Irish surnames tend to be complex, but this is one which is out on its own. It is generally recorded in Ulster, and derives from either of two early Gaelic surnames, Mac an Fhilidh, translating as 'The son of the poet to the clan' and MacConghaile, which apparently means 'The son of the seal', there being an ancient tradition that early members of the clan had metamorphosed into these animals. You cannot beat a good Irish fable. Either way the two names were anglicized as MacAnellye and MacEnelly in the 16th century, and although the latter has a predominance in the surname of 'Conneely', most spellings have become hopelessly entwined. When it is realised that the various spellings include MacConneely, Conneely, McNeilly, McNeely, McNelly, McNeilley, McKniely, McAnalley, McNalley, Muneely and Monnelly, and probably many others, the confusion of origin can be understood. Early examples of the surname recordings taken from authentic church registers include Agnes McNeillie, who was christened at Carmoney, County Antrim, on January 27th 1751, and Agnes McNeilly, christened at Boardmills, County Down, on March 4th 1810. Other recordings are those of Samuel McAnally, a witness at Carmoney, County Antrim, on April 29th 1821, and James McNelly, who with his wife Agnes, nee Gilmore, was a witness at Carmoney, on December 27th 1864. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Giollachrist Mac an Fhilidh, which was dated 1509, described as 'a learned poet to the clans', during the reign of King Henry V11 of England, known as 'Henry Tudor', 1485 - 1509. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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