The surname Connolly is patronymic, being derived from the forename of the
bearer's ancestor. In this instance the surname Connolly means simply the
'descendant of Conghal'. The forename itself can be traced back to
the Old Gaelic 'con gal', meaning 'hound valor' or, perhaps, 'high valour'.
The most important of the three septs was that in County Monaghan. The sept
was a branch of the O Neill family and the chief numbered among the 'four
princes of Tara'; the sept's powers waned after the Norman conquest of Ireland
The Munster sept were subject to the rule of the O Donovans and are particularly
associated with West Cork, while the Connacht sept were an Ui Maine family.
References to the surname Connolly or to a variant date as early as the sixteenth
century when one Tirlogh O Connola is noted in the fiants of 1591 as chief
of the Monaghan Connollys.
An early Munster Connolly was William Connolly (circa 1660-1729) who became
the speaker of the House of Commons and who was reputed to be the richest
man in Ireland at the time. His seat was at Castletown, County Kildare.
More recently the name was borne by James Connolly (1868-1916), the labour
leader and signatory of the Declaration of Irish Independance, who was executed
as a rebel, now regarded as a national hero.