Donnelly (surname)

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Donnelly is an Irish surname. Also used as: O’Donnelly or Donley. It is derived from the Gaelic Ó Donnghaile meaning 'descendant of Donnghal',[1] a given name composed of the elements donn ('dark, brown') and gal ('valour').[2] O'Donnelly was historically of the Northern Uí Néill's Cenél nEoghain, descended from Donnghal,[3] the great-grandson of Domhnall, King of Ailech.[4][5]

It is most commonly found in Ulster, especially in County Tyrone and in parts of County Donegal.[6][7] Donnelly is also prevalent in Connacht, particularly in County Galway.[6]

The stronghold of the O'Donnelly family sept was Castlecaulfield was formerly known as Ballydonnelly (Irish: Baile Uí Dhonnaíle, meaning 'town or territory of O'Donnelly') a village in the south-east of County Tyrone in Northern Ireland.

Castle Caulfield, located in  Castlecaulfield


The Donnellys (O’Donnellys) held the role of marshalls to the O'Neills of Tyrone. According to Gaelic Irish tradition, the Donnellys were part of the Cenél nEoghain making them kin of the O'Neills.

In their role as Marshalls to the O'Neills, they were responsible for fostering the children of 'The O'Neill'.

The Donnellys reached the height of their role during the time of Shane O'Neill when Dean Terrence Danyell (Turlough O'Donnelly) of Armagh played a key role in communications between Shane O'Neill and Elizabeth I.


The earliest mention of Ballydonnelly is the Annals of the Four Masters in 1531 when it is said Baile-Ui-Donnghaile was assaulted by Niall Oge, son of Art, son of Con O'Neill. He demolished the castle; and he made a prisoner of the son of O'Neill, who was foster-son of Donnelly, and carried him off, together with the horses and the other spoils of the town.

At the start of the Plantation of Ulster, Ballydonnelly was allocated as a 'Servitor' portion and as such was granted to Sir Toby Caulfeild who had served in the Crown forces during the Nine Years' War. The Donnellys were involved in the 1641 rebellion where Castle Caulfield, was badly damaged by fire.

Notable Donnellys[edit]

Fictional people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Last name: Donnelly". The Internet Surname Database.
  2. ^ Norman, Tess (2003). A World of Baby Names. Penguin. p. 286. ISBN 9780399528941.
  3. ^ The most accurate source for the pedigree of Donnghaile (Donnelly) can be found in O’Cleary, Michael, et al., Annals of the Four Masters, see O‘Donovan's edition [1] Volume 6, page 2426. Other Irish genealogies (Book of Ballymote and Book of Lecan) have the line of descent of Donnghaile incorrectly stated as the great-grandson of Domnall Ilchelgach, High King who died in 561 A.D.
  4. ^ Neafsey, Edward (2002). The Surnames of Ireland: Origins and Numbers of Selected Irish Surnames. Irish Genealogical Foundation. ISBN 978-0-940134-97-3.
  5. ^ King Domhnall served as co-ruler of Cenél nEoghain from about 896 A.D. with his paternal half brother Niall Glundub until 911 A.D. when King Domhnall abdicated to “enter religious life” and subsequently died in 915 A.D.[2] Hudson, Benjamin, Prophecy of Berchan,Irish and Scottish High Kings in the Middle Ages, Greenwood Press 1996 page 148.
  6. ^ a b Kenny, Kevin (1998). Making Sense of the Molly Maguires. Oxford University Press. p. 300. ISBN 9780195116311.
  7. ^ Woulfe, Patrick (1923). "Ó Donnghaile - Irish Names and Surnames". Retrieved 30 May 2023.