Possible Location of the O’Rea family in Ireland - Dennis O’Rear May 1995

During my vacation in Ireland, I met some genealogists, reviewed the literature in the Cork Library, and narrowed the possible location of the family. A review of all the phone books in the Republic of Ireland does not list any O’Rear’s or O’Rea’s, but listed about 50 Rea’s.

Popular books on Irish Family Names gives the following as the possible origin of the name.

(Mac) REA, Ray, MacCrea, Wray, Ray: It has already been mentioned in Irish Families (P. 165) that Rea is used as an abbreviation of MacRea, which has long been more often written MacCrea. This is the Scottish form of our Mac Raith, usually Mag Raith in Irish and anglicized in Ireland as MacCrath or Magrath. As the name Rea is now much more common in Antrim and Down than elsewhere in Ireland it is probable that most of our Reas are Scottish in origin. However, they are not newcomers, for the place-name Ballymacrea (bar. Dunlace, Co. Antrim) and an occasional mention in the Fiants (1600-1601) prove that they were established there before the Plantation of Ulster -- which in any case did not include Antrim and Down. At the same time it must be recalled that there were Ulster Plantation settlers called Rea in Co. Cavan.

Rea can also be an abbreviated for of Reagh (spelt also Reaugh, Reogh, Reigh etc., in medieval documents). This, like Roe, Bane, Begg etc., is an epithet (Riabhach i.e. swarthy or grizzled) which supersedes a surname. That being so it is only to be expected that it should be found in widely separated places, the greatest number being in the Kilkenny-Wexford area and in Co. Cork.

In Co. Cork and Co. Limerick we get O’Rea (with variants O’Ree, O’Ria, O’Reigh) frequently occurring in the Fiants of 1550-1600 and figuring as a principal Irish name in the barony of Owney, Co. Limerick in 1659. This is presumably Ó Ribhaigh, formed from the adjective riabhach referred to above. The Irish name Rea is sometimes phonetically written Ray.

The Rhea family in America, of whom Congressman John Rea (1753-1832) was the best known, came from Co. Donegal. Rheatown and Rhea County, Tennessee, are named after them.

Then again there is the surname Wray. This is occasionally, like Ray, used as a synonym of Rea, but in Ulster there is a well known family of Wray, with branches in counties Donegal, Derry and Antrim, who came from Yorkshire as Elizabethan settlers some time before the Plantation of Ulster was contemplated.

According to Reaney, Rae is a Scottish form of Roe. Ray (also written Rea) as an English name is formed from atte rea, i.e. at or near a stream. As Ray the name is on record in Ireland in 1392 when John Ray of Rayestown, Co. Meath, was a party to the transfer of land.

Thomas Matthew Ray (1801-1881), secretary to O’Connell’s Repeal Association, was born, lived and died in Dublin.

It has been suggested that the O’Rear’s were related to the MacCarthy family. This large and influential family had various divisions, most notable the Mor’s and the Reagh’s (pronounced Rea’s). But there is no obvious relationship between the O’Rea’s and this prosperous family. The records of the MacCarthy family are fairly well known in the 1600’s. While some members of the family did to go to France following Cromwell’s conquest, they kept the name MacCarthy and apparently did not use Reagh, let alone O’Rea.

A review of the 1659 census of Ireland appears to provide the most fruitful lead. It lists five members of the Ô Rea family in various townlands of the Duogh Parrish, of the Ownhy Barony of the county Tipperary.

(folio 42) OWHNY BARONY


Number of

Tituladoes Names




Tone Iterrife
















Thomas Loyde gent.



Abby Owhny


Thomas Jacson & William Groves Esqr &
Richard Nay gent., Richd Ingrame and
Robert Kent








Principall Irish Names [and] their Number.
McDonnogh, 07; McLoghlen, 05; Ô Ryan, 05; Ô Rea, 05; Rayne & Ô Rayne, 61.

Since this census attempted to cover all of Ireland, and only this one location was indicated, it may be the last home of the O’Rea’s about the time of the departure of the progenitor of the American O’Rear family. There is some confusion as to the exact location of the Owhny barony and more specifically these townlands. While they are listed in Co. Tipperary in this census, local people in Tipperary Co. and ordinance survey maps do not list them. After consulting with people familiar with local traditions, these townlands are around the current town of Cappamore in Co. Limerick, near the border with Co. Tipperary. The townland of Tuogh is very near the current town of Cappamore, and Tone Iterrife, Ballybegg, Killuragh are regions immediately surrounding Cappamore. The original Abbey Owhny is about three miles outside of the nearby town of Murroe in an area called Abbington. According to the information provided by Father Marktierney, it was built in the 13th century, but burned to the ground in the 1800’s. I visited the site. The original graveyard is still intact, and many new graves are also here. The foundation of the original Abbey is across the river and can only be seen after the grass has been cut in the spring. It is a beautiful countryside, not dissimilar to lands on the Cedar Run in Virginia and in Kentucky.

So, if we assume the name O’Rea did not change much from its move from Ireland to Virginia, this site is the most clearly identified with the original home. Even though we appear to be a "Principall Irish Name", we do not appear to be landowners, because a check of the titleholders in these counties during the times from 1600- 1700 does not indicate any of the name O’Rea.

Questions of how and when the family came from Ireland to Virginia can only be surmised. From the presence of the sword in our possession we can assume that the emigrant member of the family in Ireland was a soldier. (The sword might have been stolen or a gift from someone else.) For clarity I will refer to the emmigrant as Soldier O’Rea since he may have been the father of John O’Rea that came to Virginia. Soldier O’Rea might have met a fate similar to other soldiers following Cromwell’s conquest:

After the disbanding of Strafford’s army the English Parliament had very naturally, but very unwisely, prevented the men from going to Spain, thus aggravating, if not actually causing, the outbreak of 1641. Cromwell profited by experience, and saw that even in the service of the Catholic king the survivors of the Irish war would be much less dangerous than in their own country. At the beginning of 1653 the Commissioners reported that 13,000 had already gone, but that there were still left `many desperate rogues who know not how to live but by robbing and stealing out of bogs and fastness.’ By July the number had risen to 27,000. There were, say Petty, who was in Ireland at the time and whose estimate is rather under that of his friend Gookin, `transported of them into Spain, Flanders, France, 34,000 soldiers; and of boys, women, priests, &c., no less than 6000 more.’ of whom not half had returned in 1672. The Spanish Government broke all their promises and treated the Irish officers and soldiers badly, so that whole regiments passed over from time to time into the service of France. In both services the dissensions which had been so fatal in Ireland continued between Celts and Anglo-Irish and between Ormondist and Nuncionists. Hyde, who know Spain and had suffered many things there, excuses the desertions in Catalonia, which were stimulated by Inchiquin, and the ill-conduct of the Irish at Bordeaux, which caused the loss of that city, by the extreme ill-usage which they had received from the Spanish authorities. There were many needy Irish officers in London who were glad to contract with Cardenas for the transport of men. Philip found money enough to make the remunerative, but when the Irish were once landed in his country no further trouble was taken. `The soldiers, who were crowded together into one ship that was fit for so long voyages, had contracted many diseases, and many were dead and thrown overboard. As soon as they came upon the coast the officers made haste to land, how far soever from the place at which they stood bound to deliver their men; by which in those places which could make resistance they were not suffered to land, and in others no provisions was made for their reception on march; but very great numbers were starved or knocked in the head by the country people.’ All this, Clarendon adds, `manifested how loose the government was.’ Mazarin managed much better. The passage to France was shorter, and he took care that there should be no want of shipping and better accommodations on landing; so that at least 20,000 Irishmen came into the French service, though from old associations they would have preferred that of Spain. And the historian notes that Cromwell had been able to send abroad 40,000 men who would have been enough to drive him out of England; while the King’s Lieutenant, notwithstanding all the promises, obligations, and contracts which the Confederate Roman Catholics made to and with him, could not draw together a body of 5000 men.

So this forced transplantation of a large number of Irish soldiers (and likely their families) between 1652-1654 is the most likely time for Soldier O’Rea’s departure from Ireland (as noted in Sketch No. 1). If we accept the tradition that John O’Rea was born at sea (See sketch 4: Susan Marshall’s Letter about Origins of the O’Rear family), he might have been born on the voyage to France in 1653, which is consistent with his presumed birthdate of circa 1660. Since the family is listed in the 1659 census, apparently not all went to France. But since they are not listed in any later census, we can assume that the name died out soon after 1659. A review of the Army Lists of 1689 does not list any O’Rea names. Likewise accounts of the affairs of Irish soldiers in France,, do not list any by the name O’Rea. So it appears as if Soldier O’Rea did not continue his service. His son John O’Rea probably joined the large emigration of the French Huguenots in 1688, when he would have been about 35 years old. Upon his death in circa 1710, he would have been about 57 years of age. The available information would suggest that the family was Protestant in Ireland. This information is that we were a "Principall" family (most likley Protestant), and we joined the like-minded Protestant Huguenots in France.