Connolly Surname Genealogy

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

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

Resources on

Connolly Ancestry

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

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
    , 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,
  • 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
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

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

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.

Connolly Miscellany

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

Select Connolly Names

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

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




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