Select Shannon Surname Genealogy

Ptolemy recorded the name of the longest river in Ireland in the 2nd century AD as Senos.  This name is thought to have been from a root word with the sense of age, seniority and wisdom.  St. Senan was a 6th century Irish abbot who established a monastery on Scattery island in the Shannon estuary. 

Shannon is the anglicized surname in Ireland, from Senan and O'Seanain, a descendant of Senan.  Three separate Gaelic families derived from this root.  They appear to have evolved independently, not from the river nor from each other.

Shannon has also been a Scottish surname.  Here the Gaelic root was Seanchaidh, meaning "story-teller."

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Select Shannon Ancestry

Ireland.   There were initially three separate Shannon families in Ireland:
  • the first, from  O'Seanain, was an O'Shanahan family found in Carlow and Wexford
  • the second, from Mac Golla t-Seanain or Giltenan, were followers of St. Senan and became Shannon in county Clare.  These Shannons also spread into Tyrone and Fermanagh.
  • the third, as O'Seanahain or O'Shanahan, was found mainly around Belfast in Ulster.  They too became Shannons with the English.
Little remains of the Shannon presence in Carlow and Wexford.   The Shannon chiefs in Clare held the territory between Bodyke and Feakle prior to the 14th century.  But they were then dispossessed by the MacNamaras and these Shannons were scattered around the rest of Munster.  Meanwhile the Shannons in Fermanagh seemed to have spread into Cavan and Connacht.

Aodh O'Seanahain, who probably lived in Ulster in the 11th century, was the first of his family to append the O'Seanahain name.   The Shannon name has continued to have a strong presence in the Belfast area. However, many of these Shannons may have come originally from Scotland.   

Scotland.  The Shannon name in Scotland emerged at Kintyre in Argyllshire.  The earliest known ancestor was a chieftain from the Hebrides known as Gilquhongill Aschennan who held large estates in the 14th century.  But the Shannon numbers in Scotland are not large today.  They are mainly to be found in SW Scotland.

America.   The early Shannons in America tended to be Scots-Irish from Ulster. 

Scots Irish  The first of them was probably Nathaniel Shannon, the son of Scottish Presbyterian settlers in Derry, who came to Boston in 1687 (he thus missed the siege of Londonderry two years later where his elder brother Robert played a prominent role).  The name Nathaniel continued as the first-born for seven generations in America.  Later Nathaniels settled in New Hampshire.  George Hodgdon's 1905 book Shannon Genealogy recounted this family's history.

Robert Shannon departed Belfast
with his brothers on the Friends Goodwill in 1717 and made his home in Norrington township, Pennsylvania:
  • one line from Robert, via William Shannon, moved after the Revolutionary War to Anderson county in east Tennessee.  
  • a line from another brother Thomas went to Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas.  Alexander May Shannon led a Confederate cavalry unit during the Civil War known as Shannon's scouts.   He later settled in Galveston.
Another Thomas Shannon, probably from Ulster, settled along the Savannah river in Georgia in the 1770's.  His son Owen, a member of "the Old Three Hundred," came to Texas as early as 1822.  The area there was lawless in those times and his son Jesse was said to have been part of the Murrell gang that marauded between Louisiana and Spanish Texas.

Irish  Other Shannons came to America from elsewhere in Ireland and were generally Catholic.

George Shannon was brought to America from Munster around 1760 when about he was about one year old.  He knew nothing about his parentage except that his father was an Irish merchant and that his mother had died on the crossing with him.   He grew up, fought in the Revolutionary War, married, and later moved to Ohio.  He had three notable sons:
  • the eldest son George, nicknamed "Peg-Leg," was the youngest member of the Lewis and Clark expedition that crossed America from East to West in 1806.  George Shannon later settled in Missouri and Shannon county there was named after him.  
  • Thomas was a Ohio state politician who served in the Ohio House of Representatives.
  • as did his younger brother Wilson.   He became Governor of the state in 1838 and subsequently Governor of Kansas territory.
Most Shannons generally came later.  The peak decade for immigration was 1850-1860.  Patrick and Mary Shannon, for instance, came to New York around this time.  New York recorded the largest number of Shannons in the 1920 census. 

Another Patrick Shannon came to Worcester, Massachusetts in the early 1900's.  His son William became a prominent journalist and commentator on the political scene who was appointed US Ambassador to Ireland in 1977.

Canada.  Michael Shannon was Catholic from county Antrim who came to Canada in 1832 and settled in Prince Edward county, Ontario.  It was said that Michael was a footman to Lord Parker and eloped with his daughter Margaret.  Michael and Margaret raised fourteen children in Canada and their descendants are numerous. 

Peter and Catherine Shannon came from Sligo to Ontario in 1847.  Their son William left his home there and, after a meandering journey which took in Chile, Mexico and California, ended up in 1863 in British Columbia, then still a separate British colony.  He was a Vancouver area pioneer and one of its most prominent citizens.  Shannon place-names are to be found everywhere.  When he died in 1928, his obituary ran as follows: 

ďWilliam Shannon was a Cariboo pioneer and one of the hard-working and hard-playing men from the rough civilization of the 1860ís.  He was a trader, miner, freighter, and cattle rancher who came to British Columbia in the days when men changed their occupation to suit their love for fresh adventure."

Australia and New Zealand.  Martin Shannon was a Dublin grocer who was convicted of pig stealing and transported on the Hercules to Australia in 1830.  He married his wife Catherine in Hinton, NSW.  One son Thomas stayed in this area, owning property in Umarra, another son John moved to Queensland

Shannons from Derry arrived as free settlers to South Australia in the late 1830ís.  First came Abraham and David Shannon in 1839 and 1840, followed by their father William and his second wife.  Abraham moved to Moculta in the 1860ís and his family mausoleum can still be seen there on the outskirts of the town.   David operated a large farm at Yatara in the Konnunga district.

The Shannons had by their own account been at Ballycragy in county Antrim for eight generations and more than two hundred years before they made the decision to emigrate to New Zealand in the 1860ís.  The eldest offspring George was the first to arrive in 1865, followed by three of his brothers.  They made their home in the Wanganui area.   Their story was told in a family book published in 2000, A Shannon Family - from Antrim to New Zealand.

Select Shannon Miscellany

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

Select Shannon Names

George Shannon was the youngest member of the Lewis and Clark expedition that crossed America from East to West in 1806.  
Claude Shannon
is famous for having founded information theory with the landmark paper that he published in America in 1948

Select Shannons Today
  • 8,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 14,000 in America (most numerous in Texas) 
  • 13,000 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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