The following account of the McConnell family is derived from various sources, but special credit is to be given to R. Kirk McConnell of Greensburg, Pennsylvania, who in turn acquired much of his information from the Rev. R.J.J. McConnell of Stavely Vicarage, Kendal, England.
It is not possible in this sketch to give more than an outline of what has been written in regard to the McConnell family, and indeed it could not be done with the limited facilities at hand. There is much more to be written in the future, for the McConnell clan has grown in this country (US) to be a very large group; the largest in number probably now living in the state of Ohio. Original Covenanters, they have become divided religiously, and the name is to be found in practically all religious denominations in the U.S. A very large number of them have become ministers of the Gospel, but the name may be found among those of all trades and professions.
It is quite likely that all McConnells, whether they come from Scotland or Ireland and whether they be Catholic or Protestant, are descended from Alexander Konnel, Laird of Dunnyveg and the Glens, Scotland and Ireland respectively.
The name McConnell is another spelling of the surname MacDonnell or MacDonald. There is no such name as MacDonnell or MacDonald in Gaelic. In that language the name is spelled "MacDhomhnuill." In Gaelic, however, after the c in Mac, the d becomes silent and the name is pronounced somewhat as though it were spelled MacHonnell, which the ear cannot distinguish from the new and popular form of spelling, "McConnell." The "Mac" or abbreviated form "Mc" in Gaelic, means "son of."
In ancient times if a Gael named "Iain" had a son named "Alister" the son would be surnamed Alister MacIain, and if in turn Alister MacIain had a son named "Donald" the latter would be newly surnamed Donald MacAlister and so on, each child receiving the Christian name of the father and the prefix "Mac" as a surname. The surnames were not family names as we use them today. There came a time in Scotland, however, when these surnames became fixed in succeeding generations as family names are fixed today.
The use of the surname McConnell was peculiar to the respective familes of the Chiefs of Clan Iain Mhoir, or Clan Donald South of the Scottish Highlands. The clansmen of Clan Donald South were surnamed MacDonalds and it was only a Chief or descents of a Chief that signed his surname McConnell.
Clan Iain Mhoir, or Clan Donald South, was a branch of Clan Donald. The Chiefs of this clan were said to trace their ancestry in the "Poems of Ossian," published in 1750, and in other ancient annals, back to Constantine Centimachus who lived about A.D. 125. From Constantine, there are thirty seven chiefs of Clan Donald named before we come to the name of John, father of John Mhoir Tanistear, who was the first chief of Clan Donald South.
Sir Walter Scott, in his poem "Pibroch of Donuil Dhu," calls Clan Donald South "Clan Conuil," as appears in the first stanza:
"Pibroch of Donuil Dhu
Pribroch of Donuil
Wake thy wild voice anew,
Summon Clan Conuil."
The first three Chiefs of Clan Donald South were not surnamed McConnell because the name McConnell had not been adopted as a family name at so early a date. Since these Chiefs were just as much ancestors of the McConnells in the male line as though they were so surnamed, and since a comprehensive understanding of the history of the McConnell family requires it, we shall begin with the first Chief of Clan Iain Mhoir and recite the history briefly through each succeeding Chief to the last one that so functioned.