Select O'Leary Surname Genealogy

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

The O'Learys at Inchigeelagh

The village of Inchigeelagh (Inse Geimhleach or Island of the Hostages) lies in the Lee valley in SW Cork.  The O'Learys are believed to have arrived here in about 1192, having been driven out of their home place in Ross Carbery. 

The ford over the river Lee at Inchigeelagh near the present bridge was defended by a Rath, an earthen enclosure surrounded by a defensive ditch called Mannen.  This became the main home of the O'Leary Chieftain until 1515 when Carrignacurra castle, a tower house, was built about a mile outside the village.  In 1565 the O'Leary's built a new tower house at Carrignaneela and Donoch O'Leary built a third one at Dromcarra in 1615. 

After the Williamite war of 1689-90, the O’Learys lost their properties and their lands were sold by the Hollow Sword Blade Company to a number of new and Protestant landlords.   There are still O’Learys in the village, but not in the numbers that there once were.  And the Carrignacurra tower house is still standing. 

Over the centuries, many O'Learys – including the O’Leary Breacs - were buried in the old cemetery at Inchigeelagh.  However, the O’Leary chiefs were not buried there but in Kilbarry churchyard nearby.

O'Leary and Leary

O'Leary and Leary are the two most common spellings today.  O'Leary is mainly found in Ireland, Leary outside.  The table below shows the approximate numbers today.

Numbers (000's)

O'Learys from Iveleary to Cork City to South America

This family was said to have originated in Inchigeelagh (also called Iveleary), which Tadhg-na-Post O’Leary left around 1725.  His son Florence was the first to move to Cork City where he established what was to become a very successful business – buying butter from country farmers and selling it in bulk to ships which took on stores in Cork harbor. 

This was good business until 1815 when the war with France finished. There immediately followed a terrible economic slump throughout Europe, with few ships coming in to Cork for provisioning and thousands thrown out of work. 

Young Daniel O’Leary was attracted at that time by the advertisements which appeared in the press for recruits to join the war of liberation in South America.  The life of a soldier appealed to him and he left Ireland for South America in 1817.  There he soon joined a Venezuelan regiment, the guards of General Anzotegui, where he came under the eye of Simon Bolívar.  Bolivar died at Santa Marta in 1830 and Daniel, promoted to General, was at his bedside beside him. 

Daniel is perhaps best known today for his Memorias del General O’Leary in 32 volumes, published eventually by his son Simon in 1888.  This now constitutes the major and definitive work on the life and achievements of the “Liberator” whom he so much admired.

Father Peadar Ua Laoghaire

Father Peadar Ua Laoghaire, sometimes known in English as Peter O'Leary, was an Irish writer and Catholic priest who is regarded as one of the founders of modern literature in Irish.  He was born in 1839 in county Cork, a descendant of the Carrignacurra branch of the O’Learys, and grew up speaking Munster Irish in the Muskerry Gaeltacht. 

He became a parish priest in Castelyons in 1891 and it was there that he wrote his most famous story, Séadna, and told it as a fireside story to three little girls.  It was published in 1904.  The plot of the story concerns a deal that the tailor Séadna struck with "the Dark Man."  The story is rooted in the folklore the writer heard from shanachies by the fire during his youth and was first published as a serial in various Irish-language magazines. 

Apart from Séadna, Ua Laoghaoire wrote an autobiography and translated stories of medieval Gaelic literature into modern Irish, as well as an abridged version of the story of Don Quixote into his local dialect of Irish.

O'Learys in Ireland Today

A telephone directory survey in Ireland in 1992 revealed 3,000 O'Learys, of which:

  • 48% were in county Cork (where O'Learys have migrated from the country into Cork city).
  • 14% in Dublin
  • 11% in Kerry
  • and 27% elsewhere.

O'Leary, Prince Edward Island

O'Leary was named after one of the earliest settlers, Michael O'Leary, who came to Prince Edward Island from Ireland in 1837 and settled in West Cape overlooking the Northumberland Strait.  As the closest business centre was in Cascumpec on the opposite shore, Michael blazed a direct trail to this centre.  The trail became known as the O'Leary Road. 

In 1874 when the railroad was completed and intersected the O'Leary Road, a railway station was built, which was the first building in O'Leary Station.  People then began to move inland to be closer to the railway.  The O’Leary settlement grew in numbers to around 850 today.  O’Leary is the site of the Prince Edward Island potato museum.

John O'Leary and His Family in Chicago

John O'Leary and his wife came to Evanston, Illinois in the early 1830’s.  They came to Chicago by canal boat and settled on land where Calvary cemetery is now located.  The O'Leary farmhouse was near the entrance to this cemetery.  A huge oak tree stood close to the house and it was under this tree that the first Catholic Mass was said.  A massive table in the possession of St. Mary's church, draped with linen, furnished the altar.  The O'Learys at one time conducted a tavern at the cemetery address. 

The O'Leary family was a large one, the most colorful member being Ellen O'Leary Lynch.  Ellen Lynch passed the century mark by one year.  On her hundredth birthday in 1938, she lighted 100 candles on her birthday cake.  The Chicago Tribune in their story of the birthday party described Mrs. Lynch as matriarchal. 

"She wore a festive lace collarette pinned at her breast with a cameo brooch, a pin worn by her mother.  Her hair was described as soft white, knotted on top of her head in a fashion so old it is new again."

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