Roots: The Gleeson Clan

Jackie Gleason

By Dawn Darby, Editorial Assistant
August / September 2011

The surnames Gleeson and Gleason developed from the Irish name O Glasain, which originated in East County Cork. The Gaelic prefix “O” means male descendant of, and Glasain derives from “glas,” literally meaning “green” in the sense of inexperience as opposed to the color. There are many variations of the name, including Gleason, Glisane, Glison, Glyssane, O’Gleasane and O’Glassane.

The Gleesons belonged to the ancient territory of Mac Ui Bhriain Aradh’s country, the area between Nenagh and Lough Derg in North County Tipperary. The name is still prominent in the area, but  it has been carried all over the world.

One of America’s great union leaders, Thomas “Teddy” Gleason (1900-1992) had roots in Nenagh. He was elected as president of the International Longshoremen’s Association in 1963. Teddy, one of 13 children, came from a family of longshoremen and left school early to work on the docks. He was Grand Marshal of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 1984. Teddy’s son Tommy Gleason, a decorated WWI veteran and a  lawyer, who founded the firm Gleason and Mathews, continued the tradition when he served as Grand Marshal of the Parade in 2003.

The actor Brendan Gleeson (b.1955), on the cover of this issue, has come a long way since he began performing at a Dublin Shakespeare Festival in the early ’80s. Currently starring in The Guard, Gleeson has had memorable roles in such movies as Braveheart, Gangs of New York, In Bruges, 28 Days Later, and the Harry Potter films 4 and 5. He found a new audience in 2009 when he portrayed Winston Churchill in the HBO movie Into the Storm. Two of Gleeson’s sons, Domhnall and Brian, are also actors.

Another famous actor, comedian, songwriter and musician was Jackie Gleason (1916-1987) who was born in Brooklyn to parents from Faranree, Co.Cork. Gleason began acting on Broadway and went on to become a legend in the entertainment field. He was in such movies as The Hustler, Requiem for a Heavyweight, Skidoo, and the Smokey and the Bandit series. But he will always be remembered as Ralph Kramden in the The Honeymooners, in which he starred with Irish-American Art Carney.

James Gleason (1882-1959) was one of the busiest character actors in movies of the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, appearing in political dramas, western comedies, mysteries, and musicals, such as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Clock, Meet John Doe, and Here Comes Mr. Jordan.

Paul G. Gleason (b.1939) is a famous acting coach in Hollywood. He arrived there from Portland, Oregon when he was 17. Within a year he had a contract with MGM and a  scholarship from the American School of Dance. He went on to become an acting coach and has taught many of the Hollywood greats. He has his own theater, the Paul G. Gleason Theater on Hollywood Boulevard.

Born in New York City, Ralph Gleason (1917- 1975) was known for his work as an American jazz and pop music critic, and as the founding editor of Rolling Stone magazine. He began his career at the San Francisco Chronicle in 1950, where he created his own genre of journalism focusing on contemporary artists. He was the first critic to review musicians’ opening nights and concerts. During his career, Gleason shaped the public’s view of musical legends such as Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, John Lennon and Hank Williams.

In the art world, James Gleeson (1915-2008) is known as “the father of Australian surrealism.” Gleeson’s aunt taught him how to use oil paints when he was 11. Later he became interested in the surrealist movement, including the work of Salvador Dali and Giorgio de Chirico, and the writings of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. He was awarded the Order of Australia in 1975.
John Gleeson  (b.1950) is keeping the Irish flag flying with his scholarship. He is director of the Celtic Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Meanwhile, in politics  and public service, we find  John Gleeson (b.1953) who was appointed a United States District Judge in 1994; he has been an adjunct professor at the New York University School of Law since 1995. Another John Gleason (b.1954) has been a Democratic member of the Michigan Senate since 2006. He lives in Flushing, Michigan with his wife, Karen, and their two children.

Finally, in the world of sports, William Gleason (1866-1933), otherwise known as “Kid,” is one of the most remembered baseball players of the nineteenth century.The history of the Gleesons and the Gleasons

36 Responses to “Roots: The Gleeson Clan”

  1. Judith Gleason Claassen says:

    Jackie Gleason’s male line can easily be traced back to Joel Gleason b. 1808 or 1809 in Vermont, USA. This makes it possible that he descends from Thomas Gleason, immigrant from England, born 1609.

    His mother’s family were from Ireland.

    • Leslie Gleason says:

      Very interesting, I’m married to.a Gleason who is related to Jackie. Their family is from Scranton PA.

      • Judy Claassen says:

        If your husband is surnamed Gleason, have him take the Y-chromosome test at FTDNA to establish which Gleason line Jackie identifies with.

    • Daniel Edward Gleason 3rd says:

      I am a gleason

      • Danielle Gleeson says:

        That’s neat, my dad’s name Is Daniel Edward Gleeson, I think he was named after his uncle. I’m having trouble pinning down my great grandpa’s parents, any clues?

  2. James Gleeson says:

    Thanks Interesting article. My family Gleeson part background of what I have been able to trace is the Newcastle, NSW, Australia region.

  3. Hey there. I’m Paul G Gleason’s son. Very interesting article! Thanks.

  4. Ann Gleason Ernst says:

    My grandfather was Michael Gleeson in Macroom, Ireland. The spelling changed after his arrival in the US about 1905. I am of the Saint Louis Gleason famiiles with the same protruding eyes and unfortunately many afflicted with colon cancer.

    • Christie says:

      Hi Ann- I am very interested in your comment about the Gleasons and colon cancer. My maternal grandfather , Edward H. Gleason, of Clarksbhrg, MA, died from prostate cancer, his father from stomach cancer, and I am suffering from colon cancer. It would really help with my treatment, if you could share what you know about the Gleasons and their history with colon cancer. We think our Gleasons came from county Tipperary sometime before 1764, the date to which we can trace Ezra Gleason in central MA. Thank you so much.

      If there are any other Gleasons out there with a family history of colon cancer, I would be very interested in hearing from you, as well.

      • Susan E Ortiz says:

        Hi Christie, my father was a Gleason. He and 3 of his siblings had colon cancer. They are originally from ireland, I believe tipperary. I hope you are doing well.

  5. My grandfather is John Patrick gleeson

    • Gene Brown says:

      Did your grandfather settle or live in New Jersey?

      • Bill Gleeson says:

        my Gleesons are in Jersey City.

        • Gene Brown says:

          My Gleason ancestors were in Jersey City between 1890 to about 1950. The surname has died out among those ancestors. The first to emigrate from Ireland, to my knowledge, was John Patrick Gleason, going by Patrick Gleason. I’m not sure yet what happened to he and his wife, Alice Moore Gleason. They did settle for a time in the Jutland area, which is where it seems all their children were born.

  6. When I learned Gaelic at Ring College, Co. Waterford, they taught us that “O'” meant “from,” designating the place where the so-named was from.
    “Mac” meant “the son of” and “Ni” the daughter of. Was I misinformed?

    • JC Sullivan says:

      I understand the O was an English mischaracterization of the Gaelic Ua, meaning descended from. I”ve also seen it as Ui. I understand the ni was given to a married woman. Example, a woman named Sullivan who married a Walsh would be deemed ni Sullivan.

  7. Tom Gleason was born in 1900 and his son was a WWI veteran. Really?

  8. On the cover of this issue? Guinness is good, but it needs to be separated from the workplace somehow. Would it be possible to write and edit and THEN drink?

  9. I’m enjoying the article, but” He was the first critic to review musicians’ opening nights and concerts.” Did not George Bernard Shaw and a host of others do this? Leave that Guinness alone!

  10. To DD: I think you just went to some dictionary of biography and borrowed pretty heavily for this. Could do even more for “Smith” or ‘Jones.” But thanks for reminding of the great film roles of Jackie Gleason.

  11. Joan says:

    Not a Gleason but have inherited celiac disease and have had colon
    cancer and lactose intolerance.

  12. Macy Gleason says:

    This is a very interesting name I’ve always wondered where my surname was derived from!

  13. Tess Ó Glasáin says:

    I have read this before but the background on some famous people was nice to see.

  14. Lisa Halm says:

    I believe my 2nd great grandfather was Martin G. Gleason born 1834 in Ireland, who married Catherine Gleeson/Gleason born about 1832 in Ireland. They emigrated to the US and settled in Indiana. I don’t have much information on Martin’s family.

  15. Kevin Kennedy says:

    My Great grandmother on my father’s side was a Johanna Gleeson 1864-1950. Her Dad was Dennis Gleeson.
    My Great Grandmother on my mother’s side was a Sarah Gleeson, daughter of Denis Gleeson.
    The chart I was given spelled the name Gleeson with 2 e’s.
    My parents were from Cloughjordan Tipperary, outside of Neenagh.

  16. Jim Bromwell says:

    I have been looking for my ancestor, John Gleason. I “know” that he was born in 1790, in Ireland. I also “know” that he fought on the American
    side during the War of 1812. He eventually settled in York, PA. He died in
    late November of 1844. He was married to a Catherine Furst/First/Firsch ?
    His Daughter, Eliza Ann, married John Pfister, and they eventually
    ended up in Baltimore, MD. I won’t bore you with the rest.

    I can not find good immigration info on my John Gleason. If you can point
    me to a good source, I would appreciate it.

    Thank You,
    Jim Bromwell
    Carolina Shores, NC

  17. Danielle Gleeson says:

    I am trying to find my ancestors and fill in my family tree. I am the granddaughter of Thomas Gleeson born 1929 from kansas, his dad is Thomas Gleeson passed away 1965 married to Maybel Gleeson. My grandma Dorothy Gleeson just passed and I need all the family I can get

  18. Chrs Gleeson says:

    My father a Gleeson, was Christopher Gleeson, born in tipperary in the late 40’s, I haven’t seen him since I was 2 as he was the drinking and beating type.

  19. JC Sullivan says:

    HI all, I’m a contributor to a NE Ohio Veterans newspaper called DD214chronicle.com. I’ve written a short piece on a Civil War era Gleason from Cleveland. Is there an official Clann page where I might post it?

  20. Ed Gleason says:

    I heard that in 1892 the Brits insisted that all Irish names be spelled the same way. ( keep track of trouble makers???)
    Thats why Those spelled Gleason came before 1892 and Gleason.
    EA spelling can’t be found in Ireland.
    Any body heard this story???

    • The spelling Gleason came from the first Gleason family I America in 1650. They were from England and unrelated to the Irish Gleeson name. When the Irish began to come to America the Gleason spelling was adopted since it was well known in America. See Gleasonfamily.com.

  21. Kimberly Kuntz says:

    Just finished watching Into The Storm with Brendan Gleeson as Winston Churchill. Really enjoyed him in it. Was very curious to see if he was related to Jackie Gleeson? Still not sure if he is or not but found a lot of interesting stuff here about y’all . I come a long line of Savages from Ohio

  22. Katrina Hutton says:

    All I know is my Grandfathers name is John Patrick Gleeson. And his hair turned completely white at the age of 20. He grew up in the mid west and is in his 80s. Was in the Army for 30 years.

  23. Damian John Gleeson says:

    Re spelling of Gleeson: EE in Ireland and Australia. EE and EA in North America. There are different theories on EA – after the Irish emigrated to North America, some suggest it was interpreted as EA; another theory is that for religious reasons some chose EA, but this theory is weakened as EA is found across different Christian traditions, I have a large database of Gleesons from North Tipperary, especially the parishes of Nenagh and Silvermines.

    • Hi Damian,

      The first Gleason in America was Thomas Gleason of Suffolk, England. He arrived in America about 1650 with the early colonists. He had no Irish ancestry and the name was spelled originally Gleson on his church baptismal records in England. The Gleason spelling was quickly adopted in the colonies and has remained so ever after. Likely that this spelling was adopted for the Irish immigrants who began arriving in North America almost 200 years later since the name was well known due to the hundreds of descendants of Thomas. You can read all about him at Gleasonfamily.com..

  24. Ellen Gleeson says:

    I am a Gleeson. I come from a family of five girls and a boy so he will be the only one to carry on the name. It makes me sad to think that if he has no sons the surname will die out of my family.

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