The Ireland squad began preparations for the Championship today at a short two-day camp in Carton House, where O'Connell was announced as the captain.
O'Connell, the current Munster sskipper, 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.
The experienced second row was also the captain of the British & Irish Lions for their tour to South Africa in 2009.
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 (Kidney) 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 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 RaboDirect PRO12, 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 head coach Declan Kidney commented: "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."