Connolly Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Connolly Surname
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

Connolly, Connelly, and Variants.  Connolly and Connelly are the main spelling variants.  Conolly also appears, as does Connally in America.  The table below shows the approximate current numbers.

Numbers (000’s) Connolly Connelly Others Total
Ireland   15    1 16
UK   15    7    22
America   10    9 1    20
Canada    5    1     6
Australia    5    3     8
New Zealand    1     1
Total   51   21     1   73

Castletown House and The Connollys.  Castletown House in county Kildare was built in 1722 for “Speaker”
William Conolly, the speaker of the Irish House of Commons from 1715.
It was designed by the famous Italian architect Alessandro Galelei and
it remains the only house in Ireland designed by him.  The only
Palladian house built with the correct classical proportions, it is
said to have influenced the design of the White House in Washington.

Conolly, widow of the great “Speaker,” continued to live in Castletown
until her own death in 1752.  Castletown was then inherited by her
nephew William.  He died just two years later and the house was
inherited by his son Tom Connolly.  “Squire” Connolly, as he was
married Lady Louisa Lennox, daughter of the Duke of Richmond, in
Louisa was just fifteen years of age at the time.

Print Room, dated around 1765, is attributed to Louisa.  It is the
print room to have survived.   The fashion of print rooms
originated in
England and consisted of engravings and mezzotints being pasted onto
the wall and framed with decorative borders.

House stayed with the Connollys until 1965 when it was put up for
auction by Lord Carew, whose mother was a member of the Connolly family.

James Connolly’s Trial and Execution.  Connolly had been in charge of the General Post Office
during the Easter Rising and was immediately arrested once the rebels
had surrendered.  At his trial he made the following statement:

“We want to break the connection between this country and
the British Empire and to establish an Irish Republic.

In this rising, we have succeeded in proving that
Irishmen are ready to die endeavoring to win  for Ireland those
national rights which the British government has been asking them to
die to win for Belgium.  As long as that remains the case, the
cause of Irish freedom is safe.  I personally thank God that I
have lived to see the day when thousands of Irish men and boys and
hundreds of Irish women and girls were ready to affirm that truth and
to attest it with their lives if need be.”

James Connolly was sentenced to death and, on May 12
1916, he was shot by firing squad.  He had been taken by military
ambulance to Kilmainham prison, carried on a stretcher to a courtyard
in the prison, tied to a chair and shot.  His body was put into a
mass grave with the other executed rebels and given no coffin.

In death he was a martyr.  There is a statue of him
in Dublin outside Liberty Hall.  There is also the Dublin Connolly
railway station and the Dublin Connolly hospital.

The Bible Record of John Connelly from Virginia.  Births.  “Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth.”  Genesis XI: 1.

Milton H. Connelly was born January 22, 1810

James M.C. Connelly was born January 22, 1810

Jefferson Connelly was born November 3, 1803

Charles L. Connelly was born August 10, 1807.

Marriages.  “This is now bone of my bones…therefore shall a man leave his father and mother and shall cleave unto his wife and they shall be one flesh.”  Genesis II: 23-24.

John Connelly was born January 27, 1760
Married March 2, 1790
Died June 29, 1835.

Connelly Springs, North Carolina.  In 1838 William Lewis Connelly was the first settler in the
area later called Connelly Springs.  His pioneer settlement was
called Happy Home.  Son William started a general store there in
the 1860’s.

His wife Elmira would wash the family clothes in water from
a spring on their property.  Her white clothes always had a
yellowish tint and in 1885 she had the water treated by the state
chemist in Virginia.  The chemist found in his analysis that the
water had a high content of bicarbonate of iron.  He told Mrs.
Connelly that in his opinion the water should be beneficial for healing
a large number of diseases.

Soon the news of the mineral springs spread and visitors
began to visit Happy Home to drink the wonderful healing waters.
Some arrived by horse and wagon and carted the water away in five
gallon demijohns. Others came by train from futher afield.  In
time the town’s name was changed to Connelly Springs and the town
itself became a summer resort.

Philip Conolly and The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce.  The Australian film The Last
Confession of Alexander Pearce
described the extraordinary saga
of the escaped convict Alexander Pearce, tried and convicted of murder
and cannibalism in Hobart in 1824 and sentenced to hang.

Father Philip Conolly recorded Pearce’s confession in Gaelic and he
accompanied Pearce to the gallows the next day where it seems (although
accounts vary) he made an impassioned speech condemning the harsh
treatment of the prisoner.

In the film it was pointed out that both Conolly and Pearce had come
from the same parish of Clones on the Monaghan/Fermanagh border.
Like Pearce, Conolly had been forced to go to Australia.  At that
time Catholic priests were barely tolerated in the colony and the
hopelessness of Conolly’s parish of extreme sinners apparently weighed
heavily upon him.

By being a cannibal, Pearce had forced Conolly to examine the idea of
what it is to be human.  As Pearce had advanced across the
wilderness – starving, killing, eating – it seemed that he had been
shedding the very constructs of society.  Many saw him as a
monster.  But Conolly had to look beyond these judgments. Pearce
may have been a terrible sinner.  But he was still a man and
therefore not beyond the possibility of redemption.

Matthew Connolly Dead in Queensland.  Matthew Connolly was 36 when he brought his family
to Australia in 1853, leaving behind famine-stricken Ireland in the
hope of finding a better life.  After joining the police force in
Queensland, Constable Connolly worked as a watchhouse keeper at Gatton.

On August 25, 1861 he had finished a routine prisoner escort to Ipswich
when a doctor requested that he obtain medication from Ipswich for two
ill women, including the wife of a district magistrate.  However,
heavy rains in the region had created dangerously high water levels in
surrounding creeks and streams. Connolly, determined to deliver the
medicine, attempted to cross a flooded creek on horseback with the two
parcels tied across his chest.  The horse made it to the opposite
bank.  But Constable Connolly didn’t.  His 44 year old body
was found the next day along with the medication.  He left behind
a wife and six children.

In 2006 his descendants, together with police and other local community
members, unveiled a plaque commemorating Constable Connolly in



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 Connolly Numbers

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


Select Connolly and Like Surnames 

The Irish clan or sept names come through the mists of time until they were found in Irish records such as The Annals of the Four Masters.  The names were Gaelic and this Gaelic order was preserved until it was battered down by the English in the 1600’s.

Some made peace with the English.  “Wild geese” fled to fight abroad.  But most stayed and suffered, losing land and even the use of their language.  Irish names became anglicized, although sometimes in a mishmash of spellings.  Mass emigration happened after the potato famine of the 1840’s.

Some surnames – such as Kelly, Murphy and O’Connor – span all parts of Ireland.  But most will have a territorial focus in one of the four Irish provinces – Leinster, Munster, Ulster, and Connacht.

Leinster in SE Ireland covers the counties of Carlow, Dublin, Kilkenny, Offaly, Laois, Longford, Louth, Meath, West Meath, Wexford, and Wicklow.  Here are some of the Leinster surnames that you can check out.




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