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Irish Surname - O'Connor

O'Connor is among the top 10 commonest surnames in Ireland with the name deriving from at least six distinct Gaelic septs located in different parts of the country. O'Connor, with its variants Connor, Conner, Connors etc, comes from the Irish O'Conchobhair, probably meaning 'lover of hounds', 'wolf-lover' or 'patron of warriors'. The O'Conchobhair septs were located in Kerry, Cork, Offaly, Clare and Roscommon.

The Offaly family take their name from Conchobhar (d.979), who claimed descent from Cathaoir Mor, a second-century king of Ireland. They were powerful in their original homeland until the 16th century, when they were dispossessed of their lands. The Kerry O'Connors were chiefs of a large territory in north Kerry, displaced further northwards to the Limerick borders, by the Norman invasion, where they retained much of their power down to the 17th century. Today, the descendants of these O'Connors are the most numerous and can be found in every County in Ireland, with the majority concentrated in the Kerry/Limerick/Cork area.

Probably the most famous of all the O'Connor families are the O'Connors of Connacht - the main branches of this sept being O'Conor Don, O'Conor Roe and O'Conor Sligo. The ancestor from whom they take surname was Conchobhar, King of Connacht (d.971), direct ancestor of Turlough O'Connor (1088-1156) and Roderick O'Connor (1116-1198), the last two High Kings of Ireland, both of whom were progressive monarchs who ruled through the 12th century. Unlike many of the rest of the old Gaelic aristocracy, the O'Conors of Connacht managed to retain a large measure of their property and influence through all the calamities from the 17th century on. Their direct descendant, as certified by the Genealogical Office, Dublin Castle, is the present O'Conor Don: Denis O'Conor, and the family seat remains in the ancestral homeland, 'Clonalis' in Castlerea, County Roscommon. Built early in the 18th century Clonalis contains many relics and portraits of this great family and it is the only house open to the public that is wholly of the old Irish.

It is interesting to note that this important and aristocratic family consistently maintained its position, remained with their people and never revoked their Roman Catholicism, evidence of which is apparent in all the 16th - 18th century manuscripts. The history of the O'Connors, particularly, those of Connacht, forms the subject of a number of books and many famous family members are documented in these books.

In Griffiths Valuation c1850s, three variations of the surname were found, of which Connor was the most numerous (5377 households), mainly concentrated in Cork and Kerry. The plural form Connors was recorded at 1749 (mainly Wexford and Waterford) and households using the name O'Connor - mainly in Munster - only numbered 841.

Famous People

In military circles Cabrach O'Conor (1584-1655) and Hugh O'Conor (d.1669), son and grandson of O'Conor Don respectively, took a prominent part in the 1641-1652 wars.

Charles O'Conor (1710-1791), antiquary and collector of Irish manuscripts; his two grandsons, Rev Charles O'Conor (1764-1828), librarian at Stowe and author, inter alia, of 'Rerum Hibernicarum Scriptores Veteres' and Matthew O'Conor (1773-1884), author of 'History of the Irish Catholics'.

James Arthur O'Connor (1792 -1841) was born in Dublin, the son of William O'Connor an engraver and print-seller. He was self-taught as an artist and began landscape painting and went to London where his pictures were exhibited at the Royal Academy. Although they were regarded as possessing extraordinary merit he died a poor man. In 1818 - 19 he spent some time at Westport House in Mayo, where he painted some local landscapes for Lord Sligo. Many fine O'Connor paintings can still be seen there.

In religious life two O'Connor brothers of the Kerry sept, Michael (1819 - 72) and James O'Connor (1823 - 90) were both bishops in the USA.

Charles Owen O'Conor Don (1838 - 1905) was a Member of Parliament for Roscommon until he was defeated by the Parnellites. He sat on many royal commissions and was president of the Royal Irish Academy in 1881 and of the Society of Preserving the Irish Language. He wrote a family history, 'The O'Conors of Connacht'.

The O'Connor surname earned international fame in golfing circles too. Christy O'Connor (born in Galway Dec 1924) is a former Irish professional golfer, who throughout the 1960s, won at least one professional event each year on the British Tour. In his early career he was known simply as Christy O'Connor, but his nephew of the same name also became a prominent golfer, and they have come to be referred to as Christy O'Connor Senior and Christy O'Connor Junior, respectively.

Christy O'Connor Junior (born in Galway Aug 1948) has competed on both the European Seniors Tour and the US based Champions Tour, has won four European Tour events, two Senior British Open titles (before it became one of the senior majors) and two Champions Tour events.

Alternate Surname Spellings

Connor, Conner, Connors

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