The children of Samuel and Agnes McConnell
A family of Queen's College graduates





Other sources

  1. The Parkgate Presbyterians - the First Donegore Story, by Donald Alexander, 2011
  2. Various correspondence with Donald Alexander
  3. 'Sarah Frances McConnell - a pioneering lady', article for the First Donegore magazine by Donald Alexander, 2018

Family trees

McConnell /Gawn family tree
Family trees of the McConnell and Gawn families


Other information

Rachel and Andrew Alexander
Andrew and Rachel (née McConnell) Alexander

Photo: Donald Alexander

Samuel Ridges McConnell
Samuel Ridges McConnell

Photo: Donald Alexander

Annes McConnell
Annes Jane McConnell

Photo: Donald Alexander

Fred Beck on bicycle
Fred Beck on his bicycle

Photo: Donald Alexander

Sarah Frances McConnell
Sarah Frances McConnell

Dresden, 1903

Photo: Donald Alexander

Thomas William McConnell
Thomas William McConnell

Photo: Donald Alexander

Laurel Hill concert

A peep into family life at Laurel Hill is given by the concert programme below featuring two short operettas starring Mr S. (presumably Samuel Ridges) McConnell, Miss (presumably Annes Jane) McConnell, Miss S.F. McConnell and Master Tom McConnell. (Rachel and James had presumably already left home, and Alexander either refused to, or was not allowed to take part.)

Laurel Hill Programme 1
Laurel Hill Programme 2
Concert programme from Laurel Hill (1890s?)

Courtesy of Donald Alexander

Samuel McConnell and family
Samuel McConnell and family in Dunedin, ca. 1875
(back L to R): Samuel Ridges, Samuel, James, Rachel, Agnes
(front L to R): Agnes Margaret (possibly), Annes Jane

Photo courtesy of Donald Alexander

Samuel and Agnes McConnell had nine children, born before, during and after the years they spent in New Zealand (ca. 1865-77). They returned to Antrim to live in Laurel Hill Farm on the Strand Road (near Four Mile Burn where Samuel grew up). Samuel had been financially successful as a carter in New Zealand, and his years at Laurel Hill were probably a kind of gentle early retirement. The family home was a largish farmhouse (now modernised), although according to the present owners, Samuel McConnell didn't do all that much actual farming.

Laurel Hill Farm
Laurel Hill Farm, Strand Road

Photo courtesy of Donald Alexander

Samuel used his comparative wealth to send five of his children, including two daughters, to Queen's College, Belfast (QCB). (It was still relatively rare in the late 19th century for women to attend university.) Tom became a civil servant, James a doctor in London, and Samuel Ridges, Annes Jane and Sara Frances became teachers. Among my ancestors, two other pairs of sisters ran schools: Sarah and Maria McDonald (see the Brothers of Brig. John Pennycuick), and Dora and Lucy Pennycuick (daughters of Col. John Pennycuick).

Donald Alexander and Mark


Donald Alexander and Mark at the Alexander farm at Lower Holestone, 2018


Rachel married local farmer Andrew Alexander in 1893, and they lived first at the farm in Lower Holestone, which had belonged to the Alexander family for generations. Then in 1898 Andrew bought a fine 'planters house' at Four Mile Burn, and they moved there. The Lower Holestone farm, as well as various other small farms, were retained by the family.ii Their grandson, Donald Alexander, still lives at Lower Holestone (see the introductory page on the McConnell family for more information on Donald).


James attended QCB in 1883 and studied medicine, becoming a doctor in London. See page on Dr. James McConnell for details.

Samuel Ridges

Samuel Ridges, whose middle name is that of his paternal grandmother, studied classics at QCB and subsequently became a schoolteacher in Doagh. He did not marry, and after retirement lived with Alexander at Laurel Hill Farm.

Ladies School Antrim
Prospectus of the Ladies' School, Antrim, around 1900

Photo courtesy of Donald Alexander

Annes Jane

Annes Jane attended QCB, graduating in 1895. At around the turn of the century she is listed as the Principal of the Ladies' School in Antrim, with her sister Sarah as Assistant Teacher. She moved on to become Principal of the Ladies' Collegiate School in Bangor, Co. Down, which is now Glenlola, a girls' grammar school.2 Annes married Fred Beck, son of Josiah Beck, a prominent member of the local church community, in 1908 in First Donegore. This was by all accounts quite a big occasion, with a long write-up in a Belfast newspaper.i Annes's eight-year-old niece 'Inez' (Agnes Mary Evangeline, daughter of Dr. James McConnell) was a bridesmaid.

The couple moved to Birmingham, living in Aston Lane, Handsworth, where Fred (a keen cyclist) worked at the Dunlop tyre factory. Their daughter Sarah Agnes ('Nancy') was born in 1912, but sadly Annes Jane died soon afterwards. Nancy came to live with Fred's sisters in Donegore, and went on to study languages at Queen's (following the family tradition as it were). She married James Graham, and died in Parkgate in 1998.i

Sarah Frances

Sarah Frances, like her sister Annes Jane, attended QCB, graduating with first class honours in 1901. She was an assistant teacher at the Ladies' School, Antrim, where her sister was Principal. (From the way the prospectus is written, she probably started there before her graduation.) Soon afterwards she took a teaching post in Dresden, then (as now - again!) a beautiful cultural centre on the river Elbe in Saxony. She lived in Eisenstückstraße 44, in the southern inner suburbs, with the Willrich family, as a dentist's receipt dated 1st May 1902 reveals. (Nowadays 1st May is a public holiday!) She was given a charming set of photographs, dated 1903, as farewell gifts from her pupils, all elegantly-dressed girls in their late teens, whose comfortably-off parents were keen for them to have English lessons from an Irish lady.

S F McConnell banner
Sarah Frances McConnell depicted on a banner. Seated at the centre is Alexander McConnell.

Photo (probably from the mid-1930s) courtesy of Donald Alexander

On her return from Dresden, Sarah joined her sister again to teach at the Ladies' Collegiate School in Bangor, Co. Down, now Glenlola.2 When Annes married and moved to Birmingham in 1908, Sarah became Principal. She died in 1933 in Doagh. Probably soon afterwards she was honoured in the form of a banner of the Orr Owens Memorial LOL 965, an Orange Order masonic lodge to which her brother Alexander belonged (see photo).


Alexander took over the Laurel Hill farm after the death of his father, and lived there, probably as a 'gentleman farmer', until he died in 1955. He was a prominent figure in the local community: a Justice of the Peace, Treasurer and Elder in the First Donegore church, a Mason, member of the local Orange Order, and later honoured with an MBE. After his death the farm was sold to the Mawhinney family, who kindly showed us the house on our visit in 2018.

Thomas William

Thomas William studied classics at QCB and became a civil servant, working as regional controller in the post office. After the First World War (where he coordinated postal services for the British forces in France, attaining the rank of major in the Royal Engineers), he lived in Leeds and also Wales at various times, retiring to Laurel Hill with his brothers. Like his brother Alexander he was a Freemason, in the Grand Lodge of Ireland from 1921. After Alexander's death Thomas lived in a bungalow just below Laurel Hill Farm.ii

Two other children sadly died young, Agnes Margaret as a teenager, Thomasina as a baby.

St Johns Donegore


St John's church, Donegore, 2018
McConnell grave


The McConnell grave, 2018

Samuel, Agnes, Sara Frances, Samuel Ridges, Alexander and Thomas William

Although the family had strong connections to the First Donegore church in Parkgate, this does not have a graveyard, so most of Samuel and Agnes McConnell's family are buried in a family grave at St John's church in Donegore.