Origins of the Clonakilty O’NEILLs
Although I have a specific interest in Felicity’s early C19th family roots in and around the townland of Reenroe (Kilgarriffe parish), just north of Clonakilty, I am also documenting the trees of all NEAL / NEIL / NEILL / NEEL / O’NEILL families in the greater Clonakilty area. There are very close naming patterns for children within all families, and they often farmed, or had children born, in neighbouring townlands, suggesting a wider family/clan connection. In time, this may be proven with genetic testing.
Surname distribution maps show two major concentrations of the O’NEILL surname; the north east of Ireland in Co. Armagh, the traditional clan homeland, and Co. Cork. As with the MENNIS family, it is speculated that many northern families travelled south in response to the need for labour in support of the thriving C18th linen industry (flax growing, processing, spinning, and weaving) in and around Clonakilty.
After the decline of the linen industry, the O’NEILL families were well-established and settled in the greater Clonakilty and Enniskean areas.
O’NEILLs of Reenroe Townland
Reenroe, or Reenrua, is named after the colour of the red soil, and occupies a small hill on the west side of the R588 road that runs between Clonakilty & Enniskean. The history of farming at Reenroe is suggested from the earliest C19th involving at least two likely brothers, Peter & Felix NEIL / O’NEILL senior, who were probably born in the 1770’s or 1780’s. Other brothers are suspected, for example a brother James NEIL at neighbouring Cashelisky.
Peter’s first baptised child in 1810 indicates that the O’NEILLs were already well established at Reenroe by that time. The name Felix & Peter reoccurs along many family lines in the area. Peter & Felix are recorded on the 1826 Tithe Applotment List at Reenroe, with Felix given as the son of Peter.
Darrara church records are only available from 1809, so any inferences are purely my own. It is not entirely clear if records apply to the senior brothers or sons of the same name. By the 1911 census, occupation by O’NEILLs at both Reenroe and nearby Cashelisky had declined and the remaining family in the area were generally in urban Clonakilty or had long-since emigrated to Scotland, Wales, England & the United States. After more than 200 years, direct descendant John Joseph “Sean” O’NEILL is the last person to be farming lands at Reenroe & Cashelisky, with no generations expected to follow.
Felix O’NEILL (c1815) of Reenroe married Catherine WHITE in 1833 Timoleague & Barryroe. Sometime around 1848 the family moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Once in the US, the family name became O’NEIL.
Descendants of the remaining Reenroe family includes Stephen O’NEILL (1889-1966) 3rd Section Commander, Clonakilty Company IRA at the Kilmichael Ambush of British Auxiliaries, near Clonakilty in Nov 1920. Stephen is pictured standing inside the door of his shop, situated in present-day Astna Square.
The R588 Corridor
The O’NEILL families are closely tied to all the townlands either side of the R588 corridor. O’NEILLs living in Kilgarriffe parish (Cashelisky, Reenroe, Knockskeagh, Fourcuil (aka Fork Hill, Old Wood, Bleak Wood) & Templebryan, as well as Ring (south of Clonakilty)) tended to marry and have their children baptised at Darrara church (Clonakilty Registration District). Those slightly further north in Knock & Ballinard, are associated with records in Enniskean (Bandon Registration District).
Many members of the Reenroe O’NEILL family are buried in Kilnagross churchyard (marked and unmarked) near Shannonvale.
It is highly likely that Peter O’NEILL and earliest generations are buried at Kilnagross, along with many others, unreferenced on any headstone. It is known for certain that Thady MURPHY, a descendant of the marriage between Mary O’NEILL & Denis MURPHY in 1870, was buried in the O’NEILL plot but no marking bears his name. He was a sailor who was drowned in the Argideen river, just across the road from Kilnagross church, although he was only located a week later closer to Castleview Mill. His story is documented in the press of the time.
As a good illustration of some of the difficulties researching Irish ancestry, particularly burials, a Donal Barrett, living in Reenroe, identified another grave plot where the O’NEILLs are buried, as he helped dig this grave with two other locals. In this instance, nothing would be known without the old gravedigger’s personal knowledge!
The Family of Felix NEIL of Knockskeagh & Enniskean
Felix NEIL & Ellen “Nell” MURPHY were married in 1810 at Timoleague & Barryroe. Peter NEIL (possibly his father or brother) was a witness. Their first three known children were baptised at Darrara (Clonakilty), while the remainder were baptised at Enniskean. Upon baptism, son Owen NEIL was recorded as being of Knockskeagh (just north of Reenroe). Sometime before 1823 the family had moved from Knockskeagh to Ballinard, Desertserges (Enniskean). Clonakilty descendants of this branch may include the current owners of the Fernhill House Hotel, who are from the Enniskean area. Records suggest some O’NEILLs were already established around the townland of Ballinard at the turn of C19th.
A Second Hotel Connection
John O’NEILL (1811-1883) of Reenroe married Anne DONOVAN (c1812) of Shannonvale in Mar 1840 at Darrara church and are my wife’s 2x great grandparents. John appears to be the 1813 s/o Peter NEIL & Mary O’SULLIVAN Bouge (possibly the daughter of James SULLIVAN alias BOGUE of nearby Knockskeagh, based on a gravestone at Kilnagross). Anne, as the only other recorded DONOVAN in Shannonvale at the time, would appear to be the sister or niece of Daniel DONOVAN, Shannonvale farmer, patriarch of the six-generation family who run O’DONOVAN’s Hotel in Pearse Street, Clonakilty.
Mark Grace, Resident Genealogist, Ballynoe House
More info and expanded research on the O’NEILL families