Shea Family

Few Irish Americans realize that most surnames are not, in fact, surnames in the same sense as English or other European names. Most Irish names are patronymic in origin, taking their form from the name of a common male ancestor. Many of the larger and more powerful clans were able to preserve this information, but there are a good many clans for which the identification of the ancestor is not so easily accomplished.

The Shea family name is derived from the O'Shea clan in one of these relatively smaller clans for which the identity of the ancestor is not widely known. The Gaelic equivalent of the Shea family name, or O'Shea, is O'Seaghdha, meaning fine and stately. The "O" means grandson of.

The O'Sheas were associated with and related to the Falvey clan of County Kerry (both descended from the "Corcu Duibne" kin group). Battles occurred frequently between the two clans for possession of land; they were known as the warrior clans. Most clan names developed during or slightly after the 10th century.

The family name of O'Shea was changed to Shea during the time of the Penal Laws. My great-grandfather, Michael Shea, married Julia Falvey in Cahersiveen, County Kerry, Ireland around the time of the potato famine. Surviving this horrible time in hisory, the Shea family settled in Cahersiveen where they raised their children. The Shea family lived in a small thatched-roof cottage in the townland of Carhan. The Shea family experienced a great deal of sorrow, for stories of their involvement in the Boer Wars (1856-1880 and 1899-1902) was discussed among cousins. Although no one had the facts, it was understood that the Shea family from Cahersiveen suffered great losses as a result of these battles.

Their son, my grandfather, Michael Shea, born in 1859, emigrated from Cahersiveen, County Kerry, Ireland in 1880. He sailed from Queenstown, Ireland aboard the Arizona and arrived in Castle Gardens, N.Y. on August 30, 1880. From there he traveled to New London, Connecticut. He was a contract laborer, hired to build roads and bridges in his adopted land. From all accounts, he traveled alone--one member of the Shea family putting down roots in America.

My grandfather belonged to the parish of St. Mary, Star of the Sea in New London, Connecticut. He met Bridget Murphy at a church social in Norwich, Connecticut, and they were married on February 17, 1885.

Michael found work in one of the large slaughterhouses in the midwest, so the Shea family moved to Omaha, Nebraska in August 1881 with their three young sons: John, James, and Daniel. The Shea family grew to seven more children: Michael, Francis, Thomas, Julia Cecelia, Carberry (my father), Mary, and Hannora Catherine. On September 16, 1896, the Shea family moved into a small bungalow at 3715 U Street in South Omaha.

My father, Carberry Shea, moved to Chicago, Illinois in the early 1920s, where he found work in one of the largest meat-packing firms in Chicago, Agar Packing Company. He changed his name to Mike. He met my mother Helen Healy, and they were married September 3, 1938.

Additional Sources
    Table of Contents
  Irish Genealogy
  Immigrant Experience
  - Castle Gardens, New York
  - Ellis Island, New York
  Cahersiveen, County Kerry, Ireland
  Valentia, County Kerry, Ireland
  Boyle, County Roscommon, Ireland
  Irish Potato Famine
  Murphy Family
  Shea Family
  Healy Family
  Beirne Family
  Irish Family Research - Supplement
  Emigration - Queenstown, County Cork, Ireland
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