Shannon Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Shannon Surname Meaning

Ptolemy recorded the name of the longest river in Ireland in the 2nd century AD as Senos. This name is thought to have been from a root word with the sense of age, seniority and wisdom. St. Senan was a 6th century Irish abbot who established a monastery on Scattery island in the Shannon estuary.

Shannon is the anglicized surname in Ireland, from Senan and O’Seanain, a descendant of Senan. Three separate Gaelic families derived from this root. They appear to have evolved independently, not from the river nor from each other.

Shannon has also been a Scottish surname. Here the Gaelic root was Seanchaidh, meaning “story-teller.”

Shannon Surname Resources on The Internet

Shannon Surname Ancestry

  • from Ireland and from Scotland (Argyll)
  • to America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

Ireland.  There were initially three separate Shannon families in Ireland:

  • the first, from O’Seanain, was an O’Shanahan family found in Carlow and Wexford
  • the second, from Mac Golla t-Seanain or Giltenan, were followers of St. Senan and became Shannon in county Clare. These Shannons also spread into Tyrone and Fermanagh.
  • the third, as O’Seanahain or O’Shanahan, was found mainly around Belfast in Ulster. They too became Shannons with the English.

Little remains of the Shannon presence in Carlow and Wexford. The Shannon chiefs in Clare held the territory between Bodyke and Feakle prior to the 14th century. But they were then dispossessed by the MacNamaras and these Shannons were scattered around the rest of Munster. Meanwhile the Shannons in Fermanagh seemed to have spread into Cavan and Connacht. 

Aodh O’Seanahain, who probably lived in Ulster in the 11th century, was the first of his family to append the O’Seanahain name. The Shannon name has continued to have a strong presence in the Belfast area. However, many of these Shannons may have come originally from Scotland. 

Scotland.  The Shannon name in Scotland emerged at Kintyre in Argyllshire. The earliest known ancestor was a chieftain from the Hebrides known as Gilquhongill Aschennan who held large estates in the 14th century. But the Shannon numbers in Scotland are not large today. They are mainly to be found in SW Scotland.

America. The early Shannons in America tended to be Scots-Irish from Ulster.

Scots Irish  The first of them was probably Nathaniel Shannon, the son of Scottish Presbyterian settlers in Derry, who came to Boston in 1687 (he thus missed the siege of Londonderry two years later where his elder brother Robert played a prominent role). The name Nathaniel continued as the first-born for seven generations in America. Later Nathaniels settled in New Hampshire. George Hodgdon’s 1905 book Shannon Genealogy recounted this family’s history.

Robert Shannon departed Belfast with his brothers on the Friends Goodwill in 1717 and made his home in Norrington township, Pennsylvania:

  • one line from Robert, via William Shannon, moved after the Revolutionary War to Anderson county in east Tennessee.
  • a line from another brother Thomas went to Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas. Alexander May Shannon led a Confederate cavalry unit during the Civil War known as Shannon’s scouts. He later settled in Galveston.

Another Thomas Shannon, probably from Ulster, settled along the Savannah river in Georgia in the 1770’s. His son Owen, a member of “the Old Three Hundred,” came to Texas as early as 1822. The area there was lawless in those times and his son Jesse was said to have been part of the Murrell gang that marauded between Louisiana and Spanish Texas.

Irish  Other Shannons came to America from elsewhere in Ireland and were generally Catholic.

George Shannon was brought to America from Munster around 1760 when about he was about one year old. He knew nothing about his parentage except that his father was an Irish merchant and that his mother had died on the crossing with him. He grew up, fought in the Revolutionary War, married, and later moved to Ohio. He had three notable sons:

  • the eldest son George, nicknamed “Peg-Leg,” was the youngest member of the Lewis and Clark expedition that crossed America from East to West in 1806. George Shannon later settled in Missouri and Shannon county there was named after him.
  • Thomas was a Ohio state politician who served in the Ohio House of Representatives.
  • as did his younger brother Wilson. He became Governor of the state in 1838 and subsequently Governor of Kansas territory.

Most Shannons generally came later. The peak decade for immigration was 1850-1860. Patrick and Mary Shannon, for instance, came to New York around this time. New York recorded the largest number of Shannons in the 1920 census.

Another Patrick Shannon came to Worcester, Massachusetts in the early 1900’s. His son William became a prominent journalist and commentator on the political scene who was appointed US Ambassador to Ireland in 1977.

Canada.  Michael Shannon was Catholic from county Antrim who came to Canada in 1832 and settled in Prince Edward county, Ontario. It was said that Michael was a footman to Lord Parker and eloped with his daughter Margaret. Michael and Margaret raised fourteen children in Canada and their descendants are numerous.

Peter and Catherine Shannon came from Sligo to Ontario in 1847. Their son William left his home there and, after a meandering journey which took in Chile, Mexico and California, ended up in 1863 in British Columbia, then still a separate British colony. He was a Vancouver area pioneer and one of its most prominent citizens. Shannon place-names are to be found everywhere.

When he died in 1928, his obituary ran as follows:  “William Shannon was a Cariboo pioneer and one of the hard-working and hard-playing men from the rough civilization of the 1860’s. He was a trader, miner, freighter, and cattle rancher who came to British Columbia in the days when men changed their occupation to suit their love for fresh adventure.

Australia.  Martin Shannon was a Dublin grocer who was convicted of pig stealing and transported on the Hercules to Australia in 1830. He married his wife Catherine in Hinton, NSW. One son Thomas stayed in this area, owning property in Umarra, another son John moved to Queensland.

Shannons from Derry arrived as free settlers to South Australia in the late 1830’s. First came Abraham and David Shannon in 1839 and 1840, followed by their father William and his second wife. Abraham moved to Moculta in the 1860’s and his family mausoleum can still be seen there on the outskirts of the town. David operated a large farm at Yatara in the Konnunga district.

New Zealand.  The Shannons had by their own account been at Ballycragy in county Antrim for eight generations and more than two hundred years before they made the decision to emigrate to New Zealand in the 1860’s.

The eldest offspring George was the first to arrive in 1865, followed by three of his brothers. They made their home in the Wanganui area. Their story was told in a family book published in 2000, A Shannon Family – from Antrim to New Zealand.

Shannon Surname Miscellany

Saint Senan of Ireland.  Senan mac Geircinn was born in 488 in a place once known as Moylougha in county Clare.   The translation of Senan from old Gaelic means “little old wise man.”  He studied under a monk and began his Christian missionary career by founding a church near Enniscorthy in Wexford.

Around the year 534 he founded a monastery of five churches and a round tower on Scattery island in the bay on the estuary of the river Shannon some three kilometers out from Kilrush.  Scattery Island became not only a famous abbey but the seat of a bishopric with Senan as its first bishop.  Legend has it that Senan slew a huge sea creature that inhabited the island and terrorized the locals.

Today Saint Senan is listed among the Twelve Apostles of Ireland.

Shannon in Scotland.  The name of Shannon or Seanchaidh, pronounced “shan-a-chie,” was to be found in the early census roll of the Kings of Scotland.  Its literal translation meant “the tradition-bearer” or “story teller.”

Common spelling variations of the name were Aschennan, Shennan, and Shennane. These variations sometimes changed even between father and son, causing much confusion in research.  Also contributing to the confusion was the fact that the name Shannon here has been frequently linked with the Irish surnames of Shanahan in Clare and Sheenan in Tyrone.

However, the Shannons of SW Scotland and those who migrated to Ulster are believed to have been descended from the Dalridan race in the Hebrides Islands.  Shannon emerged as a surname in Kintyre in Argyllshire.  The earliest known ancestor in that area was a chieftain named Gilquhongill Aschennane who was resident in Duo Knokis in 1376.

William Shannon and George Washington.  William Shannon grew up in the Norrington township family home in Pennsylvania of his grandfather, immigrant Robert Shannon.

William reported for active duty in the Pennsylvania Militia at the onset of the Revolutionary War.  It was the day after having the honor of a very special visitor who came and spent the night in the Shannon family home.  That visitor was General George Washington.  The SAR Record reads:

“General Washington spent the night of June 19, 1778 at the home of American patriot Robert Shannon (William’s grandfather) in East Norrington township, Pennsylvania.”

According to an old Shannon family biography, this event profoundly inspired William into service.

George Shannon in Missouri.  George Shannon, the youngest member of the Lewis and Clark expedition and nicknamed “Peg-Leg,” later settled in Kentucky where he became a prominent judge.  But then he abruptly moved to Missouri in 1828. Why did he move?

There were some reports that he was an alcoholic. In 1823 a handbill accused him of being seen “in his cups.”  Could it be that the hilarious stories of George’s drinking escapades described by W.V.N. Bay in his Reminiscences of the Bench and Bar of Missouri were true?   Bay wrote that someone once proposed to George as follows:

“If either would do a particular act, and the other should fail to follow suit, the delinquent should treat the crowd.  Thereupon Shannon took off his wooden leg and threw it into the fire; and as the other was not disposed to thus jeopardize a sound limb, he was forced to foot the bill.”

Shannon died suddenly on August 30, 1836 in Palmyra, Missouri at the age of 49.

Abraham and David Shannon in South Australia.  Abrham Shannon and his brother David from Derry in Ireland were early settlers in South Australia, arriving there in 1839 and 1840. Both became farmers and successful ones as well. Abraham and his wife Eliza were to lead long and fruitful lives.

David was not so lucky.  In 1860 his wife Sarah died at Yatara, aged only 28.  Barely two months later, his one-year old son Abraham also died. The next year David married Martha Davison at Stockwell.  It was in Stockwell in 1866, five years later, that his father died after trying to break up a fight.  That was also the year that his second wife Martha died.  David quickly married a third time at the end of the year, to Deborah Kelly in Kapunda.

Despite the family traumas, David had by the 1870’s become the largest landowner in the district.

Shannon Names

  • George Shannon was the youngest member of the Lewis and Clark expedition that crossed America from East to West in 1806.  
  • Claude Shannon is famous for having founded information theory with the landmark paper that he published in America in 1948.

Shannon Numbers Today

  • 8,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 14,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 13,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)

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Written by Colin Shelley

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