Select O'Shea Surname Genealogy

The O'Shea name derived from the Gaelic O'Seaghda sept.  Seaghda in Gaelic means "fine" or "stately." Segda was a chieftain of the Corcu Duibne, a western Kerry grouping on the Dingle and Iveragh peninsulas.  O'Shea became Shea on its travels outside Ireland.

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Select Shea/O'Shea Ancestry

Ireland.  The O'Sheas were a Kerry sept, the lords of Iveragh, often in dispute with their O'Falvey sept neighbors in Dingle.  However, they ran into the more powerful McCarthy sept in the 12th century and their powers in Kerry declined.  Some of these O'Sheas may have migrated east to Tipperary and Kilkenny (although this is disputed). 

Shees did establish themselves in the city of Kilkenny in the 15th century, becoming the most influential of the Ten Tribes of Kilkenny.  They were sovereigns and mayors of Kilkenny in many of the years between 1493 and 1653.  Sir Richard Shee who lived in the late 1500's was probably the most powerful of these Shees. 

His descendants were to be found at Sheestown.   One branch migrated to Limerick.  Katharine O'Shea, who married into this family, was the downfall of the Irish politician Charles Parnell in the late 19th century.  One O’Shea family has been farming on the banks of the Suir river in Piltown, Kilkenny since 1830.

However, by the time of the 1659 census, O'Shea not Shee was the predominant spelling in all counties in Ireland with the exception of Kilkenny.  In the Griffith Valuation of 1852, the largest number were in Kerry and 40% of that number were on the Iveragh peninsula.  Today most live in Kerry and Cork, about half of all O'Sheas.  The best known O'Shea is probably Jack O'Shea, a Gaelic footballer from Cahersiveen in Kerry and now a media pundit.

France.  One line of O’Shees, descended from Richard Shee of Kilkenny, departed Ireland for France at the time of Catholic persecution in the early 1700’s.  Three O’Shee brothers joined Clare’s Irish Regiment and fought for France during the Seven Years War.  Colonel Henry O’Shee was one of the leaders of the French expedition to Ireland in 1796.  Although the expedition failed, he was made a French count by Napoleon in 1809.

Spain.  In the early 1800’s William O’Shea, from the Shee line in Limerick, came to Malaga in Spain where there were iron mines.  Henry O’Shea, an agent of the Barings, was a leading Madrid banker in the mid-19th century and subsequent O’Sheas married into prominent Spanish families.  Jose Sebastian de Erice O'Shea was Spain's ambassador to the UN in 1955.  The pianist Paloma O’Shea was awarded the title of Marchioness of O’Shea by the Spanish king in 2008.

Canada.  The main early cluster of Sheas in Canada was in Newfoundland.

Newfoundland.  Sheas were in Newfoundland
from the 1750’s.  Walter Shea from Waterford was there in 1792 and later settled in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.  Some of his descendants - through his son Henry - moved to Prince Edward Island, others migrated to America. 

John Shea, born in Newfoundland in 1803, returned to Ireland and became mayor of Cork in the 1850’s.  Ambrose Shea, born in 1815, became a prominent political and business figure in Newfoundland.  His family published The Newfoundlander newspaper from 1827 to 1884. 

Elsewhere.  Jeremiah and Mary Shea came from Tipperary to Canada in the 1820’s (they were on the McCabe list) and raised eight children on Grand Calumet Island in Quebec.  There is a Shea Lake there.  Many Sheas were buried at the St. Anne’s Catholic cemetery.  Meanwhile Robert and Mary Shea from Cork were among Peter Robinson’s settlers of 1823 who came to Lanark county, Ontario.

James and Mary Shea fled Kerry for Canada at the height of the potato famine in the late 1840’s.  They were apparently Anglican in Ireland and became Methodists in Canada.  From their line came the Wesleyan minister the Rev. Adam Shea and his son George Beverly Shea, the renowned gospel singer in the Billy Graham's Crusades. George was born in 1909 and died in 2013, a lifespan of 104 years.

America.  Early Sheas in America may have come via Newfoundland.  That was probably the case with David Shea who was living in Marblehead, Massachusetts in 1776 and whose descendants moved to Vermont.  Shea in America at that time could sometimes become Shay.

Many later migrants came from Kerry.  The small town of Cahersiveen in Kerry
in fact contributed a number of young Shea migrants to America, including John Shea who arrived with his parents in the 1870’s and Michael Shea who came alone in 1880.  Other Sheas arrived from nearby Dereenaclaurig and Sneem on the Iveragh peninsula. 

Christopher O’Shea came with his family via Canada to Chicago in the 1850’s.  He joined the Chicago police force in 1882 but was shot dead a year later while trying to quell a disturbance.

Cornelius O’Shea arrived with his family in the 1870’s and settled in San Francisco.  His son Jeremiah became a prominent businessman in the city in the early 1900’s.

“Jeremiah O’Shea started out in San Francisco as a saloon keeper, and then branched out into draying.  Later he became involved in city politics.  The mayor appointed him head contractor for all haulage business when the new City Hall had to be built after the 1906 earthquake.  He died on New Year’s Day, 1916."

New Zealand.  Edmond and Johanna Shea had come to New Zealand from Kerry in the 1860’s and, after a brief sojourn in San Francisco, returned to New Zealand to farm.  Their son Thomas O’Shea became a priest and was appointed the coadjutor Archbishop of Wellington in 1913.

Select Shea/O'Shea Miscellany

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

Select Shea/O'Shea Names

Sir Richard Shee was a prominent Kilkenny figure of the late 16th century.
James and John O'Shea, two brothers from Cork, were well-known stonemasons and sculptors in 19th century Ireland.
Cornelius Shea was an American labor leader, founding member of the Teamsters in the early 1900's, and also an organized crime figure. 
George Beverley Shea was a Canadian-born singer considered to be the first international Gospel singing star.  He lived to be 104.
Milo O’Shea was a legendary Irish actor in New York who died in 2013.

Select Sheas/O'Sheas Today
  • 3,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 18,000 in America (most numerous in Massachusetts) 
  • 24,000 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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