Saturday, May 1, 2021

May Day... Lá Bealtaine


May Day... Lá Bealtaine

Beltane is the anglicised name of the Gaelic May Day festival.  May Day is on 1 May and is held on or near the halfway mark between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. It is one of the oldest and most ancient festival days. It is widely observed in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man, and in modern times has spread to the Diaspora.  In Irish Gaelic it is called Lá Bealtaine, in Scottish Gaelic, Là Bealltainn, an in Manx Gaelic Laa Boaltinn.  Beltane is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals, along with Samhain, Imbolc, and Lughnasa.  There are several theories on the etymology of Beltane; the most accepted one is that it is from the common Celtic Belo-tenia, meaning 'bright or shinning fire,' which in turn goes back to the Indo-European 'Bhel (to shine) tepnos (warm).

It is not a 'fire festival,' but fire is a integral part of the festivities.  Prior to modern times it was a festival to mark and celebrate the moving of livestock to summer pastures, to honour the Old Ways and old gods, and evoke blessing of fertility of the tribe and the life giving cattle.  

Beltane is mentioned in the earliest written Gaelic literature when Christian monks began to write down Gaelic lore and myths in early medieval times.  The medieval accounts were ancient even then and date back before Christianity was introduced to the Gaelic homelands. 

On the Beltane Eve the festival began.  The people gathered to feast, have drink, and make offerings to the Aos Sí, who are the old gods of the Gaels.  Byres, the windows and doors of homes, etc., were decorated with flowers.  It was a joyous festival ushering in the bountiful time when the days grew longer, the sun shined more, and the weather grew warmer.

Beltane survived the coming of Christianity and continued on for centuries, despite the attempts of overly zealous Christian officials who wanted to stop the practice, as they were fully aware of the pagan origins of Beltane.  By the 20th century the festival had almost died out and was only celebrated and practiced in certain areas in Ireland, Scotland, and Man.  In the late 20th century there was a revival of Beltane festivities.  The focus of Beltane changed some in these more modern times, but the main core beliefs did remain.  The concept of the season change, the coming of the sun, and the start of the season of growth and plenty, etc., remain.

Fire was and is an integral part of Beltane.  All fires were put out on Beltane Eve and then rekindled starting with the lighting of the bonfire.  It was this holy flame from which the 'new' flames of the the folk began.  It was the 'force fire' and sacred.   Many will recognise the fire ritual as the same ritual used in the Catholic Church and several other Christian denominations in the Easter lighting of the Paschal candle.  There are too many Beltane nuances and rituals to describe here, but there is one core aspect of the ritual.  This is a Deiseal procession around the sacred fire.  Deiseal means 'right-hand direction' or Sunwise (clockwise).   The Deiseal procession around the sacred fire was a Blessing of the Cosmos upon all. 

Beltane is still celebrated and the practice is growing.  It is now held not only in the Gaelic homeland, but in the Diaspora, and has been incorporated into similar May Eve and May Day celebrations in Europe.  While many see Beltane as just a good time with a bonfire, there is also a growing interest in the spiritual aspects of the festival.  The concepts of the a new growing season, the connection to the Old Ways of ancestors, and reflection upon life, are also now part of Beltane for a growing number of people.

a sacred fire of Bealtaine

Do enjoy Beltane.  A bonfire is best way to partake of course and with a Deiseal (clockwise) procession around the sacred fire.  Followed by toasts to the Old Ways, to Ancestors, to the coming season of Summer.  If you lack the means of a bonfire, a candle will do, or even a wee fire in your fire-pit.  Connect with your Ancestors and the Old Ways, as these are very good things. 

Sláinte ar Lá Bealtaine

Barry R McCain on Amazon

Monday, February 1, 2021

Imbolc and Saint Bríd's Day


Cros Bríde (Bríde's Cross) made of rushes

Today is Imbolc one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals. Imbolc is the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. The festival is associated with the goddess Bríd, who is one of Tuatha Dé. Bríd was the protectress of hearth and home, and of barns and livestock. She was invoked to bless the agrarian and pastoral production in the coming year.  Imbolc has been celebrated from ancient times to the present.  

In Christian times, Bríd was made into a Saint and there are many traditions and customs associated with Saint Bríd in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man.  Imbolc is called Lá Fhéile Bríde also, i.e. the festival of Bríd.   

How to celebrate in the these modern times: Light a candle, a deiseal procession (sunwise or clock wise) three times around the fire and a toast.  This practice is called Saining i.e. a blessing, protection or consecrating. In this case to invoke Bríd... both the Naomh Bríd (saint Bríd) or Bríd, the ancient goddess.








© 2020 Barry R McCain

Donations Welcomed


Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Future

 To best way to predict the Future, your future, our tribe's future...

is to create it, with your thoughts, beliefs, and actions. Do the work. 

© 2021 Barry R McCain

Finding the McCains

Monday, December 21, 2020

The Winter Solstice and The Great Conjunction


Winter Solstice

Today is the Winter Solstice.  This is the astronomical first day of Winter and it is the shortest day of the year, in the Northern Hemisphere.  The Winter Solstice has been celebrated and venerated for many thousands of years. Now, if that were not wonderful enough, there is an additional astronomical treat this year, the conjunction of two planets, Jupiter and Saturn. 

The etymology of solstice is from the Latin sol meaning 'sun' and sistere meaning 'to stand still.' So named as for a few days before and after the solstice the sun's path across the sky appears to freeze. On the winter's solstice the sun is low in the sky. The sun's path begins northward again and will reach the most northerly point on the summer solstice. If you step out at noon today your shadow will be the longest of the year. 


Saturnalia Holly and Candle

Celtic, Germanic, Slavic, Hellenic, etc., people all celebrated the Winter Solstice. The shortest day of the year takes place and the days begin to slowly get longer and and longer. In the Roman world the Winter Solstice festival was Saturnalia. Many of the traditions of Saturnalia have endured and have been assimilated into our own Christmas customs. 

The giving of gifts, decorating homes with green using ivy and holly.  Candles were given as gifts and used to celebrate the season. Saturnalia is named after the god Saturn. The etymology of Saturn is probably from the Proto Indo European word sewH(r) which means 'seed, bring forth,' and is a cognate with the modern English 'seed, son, semen, and sow (as in a seed).'  Saturn is connected to agriculture, and he is often conflated with the Greek Kronos. The two entities come from a single Indo-European spiritual cosmology concept. While it is a different topic, there is a link between the Spirit of Christmas, or Father Christmas, and the traditions and rituals from Saturnalia. 


In the 4th Century the Church selected the 25th of December to celebrate the birth of Christ and this allowed them to incorporate Christmas with Saturnalia and the other Winter Solstice celebrations practiced in indigenous European spirituality.


The Great Conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter

And speaking of Saturn, his planet and the planet Jupiter have the Great Conjunction tonight. These are the two largest planets in the night sky, easily visible with the naked eye, but if you have binoculars or a telescope, all the better to see them with. 

This will be the closest Conjunction in 397 years and will be spectacular. The two planets will only appear 0.1 degree apart tonight. This is a one night event, so if weather permits, I encourage you to view.  

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere the conjunction will appear in the southwestern night sky low on the horizon from dusk and be present for a about an hour. 

© Barry R McCain 

Saturday, December 5, 2020

The New Book

 My new book is finished... finally. A few months late, but done now. It will be out in later winter 2021. It is about the Scots-Irish and their beliefs in the Faeries. The book examines who and what the Faeries are and where those beliefs originated. The tale starts some 5,000 years ago and we follow the story from the Yamnaya migration from the Russian Steppe into Europe, to the Bell Beaker settlement of the Isles (Britain and Ireland), onto the proto Celts, and then the insular Celts. I use ancient DNA results, Gaelic literature and the living folk traditions of Ireland and Scotland to follow this long path to the Faeries. This is done however, with a specific focus on the Scots-Irish. 

The Scots-Irish were an integral part of the indigenous American society created by the early European settlers and it is for this reason I felt like a Scots-Irish perspective was useful.

Placing a Clootie on a Faerie Tree

Topics include the Scots-Irish Faerie beliefs, both in Ireland and the New World. Foremost, are the Faeries of course, better known as the Síthe (said Shee). I also will explore the Second Sight and traditional ritual magic and the elements of the Faerie Faith that still endure.

Chapters include:

1 McCuaig's Bar

2 Scots-Irish Ethnogenesis

3 Reverend Robert Kirk

4 Faeries in Ulster

5 The High Síthe

6 The Lesser Síthe

7 Across the Water

8 Seers and the Second Sight

9 Magic and Ritual

10 Old Faith Survival


Until the new book is out, my last book Finding the McCains is available on Amazon and makes a wonderful Christmas and Yule gift.


© Barry R McCain 2020 



Thursday, August 27, 2020

cosán na ndéithe.

Ní théann na déithe leat ach má chuireann tú tú féin ar a gcosán. Agus glacann sé sin misneach.

Finding the McCains  

Mo Chuid Ghaeilge

Notaí ón Dixie Gaeltacht...

 Mar is eol do go leor agaibh, is féidir liom Gaeilge a labhairt. Táim i gcónaí ag foghlaim agus cinnte tá a lán le foghlaim agam fós. Táim chun tosú ag postáil níos mó i nGaeilge.

mo sheanatháir... Mac Eáin (McCain i mBearla)

Déanfaidh mé go leor earráidí .... tá sé seo cinnte. Ach, táim ag éirí beagáinín níos fearr le mo chuid Gaeilge gach lá. Déarfainn go bhfuil mé ag an leibhéal idirmheánach. Cén fáth a bhfoghlaimím Gaeilge? Is de shliocht na hÉireann iad muintir m’athar agus mhuintir mo mháthair araon. Mar sin, tá ceangail fola leis an tír dhúchais. Is Gaelach mé. Tá an teanga tábhachtach agus tá sí an-tábhachtach domsa. Is breá liom stair Ghaelach, béaloideas, an seanchreideamh réamh-Chríostaí, srl. Is cuid dhílis dár n-oidhreacht an teanga Ghaelach.

mo sheanathair máithreacha (Ó Briain)

Seo abairt chleachtais duitse .... D'ithinn prátaí ach is fear Keto mé anois, mar sin ní ithim iad riomh anois. Is maith liom a bheith aclaí. Is féidir liom breathnú ar charbaihiodráití agus meáchan a fháil ... mar sin ghearr mé beagnach gach ceann acu as mo réim bia. Is é mo bhealach é.

Finding The McCains

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Two Years Four Months Keto

This is a short report on my Keto journey.  I have been Keto for two years and four months now.  I have had several people ask me about the topic and here is my impression about it. 

smoking a beef brisket
The first thing people generally want to know is 'how much weight have you lost.' I must qualify this by saying weight loss was not a prime factor in my going Keto.  The main reason I went Keto was to heal from a stroke, but weight, specifically fat around one's mid section, is a related issue. 

I have lost 47 pounds. I do not look much different, as I was never obviously over weight or 'fat.' I was what is called a TOFI... i.e. thin on the outside fat on the inside.  This is a real medical phenomenon that sometimes manifest in those with metabolic syndrome.  Having said all that, I do like not having those 47 pounds on me. My clothes fit wonderfully and my tummy is flat.  

Two years and four months into Keto has many benefits in addition to aesthetic ones.  I feel good, I get up in the morning fully rested with no aches and pains, no inflammation, etc. My memory and cognition are excellent, which is the primary reason I began Keto, i.e when one is healing from a brain injury, cognition, memory, brain health, are the most important goals.  But, as I mention the two things are connected, i.e. weight loss and brain health. Losing the weight, and we are talking fat here, is a integral part of brain health. 

My protocol is simple, I keep my carbs to circa 20 a day.  Sometimes I might go up to 30 or 35 and other days I will be under 20 and as low as 0 to 5.  I am normally in ketosis.   I used to monitor my ketone levels often, but I do not do this any longer. At this stage, I just know when I am in ketosis.

Spanish Manchego cheese
I enjoy the food I eat. I eat a lot of beef, grass fed when I can get it and afford it, but I also eat a lot of fish, pork, eggs, and my favourite food, Spanish manchego cheese (made from sheep milk). I do eat vegetables, but all low carb ones... brussel sprouts, green cabbage, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower,, collards, green salads, etc., things of that nature.  I also will eat some berries, such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, etc. I do not eat any high sugar fruits however (such as apples, bananas, oranges, etc.). 

Another frequent question... do I drink on Keto?  Well, yes I do. Though, it is selective drink, it has to be a low carb beer, of which there are many brands that I like. With wine, I only drink dry reds, the type and brands I get are normally under 1 carb per 5 oz.  Very doable.  Of course,  I enjoy whiskey a lot, and it has No Carbs at all. Those that know me, know I like Jameson, Tullamore Dew, and several other Irish whiskeys, and like a good rye occasionally.  

Jameson neat
Next question often asked... how do you stay on it?  That one easy, Keto allowed me to heal from a stroke and has radically reduced my chances of having another one. Strokes are caused by metabolic syndrome. I enjoy being healthy, fit, and at the top of my mental function.  It is that simple, I like that more than I like ice cream, potatoes, junk food, etc. 
ancient Celts
I call my Keto 'ancestral eating'  meaning I eat the way my tribe, my ancestors, ate.  Metabolically, I am a northern European, my ethnic classification is Celtic. My father's family Gaels from mid Argyll, my mother's family Gaels from western Ireland. Going back prior to ethnic classification, I am of Yamnaya (Steppe herding folk) in paternal ancestry and northern European Hunter Gatherer in my autosomal DNA. This Yamnaya-European Hunter Gatherer folk are also known as the Bell Beaker folk in pre history. They are the ancestors of northern Europeans. My people settled in the Isles 4,000 years ago. This is not speculation, rather data gathered from extensive Y chromosome DNA testing I have participated in. Since paleolithic times well into modern times, my people ate low carb. In short, I do better with a diet high in protein and fat, very low in carbs.  It comes down to evolutionary biology.  While we are on the topic, yes I do have some Neanderthal DNA, as do most northern European people.

Our ancestors ate low carb
I lost 47 pounds with no dieting and eating as much as I wanted, I only changed what I ate. I eat like my ancestors, and now I feel and look like them.  

© Barry R McCain 2020

Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Lone Starr Flag Part I & II

Republic of West Florida 1810-1811

I have a great interest our heritage and people.  This includes many different aspects of them from ancestry, to culture, society, history, etc. and with that preamble,  I focus on an early banner used by the Anglo-Celts.  This chapter of their history takes place in what is now the state of Louisiana.  A flag with a single star, a Lone Star, had its beginning in 1810 in the short lived Republic of West Florida.  It was and is a simple design, a single white star in a blue field.

For those not familiar with the Anglo-Celts, they are the Irish, Scots, Welsh, Manx, Cornish, Scots-Irish, and English, in any form or combination.  The term normally refers to these people in their Diaspora in the USA, Canada, and Australia, and the other places they settled around the world. Anglo-Celt is also applied to the descendants of these people.

I first heard the term Anglo-Celt used by Texas historian T R Fehrenbach, who wrote Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans.  He used the term to describe that large group of indigenous Americans, meaning the early settlers and their descendants from Britain and Ireland. Some modern historians incorrectly apply the term Scots-Irish to this group. However, the Scots-Irish are only one element in this group. In the New World the settlers from Britain and Ireland developed into a people with a shared heritage, values, related ethnicity, etc. T R Fehrenbach used the term to describe the people that settled in Texas from 1820 into the early 1900s.

And that is where the story of their banner comes in.  The Anglo-Celts originated the Lone Star flag as their symbol in 1810 in Louisiana. After the America Revolutionary War, Spain regained control of the territory of West Florida.  This was located in east Louisiana, across southern Mississippi, southern Alabama into the western Florida Panhandle.  Anglo-Celtic settlers flooded into this area in the early 1800s.  These families were of Irish, Scottish, Scots-Irish, English, and Welsh ancestry.  Some were new immigrants and many were descendants of families that had migrated to the Colonies in the 1700s. There was an issue with so many Anglo-Celts settling in this area.  West Florida was under Spanish rule and these were extremely independent minded Anglo-Celts. The situation was not unlike the one they found in Texas just fifteen years later.  

West Florida 1800

The Anglo-Celts had conflicts with the Spanish officials in West Florida.  The settlers took action to remove themselves from Spanish rule.  With the large Scots-Irish component present, a revolution was inevitable.   

From June to September 1810 leaders in the settler communities held secret meetings which eventually escalated to open conventions.  These took place in the Baton Rouge District of what is now Louisiana. 

A consensus was reached and the settlers moved to establish an independent Republic of West Florida, with its capital located at St Francisville in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana.  On the morning of 23 September 1810, the Anglo-Celtic militia attacked Fort San Carlos in Baton Rouge.  The Spanish troops were ready and firefight ensued.  The Anglo-Celt militia prevailed and gained control of the area from Spain.

The militia used the first Lone Star flag on that day.  The flag was a single five pointed star on a blue field. The flag was made by Melissa Johnson, wife of Major Issac Johnson, who commanded the Feliciana cavalry, the militia force that made the attack.  The exact shade of blue in the flag's field is not known, but was believed to be a lighter blue than a navy blue. The flag was popular from its beginning.

Area in control by Republic of West Florida 1810
The flag endured and variations of the flag have been in use since that day.  However, the Republic of West Florida was short lived.  After their successful take over of West Florida, the leaders of the revolt became mired in politics.  The United States refused to recognise the new republic.  

On 27 October 1810, United States president, James Madison, proclaimed that the USA should take possession of the new republic on the dubious basis that it was part of the Louisiana Purchase.  The lands of the new republic were located east of the Mississippi River, which were not part of the Louisiana Purchase.  

Governments, being governments, the USA managed to read the various treaties and agreements in such a way that it was suggested (sort of) that the lands east of the Mississippi River could in fact, more or less, be included in the Louisiana Purchase and therefore, could be annexed into the United States.   It was not legal, but it was effective.

Fulwar Skipworth governor Republic of West Florida
By this time, the Republic of West Florida had chosen a governor, Fulwar Skipworth (keeping the long standing tradition of Southerners having unique names).  President Madison ordered William Claiborne, the USA military governor of Orleans Territory to take possession of the Republic of West Florida.  The West Floridians refused to submit.  

Governor Fulwar Skipworth proclaimed that he and his men would 'surround the Flag Staff and die in its defense.'  Bold talk and they meant it, and it was a bonnie flag.  Governor Skipworth did have some support from the French, but alas, it was in the form of words and an opinion only.  The French negotiator of the Louisiana Purchase, François Barbé-Marbois, agreed that the Baton Rouge district, or the Republic of West Florida, was considered part of Florida, as it was east of the Mississippi River.  But, might makes right, and it became a moot point.

USA military governor Claiborne ordered 300 United States soldiers from Fort Adams under Colonel Lenard Covington to move into the fledgling West Florida Republic.  On 6 December 1810, Colonel Covington and his troops moved into Baton Rouge.  Matters escalated quickly. The militia of the new republic were not looking forward to a war with the United States.  On 10 December 1810,  Governor Skipworth and his legislature entered negotiations with the USA.  Given the circumstances, i.e. an overwhelming show of military force,  Governor Skipworth accepted President Madison's annexation proclamation. Congress passed a joint resolution which was approved on 15 January 1811. 

So came the end of the short lived Republic of West Florida.  But, its Lone Star banner lived on and is still in use.

Mary Long's Lone Star Flag 1819

In The Lone Star Flag Part I, we learned that the Lone Star flag dates back to 1810 and events in Louisiana.   It is evident that the icon of the Lone Star lived beyond the 1810-1811 Republic of West Florida.  It returned just a few years later, again in Louisiana, among the same group of settlers and citizens.

James Long was a US Army surgeon and served with distinction in the War of 1812 and was present at the famous Battle of New Orleans (January 1815).  After his US Army service, he became a filibuster who led an expedition to seize control of the province of Texas from the Spanish ( a filibuster is a man who wages war upon a foreign country, meaning the man by himself and not operating on behalf of another country's government).

The border between New Spain and the United States was disputed at that time.  The Anglo-Celtic settlers planned a filibustering expedition to outright conquer the province of Texas, a province in northern New Spain.  James Long's comrade in this adventure was José Félix Trespalacios, a citizen of New Spain, who had been imprisoned for instigating a revolt against Spanish rule in México.  The two men gathered some 200 militiamen from their headquarters in Natchez, Mississippi.

Jim Bowie and Ben Milam, two well known figures in Texas history, were in Long's militia group.  Both Bowie and Milam had prominent roles in the Texas Revolution in 1835-1836.   Long also attempted to recruit the famous French pirate, Jean Lafitte, but his attempts were unsuccessful.  Long's forces were primarily Anglo-Celt frontiersmen and several former French soldiers; a typical Deep South amalgam.

Long's Lone Star flag, version II; 1820

By June 1819 the Long Expedition arrived in Texas. The small army was initially successful and established a republic of sorts.  It did last longer than the ill fated Republic of West Florida. However, as the Spanish organised themselves to confront Long, the republic began to lose impetus. The men became restless and there was no method of expanding upon their success.  The Spanish organised their militia to confront Long's forces.  A number of the Long's men returned to Louisiana.  The Long affair did not end well.  Spanish military units confronted the remaining men in Long's force and quickly routed them.  Long escaped to Natchitoches, Louisiana.

Long was persistent. On his return to Louisiana, he began raising funds to equip a second invasion into New Spain.  In April 1820, he joined members from his first expedition on the Boliva Peninsula (in present day Galveston County, Texas).  He had 300 troops and brought with him his pregnant wife Jane.  There his expedition remained for a year, but only controlled the land under their feet.  Long seized Presidio La Bahía in an attempt to force the action.  The Spanish military counterattacked and forced Long and his men to surrender four days later.  Long was imprisoned in several Mexican towns and eventually sent to Mexico City.  There he was shot to death by a Mexican guard on 8 April 1822.

After Long's misadventure in Texas the Lone Star was next used in the mid 1830s.  It is interesting, that the Lone Star was again used by the same group of settlers and frontiersmen.  It is obvious, they liked the icon, knew its history, and continued to use it.   As the impetus toward revolution gained support in the province of Texas, the Lone Star icon returned.

The Lone Star is on the Gonzales Banner (the Come and Take It flag), on the Scott Lone Star Independence flag (1835), and on the Golidad flag (1836).  The red Long Lone Star flag was also used in the 1842 Summervell Expedition when Texas troops crossed the Rio Grande and fought in Mier, Mexico.  

Replica of the Come And Take It flag 1835

The cannon that appears on the Come And Take It flag was used briefly at the beginning of the Texian revolution against the Mexican government in October of 1835.  There are two schools of thought on the cannon's fate.  I would urge the reader to explore the topic further.  The important point being, the Gonzales cannon was used in the first skirmish in the Texian revolution, and was a feature on the Come And Take It flag along with the Lone Star. 

Captain William Scott's flag 1835

The Troutman flag was designed by Joanna Troutman, in a response for aid for the cause of Texas in 1835.  Troutman made the flag for the Georgia Battalion of volunteers going to support Texas in their struggle against Mexico.  The flag had two inscriptions, 'Liberty or Death,' on one side, and Ubi Libertas Habitat, Ibi Nostra Patria Est'  (Where Liberty Dwells, There Is Our Fatherland).  The flag was unfurled at Velasco, Texas, on 8 January 1836.  It was used as the Texas national flag after the news of the Texas Declaration of Independence.

Troutman Flag 1836

Burnet Flag 1836

The Burnet Flag was used in December of 1836 and later became the national flag of the Republic of Texas.  The Burnet Flag continued on as the Texas state flag until 1879, when it was incorporated into the present day Texas state flag.

Texas State Flag

Other splendid examples of the Lone Star in use from the mid 1800s include the excellent Republic of Mississippi flag in 1861.  It was the flag of Mississippi after secession from the United States and prior to joining the Confederacy.  It is a very handsome flag with a Lone Star on a blue canton and a magnolia tree on a white field.  After the WBTS this flag returned as the Mississippi state flag, and remained so until the late 1800s.

And then there is the Bonnie Blue Flag, which interestingly enough, has never been an 'official'  flag of any government outside of Texas.  It became popular in the early 1860s in the build up to the Southern secession movement.  The Bonnie Blue Flag remained a symbol of Southern independence, albeit, an unofficial one.  The Bonnie Blue flag continues to be popular and one still sees it use.  It is flown at private homes, at events, picnics, over decks with barbecues going on, at any festive occasion, etc.  It represents the same qualities that all the manifestations of the Lone Star flag represent.... Liberty and Freedom.   It is a good symbol and attractive flag.

The Bonnie Blue Flag

© Barry R McCain 2020

Barry R McCain on Amazon

Friday, June 19, 2020

The Name John, Gaelic Forms and Anglicised Forms

Knowing the Gaelic form of our surnames is a very helpful in genetic genealogy research.There are many surnames in Ireland and Scotland that include the name that we say in English as "John." However, the etymology of many of the "John" surnames are not from English, but Gaelic, taken from the Latin name Iohannes.

Surnames in the "John" category include Johnson, Johnston, Johnstone, Jones, Jackson, MacCain, MacCane, MacEoin, MacOwen, MacKane, MacKean, MacKeen, MacKeon, MacKeone, MacKeown, and MacShane.  All these surnames come from the Latin Iohannes by one route or another. I discovered this complexity when researching my own surname early in my McCain DNA project.

You would think the etymology of the surname McCain would be simple enough, but it is not.  If you open a standard Irish or Scottish surname book, it normally says McCain is the anglicized form of the Scottish name Mac Iain. This is usually followed by a reference to either the Glencoe or Ardnamurchan Mac Iain families of Scotland. What these books do not tell you is there were several dozen McCain families scattered throughout the Gaelic speaking world.

To complicate matters, there are several Gaelic surnames that have been anglicized as McCain. A list would include the surnames Mac Eáin, Mac Catháin, Mac Aodháin, Mac Caodháin, and Ó Catháin. Notice the surname book version, Mac Iain, is not listed. This is because Iain and Mac Iain are late entries into the Gaelic world.  In the case of my own family, I knew the Gaelic form fortunately, which is Mac Eáin.

Eáin (said Ane) is a variation of the common Gaelic name Eóin (said Owen).  The Eáin form is from Argyll, the southern Hebrides, and Ulster. The surname was introduced into Donegal by Argyll Gaels that settled there in the 1500s.  Eóin appears in early medieval Irish sources and is the Gaelic form of the Latin name Iohannes, or as English speakers know the name, John.  Iohannes is itself a loan word to Latin from the Hebrew Yohanan (in full y'hohanan) meaning “Jehovah has favored.”

Gaelic Lord circa AD 1000-1200

As you read through the Gaelic manuscripts you will not find any evidence of the variant Eáin form of Eóin until 1499 AD.  That year in the Annals of Connacht one writer spelled the name of Eóin Mór Mac Dónaill, King of the Isles, as Eighín Mor Mac Domnaill, with Eighín being a slender vowel form of Eáin.  This Eóin Mór Mac Dónaill was the chief of the McDonalds in Argyll, Islay and north Antrim.  From that time on you can find the name sporadically written to reflect this Eáin form, but Eóin was still the dominant written form in literary Irish regardless if the name was said Eóin or Eáin. Literary Irish was the Gaelic used in both Ireland and Scotland by the educated classes. 

By the mid-1600s, the Mac Eáin variation had its own spelling in literary Irish.  The Scottish Mac Mhuirich family of Islay, historians and tradition keepers for the McDonalds, used several similar spellings of the surname when writing in the mid-1600s.  In their Red Book of Clanranald, they spelled the surname mac Ceaain, Mac Eaain and Mac Ea'ain.  The mac Ceaain spelling is an abbreviated form of the longer Mac Mhic Eaain, a clan surname form meaning “son of (the) son of Eáin.” This form functions much like the Ó does in Gaelic surnames, especially Irish ones.

I asked the Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, which is the Gaelic college on the Isle of Skye, for the current spelling in Scot’s Gaelic and they gave me Mac Eain, with no accent over the “a.”  Mac Eáin is the modern Ulster Gaelic form.

The Lallans spellings also demonstrate the pronunciation shift from Mac Eóin to Mac Eáin by the 1500s in Argyll.  Lallans spellings of Mac Eáin from that time were McAne, McEan, Makayn, Mcayne, McEan, and McKean.

In my research, I made an interesting discovery. In the 1400s, the northern Spanish and Portuguese form of the Latin Iohannes was Ean.  In the northwest Spanish dialects and Portuguese the surname form of Ean was Eanes and Eannes.  The es suffix functions like the Gaelic Mac. So Eannes means Son of Iohannes as does Mac Eáin. In modern Spanish, you see this surname written Yanes and Yáñes.  It did occur to me there might have been some connection there, perhaps a loan word that had come into use from Portuguese or Spanish to Gaelic due to the increasing contact between Argyll and Spain during that time, but it would be a difficult point to research.
Seaán Ó Neill an Diomais
Mac Eóin itself is anglicised as MacEoin, McKeon, MacKeone, MacKeown, Keon, Keown, and MacOwen.  It can be found from the southern tip of Ireland to the far north of Scotland, everywhere were Gaelic is and was spoken.

Seán came into Gaelic from the French form of the Latin Iohannes which was Jehan and Gaelicized as Seán.  In the northern dialects of Gaelic, Seán is said 'Shane.'  From this we get the surname Mac Seáin.  Some of the descendants of the great Seaán Mór Ó Neill an Diomais use the surname MacShane today, while others have translated their surname and use both Jackson and Johnson.  Andrew Jackson, the 7th president of the United Stages, claimed to be a direct descendant of Seaán Ó Neill and some of his descendants took the surname Jackson.

The Johnson and Johnston forms are obvious as they are simple translations. Some families, for reasons unknown, chose Johnston and Johnstone, as the anglicised form of their Gaelic surname. It is a mistranslation as Johnston is from the two words 'John' and 'ton' the latter meaning a town.

When doing family history research it is very helpful know the Gaelic form of your surname and its anglicised forms also.  Some of the non surname DNA matches may turn out to be just another form of your surname. 

© Barry R McCain 2020

Link: Finding the McCains