Connolly is derived from the old Gaelic name O’Conghaile. The ‘O’ prefix means ‘male descendent of’. Conghaile is made up of two old Gaelic words – ‘con’ which means ‘hound’ and ‘gal’ which means ‘valour’.
So the name in full means ‘descendent of the hound of valour’.
The O’Conghaile’s were an ancient clan who lived in Connacht. Over time they spread out and eventually split into three distinct septs or branches.
One of those septs moved to Co Meath and became one of the most powerful families in ancient Ireland. The seat of the High Kings of Ireland was on the Hill of Tara; the Co Meath O’Conghailes became one of the ‘Four tribes of Tara’.
Another sept moved to what is now Co Monaghan. They ruled the area along with the McMahons and the McKennas as part of the Kingdom of Oriel. The three families ruled the territory until the end of the 12th century.
The third sept headed south into Munster and settled in Co Cork. They became an established family although their name became altered from O’Conghaile to O’Coingheallaigh over time. In Gaelic Coingheallaigh meant ‘faithful, reliable and diligent’.
James Connolly is one of the most significant men in Irish political history. He was a socialist and Republican leader and founder of the Irish Labour Party. He was a leader of the Easter Rising in 1916. He became very badly injured during the fighting, to such an extent that doctors said that he would die within a couple of days.
However, the British who had captured him and had taken him to the hospital from the gaol, took him back to the gaol to execute him before he died from his injuries.
Connolly’s execution caused outrage among the Irish and although the majority had been against the rising, a new desire for independence was awoken among the public.
There is now a statue of Connolly outside Liberty hall in Dublin and his life inspired several people from politicians to artists such as John Lennon. Ironically, he was even named the 64th Greatest ever Briton by the BBC after a poll of the British public.
Another famous person with the surname is the Scottish comedian Billy Connolly. He was born in Glasgow and has had a hugely successful career and is well known throughout the English speaking world.
He has influenced several younger comedians and is well loved for his story telling style of observational comedy. He has also appeared in a number of films including The Hobbit, the Last Samurai, Gulliver’s Travels and the Muppets. He was nominated for a BAFTA for his performance in Mrs Brown.
William Connolly was a wealthy businessman in the 18th century. He was a lawyer who went into business by buying and selling land that had been lost by Gaelic families who had had to flee the country following the Battle of the Boyne. He also went in to politics and was speaker in the Irish parliament.
Several sports people have the name Connolly including Republic of Ireland soccer player David Connolly, ice hockey player, Tim Connolly, Premier League soccer player Matthew Connolly and former English rugby international Gary Connolly.
Creative people with the surname include American actress Kristen Connolly, the writer Myles Connolly, musician Nathan Connolly who is a member of northern Irish band Snow Patrol, British novelist Joseph Connolly and American actor Kevin Connolly.