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Issue 36 - Sean Connery

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 36
December 2007

 

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Sean Connery

Sean Connery is one of the world's best loved stars, and as Dominic Roskrow reports, his is a true rags to riches story.

The moment Sean Connery joined the band of true screen legends came in the last frames of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. In one of Hollywood’s best cameos he stole the film in a 90 second appearance as King Richard The Lionheart, one of England’s greatest kings.

Connery wore the part of king with aplomb, and if you think the former James Bond handled gritty and rough parts just as well and did an outstanding job as an Irish policeman in another Costner-Connery collaboration, The Untouchables, then it’s not really surprising. For he is the product of a mixed background that covers Lowlands, Highlands and islands and Ireland itself.

He was born Thomas Connery on 25th August 1930 in Edinburgh. His parents, Joseph Connery and Euphemia McLean, lived in Fountainbridge, an area at that time dominated by breweries and rubber works.

Joseph Connery himself worked in the rubber works and his wife, whom he had married at Tynecastle, had been employed in a laundry.

Nothing in this background suggested that the son would have an illustrative career that would take him from milkman with St.

Cuthbert’s Co-operative Society to starring in countless Hollywood blockbusters and being knighted by the Queen.

The Connery family was of Irish origin.

Joseph Connery was the illegitimate son of a pedlar, Thomas, of whom little is known.

This earlier Thomas was neither born nor married in Scotland, although on his death in Edinburgh in 1949 he was described as having been the 70 year old widower of Jean McNab, Joseph’s mother.

It is not known when the Connery (also known at times as Connary) family settled in Edinburgh but they are not recorded there in any Scottish census in 1881 although a daughter, Elizabeth, had been born in Glasgow in 1870.

Sean Connery’s paternal grandmother, Jean McNab, was also born out of wedlock, in 1878, her parents being John McNab (a letterpress printer’s engine keeper) and his housekeeper, Jeanie Allison. It was not until after John and Jeanie married in 1891 that young Jean’s birth was registered, showing that it was still possible at that time to slip through the official net.

John McNab was an elderly dad. He had been born on New Year’s day in 1819 and was thus 59 years of age when his daughter was born; he had however been previously married and had offspring from that marriage. He died in 1896 from septicaemia, the result of a lacerated hand wound that he would probably have survived today.

Although McNab is a Highland name, John too had been born in Glasgow and George, his father, was also born in Lanarkshire, around 1790.

On the distaff side, Sean Connery’s mother, Euphemia McLean was of solidly Scottish stock. Although her father, Neil, was Edinburgh born, he worked as a platelayer on the railways in the Fife town of Dysart, where he married Helen Ross in 1908.

Here the Highland ancestry becomes apparent as Neil’s father, John, was a Skye man, born in Uig. His progress from Skye can be charted as he was a 30 year old merchant seaman at the time of his marriage in Leith in 1866, a labourer in Edinburgh when Neil was born in 1878, and a foreman labourer on the railways in 1891.

John was a Gaelic speaker but curiously, his wife, Euphemia McBain, although from the Fife fishing town of Pittenweem, was also bilingual in Gaelic and English. Perhaps her Gaelic came from earlier generations who had followed the traditional Highland pattern of coming south in search of work and who had kept their native language alive within their family, or she could even have been taught it by her husband, a native speaker. At any rate, the McBain family were well established in Fife, Euphemia’s father having been born in Ceres shortly before the end of the 18th century, as had her mother, Mary Gourlay.

The final strand in this varying tapestry is also of northern Scottish origin. Sean Connery’s maternal grandmother, Helen Ross, was a Perthshire lass, born at Grandtully in the parish of Aberfeldy in 1884.

Her father, John Ross, was a ploughman who had also forsaken his roots and come south from Banffshire and who married in Glasgow in 1883.

It is often said that current immigration trends will have a seriously diluting effect on the Scottish stock, but as can be seen in the ancestry of Sean Connery, Scotland has always had a good mix of bloodlines.