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
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
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