Connolly As An Irish Last Name

This article looks at how common Connolly is as a last name in Ireland and the United States from the 19th century to the present day.

You’ll learn the meaning and origins of the Connolly surname while exploring some notable and famous people that held it.

I use census records, emigration lists, and military archives to uncover fascinating patterns. If you’re studying your genealogy, check out my sources at the end of the post so you can do your own research.

How Common Is Connolly As A Surname In Ireland?

Ireland does not disclose current statistics on surnames in much detail. The most that we get is the top ten last names in birth registrations for the previous year. Connolly isn’t common enough to break into this list.

So, I had to look elsewhere for population estimates. Thankfully, an Irish genealogist researched the prevalence of Irish surnames through national phone directories published in the 1990s. Seán Murphy’s estimates aren’t as robust as a census but give a good broad estimate.

Connolly was ranked 40 in the top one hundred names in this decade with a total of 16,200 entries.

This graphic shows how it ranks compared to the 1st, 33rd, 66th, and 100th entries in the survey:

Connolly Ireland 1990s

Connolly In The Early 1900s

The only full censuses that are publically available in Ireland are from 1911 and 1901. Prior decades were either destroyed through government action (to reclaim storage space) or by a catastrophic fire during the Irish Civil War.

So, let’s focus on the early 1900s.

I used online archives to calculate the total numbers by surname. I consider these estimates due to some percentage of transcription errors. So, I’ve rounded the numbers to the nearest fifty.

There were 11,800 residents named Connolly on the island in 1911.

Ten years earlier, Connolly had about 11,600 residents in the 1901 census.

Population Estimates In The 1890s

In 1890, the head of the Civil Registrations Office in Ireland carried out research on Irish family names in the birth, marriage, and death records. His book was published under the title “Special Report on Surnames in Ireland.”

The survey estimated that there were about 17,000 people named Connolly in the country.

Emigration To America After The Irish Famine

The Irish diaspora is large and widespread with a significant number of people emigrating to other parts of the globe. The destinations traditionally have been England, the U.S., Canada, and Australia. Emigrants were driven by various factors like political unrest, poverty, and food scarcity.

The Great Irish Famine, which happened from 1845 to 1852, caused the largest wave of emigration. The potato blight was a disaster for Ireland because it destroyed the main food source for a large proportion of the people.

I reviewed the Connolly name in the shipping passenger lists arriving in New York during this period. The departures were from both Ireland and England.

The graph below shows how the numbers rose and fell in the years after the famine. You can see how the number peaks after six years of hardship.

Connolly emigration after the famine

With that explanation out of the way, let’s look at how Connolly ranks in America.

How Common Is Connolly As A Last Name In The United States?

Based on the 2010 U.S. census, the name Connolly ranks about 1,198 among Irish names in America with 29,710 bearers.

Although the 2010 census has exact numbers and rankings, the rank I assign here is my estimate. If you’re curious about how I got there, here’s a brief explanation…

Estimating Rank In The United States

Historically, some Irish families with Gaelic surnames took English-sounding names as translations under the influence of colonization.

As these names also have English origins, they will have been brought to the United States by both British and Irish immigrants. Because the census doesn’t ask about specific European origin (e.g. England vs Ireland), it’s impossible to identify the proportion with Irish heritage.

I reviewed the census to identify which names are predominantly Irish in origin. In order to estimate the relative rankings of “Irish” names, I’ve mostly excluded surnames that have varying origins.

Connolly In Historic Census Years

It’s interesting to look at how the numbers of a surname change over time in a relatively young country like the United States. These changes can reflect the broader demographic shifts within the nation. It’s not just migration from outside. It’s also birth rates, improved child mortality, and people living longer.

The historic census records have been transcribed and digitized. I used online archives to run counts of surname populations.

But the totals can’t be exactly accurate due to transcription errors. So, I’ve rounded the numbers to the nearest 50 in the graph below.

This picture shows the numbers every twenty years from 1860 to 1940:

how common was Connolly in the U.S. between 1860 and 1940

These are the numbers in the graph:

  • 1860: 1,600
  • 1880: 4,400
  • 1900: 6,700
  • 1920: 10,250
  • 1940: 14,350

Connolly In World War II

During World War Two, approximately 8.3 million men and women joined the ranks of the United States Army. Many were of Irish descent. Some had even been born in Ireland and emigrated.

There were registration records for 1,165 soldiers named Connolly who enlisted between 1938 and 1946.

There were 50 who were born in Ireland.

Connolly Surname: Meaning And Origin

The surname Connolly is derived from the Gaelic Ó Conghaile, which means “descendant of Conghal.” The personal name Conghal comes from two Gaelic words. “Con” refers to a hound and “gal” means courage.

A man known as a hound may have been an important swordsman in the service of a chieftain. His family would take the name as descendants of the valiant hound.

The scholar Patrick Woulfe wrote in 1923 that one of the Connolly branches was a family of the Ui Fiachrach of County Mayo. The Ui Fiachrach were the descendants of Fiachra, a brother of the legendary Niall of the Nine Hostages, a fourth-century warrior king.

Famous Or Historic People Named Connolly

Here are some notable people with the family name:

  • William Connolly (1662-1729): this son of an innkeeper rose to become a significant politician and the Speaker of the Irish House of Commons.
  • James Connolly (1868-1916): An Irish socialist politician who was a key figure in Irish history. He was executed for his part as a leader of the Easter Rising against British rule in 1916.
  • Richard Connolly (1892-962): Naval officer from Illinois who rose to the position of Admiral. He led amphibious landings in the Pacific during World War II.
  • John Connolly (1940- ): FBI agent who was convicted of racketeering and second-degree murder arising from his ties to his former neighbor Whitey Bulger and the Winter Hill Gang. John’s father emigrated from County Galway.

More Irish Names Beginning With C


Connolly As A Last Name

External Research

The Ireland 1990s estimates are from Seán J. Murphy’s research paper.

The population estimates of 1890 are based on the “Special Report on Surnames in Ireland“, published in 1909.

The population figures for the 2010 U.S. Census come from a file provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Internal Research

Some of the population numbers are based on my own research and calculations using online archives. I’ve rounded those numbers to the nearest 50 to account for transcription errors and other technical issues with online databases of this type.

The Irish census estimates for 1901 and 1911 are my calculations based on the Irish National Archives

I plotted the emigration figures from 1845 to 1854 based on calculations from the archives of the New York Passenger Lists (1820-1957).