General John C. O'Neill

General John O'Neill arrived in the United States from Ireland in 1848. He volunteered for service in the Union Army and served as an officer in numerous regiments during the Civil War.

While distinguishing himself during his Civil War experience, O'Neill's historical significance arises from his service, beginning in 1866, with the Fenian Organization, whose stated goal was to create and support an Irish state independent from British rule. In 1876, O'Neill summarized his feelings with the following statement:

"I have always believed in striking at England wherever we could reach her, and wherever the English flag floats and the English government is recognized and there are English soldiers in arms to defend the flag and maintain the government I hold that the Irish people, particularly the Irish Exiles whom her oppressive laws have driven from their native land, have a right to go there and make war on England."

On June 1, 1866, O'Neill led a Fenian invasion of Canada with the goal of using occupied territory as a bargaining point for Irish freedom. The invasions would ultimately fail to achieve their stated goals and O'Neill was arrested by United States Marshalls upon returning to the United States.

In an effort to advance Irish settlement in the United States and improve the living conditions of fellow countrymen, O'Neill led the establishment of Irish "colonies" within the United States. The area that would come to be known as O'Neill, Nebraska, was principally among these settlements.

O'Neill died on January 8, 1878, and was buried in Omaha, Nebraska.

On October 28, 1919, the O'Neill gravesite monument was dedicated with an address by E.H. Whelan. Present for the unveiling was Eamon de Valera, President of the Republic of Ireland. On this day, the following inscription on the monument was presented:

Gen. John O'Neill
Hero of Ridgeway
Born in Ireland
March 9, 1843
Died at Omaha
January 8, 1878

By nature a brave man.
By principle a soldier of
liberty he fought with
distinction for his adopted
country and was ever ready
to draw his sword for his
native land.

To perpetuate his memory
this monument was erected
by the Irish nationalists.

God save Ireland.

The information on this page was provided with the generous assistance of Andrew Sullivan. Andrew's efforts to consult historical sources and meet with O'Neill descendant, Gerard O'Neill, during a visit to Omaha on March 16, 2000, are most appreciated as awareness of this small chapter in Omaha history is heightened. For current information on the Irish political situation, I urge you to consult Andrew Sullivan's website. homepage