Wexford Roots

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.

Above: A portion of the  Savannah Morning News  obituary for Daniel O’Connor (published in the edition of February 16th, 1887). The son mentioned here, P.J. O’Connor, received a law degree from Georgetown University in Washington, DC. In addition to running a major law practice in Savannah, P.J. O’Connor became the National President of America’s oldest and largest Irish-Catholic fraternal organization, the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America.

Above: A portion of the Savannah Morning News obituary for Daniel O’Connor (published in the edition of February 16th, 1887). The son mentioned here, P.J. O’Connor, received a law degree from Georgetown University in Washington, DC. In addition to running a major law practice in Savannah, P.J. O’Connor became the National President of America’s oldest and largest Irish-Catholic fraternal organization, the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America.

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.

Above: LEFT — Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home on Lafayette Square, one of Savannah’s 22 historic squares. With an eye to purchasing it, the O’Connors rented the house from Katie Semmes, the only surviving child of Captain John Flannery and Mary Ellen Norton Flannery. • CENTER and RIGHT — Just steps from the O’Connor home, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist (known for one ten-year period as the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help) has been called “the Sistine of the South.” Flannery O’Connor’s baptism, first communion, and confirmation occurred in the cathedral, and for five years she attended grammar school next door: the all-girls St. Vincent’s Academy, run by the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy.

Above: LEFT — Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home on Lafayette Square, one of Savannah’s 22 historic squares. With an eye to purchasing it, the O’Connors rented the house from Katie Semmes, the only surviving child of Captain John Flannery and Mary Ellen Norton Flannery. • CENTER and RIGHT — Just steps from the O’Connor home, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist (known for one ten-year period as the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help) has been called “the Sistine of the South.” Flannery O’Connor’s baptism, first communion, and confirmation occurred in the cathedral, and for five years she attended grammar school next door: the all-girls St. Vincent’s Academy, run by the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy.

“I do not know you God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside.”
— Flannery O’Connor, personal prayer journal (1946)

Above: The baby Flannery O’Connor slept and played in this Kiddie Koop, on display in the house-museum in Savannah.

Above: The baby Flannery O’Connor slept and played in this Kiddie Koop, on display in the house-museum in Savannah.