O'Connally, Owen, (O'Connolly, Connolly) (d. 1649), plot discloser and parliamentarian army officer, was born into a Gaelic Irish family, probably in Co. Monaghan. He converted to protestantism in the household of the English planter Sir Hugh Clotworthy (d. 1630), and served both Sir Hugh and his son Sir John Clotworthy (qv) at their family seat at Antrim Castle. The nature of O'Connally's protestantism and his relationship with Sir John Clotworthy are difficult to determine. In a pamphlet written in 1713, John McBride, presbyterian minister of Belfast and successor to Patrick Adair (qv), referred to O'Connally as having been a ruling elder and member of an unnamed presbyterian congregation (probably Antrim or Belfast).
By October 1641 O'Connally was living in Moneymore, Co. Antrim, some twenty-three miles from Antrim Castle. He had set up for himself, but continued to enjoy the trust and patronage of Clotworthy. He married, at a date unknown, an Englishwoman with whom he had two children. His son Arthur was described by Patrick Adair as being a 'very idiot unto the greatest height', an implication perhaps of a mental disability. O'Connally's daughter Martha married Hugh Rowley, whose mother Lettice was Sir John Clotworthy's sister. Adair described Martha Rowley as 'more than half a fool, and a burden to her husband for many years, and without posterity' (Adair, True narrative, 176–7).
Prior to October 1641 the only certain reference to O'Connally was his part in enlisting, on Sir John Clotworthy's behalf, popular support in Ulster for a petition of grievances from local inhabitants about the Church of Ireland hierarchy. This petition bemoaned clerical involvement in temporal and judicial offices, the proliferation of arbitrary fines and fees, silencing of nonconformist ministers like Robert Blair (qv), John Ridge (qv) and John Livingston (qv), and the imposition of the anti-covenanting 'black oath' upon Scottish inhabitants. Clotworthy subsequently introduced this petition to the English house of commons in June 1641.
O'Connally is remembered for his part in betraying the confidence of his foster brother Hugh Óg MacMahon (qv), who conspired in the plot to capture Dublin Castle bloodlessly on 22 October 1641. This tale is a well-known mix of tragedy and farce, where a carousing band of catholic plotters and a presbyterian convert in their midst drunkenly discuss plans for the coup in a tavern on Wine Tavern Street only for the perfidious O'Connally to stumble out of their company under the influence of alcohol and to the home at Merchant's Quay of Sir William Parsons (qv), one of the lords justices. According to this popularised version of events, Parsons was reluctant at first to give much credit to O'Connally's information, but after sending him back to retrieve further intelligence and calling the rest of the Irish council to a hastily convened meeting, he gave orders for the castle guard to be strengthened. This led to the capture of the main conspirators, including MacMahon and Conor Maguire (qv), 2nd baron Maguire of Enniskillen.
This mythologised account of O'Connally's role presents analytical problems, as certain strands, such as Sir William Parsons sending O'Connally back to MacMahon to uncover further information after his initial escape, or O'Connally and the conspirators being inebriated, owe much to printed propaganda in the burgeoning English press of the early 1640s, as well as the later histories of Sir John Temple (qv) (1600–77) and Edmund Borlase (qv). Such details are not included in the report of the lords justices and Irish council to the lord lieutenant of 25 October 1641, or in several accounts that O'Connally provided to the council and English house of commons. With such confusing and often conflicting accounts of what actually occurred, some historians have questioned whether O'Connally may have been more involved in the plot than he cared to admit, or that he concocted his entire recollection to explain his knowledge of the failed coup.
The English house of commons had no such reservations and gratefully awarded O'Connally a £500 reward and a £200 annual pension, and recommended him to the earl of Leicester, lord lieutenant of Ireland, for a military commission to command a troop of dragoons. Thereafter he continued in military service in Sir John Clotworthy's regiment, and was also employed as a messenger on parliament's behalf, which further emphasised their trust in his fidelity. In early December 1643 he carried the Solemn League and Covenant to Ulster in an effort to persuade the British regiments in the eastern and western reaches of the province to subscribe to it, much to the suspicion and chagrin of many British officers who professed loyalty to the 1st marquess of Ormond (qv), royalist lord lieutenant, rather than the English parliament.
For his continued efforts in preserving the English status quo in the province, parliament granted O'Connally a commission as lieutenant colonel and command of Clotworthy's regiment on 12 February 1646. After the crushing defeat of Robert Monro (qv) and the covenanting army at Benburb at the hands of Owen Roe O'Neill (qv) on 5 June 1646, parliament sought to force the covenanters to surrender Belfast into parliamentary control. Because of continued enmity between the covenanters and their parliamentary paymasters this took quite some time. To encourage the handover of the town, the parliamentary commissioners in Ulster, Sir John Clotworthy, Sir Robert King (qv) and Sir Robert Meredith (d. 1668), sent O'Connally to Edinburgh on 5 December 1646 to carry a message to this effect directly to the earl of Argyll and Archibald Johnston of Wariston.
In March and April 1647, while Clotworthy, Sir William Waller and Richard Salwey toiled to persuade the New Model Army to subscribe to Irish service, O'Connally diligently raised a regiment of foot, alongside Col. William Herbert, Col. James Grey and Lt.-Col. Nicholas Kempson, destined for Irish service. When parliament disbanded these units on 21 July due to the army's unwillingness to serve in Ireland until their grievances had been redressed, O'Connally returned to Ulster where he again excelled in parliamentary service commanding Clotworthy's regiment throughout 1648.
Parliament's fear of the spread to Ulster of the Engagement, an alliance of royalists and the increasingly moderate Scottish estates dominated by the duke of Hamilton and his allies, forced the Derby House committee for Irish affairs, who organised the parliamentary war effort in Ireland, to act against the Engagers in Ulster. The committee ordered General George Monck (qv), parliamentary commander in eastern Ulster, to put Belfast under English control by whatever means necessary. O'Connally, alongside two Scottish officers, Sir Robert Adair and Captain Bryce Cochrane, constructed an elaborate scheme to force the remnants of the covenanting army out of all their garrisons in Ulster, starting at Carrickfergus. On 13 September 1648, Cochrane, captain of the night watch, opened the north gate to the waiting forces under Monck, and they quickly overran the garrison without a fight. They captured Robert Monro in his bed and sent him as a prisoner to the Tower of London where he spent the rest of the war. In quick succession the covenanting garrisons at Belfast and Coleraine capitulated to Monck, and eastern Ulster came under near total English dominance.
O'Connally was the subject of an investigation by Monck and Sir Charles Coote (qv) for killing the brother of Col. John Hamilton, a covenanting officer, in a duel. Although the full details of their investigation (which took place from November 1648 to April 1649) do not survive, O'Connally remained highly regarded at Westminster for his military record, devotion to protestantism, and loyalty to parliament. In the aftermath of the investigation, on 11 April 1649 parliament rewarded him with a £200 per annum pension and full payment of his arrears. On 23 July 1649 he received a further £100 for his service. No less a person than Oliver Cromwell (qv) wrote to the council of state in August 1649 to voice his support for O'Connally and the role he could play during the reconquest of Ireland. By the time Cromwell landed in Ireland in September 1649, O'Connally commanded the parliamentary garrison at Antrim Castle where he had once faithfully served the Clotworthys, while his former master found himself incarcerated in various English gaols since Pride's purge in December 1648.
Upon intelligence that Col. Hamilton and his force had been ordered by George Monro to retake Antrim, O'Connally met Hamilton in battle at Dunadry and was taken prisoner. After O'Connally attempted to make a daring escape, Hamilton killed him, slung his corpse over the back of his horse and carried him to Antrim where he was eventually buried. The account of the anonymous officer of Sir John Clotworthy's regiment summed up his eventful career in a dismissive couplet: 'the man was as stoute as could be desired, but of no more conduct than a man hot ire'd' (Hogan, History of the warr, 92–4).