Select O'Hara Surname Genealogy

O'Hara is an Irish sept name.  It was an anglicized form of the Gaelic O’hEaghra, meaning “descendant of Eaghra.”  The O’Haras claimed descent from Eaghra (pronounced “Ara”) who was lord of Leyney in Sligo and died in 976.  The meaning of the name Eaghra is not known.

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Select O'Hara Ancestry

Ireland. The O’Haras have been strongly associated with county Sligo.  The first record there was that of Dermot O'hEaghra around the year 1350.  At that time, the O’Haras were beginning to divide themselves into two groupings: 
  • the O’Hara Buidhe (the brown-faced ones) who were based around Collooney  
  • and the O’Hara Riabhach (the rough-faced or grizzled ones) at Ballyharry, a transposed spelling of Ballyhara.  
In the 14th century a branch of the family migrated east to Antrim and settled in the area now known as Ballymena.  

Until Cromwellian times the O’Haras were lords of Leyney from their castles at Castlelough and Memlough, as well as being large landlords in Sligo and nearby Mayo - at one time holding over 20,000 acres at Coopers Hill and Annaghmore.  The Book of O’Hara is an 18th century document commemorating the O’Hara chiefs.  

Those in Sligo who supported the English cause were ennobled as the barons of Tyrawley in 1706:
  • this line included two prominent officers in the British army, James O’Hara and his illegitimate son Charles O’Hara. The latter had the distinction of losing to both Washington and Napoleon. 
  • also pro-British was Robert O’Hara of Raheen in county Galway.  He was the father and grandfather of two notable British soldiers.  Son Walter distinguished himself in the Napoleonic Wars before emigrating to Toronto in Canada in 1826.  Daughter Anne Louisa married James Burke and their son Robert O’Hara Burke was the leader of the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition to cross Australia from south to north.
However, there were also O’Haras on the other side - such as James O’Hara, a general on Washington’s side during the Revolutionary War, and Kean O'Hara, prominent in the 1798 Rebellion.  

Many Irish, included O’Haras, left Ireland at the time of the famine or in the years after.  In the 1860’s, one can trace one O’Hara family from Derry in Boston and another O’Hara family from Cavan in Australia.  Others sought work in England and Scotland, or migrated to Canada or New Zealand.

Today, apart from Dublin, Sligo and Antrim remain the two regions where the O’Hara name is most concentrated.

England and Scotland.  O’Haras migrated to the industrial towns of northern England and Lowland Scotland during the 19th century. 

Early arrivals were Patrick O’Hara and his wife Catherine and two brothers who settled in Bradford, Yorkshire in 1831.  Their descendants, through eight generations, are now spread over Yorkshire and further afield. John O’Hara had left home in county Derry for Glasgow as a young boy at the time of the famine and was one of the founders of Glasgow Celtic football club in 1888.

James O’Hara came to America in 1772 and distinguished himself during the Revolutionary War, being appointed Quartermaster General by Washington.  By the 1790’s he had become a prominent early American businessman, starting up a number of industries in Pittsburgh and investing in real estate there.  He owned Schenley Park, which his descendants donated to the city of Pittsburgh in 1889.

Kean O’Hara, a political exile after the 1798 Rebellion, came to America and settled in Kentucky where he became a notable educator.  His son Theodore was a Confederate colonel in the Civil War and also a poet. His poem Bivouac of the Dead has been quoted thousands of times.  Lines like:

On games eternal camping ground
their lonely tents are spread

And glory guards with solemn
round the bivouac of the dead.”

have been inscribed on granite and marble at Gettysburg and at hundreds of other other cemeteries all over America.

The early O’Hara emigrants to America were affluent or well-educated, while later emigrants were escaping poverty at home.  Boston was a favored destination for new arrivals in the 1860's like John O'Hara from Derry and another John O'Hara from Rush near Dublin.

.  Felix O’Hara from Antrim had come with the British army to America and in 1765 was one of the first English-speaking settlers in Gaspe, Quebec.  He prospered there and on his death in 1805 left his sons substantial landholdings.  Three of his sons – Oliver, Edward and Hugh – distinguished themselves in the region.  There is still an O’Hara cemetery in the center of Gaspe.

The O’Hara Mill village in Madoc township, Ontario began with the arrival of James O’Hara (originally from Derry) and his wife Mary in 1823.  Once the family settled there they planted strong roots and never moved again.  They started a sawmill there in 1850 and t
heir buildings and properties were passed through the years from children to grandchildren over a span of four generations.  Their homestead is now part of an 85 acre conservation area.

Latin America
.  There is an O’Hara branch in Peru that was started by Bernard O’Hara Coor from Liverpool who went there to farm in the mid-19th century.  He had eleven children, the third of whom, named Santiago, apparently became a national hero when he died fighting against Chile at the Battle of Miraflores in 1881.

Select O'Hara Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select O'Hara Names

Kane O’Hara was an 18th century Irish playwright and musician from Sligo.  His burletta Midas, first performed in 1764, was a musical alternative to opera at that time.
Theodore O'Hara
was known as the poet soldier of the South after the Civil War.
John O’Hara
was an American writer of novels and short stories in the 1930’s and 1940’s.
Scarlett O’Hara
is the famous fictional protagonist of the book and film Gone With the Wind.
Maureen O’Hara
, born Maureen FitzSimons, was a red-headed Irish actress who starred in Hollywood films in the 1940’s and 1950’s.
Joan O’Hara
from Sligo was the popular Irish film and TV actress who died in 2007.

Select O'Haras Today
  • 12,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 11,000 in America (most numerous in New York) 
  • 14,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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