Flannery O’Connor’s great-grandfather, Patrick O’Connor (born in 1833), emigrated from his native County Wexford, Ireland, arriving in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1851, together with an older brother, Daniel O’Connor (born in 1830). Some months later, Daniel joined the expanding Wexford diaspora in Savannah, Georgia; and Patrick followed in due course. As Savannahians, both brothers became prominent in industrial manufacturing, as well as the city’s Irish-American cultural organizations.
The Savannah Morning News of August 30, 1870, observed that at his “[w]heel-wright establishment … on West Broad street,” Savannah, the “industrious mechanic,” Daniel O’Connor, had “increased his business” from 14 to 28 employees in “the manufacture of drays, wagons and other vehicles.”
In 1887, the Morning News reported Daniel’s passing, which occurred on February 15th of that year. Characterizing him as “one of Savannah’s most prominent Irish citizens,” the piece noted his birth “in Wexford, Ireland” and the growth of his “wheelwright and blacksmith shops” into “the largest in the city” of Savannah.
Daniel O’Connor was a member of Savannah’s original Irish militia, the Irish Jasper Greens. When reorganized in 1872, that body awarded its captaincy to John Flannery (1835-1910), a native of Nenagh, Co. Tipperary, who had become a wealthy factor in Savannah. His wife, Mary Ellen Norton Flannery (1844-1899), was a relative of the Cline family, prominent Catholics in Milledgeville. When Regina Cline O’Connor gave birth to her daughter (and only child) on March 25th, 1925, she honored her kinswoman by naming the baby Mary Flannery O’Connor.
Regina Cline O’Connor and Edward Francis O’Connor, Jr., raised Mary Flannery O’Connor in the shadow of Savannah’s twin-spired, Neo-Gothic Roman Catholic Cathedral, dedicated to St. John the Baptist. Captain John Flannery had chaired the committee responsible for rebuilding the edifice after a major fire in February 1898. The O’Connor home — 207 Charlton Street on Lafayette Square — is a three-story row house that, today , functions as a Flannery O’Connor house-museum. Its furnishings reflect the Depression era of the author’s girlhood.