O'Shea Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select O’Shea Meaning

The O’Shea name derived from the Gaelic O’Seaghda sept. Seaghda in Gaelic means “fine” or
“stately.” Segda was a chieftain of the Corcu Duibne, a western
Kerry grouping on the Dingle and Iveragh peninsulas. O’Shea became

on its travels outside Ireland.

Shea/O’Shea Resources on

Shea/O’Shea Ancestry

The O’Sheas were a Kerry sept, the lords of Iveragh, often in dispute
with their
O’Falvey sept neighbors in Dingle. However, they ran into the
more powerful McCarthy sept in the 12th century and their powers in
Kerry declined. Some of these O’Sheas may have migrated east to
Tipperary and Kilkenny (although this is disputed).

Shees did establish
themselves in the city of Kilkenny in the 15th century, becoming the
most influential of the Ten Tribes of Kilkenny. They were
sovereigns and mayors of Kilkenny in many of the years between 1493 and
1653. Sir Richard Shee who lived in the late 1500’s was
probably the most powerful of these Shees.

His descendants were to be found at Sheestown. One branch migrated to Limerick. Katharine or Kitty O’Shea, who had married into this family, was the downfall of the Irish politician Charles Parnell in the late 19th century. One O’Shea family meanwhile has been farming on the banks of the Suir river in Piltown, Kilkenny since 1830.

However, by the time of the 1659 census, O’Shea not Shee
was the predominant
spelling in all counties in Ireland with the exception of
Kilkenny. In the Griffith Valuation of 1852,
the largest number were in
Kerry and 40% of that number were on the Iveragh
peninsula. Today most live in Kerry and Cork, about half of all
O’Sheas. The best known O’Shea is probably Jack O’Shea, a Gaelic
footballer from Cahersiveen in Kerry and now a media pundit.

France. One
line of O’Shees, descended from Richard Shee of Kilkenny, departed
Ireland for
France at the time of Catholic persecution in the early 1700’s. Three O’Shee brothers joined Clare’s Irish
Regiment and fought for France during the Seven Years War.
Colonel Henry O’Shee was one of the leaders
of the French expedition to Ireland in 1796.
Although the expedition failed, he was made a French count by
in 1809.

Spain. In
the early 1800’s William O’Shea, from the Shee line in Limerick, came
to Malaga
in Spain where there were iron mines.
Henry O’Shea, an agent of the Barings, was a leading Madrid
banker in
the mid-19th century and subsequent O’Sheas married into prominent
families. Jose
Sebastian de Erice O’Shea was Spain’s ambassador to the UN in 1955. The pianist Paloma O’Shea was awarded the
title of Marchioness of O’Shea by the Spanish king in 2008.

main early cluster of Sheas in Canada was in Newfoundland.

Sheas were in

from the 1750's. Walter Shea
from Waterford was there in 1792 and later settled in Antigonish, Nova
Scotia. Some of his descendants - through
his son Henry - moved to Prince Edward Island, others migrated to

John Shea, born in Newfoundland
in 1803,
returned to Ireland and became mayor of Cork in the 1850’s. Ambrose Shea, born in 1815, became a
prominent political and business figure in Newfoundland.
His family published The Newfoundlander
newspaper from 1827 to 1884.

Jeremiah and Mary Shea came from Tipperary to Canada
in the 1820’s (they were on the McCabe list) and raised eight children
on Grand
Calumet Island in Quebec. There is a
Shea Lake there. Many Sheas were buried
at the St. Anne’s Catholic cemetery.
Meanwhile Robert and Mary Shea from Cork were among Peter
settlers of 1823 who came to Lanark county,

and Mary Shea fled Kerry for Canada at the height of the potato famine
in the
late 1840’s. They were apparently
Anglican in Ireland and became Methodists in Canada.
From their line came the Wesleyan minister
the Rev. Adam Shea and his son
George Beverly Shea, the renowned gospel singer in the Billy Graham’s Crusades.
was born in 1909 and died
in 2013, a lifespan of 104 years.

America. Early
Sheas in America may have come via Newfoundland. That
was probably the case with David Shea
who was living in Marblehead, Massachusetts in 1776 and whose
descendants moved
to Vermont. Shea in America at that time
could sometimes become Shay.

Many later migrants came from Kerry. The
small town of Cahersiveen
in Kerry

in fact contributed a
number of young Shea migrants to America, including John Shea who
arrived with
his parents in the 1870’s and Michael Shea who came alone in 1880. Other Sheas arrived from nearby Dereenaclaurig
and Sneem on the Iveragh peninsula.

Christopher O’Shea came
with his family via Canada to Chicago in the 1850’s.
He joined the Chicago police force in 1882
but was shot dead a year later while trying to quell a disturbance.

Cornelius O’Shea arrived
with his family in the 1870’s and settled in San Francisco. His son Jeremiah became a prominent
businessman in the city in the early 1900’s.

O’Shea started out in San
Francisco as a saloon keeper, and then branched out into draying. Later he became involved in city politics. The mayor appointed him head contractor for
all haulage business when the new City Hall had to be built after the
earthquake. He died on New Year’s Day,

New Zealand. Edmond
and Johanna Shea had come to New Zealand from Kerry in the 1860’s and,
after a
brief sojourn in San Francisco, returned to New Zealand to farm. Their son Thomas O’Shea became a priest and
was appointed the coadjutor Archbishop of Wellington in 1913.


Shea/O’Shea Miscellany

The O’Sheas and the Corcu Duibne Tribes.  There were in fact three tribes on the Iveragh and Dingle peninsulas:
the O’Connells, the O’Falveys, and the O’Sheas.   The 14th
century Irish historian Giolla na Naomh O’Huidrin described them as

“O’Conghaile (O’Connell) of the slender swords,

Over the bushy forted Magh O’gCoinchinn (Magunihy);

A hazel tree of branching ringlets,

In the Munster plain of horse-hosts.

From the Maing (the River Maine) westwards is hereditary to them;

O’Failbhe (O’Falvey) is owner as far as Fionntraigh (Ventry, Dingle peninsula)

O’Seagha (O’Shea) has obtained without denial,

A country not wretched; he is king of Ui-Rathach (Iveragh peninsula).”

It is unclear whether any of these O’Sheas migrated east to Tipperary
and Kilkenny, as has been reported. Other sources give Richard Shee
(married to a Mac Carthy Mor) as the forebear of the Tipperary O’Sheas
and Thady Shee (married to a Mac Dermot Roe) as the forebear of the
Kilkenny O’Sheas.  DNA testing has indicated that these O’Sheas
were different in origin to the Kerry O’Sheas.  Some in fact have
suggested that they were Anglo-Norman, not Irish.

O’Sheas, Sheas and Shees in the 1659 Irish Census.  The 1659 census of Ireland gave the following count of O’Sheas, Sheas, and Shees.

County O’Shea Shea Shee
Kerry    63
Cork    72
Limerick    11
Tipperary   106    25
Kilkenny    65    35
Waterford     6    14
Laios     8
Total   266   104    35

O’Shea was the predominant spelling at that time for all counties
except Kilkenny.

The Shees of Sheestown.  Odoneus O’Shee was recorded as the lord of Sheetown in Kilkenny in 1381.  Later
Shees, descendants of Sir Richard Shee, managed to retain their
Kilkenny properties during Cromwellian times.

they were on both sides of the religious divide.  Marcus
Shee was outlawed as a Jacobite in 1691. Richard
Shee was one of the few Irish
Catholics in 1713 to whom a license for the use of a sword, a case of
pistols, and
a gun were given.  Colonel John Shee,
was a Protestant.  He was in America and
and fled at Bunker’s Hill in 1775.  On his
return, he built the Protestant church of Bennetsbridge in Kilkenny.   His nephew James styled himself O’Shea and
to Australia.

Kerry Sheas in 1852.  The following were the number of Sheas recorded in Kerry in 1852
according to Griffith’s Valuation.

Barony Number
Clanmaurice     23
Corkaguiny    137
Dunkerron    184
Glenarought    171
Iraghticonnor      9
Iveragh    442
Magunihy     64
Trughanaomy    115
Total   1,145

Kitty O’Shea and Charles Parnell.  William Henry O’Shea, born in 1840 into an indebted Limerick gentry family, moved to England where, after a lengthy courtship, he married Katharine Wood, the daughter of an Anglican clergyman, in 1867.

It turned out to be an empty marriage.  Although they lived apart – Katharine (or Kitty as she was better known) at various addresses in Brighton – they would appear together in public to support his political aspirations in Ireland.  He became the MP for Clare in 1880.

However, that very year, Kitty met Charles Parnell, the Irish leader of the Home Rule movement, and began a stormy affair with him.  Her husband tolerated the affair for a while.  However, it eventually proved too much and in 1889, on Christmas Eve, William O’Shea filed for divorce, citing Parnell as the co-respondent.

This scandal wrecked Parnell’s political career and his hopes for Home Rule for Ireland.  Although he and Kitty did marry in 1891 and settled down in Brighton, Parnell died just a few months later.

His letters to her would often begin with the words “My Dearest Queenie” and end with “Your Own King.”  Among his papers Kitty found a rose which had fallen from her bodice when the pair had first met in 1880.  He had picked it up then. touched it lightly with his lips, and placed it in his buttonhole.

O’Sheas and Sheas Today.  It is mainly O’Shea
in Ireland, Shea elsewhere.  The following are the rough numbers today.

Numbers (000’s) O’Shea Shea
Ireland    14     1
UK     1     2
America     4    14
Elsewhere     –     9

A telephone directory
survey in Ireland in 1992 revealed 3,100 O’Sheas.  Most were to be
found in Munster:

  • 25% in Kerry
  • another 25% in Cork
  • and some spillover into Tipperary and Kilkenny.

Dublin, due to migration over the years, accounted for 12% of the O’Sheas.

Early Sheas in Newfoundland

1731 Timothy Shea at Bay Bulls
1750’s Dennis Shea fisherman at St. Johns for forty
1768 Richard Shea at Port de Grave
1793 Richard Shea at Quidi Vici
1804 Mary Shea at Adams Cove

Sheas from Cahersiveen in Kerry to America.  Michael Shea married Julia Falvey in
Cahersiveen, county Kerry around the time of the potato famine.  They survived this tragedy and lived in a
small thatched-roof cottage in the townland of Carhan.

eldest son Michael, born in 1859,
departed Ireland for America alone at the age of twenty one.  He went first to New London, Connecticut
where he got work as a contract laborer.
Later he found employment in one of the large slaughterhouses in
Midwest.  He and his wife Bridget moved
to Omaha, Nebraska. There they raised ten

Maurice O’Shea, Australian Winemaker.  Maurice O’Shea
was the son of an Irish father and a French mother.  His
father, John Augustus O’Shea, was an Irish
adventurer, dreamer and practical joker.  His mother Leontine was
gay, blithe,
lustrous, with a fine French flair for forgetting all kinds of stuffy
conventions.  She greeted guests at breakfast one hot morning in
shorts and bra
top.  This, long before the bikini, was a delight to the guests,
though there
were in the valley plenty of scrubby old farmers and their
weather-beaten wives
who would have put her in the stocks.

The O’Sheas had bought a vineyard at
Pokolbin, not far out of Cessnock, planted by two Hunter Valley
pioneers, Eben
and Olly King.  Maurice was the eldest of
their six children.  In 1912, when he was
fifteen, he lost his father at the age of 42.  His
mother then packed him off to France to
complete his education.

When he returned
after the War, he decided to take on the wine-making challenge.
He turned out to
be an inspired vigneron, a sensitive wine-bibber, a cunning contriver
of fine
foods, as well as a mild and gentle human being.  He established
the Mount
Pleasant Winery in 1921 and it was under that name that his wines became


Shea/O’Shea Names

  • Sir Richard Shee was a prominent Kilkenny figure of the late 16th century.
  • James and John O’Shea, two
    brothers from Cork, were well-known stonemasons and sculptors in 19th century Ireland.
  • Katharine/Kitty O’Shea, a married woman, was the downfall of the Irish politician Charles Parnell after he was cited in her divorce proceedings in 1889.
  • Cornelius Shea was an American
    labor leader, founding member of the Teamsters in the early 1900’s, and
    also an organized crime figure.
  • George Beverley Shea was a
    Canadian-born singer considered to be the first international Gospel
    singing star. He lived to be 104.
  • Milo O’Shea was a legendary Irish actor in New York who died in 2013.

Select Shea/O’Shea Numbers Today

  • 3,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 18,000 in America (most numerous in Massachusetts)
  • 24,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)


Select O’Shea 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.

Munster in SW Ireland covers the counties of Clare, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary, and Waterford.  Here are some of the Munster surnames that you can check out.




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