The O'Shaughnessy Family

Early History

According to James P. Hynes in his 1987 book "The O'Shaughnessys" the earliest historical references to the ancestors of the O'Shaughnessys refer to Heremon, Monarch of Ireland and his descendant, Eochy Muigh who ruled Connaught from 358 AD to 365 AD.

He also states that King Dathy (or "Daithi"), the last great pagan King of Ireland, was ancestor of the O'Shaughnessys. He then traces the line from King Guaire the Hospitable (the most famous seventh century King of Connaught) through some 15 generations to Sheaghnasy, from whom the family name is derived. From the 12th to 16th Centuries the O'Shaughnessys are mentioned in "The Annals of the Four Masters" on several occasions, though briefly.


More detail is recorded about the O'Shaughnessy family from the early 16th century. At this time they were based in Gort Castle. Gort (or "Gort-Inse-Guaire") is situated on the N18 road from Galway to Ennis. The castle is long gone but locals will be able to show you the site by the river where it and the manor house stood.

From Sir Dermot O’Shaughnessy (knighted by King Henry VIII in the early 16th century) to his great-great-great-grandson Roger who died in 1690, the O’Shaughnessy family occupied the Gort site. Even though the castle was burnt by the Cromwellian General Ludlow in 1651 (at a time when the chief of the clan, another Sir Dermot O’Shaughnessy, was away from the home defending Galway) the house remained. After the estates were confiscated by William III in 1697, several O’Shaughnessys used lawsuits to try to regain them and one, Sir Joseph O’Shaughnessy, furious at the legal delays, forcibly re-took the mansion house at Gort around 1760. Unfortunately, the courts and the House of Lords ruled against him and Gort was lost again in 1770.


Other O’Shaughnessy Castles

Not far from Gort are two other O’Shaughnessy castles, Ardamullivan and Fiddaun.

Ardamullivan is about 8 kilometres south of Gort. It is first mentioned in 1567 when claimed by Dermot ‘The Swarthy’ on the death of his brother Sir Roger O’Shaughnessy (sons of Sir Dermot mentioned above). In a dispute over possession of the castle, Dermot fought his nephew William in a duel beneath the walls of Ardamullivan. Dermot killed William but William had managed to wound his uncle to the extent that he died within about half an hour of his nephew.


Fiddaun, which guarded the western frontiers of the O’Shaughnessy territory, dates from the 15th or 16th century. The last O’Shaughnessy to occupy Fiddaun was Lady Helena who died there in 1729. It is now a well preserved National Monument.


Kilmacduagh -  click for larger JPEGNot far from Gort is the site of an old monastic settlement, Kilmacduagh. The 7th century saint, Saint Colman MacDuagh established a monastery on the site given him by King Guaire. Over the following 13 centuries various other buildings were added and restorations made.

Kilmacduagh -  click for larger JPEGThe O’Shaughnessy chapel, a wing of the old cathedral, is the burial place of many of the O’Shaughnessy family from the early 16th century.

The round tower at Kilmacduagh - click for larger JPEGThe most prominent feature is the leaning tower. At over 110 feet it is the tallest of its kind.

You may see a larger JPEG version of the images above by clicking on the thumbnails.

The Limerick O'Shaughnessys

During the 17th century one or more O'Shaughnessys migrated from Gort in Co. Galway to Co. Limerick. Amongst them was Thomas O'Shaughnessy (great(4)grandson of Sir Dermot O'Shaughnessy) who settled in Glin on the Shannon about 1692 in the aftermath of the Treaty of Limerick. I believe that he was my great(6)grandfather. His great(3)grandson John was born at Tullyleague near Glin in 1837 and migrated to Australia in about 1863.
A book by John PM Feheney is a great source of information on the Limerick O'Shaughnessys. It is called "The Munster O'Shaughnessys - The People and their Stories." You may order a copy from the author here.

Some Famous O'Shaughnessys

Sir William Brooke O'Shaughnessy

1809-1889. At the age of 22 demonstrated the beneficial impact of intravenous saline on critically de-hydrated patients. Joined the East India company in 1833. By 1861 he was surgeon-major and professor of chemistry at the Medical College at Calcutta.
He introduced cannabis to western medicine and also became famous as the man who introduced the telegraph to India and was appointed Director of Telegraphs for India in 1855.

Michael Maurice O'Shaughnessy

1864-1934. American hydraulic engineer, b. Limerick, Ireland. Emigrated to the U.S. in 1885. He was city engineer of San Francisco (1912-32) and builder of Hetch-Hetchy Water and Power Supply for San Francisco and a number of dams, aqueducts, tunnels, etc. O'Shaughnessy Dam in California was named in his honour as was a boulevard and sea-wall in San Francisco.

Clark Daniel O'Shaughnessy

1892-1970. American football coach, b. St. Cloud, Minnesota. Head coach at several colleges, including Tulane (1915-20, 1922-25), University of Chicago (1933-39), and Stanford (1940-41), and of Los Angeles Rams (1948-49). He was advisory coach with the Chicago Bears (1951-61) and developed the 'T' formation so proficiently that it became the predominant offensive system of football teams in 1930s and '40s. He also developed defensive systems.

Arthur William Edgar O'Shaughnessy

1844-1881. Associated with Rossetti, Swinburne, and the Pre-Raphaelites, the Irish-English singer and poet was born in London. He was connected, for a while, with the British Museum, and was transferred later to the Department of Natural History. His first literary success, Epic of Women (1870), promised a brilliant future for the young poet, a promise strengthened by his Music and Moonlight (1874). Always delicate in health, his hopes were dashed by periods of illness and an early death, also in London. He also wrote Songs of A Worker (1881) and the well known Ode in which he coined the term 'movers and shakers' which is not only his best, but is, because of its perfect blending of music and message, one of the immortal classics.

Ignatius A. O'Shaughnessy

1885-1973. Renowned football player at the University of St Thomas at St Paul Minneapolis. After leaving the college in 1907 he became secretary of the American Athletic Association in St Paul. At the end of World War 1 he turned to oil exploration. By the 1930s he was head of the largest individually owned oil company in the world.
The recreation building, stadium, library and education centre at St Thomas all bear his name and he contributed to major buildings at the College of St Catherine and the University of Notre Dame.

Pope Jack O'Shaughnessy

1916 - 2003. The first Australian Pope. Born in Melbourne at a very early age, Jack impressed his teachers and his parish priest with a prodigious knowledge of the bible as well as of the racing forms. He was able to relate any date in history to its nearest race meeting and any place in Australia to its nearest pub. Click here to see a picture of Pope Jack.

The Family Coat of ArmsThe O'Shaughnessy Family Coat of Arms

The heraldic arms of The O'Shaughnessys are:
Arms: Vert, a tower triple towered argent.
Supporters: Two lions or.
Crest: Over a side helmet a hand in armour holding a spear.
Motto: Fortis et stabilis (strong and steadfast).

The O'Shaughnessy Society

The O'Shaughnessy Society is open to all with O'Shaughnessy/Shaughnessy/Shannessy roots and is registered with the Clans of Ireland Office. It organises family rallies every second year at Gort and provides regular newsletters to its members. Visit the Society's web site here.

Clans of Ireland

Clans of Ireland Ltd. is a non-profit organisation set up in 1989 under the auspices of the Irish Tourist Board (Bord Failte) and the Heritage Section of the Department of the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) in order to help publicise and give advice on the organisation of clan rallies in Ireland.

Some Irish surnames have roots originating in the 5th century A.D. and earlier. Some descend from kings and ruling families who were prominent in Irish history while others descend from famous intellectual or bardic families who preserved the history and culture of their nation for posterity. They all represent the rich fabric of Irish society and have contributed to our ancient culture and heritage. You are invited to celebrate and share in this heritage by participating in this movement, and even visiting the homes of your ancestors.

Visit the Clans of Ireland here.

James P. Hynes

James P Hynes has written several books directly related to the O'Shaughnessy clan: "The O'Shaughnessys", "Fiddaun Castle" and "A Short Guide To Kilmacduagh" and, sharing history with his O'Heyne clan: "White Sheeted Fort", "Dunguaire Castle" and "The Hynes Sept".

To purchase his books contact him here.

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