From 1888 to 2016 on PEI, the Owen Connolly Estate has funded approximately $3 million to help thousands of Island students of Irish Catholic heritage gain a higher education, and achieve career success. A new book, Owen Connolly: The Making of a Legacy 1820-2016, by historian Leonard Cusack, is the remarkable rags-to-riches story of the man who created this legacy, and the people who protected it.
Owen Connolly is best recognized today as the man whose bust sits atop the Churchill Arms building on Queen Street in Charlottetown. But in 1839 he was a young immigrant lad escaping poverty and repression in his homeland of Ireland when he first stepped onto the docks in Charlottetown, PEI. Over the next forty years he rose from being a dirt-poor farmer in Watervale to one of the wealthiest man on Prince Edward Island.
His story unfolds against the backdrop of 19th century boom times. By 1852, Connolly had set up a store in Charlottetown and within a few years was wholesaling goods to other merchants. He expanded into importing and exporting, banking, real estate; set up branch stores in Souris, Cardigan, and Montague; and became one of Charlottetown’s most prominent citizens.
Owen Connolly was a special kind of entrepreneur; with little formal education, he could write well and was good with numbers. When he died in 1887, he left almost all of his fortune to provide bursaries to poor Irish Catholic students from PEI. Many of those students studied at St. Dunstan’s, or more recently, at UPEI. Seven of them are profiled in a color section of this new book: Regis Duffy, Father Art O’Shea, Albert Fogarty, Joe McGuire, Danny Murphy, Ron Keefe, and Randi Doyle.
The management of Connolly’s estate is also an amazing story. Its many trustees, including many prominent figures in the Roman Catholic church, have steered the estate through some tumultuous times and continue to operate it on a sound financial basis: its value today is in the millions.
Leonard Cusack’s narrative is both a skilfully woven biography of Owen Connolly and a history of his legacy of education on Prince Edward Island. This new book is co-published by Island Studies Press at UPEI and the Connolly Estate, and is available in both soft and hard cover editions at Island bookstores, including UPEI bookstore.
The launch is on Thursday, November 30, at 7:00 pm at the PEI Brewing Company in Charlottetown. The event will feature the Irish group, Omos.