Conolly, Violet (1899–1988), authority on Soviet Russia and traveller, was born 11 May 1899 at Fernville, Glasnevin, Co. Dublin, the eldest of six children, five daughters and one son, of Thomas Conolly, a master builder, and his wife, Teresa (née McQuaid), of Stormanstown, Co. Dublin. Educated at the Holy Faith convent, Glasnevin, and the Loreto abbey, Rathfarnham, she went on to study at UCD. After graduating BA in 1921, she moved to London, where she taught during the day, and learnt Russian and Italian at night at London University. She later travelled to Spain, where she worked as a governess, and then to Germany. Between 1925 and 1930 she worked for the League of Nations in Paris, and for the next two years, through her work for the Institute of Current Affairs, she was based in Harvard and Geneva. In Geneva she also attended the Institut Universitaire des Hautes Études Internationales. In 1932 she began work as a researcher, under Professor Arnold Toynbee, for the Royal Institute for International Affairs at Chatham House in London. Having received a two-year Rockefeller scholarship, she studied Persian at Berlin University, and later made a tour of the Middle East.
After a period living in the Soviet Union, where she studied economics, she returned to Chatham House in 1938 and the same year spoke on ‘the foreign situation’ on Radio Éireann. She was then appointed to the Foreign Office in London, and her work there during the second world war led her to specialise in Soviet affairs. After the war she became head of the Soviet (Russian) section of the research department at the Foreign Office; she held this post until her retirement in 1965. In 1946–7 she worked as economic attaché to the British embassy in Moscow, and returned for a second posting in 1952–3.
After her retirement in the mid-1960s, she continued her research in economic matters, and was often consulted by the Foreign Office on affairs relating to Soviet policy. Her publications, many of them standard texts, include Soviet economic policy in the East: Turkey, Persia, Afghanistan, Mongolia and Tana Tuva, Sin Kiang, which was published in 1933. She was encouraged to write a further volume, and her Soviet trade from the Pacific to the Levant came out in 1935. It was enthusiastically reviewed in The Times as the fruit of her extensive research and travel in the East, but she was more pointed in describing her methodology. Combing Soviet files and cross-checking the planned with the published statistics, she closely monitored the Soviet press ‘for the disclosures of the special correspondent who almost invariably let the cat out of the bag of fiction’ (The Times, 30 July 1935, 8). Further works include Soviet tempo, a journal of travel in Russia (1937), Beyond the Urals (1967), and Russia enters the twentieth century 1894–1917 (1971), which discussed the nationalities question in the last days of tsardom. A leading specialist praised her exploitation of Soviet regional papers and periodicals and ‘perceptive sifting of Soviet data’ (Shabad, 346). Her Siberia, today and tomorrow (1975) confirmed her status as an authority on Siberian issues, and in 1982 she was one of twelve renowned scholars invited to the founding conference of the British Universities Siberian Studies Seminar at the University of Lancaster. In 1936 she received an honorary D.Econ.Sc. from the NUI, and in 1968 she was awarded the Percy Sytes memorial medal from the Royal Central Asian Society, of which she was a member.
She travelled extensively throughout the world, and shortly before her death she was planning a trip to the Andes. Although she was based for many years in London, she maintained her connections with Ireland, through regular family visits. Her brother Thomas Conolly (qv), SC, was an expert in Irish constitutional law; her sister Anne was married to Patrick McGilligan (qv), government minister, and her sister Lillian married William Fay (qv), diplomat. She died 11 January 1988 in London.