Connolly shield

The Irish surname Connolly is used as an anglicised form of the surname of three distinct Gaelic septs;

O Conghalaigh (or O Conghaile) of Connacht

O Conghalaigh of Monaghan

and the O Coingheallaigh (or MacCoingheallaigh) of Munster.

Connolly shield

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 in 1171.

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.

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