McConville – sons of the ‘bald hound’

McConville is a medieval Irish name that originated in the north of the country, in the Ulster Province, particularly in Co Donegal and Co Derry.

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It is derived from the ancient name Mac Conmhaoil and has several variations including Convill, Conville, Convilles, Conwell, Conwells, MacConville, MacConvill, MacConwell, McConigal, McConvill, McConwel, McConwell, McGonigal and McGonigle.

The ‘Mac’ prefix of the surname means ‘son of’, while ‘Conmhaoil’ is a personal name that comes from two Gaelic words – cú, which means ‘hound’ and maol, which means ‘bald’.

The family motto is ‘Age in aeternum’ which means ‘Do forever’.

Early days of the clan

The clan was first found in Co Derry, where they had a family seat, meaning that they likely had a significant amount of political and economic influence in the area.

It is thought that they descended from the Owen clan, who in turn, descended from King Niall of the Nine Hostages. This would make the McConvilles distant relatives of the O’Neills.

The clan has had an interesting relationship with the extremes of war and peace. The McConvilles are thought to have provided more members of the clergy per head than any other Irish clan.

However, they were also historically more likely to follow war-like traditions than those with other Irish names.

Allies of the O’Donnells

The clan was known as an ‘erenagh’ family, which meant that they were hereditary holders of church land. It was their responsibility to work and maintain the land. This made the McConvilles an important family – particularly in the parish of Raphoe.

In the 16th century, Raphoe produced three bishops with a variation of the McConville surname.

The McConvilles were thought to be followers of the O’Donnell clan. They are said to have helped the O’Donnells in their many efforts to overthrow the English.

The clan also supported King James II in the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. After the battle was won by William of Orange, many of the McConville clan members had their land taken and were exiled to France.

Mac Conmhaoil becomes anglicised

During the 17th century, many people in Ireland started to anglicise their names. Life had become difficult for those with Irish names after Oliver Cromwell’s forces had taken control of Ireland.

The Mac Conmhaoils dropped the Gaelic ‘Mac’ prefix and spelled the name in an English friendly way. Often the names would also be anglicised because the clerks who took down their names for tax purposes were English and spelled the names in a way that made sense to them.

Following the 1798 Rebellion there was a wave of nationalism that swept across Ireland and many families added their Gaelic prefixes back to their surnames as a show of Irish pride.

By that time, the majority of people spoke English and so the English friendly versions of the name usually remained.

Until the beginning of the 20th century, the name was almost exclusively found in Co Donegal. However, over the past century, people with the name have spread across Ireland and the world.
Bernard McConville wrote the screenplay for the 1925 film Phantom of the Opera

Famous McConvilles

Bernard McConville was an American screenwriter from Denver, Colorado. He worked on 92 films between 1915-46, including silent adaptions of Little Lord Fauntleroy and Phantom of the Opera.

Oisín McConville was a Gaelic footballer who played for Armagh in the 1990s and 2000s. He won a number of titles throughout his career including the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, seven Ulster Championships and a National League title.

Cameron McConville was a racing driver from Melbourne, Victoria who won the Australian Formula Ford Series in 1992 and the Australian GT Production Car Championship in 1996.

Brendan McConville is an American scholar who has written three critically acclaimed books on American history.

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