The family of Thomas McConnell





Other sources

  1. The Parkgate Presbyterians - the First Donegore Story, by Donald Alexander, 2011
  2. Various correspondence with Donald Alexander
  3. A history of the the Second Donegore Presbyterian Church, compiled / edited William A. Gawn, 2008

Family trees

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


Other information

Dr Andrew McConnell
Dr. Andrew McConnell, biography

Directory of Belfast doctors

Thomas McConnell of Ballywee
Thomas McConnell of Ballywee

Photo courtesy of Billy Gawn

The family of Thomas McConnell, a farmer in the small townland of Ballywee, County Antrim, was perhaps similar to many Ulster families in the 19th century, in that most family members lived much of their lives in the region of their birth, working as farmers, traders and so on; some sought their fortunes in the colonies; others entered one of the professions. The family is closely linked to the Gawn family of Donegore, with at least two intermarriages within two generations, and to the family of James McConnell of Ballysavage through the marriage of Tom's daughter Agnes to Samuel McConnell. See the map of southern Antrim for most of the locations mentioned here.


Thomas McConnell was born in 1803 in Ballywee, north of Parkgate in Co. Antrim. He worked as a farmer, living in a small house (see photo below) which stood unchanged into the late 20th century. In 1826 he married Agnes ('Nancy') Gawn in the First Donegore Presbyterian Church in Parkgate: she was the eldest daughter of Andrew Gawn, a farmer from nearby Donegore. The story goes that Nancy, a strikingly good-looking girl with red hair, had another suitor, James Ramsey. When she turned him down in favour of Thomas McConnell, James said that if Nancy had a daughter as good-looking as herself, he was prepared to wait. Which is what happened: he and Nancy's eldest daughter Sarah Agnes married in 1827, with 29 years age difference between them.1 Another instance of this 'passing on of suitors' among my ancestors was with Ruth Pennycuick and her two daughters (see the Children of John and Sarah Pennycuick).

Thomas McConnell house
The house in Ballywee where Thomas and Agnes McConnell lived with their large family

With Billy Gawn and Murray Cullen

(The building now no longer exists in this form)

Photo courtesy of Billy Gawn

It is possible that Thomas had a brother: in 1829, Agnes's cousin Mary (born 1803, daughter of James Gawn 1766-1816) married a James McConnell of East Ballywee. This James was probably related to Thomas - Ballywee is a small hamlet - although the name McConnell was then widespread in the area. James and Mary married in 1829 in the Second Donegore Presbyterian Church in Dunamuggy, where a James McConnell is listed as a Session Member for 1848,iii but not much else is known about them. See also the page on the Gawn family.

Thomas and his family were members of the First Donegore Presbyterian Church in Parkgate (see page on Samuel and Agnes McConnell for details). Thomas was an Elder from 1872, and the list of communicants from that year includes Agnes, Thomas, Jane and Isabella McConnell - probably the wife and children of Thomas.i

Tom McConnell died in 1878, his wife Agnes in 1891. Both are buried in the old graveyard in Station Road, Doagh (along with their children Rachel, Margaret and Thomas John). Thomas's will states that he was a farmer from East Ballywee.1 His executors were James McConnell of Ballyharvey (presumably his son James, 1834-1904) and Thomas Gawn (presumably Thomas Gawn 1819-1894, son of Andrew Gawn).


Tom and Nancy had 12 children. Five of these stayed in the County Antrim region; two (Andrew and Isabella) moved to Belfast; the remaining five emigrated to New Zealand.

Dr Andrew McConnell
Dr. Andrew McConnell with daughter Thomasina

Photo: Billy Gawn

Dr Adams Andrew McConnell
Prof. Adams Andrew McConnell

Andrew became a doctor in the Smithfield area of the city (see biography left). He and his wife Margaret had four children, one of whom, Adams Andrew McConnell (1884-1972) became professor of neurosurgery at Trinity College Dublin. He is regarded as the pioneer of neurosurgery in Ireland.2,3,4

Five children of Thomas McConnell emigrated to New Zealand (via Australia) to join the gold rush which started there in the 1860s: they were probably among the first of what is now quite a large diaspora of McConnells in this country.

Martha Ann Gawn
Martha Ann Gawn (née McConnell)
Robert Gawn
Robert Gawn (1836-1917)

Both portraits in the Otago Settlers Museum, used by kind permission

Martha Ann married Robert Gawn (1836-1917), grandson of Robert Gawn (1782-1820). Robert (junior) had emigrated to Victoria in 1857 to work as a carter in the goldfields. Martha Ann joined him in 1860, together with her brother James, and they were married that year in Melbourne. Legend has it that Robert had originally intended to marry Martha Ann's sister Elizabeth Mary, but that when he asked her to join him in Australia, she decided not to go, sending her sister Martha Ann instead.i See the page on the Gawn family for further details about Robert and Martha Ann.

Martha Ann's sister Agnes married Samuel McConnell, a carpenter from Four Mile Burn, in 1862 in Parkgate, and they moved out to New Zealand in about 1865, soon after the birth of their first child. They joined up with Martha Ann and Robert Gawn, establishing a successful carting business in Dunedin before returning to Antrim in 1877. See the page on Samuel and Agnes McConnell for details.

William McConnell NZ
William McConnell in New Zealand, with a son

Photo: Billy Gawn

William McConnell emigrated to New Zealand sometime before 1877 (he was married in New Zealand in that year), eventually settling in Dumbarton Rock, Otago, as a farmer. He and his wife Catherine had six children - see page 115 of The Parkgate Presbyterians for details.i One of William's grandsons was Robert Neill ('Bob') McConnell, who became headmaster of a school in East Cape on North Island, and received the Queen's Service Medal for his work with the Maori people. After William's early death, the children went to live in Taieri close to their aunt Martha Ann.1

Jane McConnell also moved to New Zealand in 1875 with her husband James Allen (they had married in First Donegore the previous year). James became a wagoner in the goldfields.

James McConnell travelled out to Australia in 1860 with Martha Ann and lived there for a time, before returning to Antrim, where he married Jane Ferguson in 1872.