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hen people mention the character James Bond, you tend to imagine the face of the actor you saw play the role when you were growing up. Yet for most people, the James Bond is Sean Connery, who defined the role between1962 and 1971, and reprised the role one last time in 1983 in the aptly titled Never Say Never Again. With his lilting Scottish accent he brought style and sophistication to the role, as well as a large dash of charm. To date, his film career spans nearly half a century, from his acting debut in Lilacs in the Spring in 1955, for which he was uncredited. Yet closer examination of his background makes his rise to the top of the film industry even more remarkable given his somewhat humble origins. And, as one of Scotland's greatest sons, there's a surprise lurking deep within the family tree.
Sean Connery was actually born Thomas Sean Connery in August 1930 at the Royal Maternity Hospital, Edinburgh, the son of rubber worker Joseph Connery and his wife Euphemia. They married two years previously in 1928, three days after Christmas, in Edinburgh, where she earned a living as a laundry worker. Her background is fairly easy to trace. Born Euphemia McBain McLean in 1908, she was the daughter of a railway worker called Neil McLean and his wife Helen Forbes Ross. The McLean line goes back to Pittenweem, the site of a brutal witchcraft trial in the early eighteenth century, on several sides. Neil's parents were John McLean and Euphemia McBain, whose father William was a local fisherman who fell on hard times and died in Pitenweem a pauper in 1875. His wife was Mary Gourlay, born in 1793 and daughter of Thomas Gourlay. With all these names and the strong geographical link to Pittenweem, it would not be that surprising if they had ancestors who were present during the terrible events that unfolded in the village in 1705, when a group of locals were accused of witchcraft by Thomas Morton. The local clergyman, Patrick Cowper, whipped local feelings into a frenzy by preaching against the work of the devil in his sermons. A mob gathered, and one of the accused, Janet Cornfoot, was pursued and imprisoned. Although she escaped, the mob caught up with her, dragged to the seafront, swung her from a rope tied between ships masts, then stoned, beat and crushed her to death under a door piled with rocks. To make sure she was dead, a man drove his horse and cart over her body.
Yet the real revelations in the Connery family tree concern Joseph's parentage, as his birth certificate issued in Glasgow in 1902 reveals that he was technically illegitimate, the son of Thomas Connary, a pedlar, and Jeannie McNab. Furthermore Thomas was illiterate as well, signing the document with his mark, and there are even questions about where he was based at this time, the question about his usual place of residence receiving the enigmatic answer 'inmate'. His failure to write probably led to the his surname being spelled Connary, and Joseph's birth certificate was eventually corrected to Connery in 1967. Certainly he appears to have had a hard life as a general labourer, scrapping a living as best he could. By the time he died 1947, he was described at the widower of Jean Lawson McNab having made an honest woman of her in 1938 at St Patricks Roman Catholic Church. He was 59 and she was 51. Yet the marriage was to last only two years, as she died of cancer in 1940.The marriage certificate begins to fill in some of the blanks about Thomas's life, as there is no sign of his birth certificate, or indeed any credible appearances on census records. Yet it is possible to establish his parentage from the information it contains; Thomas's father is revealed as James Connery, a general labourer who had previously married Elizabeth McPhillips. James died of bronchitis in 1914 on 16th July, just a few weeks before the outbreak of the First World War, his wife having pre-deceased him seven years earlier. Yet James Connery holds a secret, namely that he was an Irish tinker from Wexford, who had come to Scotland to find work. It may seem a fairly tenuous link, given the other branches of Sean Connery's family tree that are firmly rooted in Scottish soil, but nevertheless there is no doubt that the surname originates from across the water in Ireland. Yet for those concerned that Scotland's finest is about to be claimed as an exile from the Emerald Isle, it is clear that the Irish influence is very remote indeed. If you needed any evidence, it is comforting to note that Sean Connery's performance as Jim Malone in the 1987 film The Untouchables alongside Kevin Costner was rated the 'worst ever' attempt at an Irish accent in 2003 by Empire Magazine, who described it as the least credible in film history.