O’Connell – hounds of valour

There are numerous variations to the surname O’Connell including O’Connel, Connel and Connell. It is the 25th most popular surname in Ireland.

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Historians can trace the origins of the name to before the 7th century. The name derives from the ancient Gaelic name O’Conaill. O’Conaill means ‘descendent of Conaill.

History of the Irish name O'Connell. Image copyright Ireland Calling

There is little evidence to suggest who Conaill would have been but it is likely that the name is made up of two Gaelic words; the ‘con’ part would be from the word ‘cu’ which means ‘hound’ and ‘naill’ would be from the word ‘gal’ which means ‘valour’.

Descended from warriors

So the O’Connells are probably descended from a ‘hound of valour’ or a warrior. This is the same as the Connollys and it is likely that both families descended from warriors.

However, while the Connollys settled in places like Cork, Meath and Monaghan, the O’Connells originated in Co Kerry. They are said to have descended from Aengue Tuirmeach who was High King of Ireland in 180 BC.

The O’Connells split into different septs or branches that spread far afield to Derry, Galway and Munster.

When Oliver Cromwell’s army savaged Ireland in the 17th century, many O’Connells moved to Europe and settled in France and Austria. Many achieved high ranking military positions.

During the French revolution Sir Maurice O’Connell transferred from the French to the British army. He was given a post in Australia where he settled and married the daughter of British Navy Officer Captain William Bligh of Mutiny on the Bounty fame.

Daniel O'Connell
Daniel O’Connell

Daniel O’Connell

Daniel O’Connell was a lawyer turned politician who campaigned for Irish independence and Catholic emancipation. After years of struggle he formed the Catholic Association. When he won a by-election, his situation forced the King and Prime Minister to revise the law to allow Catholics to sit in parliament.

He is an extremely important figure in Irish History and is often known at the Liberator. The road in Dublin that was at the centre of the Easter Rising, formerly known as Sackville Street, was renamed O’Connell Street in his honour after Ireland gained independence.

Sporting O’Connells

Paul O’Connell is an Irish Rugby Union international. He has won numerous trophies for Munster and was part of Ireland’s 2009 squad that won the Grand Slam at the Six Nations tournament.

He also helped Ireland win the Triple Crown on four separate occasions. The Triple Crown is awarded to any team on the British and Irish isles (Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales) that beats the other three during the Six Nations.

Mike O’Connell was an ice hockey player in the NHL between 1977 and 1990. He later became a manager. His brother Tim was also a professional hockey player. Mike and Tim’s father Tommy O’Connell was a professional American Footballer. He played as a quarterback in the NFL for five seasons between 1953 and 1957.

Carlos O’Connoll is an Irish athlete who holds the Irish record for the decathlon and in 1990 he broke an 89 year Irish record for long jump.

Creative and artistic O’Connells

Jerry O’Connell is an American actor who has appeared in films such as Stand by Me, Jerry Maguire and Scream 2. His brother Charlie O’Connell is also an actor.

Cristian O’Connell is an English radio DJ and television personality. He has several won awards throughout his radio career.

Maura O’Connell is an Irish singer who is known for her Irish folk songs. She has worked with many top stars such as Van Morrison, Dolly Parton, Moya Brannan, Mary Black and Paul Brady. She appeared as a street singer in Martin Scorsese’s 2002 film Gangs of New York.

Helen O’Connell was a singer and actress who enjoyed considerable success in the 1930-40s and later in the 1970s.

Other O’Connells

Aaron D. O’Connell is an American quantum physicist. He created the world’s first quantum machine, which is a device that follows the laws of quantum mechanics. In 2010 the highly respected journal, Science, honoured his work be naming it their ‘Breakthrough of the Year’.