William Conolly

(1662—1729) speaker of the Irish House of Commons

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(1662–1729), politician. Extravagant accounts of his rise from humble origins included the claim that he was the son (or grandson) of a Catholic innkeeper in Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal. In fact both he and his father were important enough to be among the Protestants attainted by the patriot parliament for their adherence to William III. However, it is clear that shrewd dealings in the chaotic landmarket created by the Williamite confiscations enabled him vastly to increase his fortune. Up to 1714 he shared the leadership of the Irish Whig Party with Alan Brodrick. Thereafter, with their Tory opponents in eclipse, the two men competed for dominance. Where Brodrick sought to enhance his position by obstruction, and by sporadically espousing what he presented as the Irish interest, Conolly established himself as the reliable servant of successive English ministries, the first clearly identifiable undertaker. Regarded as the richest commoner in Ireland, he built Castletown House. His great-nephew and heir ThomasConnolly (1738–1803), attached to a major English political dynasty by his marriage to a daughter of the duke of Richmond, was MP for Co. Londonderry 1761–1800, and also sat in the British parliament 1759–80. His politics were self-consciously those of an independent country gentleman, willing to support government but also liable to oppose on patriot or popular issues. He favoured the admission of Catholics to parliament and supported the Act of Union.

From The Oxford Companion to Irish History in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: European History.

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