Scottish Surnames and The Mull of Kintyre

We get a lot of questions about the common ground between Irish and Scottish surnames. Have you ever heard the "Mull of Kintyre" from Paul McCartney and Wings? Well, settle back, and let's look at one of our reader's questions about his Scottish surname - or is it an Irish surname?

Now Reading:

Scottish Surnames and The Mull of Kintyre

We returned last night from a trip to Dublin. We had an important job to do (more on that later in the letter), but we did get some time to catch up with friends and family. On Friday evening we were all kicking back in front of the fire and the telly—as you do—and on came “the Christmas number ones of years gone by”.

Great stuff. Before we know it, we’re all singing along to the 1977 Christmas Number One, “Mull of Kintyre” by Paul McCartney and Wings. Do you know it? Great—all together now:

Mull of Kintyre, oh mist rolling in from the sea my desire…

Mulling Over The Surname MacCartney.

Coincidences do happen. Earlier that day, I got a question from one of our readers, Kenneth. He asked:

Hi, trying to find some relatives in Northern Ireland. The McCartney family settled in Ireland from Scotland in 1621. Theophilus McCartney immigrated to Canada in the 1871. What tribe would we be with?

Before we give Kenneth his specific answer, it’s worth opening this up a little. A lot of questions come my way about the movements between Ireland and Scotland over the centuries. The Mull of the Kintyre (more or less meaning the “baldy headland” in Gaelic) peninsula is in Argyll in Western Scotland. You can see the coastline of Antrim clearly from there. Kintyre is thought to have been the crossing point for the earliest humans on their travels to Ireland about 10,000 years ago. About 1,600 years ago it was used as a route by the people the Romans called the Scotti (the Roman name for the branch of the Irish, who in turn gave Scotland its name). They spread from Ireland to establish the kingdom of Dál Riata between the north-east of Ulster and Argyll in Scotland.

Is this an Irish or Scottish "Mull"?

Is this an Irish or Scottish “Mull”?

So, Kintyre has seen a lot of coming and going over the years between Ireland and Scotland. This bouncing back and forward over the centuries between Ireland and Scotland has provoked many of our readers to ask “Is my surname Irish or Scottish?”

Back to the surname McCartney and Kenneth’s question. My straight answer is that I don’t know for sure! The internet and many books are full of stories that people present as facts—and insist on them being correct. I think it is more useful to have an open mind and be prepared to entertain a number of possibilities.

Let me give you a couple of these possibilities and you can decide which works best for you! One of the stories you will hear about the surname McCartney is that:

The McCartneys are a branch of the great family of McCarthys in Munster in the south of Ireland. The fifth son of Cormac Fionn McCarthy was Donogh Cartnach who is the ancestor of the McCartneys. Donough Cartnach left 2 sons, the eldest Donal served under Robert the Bruce of Scotland and received a grant of land in Argylleshire, called ‘Glen Artney’ from the King of Scotland in the 1200’s. Some of Donal’s descendants later moved to Galloway. From there George Macartney emigrated to Ulster from Scotland in the 1600’s. He is the original ancestor of many of the families of Macartney in Ulster and Ireland. He bought the property of Lissanoure in 1649 near Cloughmills Co. Antrim. (Source—Wikipedia).

Now, wouldn’t that be a nice story to believe! On the other hand:

McCartney is cognate with the Irish surname McCartan. McCartan is derived from Mac Artáin, which denotes the son of Artán (Artan is a diminutive version of the surname Art)—and was the surname was taken by chiefs of Kinelarty in County Down. The McCartans belong to the Uí Echach Cobo branch of the Dál nAraidi dynasty of the Cruthin. (Source—Wikipedia).

This suggests that a branch of the McCartans moved to Scotland at some time OR share a common ancestor with the McCartneys. Now, I know I’m being a bit of a devil by suggesting that the source for both of these is Wikipedia, but you do need to be careful of what you read about Irish family histories on the internet, especially on Wikipedia!

So, back to Kenneth’s question: Which tribe do the McCartneys belong to?

Well, they could have been originally “Eoghanacht” (McCarthys of Munster) OR the Dal nAraidi (which ironically were a Cruthin tribe who originally came from the east coast of Scotland!). Of course, when they travelled to Scotland they became part of the Clan Mackintosh. Gets complicated, doesn’t it! In the absence of facts and records, we tend to believe what we want to believe. Reminds me of that old newspaper saying: “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story”. On the other hand, maybe we should write to Paul McCartney and ask him what he has found out.

Maybe he could even write a song about it for us!

  • Barbara Jersey says:

    My mother’s family came from Scotland around 1780ish. We can only trace them back to that point in the U.S. Her surname is Kirk. I cannot even find a clan with the name. Is there any way to find out where they came from or what clan they belonged to? Would appreciate any help. Thank you. Barb Jersey

  • Len McCartney says:

    Fun stuff! And carefully done, kudos! As a McCartney, I’ve spent a few years barking up the family tree; I am not much closer than what you’ve stated here. I have come to believe many of today’s surnames actually include ancestors of differing origins that have been converged under a single name due to similar sound mispronounced or misspelled for a variety of reasons. What is safe to say is the form of the name McCartney/Macartney is from Galloway at least by the late 1500s. A pardon issued to John Maxwell, 8th Lord Maxwell by King James of Scotland in 1585 has an attached list presumed to be Maxwell’s tenants, servants, etc. which includes eleven adult male “Makartnays”. The pardon was King James’ attempt to end the Maxwell-Johnstone feud which had disrupted the West March for years. For what it’s worth, DNA testing indicates at least some McCartneys have distant relatives among the Kerrs, Bells, Johnstones, and Dixons, all Border families.

    Len McC

    • Mike says:

      Glad you enjoyed it Len – interesting about the border families. Many of them ended up in County Fermanagh in the early settlements. Mike.

  • Len McCartney says:

    After I hit “post” I realized I hadn’t been much help to Ken. Assuming he’s a McCartney, we could be distant cousins. I am remiss. There is a parallel story to the McCarthy Mor one that has historical support. George McCartney of Auchenlech’s grandmother was a McCulloch, of the Myretoun McCullochs… and they were actually descended from an Irish O’Neill. Cullagh O’Neill was Edward Brus’ Captain of Horse during Edward’s ill fated attempt to become King of Ireland. Cullagh retrieved Edward’s sword, returned it to King Robert and was rewarded with lands in Galloway among other things. Circa 1317. Upon his death, his son, following Irish tradition, took the name McCullagh. (sp. is always optional) Which tale is closest to a root source?
    Keeping in mind any evidence before 1300 CE is both vague and questionable, the most likely point of origin for the core name was “Tir Mhic Carthainn”, part of which is now Tirkeeran in Londonderry. If I may, here is a source for much of interest to Kenneth, website of Edward Cartin : He might also google Alan Milliken, who has posted many Milliken records @ 10% of which mention a McCartney variant.
    The myth is the Mhic Cairthuinns are descended from Colla Uais of the Three Collas. Some are, some aren’t, but they are all Mhic Cairthuinns and most have a Scottish connection back to 326 CE when the Three Collas were exiled to Alba with three hundred followers and returned with three times nine . (I can’t help wondering about all the ‘threes’)
    People love their myths! Jim Bowie and the Bowie knife: half the Scots immigrants to the US in those times carried a “whinger”.
    [Ivanhoe: Sir Walter Scott “Fye on you, why do you not strike your whingers into me, or blow me up with a barrel of powder, rather than torture me thus unmercifully?”]

    • Mike says:

      Thanks for sharing that detail Len – very interesting – and thanks for the further reference, Mike.

  • Anita Cooper says:

    I am looking for the name Kennedy, surname was it Scotch or Irish> I believe there orginated from Scotland to Ireland at the time of Robert the Bruce rein.

  • I got a little tidbit from about my father’s name Morgan being morphed from Morcant and could be Welch, irish and scottish. Can you sort this out. My mother’s Is Foley and slatterly and Lobes with is German. They settled in Chicago and Rochester,NY. The lobes disowned my great grandmother because she married a Foley. The Foley family arrived during 1886-to 87.

  • Mary McCulley says:

    Hello! My last name is McCulley and I have always been told we were irish, That said, my grandfather said we are Scottish or Scotch -Irish and I am curious as to if we are both or truly one or the other? I’m afraid I don’t have much more information other than my paternal grandfather says his mother was a Clifford from Belfast. Thank you for any information on the name it is much appreciated.

  • Erlene Watts says:

    Thank you. And I loved the pictures. I am thinking seriously about a trip to Ireland in October with a tour group. My husband’s family-“Conley/Conolly- were supposed to have come from Armagh, Ireland. Common first names are Henry and David. I haven’t been able to connect any of my line for sure with Ireland yet although my DNA indicates Irish roots. Names Owens, Teague and McGee may be possibilities. Thanks again.

  • Marge says:

    My Duffy ancestor might have been from Donegal. There’s a Scots clan that comes from Colonsay. Maybe his ancestors were from there. This is the part that’s hard…not being certain where he’s from in Ireland. Utilizing the naming traditions of both Ireland and Scotland, he could come from a different part of Ireland where I found a family that has the names of my William’s family.

  • Ellyn says:

    Wonderful article MIke. I am anxious for some free time to research the Espy name some more and I guess I have to dig a lot deeper to find the Scot who originally came to Ireland!

  • Catherine Brown Heiby says:

    My ancestor Rosso Bell came from Ireland but I dont know where in Ireland he came from. I was told by someone in my father’s family that the Bells actually originated in Scotland. I dont know where he lived in the USA but I know he was born in Ireland but dont know where. He was married to Martha but that’s all I know about her, her first name. I need help?

    Rosso Bell was born circa 1820 in Ireland, he married Martha. He and Martha had a son Thomas Bell who was born 1846 in Wisconsin. Thomas married Eliza Jane Achen 15 February 1873 and he died in Lake County, IL.

    I would appreciate anything anyone has to offer.

  • Judy Massey says:

    So interesting. My Murphy family is very difficult to trace but I enjoy hearing about other Scottish surnames.
    Judy from Canada

  • rick mccartney says:

    Thank you for the information on McCartney’s – searching for ancestors