June 29 - July 1, 2007

Some Family History

Photographs From the 2004 Reunion:

Contact Information


Anthony & Sophia O'Donnell

Some History:

In 2004 the O'Donnell family celebrates the 153rd year of the arrival of Anthony (1826-1893), his wife Sophia O'Donnell (whose maiden name was also O'Donnell), and their daughter Bridget, first to Quebec, Canada, and then five and a half years latter to Beaver Island in northern Lake Michigan.

Anthony and his wife, Sophia, and six week old daughter, Bridget, left Ireland April 23, 1851. They were evicted from their home on Arranamore Island, County Donegal, Ireland, along with at total of 160 people. We can be sure that this was a heartrending experience filled with great sadness and sorrow in leaving family and friends, realizing that they would most likely never be seen again. The family landed in Quebec, Canada about June 16, 1851 aboard the Countess of Arran. This ship was lost on its return voyage; fortunately there would be few passenger, if any, on board.

Anthony moved between Canada and Pennsylvania during the five and a half year period before coming to Beaver Island. This movement would be for employment, as the early people were largely unskilled and had very little English, so they often worked on the roughest construction jobs wherever they were available. Before coming to Beaver Island Anthony and Sophia had three additional children, two who died very young. Their fifth child, Ellen, was born on Beaver Island. Anthony and Sophia had a total of 13 children, but only six survived to be adults of whom four had descendants. These early times were very difficult for children. Their four children with surviving descendants are Bridget, Daniel Francis, Ellen, and Peter Anthony.

Providentially there were Arranmore and Donegal people in the United States prior to 1851. Some of these were relatives, one being Sophia's brother, Johnny "the Rat" O'Donnell (from his ability to scamper on a sailing ship's ropes). Johnny worked for or was partners with John Bonner, from Rutland Island, an island between Arranmore and the mainland. They had a small trading ship and were working near Beaver Island. Native Americans informed them that King James Strang had been shot his own people. James Strang was a self-appointed king of a splinter Mormon religious group residing on Beaver Island. The shooting of James Strang caused the departure of his group from the island as they feared retaliation for ill treatment of others, primarily the Irish.

Johnny O'Donnell and John Bonner forwarded the news of the Morman departure to the displaced Arranmore people and to others. The good news sent out was that a place had been found that would remind them of Ireland, and of Arranmore in particular. Many Irish were eager to move to Beaver Island where they had previously not been welcome or wanted. The move to Beaver Island by these often exploited and heavily burdened people, just trying to survive, proved to be Tir na n-Og for them. On Beaver Island they had an abundance of food, a lake teaming with fish that they were free to fish, and land -- good farmland, not two or three very poor acres, but 50, 60, 100 or more, free with no rent to a landlord. Gone were fears of poverty, evictions, exploitation and oppression. They now controlled their destiny. Truly Beaver Island was for them "a little bit of heaven that fell out of the sky one day."

Arranmore and Ireland to the early Beaver Islanders were seen through an enchanting and hallowed mist of time -- a priceless never-forgotten memory. For many of their descendants Beaver Island has acquired much of the same mystique and seems an extension of Ireland itself. On Beaver Island we are able to clear a bit of haze from our vision, to see clearer just who we are. Here on Beaver Island we become connected to the past. Here we come to realize that we do belong. Here we experience the wonderful welcome, acceptance and hospitality of those who reside on the island today. Here we feel that we have come home.

(For the genealogist: Anthony's arents were Michael Daniel O'Donnell 1798-1848 and Susan Sweeney 1810-1880. Sophia O'Donnell parents were John (Peter or Michael) O'Donnell born about 1808 and Evelyn (Ellen, Nellie or Bridget) Gallagher, about 1808-1845.

--Joseph Anthony O'Donnell