Connellan, Thomas (1856–1917), catholic priest turned protestant evangelist, was eldest son of James Connellan (1814–96), farmer at Geevagh, Sligo, and his wife Honora. After studying at Summerhill College in Sligo (which he greatly disliked) and at Maynooth, he was ordained a priest for the diocese of Elphin on 20 June 1880, serving as a curate in Sligo (1880–83) and Athlone (1883–7). While living at the bishop's palace in Sligo he developed an intense dislike of Bishop Laurence Gillooly (qv) of Elphin; he later accused him of being a covetous autocrat. While preparing a sermon on transubstantiation two years after ordination, Connellan realised he disbelieved the doctrine. By September 1887 he decided he could no longer continue in the priesthood. Wishing to avoid scandal, Connellan went swimming in Lough Ree, leaving his clerical clothes in a boat to make it seem that he had drowned; he swam to a spot where he had concealed lay clothing, and made his escape while local newspapers were mourning his death. He made this swim the centrepiece of his conversion-narrative Hear the other side (1889), presenting it as a rebirth or second baptism. This incident inspired George Moore's (qv) novel The lake (1906).
Connellan went to London in the hope of utilising his classical education to find work. While visiting the British Museum library he met Prebendary H. W. Webb-Peploe, one of the leaders of the evangelical party in the Church of England, and was converted to protestantism. In March 1889 Connellan reappeared in Sligo, where he stayed for some time with his family. On refusal to resume his priestly duties, he was excommunicated by Bishop Gillooly, and his father's refusal to disown him led to local disturbances and attempts to boycott his extended family (some of whom traded as merchants in Mullingar). Connellan's siblings converted to protestantism and left the district, while catholic relatives changed their name to ‘Conlon’. The Roscommon Herald, owned by Jasper Tully (qv), published articles by a local priest accusing Connellan of having left the priesthood to live an immoral life; Connellan replied by publishing Hear the other side, which reprinted his newspaper obituaries as testimonials of good character. (Connellan later claimed that Michael Davitt (qv) intervened to prevent further slanders against him.) In 1894 Margaret Monaghan, a servant of Connellan's parents, accused him of fathering her son (b. March 1891) and sued for maintenance. Connellan claimed the accusation was fabricated by local opponents, and a Dublin court found in his favour.
Connellan established himself in Dublin as a protestant missionary at 51b Dawson St.; from January 1891 he published a monthly paper, The Catholic, staffed by a group of converts, devoted to theological argument, ridiculing catholic beliefs, and publicising catholic scandals at home and abroad in the most outspoken language. ‘The Connellan cesspool’ was widely resented by many catholics as a manifestation of protestant bigotry and proselytism. Connellan also addressed protestant gatherings in Britain and Ireland, sometimes provoking catholic rioters. Like his better-known contemporary Robert Lindsay Crawford (qv), he was associated with the upsurge of British protestant populism in the last years of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, which denounced the alleged Romanising tendencies and general effeteness of the upper echelons of the anglican church and the conservative party.
The Connellan mission was not affiliated to any protestant denomination, but Connellan was granted a preacher's licence in 1897 by Archbishop William Conyngham Plunket (qv) of Dublin, who took a personal interest in missions to catholics. (Conellan's conversion narrative was translated for the Spanish episcopal church, whose first bishop was consecrated by Plunket.) Relations with Plunket's successors were less cordial, owing to Connellan's denunciations of the ritualist minority in the Church of Ireland as crypto-catholics, which helped precipitate riots in some Dublin churches, and his complaints that the TCD divinity school was forsaking evangelical truth for Higher Criticism. In 1907 Connellan handed back his preacher's licence. He published several pamphlets, including Landmarks, Old paths, and An ex-priest to his flock. Scenes from Irish clerical life (1908), a semi-fictionalised account of clerical sexual misbehaviour, was considered prurient even by some supporters.
Connellan never married; a sister acted as his housekeeper. His health declined in his later years; from c.1910 he ceased to address meetings, but edited The Catholic until his death from influenza on 11 January 1917, at Elm Grove, Blackrock, Co. Dublin. His death notice emphasised that he had not reverted to catholicism. He was buried in Mount Jerome cemetery.
The Connellan mission and The Catholic were inherited by his younger brother Joseph (d. 1927), Church of Ireland rector of Newport, Co. Mayo, and survived into the late 1930s under the influence of the Rev. T. C. Hammond, controversialist and leader of the small Church of Ireland faction that favoured evangelisation among catholics. More recently Connellan has been remembered only because of The lake and because Bloom, in Ulysses, passes him in the street and briefly muses on souperism. A small collection of his papers is in the manuscripts department of TCD.