Recorded in the spellings of Connelly, Connolly and Conley, this is an anglicized form of the Old Gaelic pre 10th century "O'Conghaile". The Gaelic prefix "O" indicates "male descendant of", plus the personal byname "Conghaile", from "con", a hound and "gal", valour; hence "descendants of the Hound of Valour". The O'Conghailes were an ancient Connacht sept, who with the passage of time, separated and dispersed into three main branches. The chief branch resided in County Meath and was one of the "Four Tribes of Tara". In former times the seat of the Irish High Kings was on the Hill of Tara. The second branch belonged to the ancient Kingdom of Oriel embracing the modern County Monaghan, and this territory was ruled by the (O) Connollys, the McMahons and the McKennas up to the end of the 12th Century. The Munster branch of the family established itself in West Cork and here the name was frequently rendered O'Coingheallaigh. Recordings of name holders include Thomas Conley at the seige of Derry in 1688, whilst James Connolly (1868 - 1916) was labour leader and signatory of the Irish Declaration of Independence. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Tirlogh O'Connola, Chief and Vice-Marshal to MacMahon, which was dated 1591, in the "Fiants Records of County Monaghan", Ireland. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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