My West Cork DNA Projects (Part 8)

The DNA of West Cork People

Mark Grace is a genetic genealogist and family historian at Ballynoe House, Ardfield, Co. Cork

This month provides the eighth synopsis for my wife’s ancestral lines in County Cork and what has been learned from atDNA matching. If you have taken a DNA test and related to any of these family, do get in touch and consider adding your DNA information to the project.

O’NEILLs of Reenroe

Reenroe is a townland in Kilgarriffe parish Clonakilty. There are many O’NEILL families in the greater Clonakilty area, extending from Ring in the south and as far north as around Enniskean. Interestingly, DNA has shown no genetic connection between the Reenroe family and the wider group. The answer lies sometime before the C19th and prior to any church records. The family has no stories of their origins. The most famous son of Reenroe is Stephen O’NEILL (1889-1966) who was the Third Section Commander, Clonakilty Company IRA at the Kilmichael Ambush in Nov 1920.

Reenroe is situated on the western side of the R588 that runs north between Clonakilty and Enniskean. The Reenroe family have suggested connections to those of the same name who lived at neighbouring Cashelisky and Fourcuil.

The history of farming at Reenroe is suggested from the earliest C19th involving at least two likely brothers, Peter and Felix NEIL / O’NEILL senior, who were probably born in the 1770s or 1780s. Other brothers are suspected, for example James NEIL at neighbouring Cashelisky. My wife’s Reenroe family is descended from Peter’s apparent only son John NEIL, my wife’s 2xGGF. Peter’s first baptised child in 1810 at Darrara (records start in 1809) indicates that the O’NEILLs were already well established a Reenroe by that time.

Local IRA Battalion outside shop of Felix and Stephen O’NEILL (taken during the 1921 truce period), Ashe Street, Clonakilty. The shop was later run by Stephen’s sister, Lena. Stephen (in overalls) is standing in the shop doorway. Identified people include Dan HARTE (bottom left, sitting with dog), Jim ‘Spud’ MURPHY (standing in doorway next to Stephen), Flyer NYHAN (arms folded, in front of door pillar), Mick AHERNE aka O’SULLIVAN (sitting right, with striped tie).

John O’NEILL (1811-1883) of Reenroe married Anne DONOVAN (c1812) of Templebryan/Shannonvale in 1840 at Darrara church and are my wife’s 2xGGPs. John appears to be the 1813 s/o Peter NEIL and Mary O’SULLIVAN Bouge (possibly the daughter of James SULLIVAN alias BOGUE of nearby Knockskeagh, based on the gravestone at Kilnagross). Peter is listed c1826 in Tithe Applotment Book at Reenroe, and son of Peter senior, Felix, was recorded as farming at Knockskeagh.

3xGGF Peter NEIL married Mary BOUGE sometime prior to 1809. Five children are baptised at Darrara church between 1810 & 1824. 

A DNA connection has been established between the descendants of John O’NEILL/Anne DONOVAN and the line of Felix O’NEILL/Catherine WHITE. By 1860 Felix and Catherine had settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and established the family line that became O’NEIL.

To date, two DNA lines are established from John and Anne’s children – Mary O’NEILL (1841-1919) who married Denis MURPHY of Kilmacoda in 1870, and Denis O’NEILL (1847-1913) who married Ellen MENNIS (as per previous articles). Four DNA lines are established from Denis and Ellen and provide the majority of DNA matches.

Early O’NEILL graves can be found at Kilnagross churchyard, near Shannonvale.

It is highly likely that Peter O’NEILL senior is buried at Kilnagross, along with many others who aren’t referenced 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 located a week later closer to Castleview Mill. His story is documented. 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!

Questions that can be answered as part of future articles can be emailed to or follow the West Cork DNA projects on Facebook “My Irish Genealogy & DNA.”

WCP Staff

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