Our grandfather Dennis O’Connor was born in 1864 near the town of Abbeyfeale, in County Limerick. He and his 10 siblings were raised in a four-room cottage on a small farm bordering the River Feale. Dennis and his younger brother Michael immigrated to America in 1888. They stepped off a Rock Island freight train near the small town of Grayson, Missouri to begin their lives in America as farm laborers. Two older brothers, Daniel and Patrick, had previously immigrated to America in 1880.
Later on, Dennis secretly courted Johanna “Hanna” Fitzgerald, the daughter of a large landowner and stockman. They eloped and were married (photo) on February 8, 1897 at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in St. Joseph, Missouri. From then on Dennis was known among the Irish as “Denny-Fitz”.
Johanna Fitzgerald, our grandmother, was born in Ohio in 1874 and a few years later moved with her family to rural northwest Missouri. Both of her parents, Thomas Fitzgerald and Mary Ann Fitzsimmons, were born in County Limerick, Ireland and immigrated to America with their families in the early 1860’s. Thomas and Mary Ann met in Ohio and were married in 1872.
Denny-Fitz and Johanna had 10 children. The O’Connor family attended Mass and parish functions at St. Munchin’s Catholic Church in Cameron, Missouri. Coincidentally, the Catholic Church in Cameron is named after Saint Munchin, a 7th century Bishop of Limerick, and it is one of only two churches in the world bearing that name; the other being St. Munchin’s in Limerick County, Ireland. Thus, the O’Connor family continued its special ties to County Limerick.
The O’Connor farming and livestock operation was very successful during the first three decades of the 20th century. Sadly, Dennis lost his beloved “Hanna” in 1930 and most of his landholdings during the Great Depression. Dennis died in 1937 at the original family homestead.
As with most Irish immigrants, Dennis and Johanna’s greatest legacy is their American descendants. Their two daughters joined the Order of the Sisters of Mercy and their eight sons went on to become farmers and businessmen. The later generations consist of 32 grandchildren, 98 great-grandchildren and over 200 great-great-grandchildren.
– Martha Smithart, Liberty, Missouri and Carroll O’Connor, Castle Rock, Colorado
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