More on the O'Bannons:

'To the Shores of Tripoli': The Presley O'Bannon Story

By Joseph E. Gannon

WGT Managing Editor

An O'Bannon family coat of arms. Buy it now, here.

Brien Boru O'Bannon is apparently the first notable O'Bannon to enter the American colonies, and one would be hard pressed to come up with a more distinctly Irish name than his. His most renowned descendant is Marine hero Presley Neville O'Bannon.

Brien was born in County Tipperary about 1683. He arrived in Harper's Ferry, then in Virginia, in 1702. It was said that he "fled to America", though none of his descendants have yet discovered a reason. The Penal Laws were taking their awful effect in Ireland then, however, and many would be leaving the island in the coming century.

Once freed from the constraints of persecution in Ireland, Brien flourished. In 1760, two years before he died in Fauquier County, in Virginia's piedmont, he made out a will in which he left more than 1,200 acres of land to his sons and grandsons. (Daughters and granddaughters were expected to marry into their fortune in those days.) He also left a number of slaves to his family members.

Perhaps Brien came to the colonies with some money. The O'Bannons of Tipperary had once been a very well-to-do clan. There were many different forms of the name O'Bannon in Ireland: O'Banane, O'Bannan, O'Banion. And others with the 'O' dropped: Bannon, Banin, etc. The area that is now northern Tipperary and southern Offaly counties was one of their strongholds. In a verse from an Irish historian who died in 1420, this area is called "Hy-Dechi":

Courtesy of The Marsden Archive
Leap Castle, perhaps "the most haunted castle in Europe."

Hy-Dechi, the fine district of hills
The extensive land of fair fortresses
A fruitful country, which they inherit
Is the estate of the tribe O'Bannon.

One of the most famous castles in Ireland, Leap Castle in Offaly, but near near Roscrea, Tipperary, is said to have been built by the O'Bannons, perhaps in the 14th or 15th century. In Irish, the name of the castle is "Leim ui Bhanain," or "Leap of the O'Bannons." According to Irish tradition, two brothers of the O'Bannon clan wished to build a castle on this rock. They decided they would both leap from it to decide the issue. One survived and built the castle. The O'Bannons were underchiefs of the O'Carrolls, and the castle was later taken over by that clan.

There was gristly murder there in 1532. This involved one O'Carroll brother murdering the other. Worse yet, the murdered brother was a priest, and was run through with a sword while celebrating mass in the castle chapel. He died with his blood dripping upon the altar. That alone should earn a castle a haunting, but there was also a hidden dungeon discovered in 1900 that contained cartloads of human bones. This has combined to make Leap Castle the "most haunted castle in Europe," according to some.

'O'Bannon' May Make
Big-Screen Debut

Presley Neville O'Bannon is likely to make his big-screen debut within the next two years, alongside such notable talent as Russell Crowe and Ben Kingsley. There are two film projects underway focusing on the American-sponsored expedition against the Tripolitan tyrant in 1805. (Read WGT's feature about Presley O'Bannon's role in the expedition.)

The filming schedules and indeed, even the bulk of the casting have not yet been announced, according to a report in February in Variety, the trade paper for the American film industry.

The project that seems most solid is headed by Mark Gordon Productions ("The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," "The Day After Tomorrow") and Scott Free Productions ("Man on Fire," "Captain Kidd," with 20th Century Fox on board as distributor and Ridley Scott ("Black Hawk Down," "Gladiator," "Hannibal") as director.

The film, titled "Tripoli," would bring together Russell Crowe, cast as U.S. Navy agent William Eaton, and Scott, both last together in the blockbuster "Gladiator." According to Greg Dean Schmitz, a columnist for Yahoo! Movies, Ben Kingsley is also in this film, which reportedly has a $100 million-plus budget.

Though Eaton reportedly is the chief protagonist in screenwriter William Monahan's treatment, O'Bannon, the leader of one of the two main attack forces in Eaton's expedition, is likely to represent a plum role, as well.

According to Schmitz, Touchstone Pictures and Valhalla Motion Pictures are also developing a film focusing on the Tripolitan war. Jean-Jacques Annaud ("Enemy at the Gates," "Two Brothers") is the likely director, using a script by John Collee (cowriter of "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World").


For additional information:

The castle, then owned by the Darby family, was burned in July 1922, during the Irish Civil War. It was probably the IRA that burned it, though it was never proved. Actually, it was burned twice. In the early morning hours of July 30 one wing was burned. When it was discovered the other wing was saved, the bold arsonists returned the next night to finish the job. It is being restored today by Sean Ryan, an Australian of Irish ancestry.

In entering the military, Presley Neville O'Bannon was carrying on a distinguished tradition from his mother's side of the family. Whether Anne Neville's family lineage had any Irish aspect, we can't say. The name occurs in both England and Ireland, and we could find no tracing of Anne's family back to the old world. We do know that Anne had two brothers who attained the rank of general in the Revolutionary War: Joseph and John.

Joseph was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses that declared for independence before serving in the army and rising to the rank of general. After the war, he was one of the surveyors who settled the Pennsylvania-Maryland boundary dispute by laying out the famous Mason-Dixon Line. In the 1790s, he served a term in the U.S. Congress.

Two of his sons later served in the military in the War of 1812. Joseph was a Major and Jethro was captain. John Neville served in the military during the French and Indian War. Like George Washington, he was with Braddock's expedition in 1755. During the Revolution, he fought at Trenton, Princeton, and Germantown as well as the Monmouth campaign. He was breveted to the rank of brigadier general in September 1783.

John's son, Presley Neville, for whom his cousin Presley O'Bannon was named, was also an officer in the Revolutionary War. Serving with the Virginia troops, he rose to the brevet rank of lieutenant colonel and served for a time as the aide-de-camp to Lafayette. He was captured at Charleston in 1780 and exchanged a year later. He married the daughter of Revolutionary War general Daniel Morgan.

No doubt the outstanding record of his mother's family in the Revolutionary War was a factor in Presley Neville O'Bannon's decision to pursue a military career. And perhaps his knowledge of their great service spurred him to the feats that would make him the man who put "to the shores of Tripoli" into the Marine Corps hymn.

John Bannon: The Confederacy's Fighting Chaplain

Missouri Historical Society

Father John Bannon

Another notable scion of the O'Bannon/Bannon clan in America was Confederate chaplain John Bannon, though he is not apparently related to Presley Neville O'Bannon's sept. Father John B. Bannon, the 'fighting Chaplain' and diplomat of the Confederate States of America, was born in Roosky, County Leitrim, in 1829.

He attended Maynooth College and following ordination he took an assignment in St. Louis. There, he became chaplain to local militia units, many of them Irish. When war came his sympathies were with the Confederacy, and he became a chaplain to the many Irish and German Catholics in the Confederate army west of the Mississippi River. Bannon did not remain in the rear of the battles—he was often close to the fighting, helping the sick and wounded. A veteran once wrote that Bannon, "was everywhere in the midst of battle when the fire was heaviest and the bullets thickest."

In 1863 Jefferson Davis sent him on a secret mission to convince the Vatican to recognize the Confederacy and then go to Ireland and attempt to stem the flow of recruits for the Union Army. In the first, in Rome, he was unsuccessful, but in Ireland he made headway, speaking out and spreading pamphlets and posters all over the country.

Bannon never returned to the United States. When the war ended, he remained in Ireland, joining the Jesuit order. He died in Dublin on July 14, 1913, and is buried in the city's Glasnevin Cemetery. In 1992, during a tour of Ireland, members of the Irish Brigade Association honored Bannon with a volley, as part of a brief ceremony at his graveside.


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Tags: Genealogy


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