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Conway Family History
CONWAY of Irish Origin
Ó Connmhaigh - anglicised as Conway, earlier as O Connowe. The root is Connmhach, possibly 'head smashing'. A variant is Mac Connmhaigh, the former certainly early, as found in the Annals of the Four Masters in 1360: 'Gilla na-naev O Conmhaigh, chief professor of music in Thomond, died'. This was a Dalcassian sept, principally of Thomond (Clare and Limerick), later also found in West Cork and Offaly. Woulfe says the name was also found in Cavan and Roscommon ('Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall', 1923). The presence of Conway in considerable numbers in Co Kilkenny in the 1659 'Census' suggests the name spread there also.
Ó Conbhuidhe - anglicised as Conway, Conwy, earlier Conboy & c., the root is 'cu buidhe' or yellow hound. Two families of the name existed in early times: that of the Uí Fiachrach (descendants of Fiachra, brother of Niall of the Nine Hostages, circa 4th century) who inhabited the barony of Tireragh in Co Sligo; and that of the Uí Mhaine (descendants of Maine Mór, an ancestor of the Orghialla i.e. Oriel) in Co Galway.
Ó Connmhacháin - anglicised as Conway and less as Kanavaghan and earlier as (O) Connoughan. The name is possibly a diminutive of Connmhach,v. (1) above. A surname found early on in Sligo, and Woulfe (op.cit.) says also found later in West Ulster and Offaly.
Mac Conmidhe - anglicised as Conamy and Conway. The root is probably 'cú Midhe' or hound of Meath. Meath or Mídhe was the ancient royal centre of Ireland. This name was found mainly in counties Derry and Tyrone in the 17th century.
Sir William Petty's 1659 'Census' of Ireland is an incomplete survey of Irish families and English colonists, undertaken by Cromwell's Commonwealth. Listed as a 'Principal Irish Name' we find:
Co Clare: Bunratty (barony), Conny & Cunny 13 (families).
Co Cork: Kinalmeaky, Connow 9.
Co Offaly: Ballyaboy, Conway 7; Ballycowan, Conway 5.
Co Kilkenny: Gowran, Convoy & Conway 9; Kells, Conway 7; Kilkenny City & Liberties, Conway 6.
Co Cavan is missing from the 'Census'. None found in Co Roscommon.
Co Sligo; Carbry Barony, Canughan 5.
Cos Galway and Mayo are missing from the 'Census'.
Derry City, Henry Conway esq is a 'titulado' or property owner, probably a British settler.
Tyrone is missing from the 'Census'.
Massareene Barony, Viscount Conway is listed as a property owner in Lisnegarvie parish.
By the time of Griffith's 'Primary Valuation' (1847-64) of Irish households, Conway is found principally in counties Tyrone 184, Mayo 164, Kilkenny 144, Limerick 114, Clare 103, Sligo 96 and Tipperary 88. The Conway spelling was the most numerous form by far with 1594 entries, the nearest variant being McConway with 44.
The birth registration figures for 1890 show most Conways in counties Mayo, Tyrone, Dublin and in Munster generally.
R.E.Matheson's 'Varieties & Synonyms of Surnames...in Ireland' (1901) lists the following 'variants' of Conway, and, unless they were general, the districts where they were recorded: Conaway; Conmee (Magherafelt, Derry); Connaway; Conoo & Cunnoo (Birr, Offaly); McConamy (Cookstown, Tyrone); McConaway; McConomy (Derry; Omagh, Tyrone); McConway (Inishowen, Donegal).
Two Famous Conways:
Kit Conway (1897-1937) born in south west Tipperary, Kit Conway's name is synonymous with heroism, dying in the Battle of Jarama in the Spanish Civil War. His early life was spent working for a local farmer; he was highly motivated to learn, and was largely self educated. He joined the British Army in 1915, despite being a Republican separatist. He soon parted company with them, however, by feigning insanity! He fought in the Tipperary IRA during the War of Independence (1920-21). In the ensuing Civil War (1922) he joined the pro-Treaty Free State Army. He became disillusioned with the brutal conduct of the war by the pro Treaty side and deserted to fight in the last months with his erstwhile comrades on the anti-Treaty side. After helping to rebuild Connolly's Irish Citizen Army in Dublin in the 30s, and joining the Communist Party of Ireland, Conway volunteered to fight with the forces of the Spanish Republic against Franco's rebels in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). He died of wounds received at the Battle of Jarama on 12 February 1937.
William Conway (1913-1977) born in Belfast, became the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland in 1963, and was admitted as a Cardinal in 1965. His father, Patrick Conway (Patrick was a popular name among all Conway tribes) was a house painter in Belfast. He was the 'Cardinal of the Troubles' that erupted in the north after 1969. He went on record to condemn both the British Government's decree of Internment and the Provisional IRA's response. He coined the question 'Who in their sane senses wants to bomb a million Protestants into a united Ireland?' He was particularly indignant regarding the tit for tat killings by both sides' paramilitaries; after the shooting of a UDR soldier by the IRA, he used phrases such as 'cruel murder', 'chill of horror', 'barbaric act'...whose agents had 'lost all sense of the sacredness of life and have thereby become less that human'.
CONWAY of British Origin
Conway is also a British name (early on record in Somerset as de Conweye, 1286) one of a number which are identical to common anglicised Irish names (see below). Such names borne by Britons were present in Ireland in the persons of officials or settlers in especially the 17th century; see the two Conway 'titulados' in Derry city and Co Antrim, above. This Conway family were originally of Bodrhyddan and Prestatin Co Flint, North Wales and may have taken their name from the place Conway/Conwy in North Wales. They held the titles of Baron Conway of Ragley Co Warwick (1624), Viscount Conway of Conway Castle, Carnarvon (1626), Viscount Killultagh of Co Antrim (1626), and Earl of Conway (1629). They also had links with Buckinghamshire and Gloucester. It is their arms illustrated above, 'Sable on a bend, cotised, argent, a rose between two annulets, gules; Crest: a Moor's head' (v. Burke, 'Dormant & Extinct Peerages...' 1883) which are so often seen on websites and in tourist shops in Ireland attached to Gaelic Irish derivations of Conway/O' Conway, which is a complete absurdity.
'Coinmheadh' is from Beauly in Scotland, a Scots Gaelic locative name, which also gave rise to the indigenous Scottish surname Conway; many Scottish Conways, however, would be of Irish immigrant stock.
Appendix of British names which were used as 'models' in the Anglicisation of Irish names.
Boland, Boyle, Brady, Breen, Buckley, Canny, Car(e)y, Conway, Craven, Crowley, Cullen, Curry, Delan(e)y, Farren, Fearon, Foley, Gavin, Geary, Gorman, Hanl(e)y, Healy, Hurl(e)y, Hynes, Kelly, Kenny, Larkin, Loftus, Long, Luc(e)y, Lyons, Mullen, Rea, Reaney, Ring, Sexton, Trac(e)y, Tunney et. al.