THE CONNOLLYS OF MONAGHAN
Connolly is a common name throughout Ireland, but the English form of the name hides a number of quite distinct families. The Connollys of Fermanagh, ( O Conghaile in Irish) for example, can be traced back to a family group who were hereditary administrators of church lands in the parish of Culmaine, near Pettigo. They were associated with the great ecclesiastical settlements of Devinish, Rossory and Lisgool, and have left their name in Derrygonnelly (â€˜Connollyâ€™s Oakwoodâ€™). The Monaghan Connollys have a different origin. According to Rev. P. O Gallachair, writing in the Clogher Record, they are a branch of the Mac Mahons who first emerged as a separate family in the fifteenth century.
What is believed to be the first mention of the Monaghan Connollys is a reference in Roman documents to a coarb (hereditary lay abbot) of Clones who died in 1413. His name is variously given as Henry Macconnlug, Macconluy, Macconulag Magmachuna, Macronhulayth and even Henry Megmachuna. If this is really the first recorded Connolly of County Monaghan, does it not seem most likely that he is sprung from MacMahon stock? The various spellings of his name suggest but one original: Henry MacConuladh MacMathuna, i.e. Henry the son of Cu Uladh McMahon. It is possible that, just as the Monaghan surname McPhillips, owes its origin to Philip MacMahon, the famous coarb of Clones who died in 1486, so perhap the Connollys, through the earlier coarb, are descendants of Cu Uladh MacMahon, Tanaiste (crown prince) of Orghialla (Oriel), who died in 1375. On this assumption, the later Oâ€™Connollys would originally have been Mac Connollys - a common enough change at the time in Oriel. In the Annals of Ulster this name always appears as Ua Connalaigh, never as O Conghaile, the Fermanagh surname.
Beginning with this Henry Mac Conuladh, then we find these Connollys suddenly becoming increasingly prominent in the ecclesiastical as well as the political life of Orghialla in the fifteenth century. Apart from Henry, three other Connollys become Abbots of Clones in the same century.
While their Fermanagh namesakes are referred to frequently in the ancient annals from the tenth century onwards, the Connollys of Monaghan do not come into prominence in these records until the late fifteenth century. They first appear in the annals as political allies of the Lucht Tighe Mac Mahons, when in a raid on the English Pale in 1485 there were some Connolly casualties. The district where we first find them localised is a roughly-defined area on each side of a line drawn from Clones to Monaghan town, an area straddling the baronies of Dartry and Monaghan. This line also cuts through the present parishes of Clones, Roslea, Killeevan and Drumsnat into Monaghan. These parishes, plus Tydavnet and the rest of Dartry (Ematris, Aghabog and Drumully) could be called the Connolly Country, for here they are first heard of, and here they have remained concentrated to the present day.
By the early 1500's this sept had its own chief, Ua Connalaigh. In 1591 â€˜Tirlogh Occonola, chefe of his name, late marshal under MacMahonâ€™ was a freeholder under the Lucht Tighe leader, Partick Mac Airt Maoil Mac Mahon. He held the ballybetagh (territory) of Ballyclenlagh , which contined sixteen tates of land around the present Smithborough, some of which were in the parish of Drumsnat, some in Clones (now Roslea parish) and a smaller part in Killeevan. The territory of this Oâ€™Connolly chief, Ballyclenlagh, took its name from Clenlough, a lake situated between the villages of Roslea and Smithborough. Here on its crannog (artificial island) Oâ€™Connolly probably had his residence.
Sir John Davies in 1607 describes the Connollys as one of the four principal septs in County Monaghan out of which the chief of that country had been always chosen. This also suggests that they were closely linked to the Mac Mahons. The Connollys played a very prominent part locally in the Rising of 1641. One branch of them fostered Mac Mahonâ€™s son, Hugh Og, who was hanged for his part in the rising, while no less than five Connollys from Clones parish and three of Killeevan were listed among the leading insurgents in the county. After the battle of Scarrifhollis in 1650, these Connollys were deprived of their lands. However, one Connolly profitted from the rising and its aftermath - the infamous Owen Connolly. As a young man he obtained a position with Sir Hugh Clotworthy of Antrim, and there he converted to protestantism, under the influence of the â€˜Six-Mile-Water Revivalâ€™ of 1625. This seems to have been hidden from his family, for on meeting his foster brother Hugh Og Mac Mahon in Dublin in 1641, Mac Mahon told him of the plans for the rising. Connolly promptly told the English authorities; Mac Mahon and other leaders were arrested and executed for treason at Tyburn. (It should be mentioned that Connolly pleaded to save the life of Mac Mahon, but to no avail.) He was well rewarded for his efforts with a grant of Â£500 and a pension of Â£200 a year. He continued to serve the English interest, and accompanied Cromwell to Ireland in 1649. He was appointed military Governor of Antrim, with the rank of Colonel, but he was killed in a skirmish with Royalist forces that same year.
In 1659, Connolly (either Mac or O) was the fourth most common name in County Monaghan, after Mac Mahon, Mac Kenna and Oâ€™Duffy. By 1890 the Connollys have gained second place to the Duffys. This is remarkable, considering that the name is not to be found in any document before the early fifteenth century.