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!

Plus Member Comments

Only Plus Members can comment - Join Now

If you already have an account sign in here.