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O'Connell Family History

Ó Conaill- anglicised O Connell, Connell, the root is personal name Conall, which means 'strong as a wolf'. This is an ancient Celtic name; it exists also in Welsh as Cynvall, from ancient British 'Cunoval(os). Many of Ireland's legendary heroes were named Conall, for example Conall Cernach of Ulster and Conall Corc of Munster. Conall Gulban, the founder of the Cineál Chonaill, gave his name to Tír Chonaill (Tirconnel).

To be distinguished from Mac Dhomhnaill, anglicised as MacDonnell and MacConnell in cos Antrim, Down and Tyrone, which refers to the Scottish Gaelic clan. Inevitably there must be cases where the 'Mac' was elided, and some confusion as a result.

The great families of the name were located in Co Derry, a branch of the Orghiallagh (Oriel) in Tír Chiaráin (Tirkeeran), in Co Galway of the Uí Mhaine, in Co Kerry, where they were anciently chiefs of the Magh Ó gCoinchin. This latter family were dispossessed by the Ó Donnchadha clan in the 11th century, and reappear as hereditary castellans of the Mac Cárthaigh dynasty of Baile Uí Cairbre (Ballycarbery) near Cahirciveen in West Kerry.

In the great Cromwellian 'Expugntio' the O Connells of Ballycarbery were uprooted and 'transpalnted to west Clare: 'to Hell or Connacht' was the watchword of the zealous British Calvinists vis-a-vis the great Catholic families of Ireland. Their chief at the time was Muirgheas Ó Conaill. Many scions of this line served as officers in La Brigade Irlandaise of France, among whom was Count Daniel O' Connell, uncle of the great Daniel O'Connell, 'the Liberator' (1775-1847).

Looking at the 1659 'Census', undertaken by William Petty, the English surveyor of Ireland for the Commonwealth, the name appears as a 'Principal Irish Name' in the original counties, as specified above, as well as others, e.g.:

Co Derry
Terkeran (Tirkeeran) Barony, where the name appears as McConnell (v. supra), numbering 6 families; likewise in Kenaght Barony, McConnell, 6 families; Coleraine Bar., McConnell, 9 families.

Co Galway is, unfortunately, missing from the 'Census'.

Co Kerry
Barony of Trughanacht, O Connell, 15 families; Maquinihy, O Connell, 9 families; Iveragh Barony, three Connells are named as landowners: Daniell Connell of Dromod parish, Dermod Connell of Ballenskealigg and Charles Connell of Killimleegh. From these entries it would appear that not all O Connell landowners were transplanted from Kerry.

Co Cork
City & Liberties, O Connell, 9 families.

Co Limerick
Small Co. Barony, McConnell & O Connell, 8 families; Connologh Barony, O Connell, 41 families.

Co Tipperary
Iffa & Offa Barony, Connell & McConnell, 9 families; Eliogurty & Ikerrin, Connell, 12 families.

Co Clare
Barony of Bunratty, Connell, 12 families; Tulla Barony, Connell & O Connell, 7 families.

By the mid 19th century the picture looks like this (using Griffith's 'Primary Valuation' of Irish households, 1847-1864):
For Connell, total number 3248, highest in counties Cork 903 + 99 city, Kerry 472, Limerick 287 + 29 city, Tipperary 209, Galway 159.
For O'Connell (same name with prefix), total 272, mostly Cork (incl.) 77 and Kerry 57.
For McConnell, total number 818, highest in counties Down 157, Tyrone 132, Antrim 97 + 85 Belfast, Armagh 91, Donegal 76. These would mostly be Mac Dhomnaill (supra).

The Registrar's 'Special Report' (1894, 1909) on births' distribution in 1890 shows most Connells were born in counties Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary and Galway. Total 236. For O'Connell, the same name with the prefix, the counties were Cork, Kerry, Limerick and Dublin. Total 130.

Two Famous O Connells (from so many!)

Daniel O'Connell, The Liberator (175-1847) born near Cahirciveen, Co Kerry. He campaigned for Catholic Emancipation through peaceful mass action. During the 19th century in 'the most civilized country in the world' catholics were not allowed to be representatives of their people and sit in the U.K. Parliament (a catholic still can't be a U.K. Head of State in 2012). He also campaigned, through mass rallies etc., for repeal of the infamous Act of Union (1800).

Dáithí Ó Conaill (1938-1991) born in Cork. His uncle, Michael O'Sullivan, was a member of the 1st Cork Brigade IRA in the 1920-21 War of Independence. O'Sullivan was bayoneted to death whilst a prisoner by British Forces in 1921. Ó Conaill joined the IRA at the age of 17. He later became disilusioned with what later became known as the Official IRA, and left with others to form the Provisional IRA in 1969/70, which was committed to a physical response to the British presence in the 6 counties of 'Northern Ireland'. He served on the Provisionals' Army Council and was Director of Publicity. He was active in political campaigns of Sinn Féin in the early 80s, but left with Ruarí Ó Brádaigh to form the more hard-line Republican Sinn Féin in 1986.

Who have we missed?

Tell us about any famous O'Connell (or surname variant) you think we should add here. We will get our genealogists to check them out and add them to the list. Thanks!


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