Conroy is an ancient Irish surname that originated in Connacht. There were two separate clans whose name ended up as Conroy, one from Co Galway and the other from Co Roscommon.
There are variations to the name including Connerry, Connery, Conry, Mulconroy, Mulconry, O’Mulconroy and O’Mulconry.
In Co Galway, the name originated from the MacConraoi clan. The prefix ‘Mac’ meant ‘son of’ and Conraoi came from the Gaelic word ‘cu’ which meant ‘hound’.
The name meant ‘son of the hound of the battleground’ – which indicates that they descended from a great warrior.
The MacConraois became chiefs of the Delbhna Thira Da Locha. This was an ancient territory, a little smaller than a ‘kingdom’. It meant the ‘Delbhna of two lakes’. Delbhna was the name of the race of people. The MacConraois were considered to be the sea-kings of Connacht along with other clans such as the O’Dowds, the O’Flahertys and the O’Malleys.
In Co Roscommon the name came from a clan known as Ó Maolconaire. The ‘O’ prefix to the name means ‘grandson of’ or ‘descendent of’. Maol is a Gaelic word that means ‘follower’ or ‘servant of’. Another meaning of the world ‘maol’ is ‘bald’. It could refer to either a person’s appearance or the summit of a hill with no trees. The first section of the name was dropped as the name developed.
The name Conaire, again, comes from the word ‘cu’ meaning ‘hound’. The most likely interpretation of the ‘maul’ part of the name is ‘servant of’. So the full name meant ‘descendent of the servant of the hound’ – in fact historians interpret the name as ‘descendent of the keeper of the hound’.
Most Irish families originally took their name from the chief or leader of their clan. So their chief would have been a keeper of hounds. Alternatively he may have been a ‘bald hound’ or lived on a bare hilltop.
Family of educators
While the Conroys were not rulers, they were held in high esteem. They worked as hereditary poets, historians and chroniclers to the Kings of Connacht from the 12th to 17th centuries. They worked for the Síol Muireadaigh, which was a dynasty of clans that ruled Co Roscommon including the O’Connors, MacDermots, MacManusa, Flanagans and more.
Oliver Cromwell’s forces invaded Ireland in the 17th century and took control of the country. As the Conroys were a family of educators, they were specifically targeted as invading English forces attempted to erase Irish culture and language.
Their name became anglicised to Conroy, or a variant, at this time because it had become almost impossible for people with Irish sounding names to find work.
A separate clan called O’Cionga originated in in the Leinster counties of Westmeath, Offaly and Longford. The counties bordered Co Roscommon but the clans were not related. Many people from the O’Cionga family anglicised their name to Conroy – although the majority of O’Ciongas became ‘King’.
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