Tuesday, December 15, 2015

An Irish Christmas Present, Finding the McCains

Mongavlin Castle, Donegal, Ireland
A wonderful read that covers 40 years of travel in Ireland; it includes stories and insights into the relationship between Diaspora and Homeland and reconnecting with one’s cultural roots; it tells the history of Highland Gaels and their migration to Ireland in the 1500s; it is mystery story solved using Y chromosome DNA testing and an excellent guide for families on how DNA testing to locate their family in Ireland and Scotland and uncover their real history.   Available on Amazon in time for Christmas:  Finding the McCains, a Scots Irish Odyssey
McKane's Corner, Stranorlar, Co. Donegal
Ivar Canning & Donovan McCain at the Auglish Standing Stones, Co. Derry

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Irish & Scots Female Ancestor Names in Primary Sources

As you progress with your genetic genealogy research you will eventually reach a point where records were not written in modern English.   The records are in Gaelic or written is an English dialect, such as Lallans, with the surname rendered into phonetic Gaelic.

With men’s names this does not present too much difficulty if you are familiar with their Gaelic forms, but, do not overlook the possibility of locating a female ancestor from this time period.  Most records and pre 1600 genealogies tend to feature only male names.  However, in some cases the name of a female ancestor will appear, but you will need to know how to recognize the surname when you see it.

Finding the name of a male ancestor is fairly straight forward.  It will appear in some anglicized or phonetic spelling of the original Gaelic surnames.  Most people are familiar with male surnames in Gaelic; Ó means “descendant of” and Mac means “son of.”   Mag is an alternative spelling of Mac and was sometimes used when the name that follows it began with a vowel.  The ladies used a similar system. Girls and unmarried women with surnames that began with Ó would have before their surname.  Girls and unmarried women whose family surname began with Mac would use Nic.

Married women would take their husbands names, but the prefix form was different than the male form.  Ó became and Mac became Mhic.  This name change did not always hide the surname of the woman’s father however.  In traditional Gaelic society some women were known by their maiden names due to the strong sense of family and clan affiliation.

Two examples from the mid to late 1500s:  Fionnuala Nic Eáin married Dónaill Mac Ailín.  Her “married name” becomes Fionnuala Mhic Ailín.  In actuality, she retained her maiden name in the community and is listed by that name in the records.  Her name appears crudely anglicised as Finvall Nikean.  Here is an entry from the Argyll records where she appears:
…In the same year (1572) Finvall Nikean, the wife of Donald M'Alane V'Donile of Dunnad, resigned to James Scrymgeoure of Dudhope constable of Dundee the twenty shillinglands of Carnyame, the said Donald warranting the constable free of all harm in respect of the lands from the heirs of the deceased Lauchlane M'Donald V'Alane.

This data allowed me to place Fionnuala Nic Eáin to the House of Dónaill Mac Ailín’s cousin.

          The next example is Aifric Nic Dhonnachaidh Rua the wife of Malcolm Scrymgeour.  Again, this Gaelic woman does not use her husband’s surname, but rather a name that identifies her clan.  In this case she is linked to the family of Donnchadh Rua Mac Ailín of Dunemuck, a thane in Glassary and who held his lands through Clann Lachlainn.  In the actual record her name is recorded as “Effreta nein Donche roy.”

 When you get on the trail of your ancestors pre 1600 be aware of both male and female forms of your surname.  You might make a great find, I have done it several times now.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Scots-Irish: Scots Irish Surnames

The Scots-Irish: Scots Irish Surnames: Below is a list of families participating in the Scots-Irish DNA Project as of November 2015.  There are now over 900 participating familie...

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Scots-Irish: William McIntosh Jr 1778-1825

The Scots-Irish: William McIntosh Jr 1778-1825: McIntosh and Menawa Real history is always more complex and multilayered than the history told by the modern media and even in most basic ...

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Iníon Dubh

Iníon Dubh (said, Nee-an doo) is one of the most remembered and beloved heroines in Irish history.  Iníon Dubh was her pet name which means 'black haired daughter.'   Her real name was Fionnuala Ní Dhónaill née Nic Dhónaill.

Iníon Dubh was a pivotal figure in the history of Ireland.  She was the catalyst of a migration of Highland Scots, called Redshanks, into west Ulster.  This migration began in the late 1560s and continued on into the early 1600s.  Most of these Redshanks were from mid Argyll and Lennox.   

She was a Gaelic aristocrat, the daughter of the Taoiseach (chief) of clann Dhónaill, Seamus Mac Dónaill, and Anna Chaimbeul, the daughter of the third Earl of Argyll, head of clann Chaimbeul. 

She was a woman of considerable skills and talents.   She was born on Islay and spent much of her early life in the Scottish Court in Edinburgh. She was multi lingual, speaking her native Gaelic, Latin, and English.   She left the Scottish court just prior to the fall of Mary Queen of Scots.  This move very probably suggested by her very powerful cousin, Giolla Easpuig Donn Caimbeul, the Taoiseach of Clann Chaimbeul and the fifth Earl of Argyll.  

Due to a complex series of events and a course of action initiated by her cousin Lord Argyll, she married Aodh Mac Manus Ó Dónaill in the summer of 1569.   She moved to the Laggan district of Donegal with some 1,000 Redshanks recruited from clans Caimbeul and Mac Dónaill.  Over the next thirty years more Highland Scots, called Redshanks, migrated to east Donegal, brought there by Iníon Dubh and later her son, Aodh Rua Ó Dónaill, as part of an Ó Dónaill military build-up to counter both Clann Uí Neill and later the English.

the ruins of Iníon Dubh's Mongavlin Castle today

With her husband's health failing, she became the de facto taoiseach of Clann Uí Dhónaill by the mid 1580s.  She was by this time also the most powerful person in west Ulster, because she commanded her own army of very devoted Redshanks. 

Iníon Dubh was the mother of Aodh Rua Ó Dónaill who led his west Ulster army to many victories against the English in the Nine Years War (1594-1603).  During the time when her son Aodh Rua was imprisoned in Dublin, she was threatened, by the English and rival claims to the headship of the Ó Dónaill clan.  Iníon Dubh used her Redshank and Ó Dónaill followers expertly and successful thwarted all attempts to oust her.  She even personally lead her army of Redshanks to victory at the battle of Derrylaghan in 1590.  

She lived at Mongavlin just south of St Johnston, in east Donegal.  The remains of her castle are still standing.  Her legacy still lives in Donegal in the many families there that are of Redshank origin.

I had studied her life and times when working on my history degree.  I found her one to be one of the most remarkable figures in both Irish and Scottish history.  Years later, I discovered my own family was connected to her.  My family, the McCains, i.e. the Mac Eáin family of Dunamuck, Glassary, in mid Argyll, were one of the Redshank families that migrated with her to the Laggan district in east Donegal. 

An account of her remarkable career, and life and times, is in the book Finding the McCains.  I also told her story in my first book,  The Laggan Redshanks, which also includes a 1630 muster roll from the Port Lough precinct (from Port Hall to just north to St Johnston area in the Laggan) and included notes on some of the clans and surnames of the Highland Scot families that settled there.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

BBC Ulster, the Kist o' Wurds program

Barry R McCain on the Thacker Mt Trail
(Update.... a Rugby match on BBC is running long, our program rescheduled for  Wednesday 30th at 19.30 hour UK time and that is 1:30 PM CDT.   The show can is archived for a couple of weeks so can be streamed during that time also.  But on a brighter note, at least Ireland is winning the rugby match)

My BBC interview will be on today, evening in the UK, at 1:30 PM (13:30) on BBC Ulster Radio.  The program is the Kist o Wurds program and I was interviewed by Alister McReynolds, well known writer and personality in Northern Ireland.  (and a friend of mine)

Here is the link:   BBC Ulster Radio

This link should go to the program page from which you can click on a link to live stream the show.

The Kist o Wurds program focuses on Ulster Scots history, culture, and language.  It is a very good program, and a great way to discover an interesting aspect of Irish life and society.  This is my second time on the program.  I was also interviewed by them when I started my Finding the McCains book project.  This interview was done as the book is finished now and out at bookshops and on Amazon.  It is always enjoyable to talk with the lads and lassies back in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Celtic Life Internation Magazine

A note to one and all; there is a review of my new book Finding the McCains in the October 2015 edition of Celtic Life magazine. This magazine is the premier magazine for those of Celtic ancestry around the world. I encourage you all to pick up the October edition.  Their magazine is a joy to read.  It is an old fashioned magazine, done the right way.  Good articles, plenty of colour illustrations, items of interest for the casual reader and those who are after in-depth information on a variety of topics to all those of Irish, Scottish, Scots-Irish, Welsh, Manx, etc. ancestry and those that just love Celts, this history and lore.

Link to their website:  Celtic Life International Magazine.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Highlanders in West Ulster, 1569-1630

In the sixteenth century Scottish Highlanders settled in the Laggan district of east Donegal. They were called Redshanks. Their story is told in the book The Laggan Redshanks.  The history of the Laggan Redshanks has many fascinating elements which include Clann Chaimbeul and their dynamic leader the fifth Earl of Argyll, Gaelic sexual intrigues, English Machiavellian maneuvers, and the Redshanks themselves.

The Redshank settlement in the Laggan took place in the tumultuous years during the sixteenth century that were dominated by Elizabethan English attempts to bring Ulster firmly under the control of the Crown.  The Redshanks were vital players in the affairs of those times and indeed it was their military skills that delayed the conquest of Ulster until the beginning of the next century.

The Laggan Redshanks remained on their lands in Portlough precinct after the Plantaion began.  Their Campbell connections, Reformed faith, along with their reputation as elite fighting men, which made them not only acceptable to the incoming Stewarts, but a welcomed van guard.  The Redshanks could be considered British subjects in an ecumenical Scottish sense, complete with appropriate loyalties, and a version of the Protestant faith.  In the Portlough area, the incoming Planter Scots came from Ayrshire and Lennox.  Lennox included lands in the Scottish Gaeltacht and parts of Ayrshire were still Gaelic speaking in the early 1600s.  The Scots from these areas were familiar with Gaelic language and customs and were ethnically similar to the Campbell Redshanks.

Many of the descendants of the Laggan Redshanks migrated to the English Colonies during the Ulster Migration and became part of the Scots-Irish people. Of interest to the genealogist, the book includes appendices of the muster rolls and surnames of the Redshanks and notes on their point of origin in Scotland.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Billy the Kid Update

This post in connection to my others on Billy the Kid.  I had posted before on the fact that Billy the Kid was a fluent Gaelic speaker and had even function as an interpreter for a young woman from Ireland in New Mexico who spoke only Gaelic.

This post another new piece of data on Billy the Kid.   A new photo of him has turned up.  A tintype and he is playing croquet in the photo.   Photo located in a shop in Clovis, New Mexico.   

Link to Billy the Kid new photo story:   Billy the Kid Photo 

Thursday, August 20, 2015


Epigenetics is the study, in the field of genetics, of cellular and physiological phenotypic trait variations that are caused by external or environmental factors that switch genes on and off and affect how cells read genes instead of being caused by changes in the DNA sequence.  In layman's terms, you inherit more than the basic genetic component from your parents, you also inherit the memories, the experiences, the phobias and loves, the feelings, of our ancestors.  In the DNA you inherit from your parents, some DNA material is switched on, others switched off.  The geneticists are still researching how this happens.  But... when you stand on the land your ancestors lived for centuries and you have that feeling of recognition and familiarity with the land, the sky, the location, there is more going on than you think.  Your ancestors are communicating with you. 

Here is a short program discussing the topic: