O'Shaughnessy Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select O’Shaughnessy Meaning
Irish surnames O’Shaughnessy and Shaughnessy are both derived from the
clan name
O’Seachnasaigh. The root here is the personal name Seachnasaigh of uncertain origin and
Globally the O’Shaughnessy/Shaughnessy name breakdown is
60/40 today. Within Ireland O’Shaughnessy
has been more common in Limerick, Shaughnessy more common in Galway.
the name has been
pronounced “Shock-nessy,” rather than “Shaun-essy” as it is elsewhere

The O’Shaughnessys
were believed to have been the direct descendants of the last pagan
king of all
Ireland, King Daithi, in the 10th century.

The clan was the most prominent sect in that part of the country
in ancient times as Ui Fiachra Aidhne and
is now county Galway. It was said that
they defeated their kinsmen the O’Cahills and the O’Clerys to be the
chiefs of
that region

O’Shaughnessy Resources on


forebear of the O’Shaughnessy clan was said to have been Seachnasach
mac Donnchadh who flourished in the 11th century.
surname O’Shaughnessy really started to come
into use two centuries later as the O’Shaughnessys were becoming the
family in the Úi Fiachra Aidhne area (the southern part of county
Galway). Their family
hereditary custodians of
St. Colman’s girdle and crozier medieval relics.

clan base was the town of Gort. Gort
was demolished by Cromwell. But
Ardamullivan castle
nearby still

In Tudor times the O’Shaughnessys had adopted a policy of “surrender
regrant” towards the English aggressors. Diarmaid
(Dermot) and his son Rusaidhri (Richard) were both knighted by
the English monarch, Rusaidhri being described as “a very obedient and
man and most desirous to hold his lands directly of his Majesty.”

But they
rebelled against English power at the time of Cromwell and had much of
land sequestrated. Their lands were
regained after the Restoration only to be lost again in 1690 after
Roger O’Shaughnessy had supported the failed Jacobite cause against
William of
Orange and lost his life following the Battle of the Boyne.
His son William
, the last of The O’Shaughnessy, departed for

A legal battle then raged
between the O’Shaughnessys and the Prendergasts, the family who had
granted their lands, with the O’Shaughnessys eventually losing the
case. It is thought that the main
O’Shaughnessy line
died out around 1780.

exodus from the Gort area had begun by the late 1600’s. Many went
which is where the greatest concentration of the name exists today:

  • early
    among them was Thomas O’Shaughnessy from
    a branch of the main O’Shaughnessy line. He settled at Glin along
    Shannon in 1692.
  • Patrick
    O’Shaughnessy established a grocery store in Glin in
    the 1850’s. These premises are now the
    O’Shaughnessy public house.
  • while Robert
    was a notable clockmaker in Limerick town in the

O’Shaughnessys departed for Clare.

England. Francis and Dr.
Richard O’Shaughnessy were descendants of the O’Shaughnessy Gort family
made their home in London. From another line came Arthur O’Shaughnessy,
the Victorian
poet and author of that well-known ode We
are the Music Makers

O’Shaughnessys were late-comers to America.
The 1840 US census showed very few of that name.

O’Shaughnessy from Kildare had arrived
in the 1830’s in Cincinnati where he ran a hardware store along Main
Street. He later operated a cotton mill
along the Ohio river in northern Kentucky until it was destroyed by
fire in
1854. Thomas and
Bridget Shaughnessy also came around that time. They
showed up in the 1840 census in Rochester,
New York. The family then moved to
Chicago and later to Kansas City. Life
was hard for them and Thomas died at an early age, possibly from cholera

It was the Great Famine in Ireland
in the 1840’s which had a devastating effect on life in the Galway area
drove many more O’Shaughnessys to emigrate. The English author
Thackeray visited
Ireland at that time and remarked: “Between Gort and Oranmore we passed
little but the most woeful country.”

The emigrant story in America was for some
a rags-to-riches story.

James Shaughnessy came to work in 1850 in the boot
and shoe factories around Milford, Massachusetts. He
did not stay long. By 1861 he had moved to
northern Missouri where
he opened a shoe store. His four sons were
make their marks in very different areas:

  • James
    initially as a journalist and then
    as a well-known advertising executive
  • John
    and Francis as Chicago lawyers
  • and
    Thomas as an artist.

family history was recounted in Colum Kenny’s 2014
book An Irish-American Odyssey – the
O’Shaughnessy Brothers

Related to James was John O’Shaughnessy, also a
boot-maker in Milford. His son John
moved to Stillwater, Minnesota in 1860 where he and his wife Mary Anne
thirteen children. When their 13th child
was born in 1885, they had a problem.
The son later recounted:

the time I arrived, mother had run out of
all the regular names like John, James and Joseph.
Being a good Catholic she went to the
Calendar of Saints. So I became

Aloysius O’Shaughnessy
– nicknamed Nashe – entered the oil
business and
oil refineries in Oklahoma. Kansas, and Illinois to great wealth, much
of which
he donated as a prodigious philanthropist to Catholic causes

Tom Shaughnessy had arrived from
Limerick a little earlier, around 1840, and became a detective in the
police department in Wisconsin. His son
Thomas migrated to Canada, joining the Canadian Pacific Railway and
then rising
through the ranks to become its President from 1899 to 1918. His grandson Alfred grew up in London and he
and his two sons made their name in British TV work.

and Patrick O’Shaughnessy had apparently come to the
Little Meadows township in Susquehanna county, Pennsylvania as early as
1831. Their descendants have remained a
presence in that community. A later
Edward moved west to St. Cloud, Minnesota where his son Clark
Shaughnessy was
born in 1892. He became a famous college
football coach and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame
in 1968.


was transported from Dublin to Sydney on the Telicherry
in 1806. He married there and, on his
release, found
work as a cabinet maker and later as an undertaker.
And a much respected undertaker if the
eulogies on his death in 1837 are to be believed

1822 another Thomas
O’Shaughnessy was tried and convicted in Limerick
for being
“idle and
disorderly” and was also transported to Australia.
After his release he farmed in western NSW and South Australia. His son Thomas wandered through various
places in Australia before becoming one of the earliest setters of
NSW. He kept a diary which has recently
been published.


O’Shaughnessy Miscellany

Ardamullivan Castle.  Ardamullivan castle
lies about 8 kilometers south of Gort.
It was first mentioned in 1567 when claimed by Dermot ‘the
after the death of his brother Sir Roger O’Shaughnessy.

In a dispute over
possession of the castle, Dermot fought his nephew William in a duel
the walls of Ardamullivan.  Dermot killed
William.  But William had managed to
wound his uncle to the extent that he died within about half an hour of

William O’Shaughnessy, the Last O’Shaughnessy.  As the Jacobite rebellion against William of Orange
was taking shape in 1689, William
O’Shaughnessy was a captain of a company of one hundred members
of his
clan and retainers.

In the spring of the
next year he left for France to serve in French colors in the regiment
Daniel O’Brien.  July of that year saw
the defeat of the Jacobites at the Battle of the Boyne.
His own father, Captain Roger
O’Shaughnessy, was killed at that time.
He as a result became The
O’ShaughnessyHowever, his
ancestral property was forfeited in 1697 and he was never
able to return home.

He served in the armies of France in the hope that Irish
support would enable James II or his successors to regain the British
throne.  This never happened.
Opposing him at the Battle of Malplaquet in
1709 was Sir Thomas Prendergast who had been granted O’Shaughnessy’s
lands.  Prendergast was killed in the

William O’Shaughnessy, appointed
a Marshal of France, died in 1744 and was buried at the church
of St.
Willibrord at Gravelines in France.

Robert O’Shaughnessy, Limerick Clockmaker.  In
the Limerick Museum collection there stands simple long case clock with
the inscription ‘Robt. O’Shaughnessy/Limerick’ on the face.

Robert O’Shaughnessy was a Limerick watch and
clockmaker.  He was born around 1778 and
by 1809 was operating his business out of 18 George Street.

O’Shaughnessy would
continue to create watches and clocks in this building for over thirty
until his death in 1842.  He was also the
creator of a new style of fishing hook.
He was apparently regarded favorably as his death notice record
that: “His
upright conduct, and honorable principle in all his transactions in
endeared him to society.”  After
O’Shaughnessy’s death his son Robert carried on at 18 George Street.

In 1854
Conrad Cromer, a German watchmaker, married Jane O’Shaughnessy and he
continue the O’Shaughnessy watch and clock making business at the same
location.  Conrad’s family carried on the
business after his death in 1903 and it continued in business for most
of the
20th century.  After 183 years in
business the O’Shaughnessy/Cromer finally closed its doors in 1999.

The 1822 Trial of Thomas O;Shaughnessy in Limerick.  Thomas Shaughnessy, a young ploughman from Adare in county Limerick, was put
to the bar, charged with being an “idle and disorderly” person under
the recently passed Insurrection Act.  He had been out of his home
at half past ten in the evening, thereby breaking the curfew.

the trial a member of the Adare yeomanry testified that he had seen the
house belonging to Mr. Fosbury burning.  A policeman had hastened
to the place.  When he arrived there it was all in flames, being a
thatched house.  There was one woman in the house at the time it
was set on fire and she was got out.

policemen then searched the adjoining houses to see if the inhabitants
were there.   They went into the Shaughnessy house and saw an
old man sitting by the fire.  While they were interrogating the
old man Thomas Shaughnessy rushed in from the back door in great haste,
as if after a chase.  On being asked where he had been, he said
that he had been feeding the cow.  This proved not to be the case
as the cow had not been fed.

was no evidence that Shaughnessy was at the burning of Mr. Fosbury’s
house; but the court and the magistrate were of the opinion that he
was.  He was found guilty and sentenced to seven years
transportation. Perhaps as if to soften the blow the court averred that
New South Wales was as comfortable place to be transported to as could
be found.

was sent to the Cove of Cork and in June 1822 boarded the ship Mangles which arrived in Port Jackson in
the following November.

Thomas Shaughnessy, Undertaker.  The Sydney Monitor
of May 8, 1837 contained the following notice:

Thomas Shaughnessy was by trade an undertaker. With a face of
lengthened gravity he joined it with a most sociable and
jocular disposition.  He had the art of laughing inwardly.  A nice observer, however, could discern in
the cast of his eye the merriment which, under a grave aspect, was
going on

besides his love of humor, Shaughnessy was a man of singular
benevolence.  The consequence was, that
unlike his brethren of the same craft, he was able neither to build
houses not
keep his carriage.  Shaughnessy was not esteemed by the religious
because his
religion consisted but little in external devotion.
It possessed instead the unequivocal stamp of
perpetual works of kindness and charity.  Many a poor man has
worthy Tom buried
whose widowed wife and children never paid him; and what is still more,
to this
good Christian’s credit, he was pretty certain at the very time he made
decent coffin and carried the dead to their long home, he would have to
do the
job for free.

Savior advises his followers to lay up their treasures in
heaven.  This was honest Tom’s opinion.  So
he buried the corpses of worthy people at a risk.  If he were
paid, well; if
not, he considered (no doubt) that the Savior of men would be as good
as his
word and place it to his credit in another book kept by himself.

be with
thy manes, honest Tom Shaughnessy! Thou wast a sympathizer with the
human race,
and especially with those in affliction!”

We are the Music Makers.  Arthur O’Shaughnessy was an English poet of Irish
descent, not much remembered today but well-known in Victorian times
for an
ode from his book Music and Moonlight published
in 1874 which began as follows:

“We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers
And sitting by desolate streams;—
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.”

The ode was set to music several times.  The term “movers and shakers” is with us today.

O’Shaughnessy himself was a delicate, Dresden-china looking figure who, like other brilliant young men of the period, indulged in long hair.  As happened to many ‘world-dreamers’ and ‘world-forsakers,’ he died young.   He caught a cold on a night out in 1881 which developed into fatal pneumonia. 

Reader Feedback – An O’Shaughnessy Famine Departure.  My O’Shaughnessy ancestors were part of the famine exodus, departing Coolmeen in county Clare in 1847 for Montreal.

My great grandfather, an alleged Fenian, left Montreal in late 1865 “only one step ahead of the law.”  He surfaced in New York City there to live out his life associating with American Fenians. His descendants eventually departed from New York City and are scattered about the US today.

Ed O’Shaughnessy (ejos@comcast.net)

The I.A. Shaughnessy Legend.  The I.A. O’Shaughnessy legend in Minnesota is well-known and has often been told.

was sixteen years old in 1902 when he and
two classmates at St. John’s University had skipped Sunday vespers and
for the woods and a hidden barrel of beer. They were nabbed upon their
to campus and expelled the next day.

was going to take the train
home to Stillwater but got off in downtown St. Paul and walked several
miles to
St. Thomas.  There he met Father John
Foley, president of the college, who was on his evening stroll.
Foley took
O’Shaughnessy for a meal, listened to his story, and accepted him as a
after he admitted he had done wrong.

went on to star on the
football team, serve as secretary to the president and graduate in 1907. Later, after he had grown rich from oil
refining, he became a benefactor to St. Thomas.

Thomas was the beginning of
dad’s philanthropy with education,” said his son Larry who has served
on its
Board of Trustees. “It made sense he would turn first to St. Thomas
because of
all the college had done for him.”


O’Shaughnessy Names

  • William O’Shaughnessy was the last O’Shaughnessy chief. He left Ireland in 1690, fought in the French
    army, and became a Marshal in France. 
  • W.B. O’Shaughnessy was the Limerick-born doctor who pioneered the modern treatment of cholera, introduced cannabis to Western medicine, and, during his stay in India
    in the 1850’s, laid the first telegraph system 
    in Asia.
  • Thomas Shaughnessy, the son of Irish famine
    immigrants, rose to become President of the Canada Pacific Railway from 1899 to 1918. 
  • I.A. O’Shaughnessy, the son of Irish immigrants
    in Minnesota, established the Globe Oil & Refining Company of Oklahoma in 1917. By the 1930’s he was the head of
    the largest individually-owned oil company in the world

Select O’Shaughnessy Numbers Today

  • 3,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 4,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 5,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)


Select O’Shaughnessy 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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