The announcement came today at a squad two day training camp in Ireland's preparation for the upcoming internationals.
Munster's captain O'Connell has the experience of having already led Ireland at international level, the first time being against France in 2004 and as recently as August against England in the Guinness Summer series. He also has the added experience of being the captain of the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa in 2009.
Following the announcement O'Connell said "The greatest ambition in a player's career is to play for your country, so to captain Ireland is a huge honour for me and I was delighted when Declan asked me to. I have been lucky to have played for my country on 82 occasions and during that time I have always felt that the responsibility of leadership should not just rest on the shoulders of Brian (O'Driscoll) and that the senior players are incredibly important. We are lucky in the Ireland squad that we have a couple of outstanding leaders across the pitch and I know that I will be relying on them during the championship.
I think the squad is in a good place at the moment with the majority of the provinces going well in Europe and in the Rabo, so it's a case of players continuing to play well to get themselves into a position to be selected in that first squad and then working hard for what I think will be an ultra competitive six nations. It was good to come back together for the first time since the World Cup and I am now just looking forward to February and to the challenge of the championship."
Ireland Coach Declan Kidney said: "With Brian (O'Driscoll) on the rehab trail at the moment, we knew that we had to plan for the captaincy and felt that it was fitting that we announce it at the Christmas camp in front of the squad. There are a number of players with strong leadership credentials in the squad who have always been supportive of the captaincy and will be important during the championship. Paul has always been one of those leaders in the squad and I was delighted that he accepted the honour and the responsibilities that it brings. I know that he will bring through his experience to the position in the championship."
2012 RBS Six Nations Fixtures
February 4: France v Italy, 2.30pm and Scotland v England, 5pm
February 5: Ireland v Wales, 3pm
February 11: Italy v England, 4pm and France v Ireland, 8pm
February 12: Wales v Scotland, 3pm
February 25: Ireland v Italy, 1.30pm and England v Wales, 4pm
February 26: Scotland v France, 3pm
March 10: Wales v Italy, 2.30pm and Ireland v Scotland, 5pm
March 17: Italy v Scotland 12.30pm, Wales v France, 2.45pm and England v Ireland, 5pm