern version, edited by Lambert McKenna from the original
manuscripts, contains 458 pages and was published in 1951.
It includes English translations.

Charles O’Hara’s Misfortunes in America and France.  Charles O’Hara had been born in Portugal, the illegitimate son
of General James O’Hara and his Portuguese mistress.
Despite this handicap, he was able to make
his name in the British Army, first during the Seven Years War and then
a General during the American War of Independence.

It was O’Hara who represented
the British at the Yorktown surrender in 1781 after General Cornwallis
had pleaded
illness.  Jerome Greene, the US National
Park Service historian, wrote that during the surrender O’Hara had
Cornwallis’s sword.  Washington
took the sword, symbolically held
it a moment, and then returned it to O’Hara.
Thus this most symbolic of war trophies remained
in English hands.

A few years later,
O’Hara was fleeing England for the Continent of Europe to escape his
debts. While in Italy he met the writer
Mary Berry and began a long relationship with her.

In 1792 he was appointed Governor of
Gibraltar, a post that his father had held.  However,
he was defeated by
Napoleon a year later at Toulon and had to formally surrender his
troops a
second time.  He was treated as an
“insurrectionist,” was imprisoned in the Luxembourg Prison, and
was threatened with the guillotine.  In the
end he was to spend two years in prison in Paris before returning to

the Roland Emmerich film The Patriot
starring Mel Gibson, O’Hara was played by Peter Woodward.
This was criticized.  The real O’Hara,
despite his Portuguese birth and English education, spoke with an Irish
rather than the upper-class English voice portrayed in the film.

The O’Haras in Boston.  John and Margaret O’Hara and their eldest son Michael came to America from
county Derry
in the late 1850’s, first stopping off in Pennsylvania and later
settling in
Boston.  Eight more boys were born to the
family in Boston.  They first lived in
the North East of Boston and then, by the dint of hard work, were able
to buy
their own home in Charleston in 1874.
While in the North End, they were next-door neighbors to Rose
who married Joe Kennedy and was the father of JFK.

Michael, the eldest son,
became a printer.  William, like his
father, worked for the city of Boston.
He also served on the City Council.
Brothers Richard and Bernard started an early milk delivery
company in
the city, having a contract with the main hospital in town.  The youngest was Edmund who was still living
in 2002, at the age of 91, in southern California.

O’Hara Emigration from Cavan.  Among others leaving Ireland were the O’Haras from
Killinkere parish in county Cavan.
Australia, as can be seen below, was their favored destination.

This was the record of one of these O’Hara families:

  • The
    eldest, Thomas, departed with his wife Sarah on the Florentia
    to Australia in 1853 and
    settled in the New England tablelands of northern NSW.
    They prospered there.  They
    raised eleven and there were at least
    eighty one grandchildren.
  • His
    sister Jane married William Sheils and they
    followed Thomas to Australia in 1855 two years later. Her
    husband died in 1859 and she married
    again.  From her two marriages there were
    a total of sixteen children and at least fifty six grandchildren.  Another sister Margaret accompanied Jane to
    Australia and married there.
  • Martha
    married William Shiels’ brother John and
    they emigrated to New Zealand in 1866, settling in Lyttleton, South
  • The youngest in age, Joseph, departed in 1867 at
    the age of 22 for Canada, marrying and settling in Grey county, Ontario
    he started his own boot and shoe shop.

Who was left in Ireland of this family?  It
seemed only James who died in Ireland,
aged 32, in 1882, although no tombstone marks his grave.

Then there were their
cousins in the parish who also emigrated:

  • The eldest two in the family were
    sisters, Margaret and Mary, and they both came to Australia in the
    1850’s and
    married there, Margaret coming after the death of her husband.  Also arriving at that time
    was three younger sisters – Eliza, Matilda, and Sarah who married
    her first
    cousin Thomas O’Hara.
  • Samuel arrived in Australia with his wife on the Truro
    in 1855.  In the early 1860’s he joined
    his first cousin Thomas O’Hara and his sister Sarah on the New England
    tablelands in northern NSW.
  • John
    arrived in Australia on the John Vanner
    in 1863 with his wife and five children and four other relatives.  He later sponsored the emigration of his
    brother William and family in 1880.

were apparently none of the siblings
left in Ireland.

Interestingly, for both of these families, the women seem to have
preceded the men in emigration.

John O’Hara and Glasgow Celtic.  John O’Hara had left home in Fauchin Vale, county Derry for
Glasgow as a young boy at the time of the famine.  There
he was very much a self-made man –
starting out as a shoemaker and later finding a more prosperous trade,
first as
a life insurance agent and then as a wine and spirit merchant and
running his
own public house.

John worked with his brother Walfrid and other Irishmen in
Glasgow in the formation of a football club, Celtic FC, in 1888.  He became its first Secretary and
was instrumental in signing its first players,
mainly from Edinburgh Hibernians.  He
remained on the Board of the club until his death in 1905.
unmarked grave at
St. Peter’s cemetery in Dalbeth was to be his final resting place. 

The Scarlett O’Hara Cocktail.  A popular
drink commemorating the movie Gone With
the Wind
is the Scarlett O’Hara cocktail. Pour two ounces of
Southern Comfort over ice into an eight ounce glass.  Fill with cranberry juice.  Squeeze
one wedge of lime into the drink.  Stir, serve and drink a toast
to O’Haras

The Adventures of Jean O’Hara in Hawaii.  Jean O’Hara was a famous prostitute in
Honolulu’s vice district during World War Two.
She had been born in Chicago, the only child of strict Catholic
parents.  Police records showed that
between 1934 and 1938, prior to her arrival in Hawaii, she had already
arrested for prostitution three times.

She violated the rules there by working
outside of Chinatown.  This landed her in
jail for a period.  She made money by purchasing choice real
estate and then
selling at a substantial profit. When the neighbors discovered who was
in they would invariably pitch in to buy her out. She thus made a
fortune by
openly flouting the rules.

In the end the police started to work with Jean
O’Hara.  She was credited with inventing
the “bull pen” system where a single prostitute would work three
rooms in rotation: In one room a man would be undressing, in a second
room the
prostitute would be having sex, and in the third room the man would be
dressing. With price controls circumventing the laws of supply and
O’Hara’s system sped up the process and allowed each prostitute to see
more johns every day.

After martial law ended in 1944, O’Hara’s book My Life as
a Honolulu Prostitute
was the
straw that broke the camel’s back.  It led
to the complete shutdown of all brothels in Honolulu.


O’Hara Names

  • Kane O’Hara was an 18th century Irish
    playwright and musician from Sligo. His
    burletta Midas, first performed in 1764, was a musical alternative to opera at that time. 
  • Theodore O’Hara was known as the poet soldier of the South after the Civil War. 
  • John O’Hara was an American writer of novels and short
    stories in the 1930’s and 1940’s. 
  • Scarlett O’Hara is the famous fictional protagonist of the book and film Gone With the Wind
  • Maureen O’Hara, born Maureen FitzSimons, was a red-headed Irish actress who starred in Hollywood films in the 1940’s and 1950’s. 
  • Joan O’Hara from Sligo was the popular
    Irish film and TV actress who died in 2007.

Select O’Hara Numbers Today

  • 12,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Lancashire)
  • 11,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 14,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)


Select O’Hara and Like Surnames 

The Irish clan or sept names come through the mists of time until they were found in Irish records such as The Annals of the Four Masters.  The names were Gaelic and this Gaelic order was preserved until it was battered down by the English in the 1600’s.

Some made peace with the English.  “Wild geese” fled to fight abroad.  But most stayed and suffered, losing land and even the use of their language.  Irish names became anglicized, although sometimes in a mishmash of spellings.  Mass emigration happened after the potato famine of the 1840’s.

Some surnames – such as Kelly, Murphy and O’Connor – span all parts of Ireland.  But most will have a territorial focus in one of the four Irish provinces – Leinster, Munster, Ulster, and Connacht.

Connacht in NW Ireland covers the counties of Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim, Galway, and Roscommon.  Here are some of the Connacht surnames that you can check out.




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