Roots: O’Connor

O'Connor crest
O'Connor crest

By Liam Moriarty, Contributor
October / November 2006

The O’Connor name, with its varied spellings, doesn’t spring from a common source. The name arose in five areas of Ireland: Connacht, Kerry, Derry, Offaly, and Clare and split into six distinct septs, five of which are still in existence. The most prominent sept is that of the Connacht O’Connors who gave us the last two High-Kings of Ireland: Turlough O’Connor (1088-1156) and Roderick O’Connor (1116-1198). They trace their heritage and name from the Irish “Ua Conchobhair,” meaning from Conchobhar. Conchobhar was the descendant of Heremon, the seventh son of the legendary King Mil Espaine (Milesius – “Soldier of Spain”). Conchobhar reigned as King of Connacht (971 A.D.), an area deriving its name from the “Connachta” dynasties in the west of Ireland. The “Connachta” lineage is said to have stretched back to Conn Cetchathach or Conn of the Hundred Battles and High King of Ireland. There are three main branches of the Connacht O’Conors: the O’Conor Don, O’Conor Roe, and O’Conor Sligo.

In Leinster, O’Connors of Offaly claim a long line of royalty including descendancy from the famed Fionn Mac Cumhail (Finn MacCool), leader of the Fianna, a group of elite Irish warriors, as well as Cathaoir Moir, a second-century High King of Ireland. As a sept, they were continually engaged in warfare until they were deposed of many of their estates in the middle of the 16th century. In Munster the O’Connors of Kerry were kings of an extensive area in the north of Kerry and believed they descended from another of King Milesius’ sons, Ir. After the Norman invasion of 1170, the Kerry O’Connors were pushed north to the Shannon estuary. In Ulster the O’Connors of Keenaght (Derry) were overrun in the 12th century by the O’Kanes and wiped out as a sept. Although the O’Connors of Keenaght are no longer an official sept, certain families can still be found in the area claiming ancestry from the royal blood of Cian, son of Oilioll Olum. The third-century King of Munster is one of the many illustrious names attached to the once powerful Derry O’Connors.

Being such a large and illustrious group of families, it is no wonder that over the years the O’Connors have risen to prominent places in a wide variety of fields. One famous literary O’Connor was Flannery. Flannery O’Connor (1915 –1964) was an influential American author. She wrote two novels (Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away) and over thirty short works. The Georgian author’s writing often reflected the racial tension prevalent in the mid-20th-century American South. Because of her contributions and talent, an award is given annually in her honor for exceptional works of short fiction. O’Connor died at 39 of Lupus. Her great-grandfather Patrick Harty was from Tipperary.

One of the most famous O’Connors of modern day, well known for her musical ability and penchant for the controversial, is Sinead O’Connor. Sinead was born in Dublin and began her musical career at an early age. Despite her at times unorthodox political and religious views, Sinead has had a successful career thus far and is constantly re-inventing herself. With a hauntingly beautiful voice and distinctive shaven head, she is infamous for tearing up a picture of Pope John Paul II during a performance on Saturday Night Live. Another famous O’Connor in the world of entertainment was Donald O’Connor (1925-2003), singer, actor and dancer. He is best known for his movies with Francis the Talking Mule and for his performance in the film Singin’ in the Rain. One of the clan’s most gifted musicians is Ireland’s foremost classical pianist, John O’Conner.

The beautiful Tara Conner, the subject of this issue’s cover story, also hails from the long and illustrious line of O’Connors. Tara is the current 2006 Miss USA and was named fourth runner-up in the Miss Universe pageant on July 21, 2006.

In the world of sports, Christy O’Connor Jr. carries the O’Connor name to victory. He is the nephew of Christy O’Connor, the Irish golf legend. Christy Jr. began his professional career in 1967 with his best ranking (7th internationally) coming in 1975. He has won two Senior British Open titles and two Champions tour events. More recently, Christy O’Connor Jr. has begun designing his own golf courses. Another sporting legend is Dennis Connor, known as “Mr. America’s Cup” for his long and colorful association with sailing’s most revered competition. Connor captained the team seven times and and lifted the cup four times in 1974, 1980, 1987 and 1988.

O’Connors have always been found in political forums all over the world, from Bob O’Connor, Mayor of Pittsburgh (who died in office from brain cancer on September 2) to Gavan O’Connor, member of the Australian House of Representatives. In the early 19th century, Charles O’Conor (1804-1884), son of an Irish immigrant, was arguably the greatest lawyer of his time and the first Catholic nominated for President of the United States. Canada can boast two O’Connors as public servants: Dennis O’Connor, Associate Chief Justice of Ontario, and Gordon O’Connor, Minister of National Defense. In the United States, O’Connors can be found throughout the political gamut. Like the two Maureen O’Connors, one the current Lieutenant Governor of Ohio and member of the state’s Supreme Court and the other the former Mayor of San Diego. Tim O’Connor is one of Ireland’s highest-ranking civil servants. Tim, a West Limerick native from Kileedy, is currently Ireland’s Consul General in New York.

The O’Connor name and people have shone throughout history. Because of the talent of the current O’Connor clan, its name and people shall continue to do so for many years to come.

One Response to “Roots: O’Connor”

  1. Hi. Check out another musical O Connor
    from Ireland .. Shannon O Connor singer/song writer.
    Hails from Slane/Navan Co Meath….
    Shannonofficial.com You might enjoy listening.
    Bye for now ..

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