Alexander Konnell [later called McConnell/MacDonnell] was born in 1480. At the end of the 15th century, the MacDonnells became the enemies of King James IV of Scotland and Alexander fled to Ireland to stay. He received a pardon from King James V in 1531 and grants of land in Kintyre, but Antrim Ireland was to remain the family's main base in the future. Note: the source for this paragraph is from a booklet on Dunluce Castle written by the Environment and Heritage Service in Northern Ireland. The paragraph about Colla McConnell below is from this same source.
At Glenan in the Tarolf on May 6, 1520, "Alexander Konnel of Dunoveg, with his hand on the pen, promised that he would be to Sir John Campbell of Calder a cuming man and servand hym self and all his branch of the Clan Donyl that he is cuming of."
This is the first record in history we have of the name Konnel, from which the present name McConnell is derived.
For his services Alexander Konnel received a lease for five years of 45 merklands in Isla, 15 merklands of Jura and the Island of Colonsay.
From 1528 to 1531 Alexander was in revolt and fought against the Campbells, but he was pardoned June 7, 1531. To guarantee he would keep the peace, his son James was left with the King as hostage. The young heir of Dunnyveg remained at court several years and by the King's express wishes received a liberal education under Dean Henderson at Holyrood, the effects of which were apparent in after years.
During this interval, the Earl of Argyle accused Alexander Konnell of many disturbances of the peace, which Alexander was able to refute to the satisfaction of the King. the Earl of Argyle was summoned and deprived of his offices which were conferred upon Alexander. From time to time, until his death, Alexander kept up a constant correspondence with the King. He received from his Majesty on more than one occasion presents of bows and arrows, doubtless in order to encourage archery among the Highlanders.
In 1532 Alexander Konnel raised 7,000 men with whom he crossed to Ireland and drove the English from Ulster.
Alexander Konnel married Catherine, daughter of John MacIain of Arnamurchan by whom he had eleven children surnamed McConnell. Prior to this time there was no appearance of a family name as we know it.
The first appearance of the name McConnell we find in the ancient record is on the Justiciary Records of Scotland, where under date of July 23, 1529 we find noted: "The King called upon the Justice-Clerk to receive James MacConnell, the son of Alexander of Dunnyveg, to relax them from our horne."
Since these are the first McConnells to appear in history under that surname, we shall mention them in order.
1. Donald McConnell who according to Irish manuscripts had the surname Malak or Malaicht, that is, cursed. The reason given for this sinister epithet was that he was cursed by his mother before birth, because her husband Alexander Konnell had killed her five brothers in vengeance for the treachery wrought upon his family by her father MacIain of Ardnamurchan. She is reported to have prayed her unborn offspring should never see the light of day and as a result Donald was born blind. For this reason, he was not considered as a successor to his father as Chief of the Clan.
2. James McConnell who succeeded his father and of whom we shall hear further.
3. Angus McConnell who was known as Angus the Haughty. He was slain in a conflict with Shane O'Neil in 1565.
4. Colla McConnell from whom the house of Colonsay is descended. He married Eveleen MacQuillan and lived at Kinbane Castle. He brought Dunluce Castle and the surrounding land into the family through his marriage to Eveleen McQuillan. The MacQuillan family was a powerful family that had controlled the lands north of the Glens of Antrim since some time in the 14th century when they took over the land from the de Mandevilles. In 1551, the tall dark Colla warded off a great English attack on Rathlin Island . He was feared and admired all along the Irish coast for fierce and successful raiding. He fought off another major English attack led by Lord Deputy Sussex in 1556, but suffered wounds from which he died.
5. Somerled McConnell or Sorle McConnell as he signed his name in a submission in 1586, [he is usually referred to as "Sorley Boy McDonnell" in Ireland] from whom the House of Antrim in Ireland is descended. We will have more about him later.
6. Alexander or Alistair Og McConnell as his name is signed to a letter to Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1557. He was killed in battle with Turlough Luinneach O'Neal in 1566.
7. Donald [or Donnell] Gorm McConnell who left a son Donald.
8. Brian Carrach McConnell who was killed in battle in Ireland in 1568.
9. Ranold Og McConnell of whom nothing further is known.
10. Meve McConnell who married Hector Maclean of Coll.
11. Mary McConnell who married Hector Mor Maclean of Duart.
Alexander Konnel of Dunnyveg died at Sterling while on a visit to the King in 1538 and was buried in the High Church of the town. He was succeeded by his son.