Select O'Connor Miscellany

Here are some O'Connor stories and accounts over the years:

The O'Conor Dons - High Kings of Ireland and Kings of Connacht

Sir William Betham, the Ulster King of Arms, completed an O'Conor pedigree in 1823.  This pedigree listed no fewer than eleven High Kings of Ireland and twenty six Kings of Connacht over time.

The greatest O'Conor chief was probably Turlough Mor O'Conor, the High King of Ireland in the early 12th century.  He built stone bridges and had a fleet of ships on the Shannon and in the Atlantic.  He maintained a mint to coin silver money and he plundered every part of the country, as was the custom.  His son Rory, who tried but failed to repel the Norman invasion, was the last High King of Ireland.

The chiefs of the O'Conor sept were also recognized as the Kings of Connacht until the late 15th century. Cathal Crovedearg (Charles of the Wine Red Hand), the half-brother of Rory and another son of Turlough Mor, emerged as a powerful King of Connacht.  The last four of these kings were:

  • Toirdhealbhach Og Donn mac Aodha meic Toirdhealbhaigh, who died in 1406
  • Cathal mac Ruaidhri O'Conchobhair Donn, who died in 1439
  • Aodh mac Toirdhealbhaigh Oig O'Conchobhair Donn, who died in 1461
  • and Feidhlimidh Geangcach mac Toirdhealbhaigh Oig O'Conchobhair Donn, who died in 1474.
The coronation or inauguration stone of the O'Conors can still be seen at their ancestral home of Clonalis in Roscommon.

The O'Conor Don chiefs have extended down to the present day and to Desmond O'Conor Don who inherited the title in 2000.  At that time the Irish Times wrote: "It is generally acknowledged that the holder of the title would be the foremost claimant to the Irish throne if one were proposed."

Impoverished O'Conors

Denis O'Conor was nephew and heir to Major Owen O'Conor, the last master of Ballintober castle in Roscommon.  He had taken up arms against Cromwell and had mortgaged his lands to finance a troop of cavalry for the cause of James II.  When that cause failed, Owen was captured and imprisoned in England where he died in 1692.

Although living in poverty, Denis retained the dream of recovering his ancestral lands.  With the help of his uncle he fought a law case in Dublin in 1720.  Tradition has it that he was so impoverished that he walked to Dublin barefoot.  The result of his action was that he was restored to a small portion of his ancestral lands, approximately 500 acres of boggy land around the village of Ballinagare in Roscommon.  There he built a small house, Ballinagare House, which soon became a rendezvous for the ill-fated Catholic gentry of Connacht.  It was said that "his hospitable door was never shut against those in misfortune or distress."

An ancient gravestone was found in a wood in Ballinagare in 1917.  It read:

"For his ancestors and father and grandfather have buried,
who were to faith and virtue much addicted,
and to religion and fatherland most constant
but who for the defence of both were
reduced, despoiled, dispersed.

This monument was erected by Denis O'Conor of Ballinagare in 1735."

His son Charles wrote in 1756:

"My poor father was finally cast on the shore on a broken plank (a reference to the poor lands re-granted him in 1720).

I have succeeded to him.  This is the plank which from it is now hoped I may be driven by a Penal Law.  I struggle to keep my hold and if I am left nothing to inherit but the religion and misfortunes of a family long on the decline, the victim is prepared for the sacrifice resignedly indeed though not willingly."

O'Connor and Variants

O'Connor comes out in a number of different forms today, the principal ones being, in addition to O'Connor, Connor, Conner, and Connors.  The table below gives the approximate numbers in these various spellings around the English-speaking world today.

Numbers (000's)
New Zealand


The Conners/O'Connors of Cork

The Conners of Cork have sometimes claimed that they were descended from Rory O'Conor, the last High King of Ireland.  This is unlikely.  They may have been Kerry O'Connors or even possibly English Conners (as they were Protestant). 

The first record of these Conners was Cornelius Conner, a churchwarden in Bandon, Cork in 1681.  It was his son Daniel, a merchant in Bandon, who established the base of the family's wealth and purchased various estates in Cork - including Manch House in Ballireen with its 4,200 acres of land.  The Conners remained squires of Manch House through the 18th and 19th centuries.  

Arthur Conner of this family, being pro-Irish, changed his name to O'Connor.  He joined the United Irishmen in 1798 and was arrested, tried for high treason, imprisoned several times, and deported to France in 1803. There he became a general in Napoleon's army. 

Arthur's elder brother Roger also joined the United Irishmen.  This led to him serving a term of imprisonment in Scotland.  His home Dangan castle burned down after he had given it a suspiciously high insurance cover. He was tried for robbing the Galway mail train and in his defense claimed that he "had just wanted to obtain from the mail some letters incriminating a friend."  In later life he was "a sportsman and a spectacular spendthrift."  In fact he was outrageously eccentric and took to writing imaginary annals.

Roger's elder son Francis became a general in Simon Bolivar's war of liberation in South America.  He lived onto old age in Bolivia.  His descendants there continued with the family tradition of tinkering with their genealogy.  Only one child of his marriage - a daughter - actually did survive. 

Younger son Feargus was a barrister in England and a supporter of the 1832 Reform Bill.  A man with lots of energy and the gift of the gab, he formed a committee of radical unions which led to the setting up of the "physical force" Chartists.  He was subsequently imprisoned for seditious libel.  He began to deteriorate mentally and in 1852 was declared insane and put in a home.  It was said that when he was buried in Kensal Green in London, fifty thousand people attended his funeral. 

One line of these O'Connors extended down to Australia where Richard O'Connor became a well-known Sydney barrister and judge.  Richard had heard stories of his forebears' escapades in 1798 and supported the Irish cause from afar.

Timothy O'Connor in Newfoundland

Anthony O'Connor recalled the following about his ancestor who first made the crossing to Newfoundland:

"My first ancestors sailed from county Cork in Ireland in the early 1800's.  They came by wooden vessel, crossing the Atlantic to the nearest landmark - which was Newfoundland.  It was a vessel in full sail and they settled in what was known as the "Back Gulch" in Clattice Harbor, located on the western coastline of Placentia Bay.

This ancestor (my great grandfather Timothy O'Connor) and his wife (Sara Carter) built a log cabin two miles in from the sea.  They constructed an outdoor stone fireplace to cook on; one side was the oven, the other side was open.  A swing out kettle was placed in it for cooking purposes.  I saw the cabin's foundation still standing in the early 1900's as a young boy when my father took me there.

Other settlers moved in and Timothy and Sara had a son named Timothy who married Agness Ballard (my grandparents) and my grandparents had a son named Timothy Joseph (my father) who married first to Jane Ann Brewer (my mother)."

Early Connor Marriages in Halifax, Nova Scotia

John Connor
Jane Glashing
Timothy Conner
Barbara Fancy
Cornelius Connor
Margaret Tomlinson
Andrew Conner
Elizabeth Lawrence
Constant Conner
Margaret Cody
Peter Connor
Mary Simpson
Bartholomew Conner
Margaret Connor
Dennis Connors
Anne Bartling
George Connors
Elizabeth Evans
Patrick Connor
Judith Reily

Charles O'Conor versus Boss Tweed

When Charles O'Conor passed away in 1884, many seemed to concur in opinion with Samuel J. Tilden that O'Conor "was the greatest jurist among all the English-speaking race." 

He had reached the front ranks of the profession in 1846, not only in New York but in the whole of the United States.  Perhaps his most celebrated case occurred after the Civil War when Jefferson Davis was indicted for treason and Charles O'Conor became his counsel.

In 1871, he commenced with enthusiasm as counsel for the State of New York proceedings against William M. Tweed and others who were accused of frauds upon the City of New York.  He declared that for his professional services he would accept no compensation

In the autumn of 1875 and while these proceedings were uncompleted, he was prostrated by an illness which seemed mortal and the Cardinal Archbishop administered the sacraments.  Slowly, however, he regained some measure of strength and, on February 7, 1876, roused by a newspaper report, he left his bedroom to appear in court, "unexpected and ghost-like" (according to an eyewitness), that he might save from disaster the prosecution of the cause of the State against Tweed.

Daniel O'Connor's Up-and-Down Life in Australia

Born in Tipperary, Daniel O'Connor came with his family to Australia in 1854, settling in Sydney.  He joined his father working in a butcher's shop.  By the early 1870's he had his own butchering business and had accumulated fourteen houses and 7,000 in the bank.  This was all lost through his speculation on goldmining shares.  But he bounced back and had regained his fortune by the end of the decade.

There followed a lengthy period in politics, serving in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly until 1904. On leaving Parliament O'Connor embarked on a world tour, visiting England and Ireland before heading to the United States.  He was in San Francisco during the 1906 earthquake and lost all of his belongings there.   He died at the Liverpool asylum in SW Sydney in 1914 and was buried in the Catholic section of the Waverley cemetery.

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