Select Connolly Surname Genealogy

The Irish surname Connolly is the anglicized form of the Gaelic sept name O'Conghaile, meaning "descendant of Conghal (from con or "hound" and gal or "valor").  The Munster branch of this sept, which established itself in West Cork, went by O'Coingheallaigh, from Coingheallach meaning "faithful" or "reliable."  

Connolly and Connelly are the main spelling variants.  Conolly also appears, as does Connally in America.

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Ireland.  The O'Conghailes were an ancient Connacht sept reportedly descended from Congal, a 10th century chief of the southern Hy Niall.  Over the passage of time, they were believed to have separated and dispersed into three main branches:
  • the chief branch resided in county Meath and was one of the "four tribes of Tara."
  • a second branch belonged to the ancient kingdom of Oriel in modern-day Monaghan.
  • while the Munster branch of the sept established itself in west Cork.
Tirlogh O'Connola was recorded as the Connolly chief and vice-marshal to the McMahons in Monaghan in 1591. 

In subsequent years William "Speaker" Conolly, speaker of the Irish House of Commons in the early 1700's, was the most prominent of these Connollys (although he himself was born in humble circumstances).  He became rich by acting as a solicitor for landlords who bought and sold property after the Jacobite confiscations.  He built Castletown House in county Kildare in 1722 on these proceeds.  Apparently it required 240 horses to bring his half year's rent from Dublin to Castletown and three cellars to store them.

His great nephew Thomas "Squire" Connolly, who inherited the estate, was the quintessential Irish gentleman of the late 18th century and said, erroneously, to be the richest man in Ireland at that time.  A branch of this family acquired the  Midford castle folly near Bath in 1810. 

Today the Connolly name is principally to be found in Monaghan, Galway, and Cork.   There appears to have been a particular cluster of Connollys in or around the parish of Clones on the Monaghan/Fermanagh border.

  Many poor Irish, including Connollys, left Ireland for Scotland in search of work.  Among them were John and Mary Connolly from Monaghan who settled in the "Little Ireland" slum area of Edinburgh in the 1860's.  Their son James Connolly was an Irish nationalist and socialist agitator.  He played a leading part in the Easter Rising of 1916 for which he was executed and became a martyr to the cause.

Larger numbers came to Glasgow.  Billy Connolly's ancestors, from Ireland and the Isle of Mull, worked in the shipbuilding industry.  As did Billy until he discovered his taste for comedy.  Another Glaswegian Connolly is Brian Connolly, lead singer of the rock group Sweet.

America.  The spelling may be Connolly, Connelly, or Connally.   There were a number in America by the 1700's, mainly in Virginia and North Carolina:
  • John O'Connelly came to the Catawba river valley in North Carolina from Ireland in 1743.  His offspring spread over Burke, Caldwell, and Catawba counties.  Connelly Springs in the area was named after this family.
  • George Connolly was a plantation owner in Lancaster county, Virginia in the 1760's.  His grandson George fought in the Revolutionary War and then migrated westward to Lewis county.
  • John Connelly, born in Sussex county Virginia, also fought in the War.  He later moved to North Carolina and then to Tennessee.  His son James was a missionary in Africa.
  • John and Sarah Connelly were living in Bedford county, Virginia during the 1760's.  They moved to Wilkes county, North Carolina after the War.
  • Charles Connally, born in Virginia in 1772, married in Georgia and later moved to Alabama.
The 19th century saw the destination for immigration shift to New York and Boston.  John Connolly was appointed Bishop of New York in 1814 and came out from Meath a year later.  He served ten years and was buried in the old St. Patrick's Cathedral.  The immigrant wave came later in the century, their numbers including:
  • Patrick Connolly who joined the US Navy from Ireland and came to Brooklyn in 1858.
  • The Connelly family from Galway who arrived in Boston from Galway in the 1880's and worked as longshoremen in the Chelsea area.  Edward Connelly from Chelsea was a respected clothier in Wakefield, Mass.
  • Michael Connolly who came to Boston from Dublin in 1883 and married Ellen Delaney five years later.
William Connelly arrived in Boston during Prohibition in the 1920's and started up in the mob business.  His business boomed and the Connelly family was soon running the streets of Boston.  Eldest son James took over from him in the late 1960's.

Heading West  Some Connollys headed west.  Perhaps the most successful was Tom Connolly who started a carriage business in Dubuque, Iowa in 1858.  By 1885 his factory was producing a thousand buggies, carriages and sleighs annually and Tom had become wealthy.

"Connolly had one of Dubuque's most elegant mansions built in 1893.  Fine woods floated down the Mississippi river from forests in Wisconsin and Minnesota were used in the construction.  The home was one of the few in Dubuque with a carriage step, a raised platform three feet off the ground enabling visitors to leave their carriages without soiling their clothes."

Son Maurice was a local politician unfortunately killed in an early airplane accident in 1921.

Also unfortunate was the Irish group from Galway who were transplanted to rural Minnesota under an assisted emigration scheme in 1880.  There they encountered the worst winter in the state's history and nearly froze to death in shanties on the prairie.  Newspapers featured their plight as the welfare scandal of the year.  The story was recounted in the 2003 book Forgetting Ireland by Bridget Connelly, a descendant.

Australia.  The early Connollys in Australia were convicts.  A Connolly and a Connelly in fact came on the First Fleet in 1789.  Bridget Connolly, transported from Dublin in 1802, was one of the first inmates of the "female factory" at Parramatta.   In 1820 Father Philip Conolly was sent by the Catholic Church to minister to the Irish convicts in Tasmania.

"A man 'of no small ability and attainments, witty and full of dry humor,' Conolly labored alone for fourteen years among 'a wicked and perverse generation,' making regular quarterly visits on horseback to Launceston, George Town, and other settlements."

Later came Connolly settlers, often under assisted passage.  Patrick and Julia Connolly, for instance, arrived in Sydney with their seven children on the Elphinstone in 1840.  They settled to farm in Queanbeyan, NSW.

Some headed for colonial outposts such as Western Australia and Queensland.  John Connolly was a private in the 63rd Regiment who arrived in Western Australia in 1829 and farmed in the Upper Swan valley. Connolly, a northern suburb of Perth, is named after him.  Two Connollys, John and Paddy, struck it lucky during the Western Australian gold rush of the 1890s.  The latter achieved fame as a racehorse owner:

"'Lucky Connolly' was known throughout the country as an astute breeder, a canny owner and a big punter.  Tall and well-built, he had a determined jaw and eyes that told nothing.  Few shared his confidence; fewer claimed him as a friend."

A Connolly family from Ballinasloe in Galway left Ireland in stages during the 1840's and 1850's and eventually settled in Gayndah, Queensland.  Matthew Connolly arrived with his family in 1852 and became a constable in Gatton.  

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If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

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Speaker Conolly prospered from the Jacobite confiscations after the Battle of the Boyne and was reportedly the richest man in Ireland when he died in 1729.
James Connolly was one of the leaders of the Irish Easter Rising of 1916.  He was captured by the English and executed by a firing squad.
Cyril Connolly was an English writer and literary critic of the 1940's and 1950's.
Little Mo Connolly was an American tennis player of the early 1950's.  She was the first woman to win all four Grand Slam titles in the same year.
John Connally was Governor of Texas in 1963 and subsequently Secretary of the Treasury under President Nixon.
Billy Connolly is a well-known Scottish comedian, actor, and entertainer..

Select Connollys Today
  • 22,000 in the UK (most numerous in Glasgow)
  • 25,000 in America (most numerous in Massachusetts)
  • 32,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland).

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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