McCartney's Journeys

Origin of the name McCartney


The origin of the McCartney name discussion has been going on for a long, long time. I have only posted some of the discussion as was related to me by the gentlemen quoted. Some believe that the name originated in Ireland and migrated to Scotland. Others believe the reverse: it originated in Scotland and migrated to Ireland. I take no position in the argument. I just don't know. Either way it is a celtic name.

That is why I look at my heritage not as Irish or Scottish, although my ancestors have lived in both places, but as Celtic. This way I can defer making a choice until the discussion is more defined. Some may say this is the coward's way out. Well, to them I say - - You're right. That said, I present the following three discussions and a few comments of my own.

I must point out that the discussions below are the intellectual property of the people being quoted and they hold copyright.

The first discussion is a summary of the history of the McCartney families from the book "The Surname Macartney or McCartney" by John F. McCartney. To be fair to John, I have not read his book. The two paragraphs are from summaries found on the web. The book has been out of print since 1992.

In a recent communication from John, he provided some additional information. The last three paragraphs are part of what he sent.


John F. McCartney: © 1992

"The McCartneys are a branch of the great family of McCarthy Mor of Munster, who were Kings of Cork and Princes of Desmond. The fifth son of Cormac Fionn d.1248 was Donogh Cartnach who is the ancestor of the McCartneys. Donough Cartnach left 2 sons; the eldest Donal joined Edward Bruce (King of Ireland), (brother of Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland). For serving under Robert the Bruce's standard, Donal received a grant of land in Argylleshire, called 'Glen Artney' (Grid 56.22 degrees North 4.0 degrees West) from the King of Scotland.

"Some of Donal's descendants later moved to Galloway and settled in Auchinleck in Kircudbright, Scoltand. In Auchinleck in 1522 a George Macartney married Margaret McCulloch. Their grandson, Bartholomew McCartney had one child, George Macartney b.1626. This George Macartney migrated to Ulster from Scotland. 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."


"The name is originally Celtic; the spelling was Macartaine, pronounced Mc Cartney. There is no 'K' in the Gaelic language: it is just a hard 'C'. Any other corruptions of the name are due to mis-hearing of the name.

"I got a lot of the information from old books that were hidden away in a back room of Brooke Park Library in Derry before it was destroyed in a fire in the troubles. So Robert the Bruce and his brother Edward did exist, Glen Artney in Scotland still exists, and a sept of the Macintosh clan in Scotland still exists as Mc Cartney.

"By the way, mac means 'son of 'and Artaine literally would refer to the set up of the Gaelic system of people who were keepers of the ancient Brehon laws: people who were bards, poets, musicians, and people who kept the history of each name recorded in their heads as nothing was written down."


Also, I have received a number of emails from two friends, Michael F. McCartney from California and Dr. Hugh MaCartney of Canada. Below are excerpts concerning the origin of the McCartney name from those emails.


Michael F. McCartney: © June 2005

The family name originated in Southwestern Scotland (Galloway) where it was variously spelled MacCartnay, M'Cartney, Makcairtnay, & any number of other roughly phonetic variants; spelling was not an exact science! Most of the earliest references are re: several families that were tenants of one or the other of the abbeys -  - Dundrennan, New Abbey (a.k.a. Sweetheart abbey), etc. -  - just before the Reformation. The abbots, seeing the (Protestant) handwriting on the wall, began to sell off the abbey lands to the tenant farmers before the Protestant central government could seize it for themselves - thus securing the tenants' futures, and giving the clergy cash to support them in exile (or to oppose or bribe the new government, I suppose).

Several McCartney families became more-or-less independent small landowners in this way - which was not unique - many other church tenants were doing the same. This was in the late 1500's. In the mid-1600's, under James VI of Scotland/James I of England, the Protestant plantations in Northern Ireland were expanded by opening land to settlement from the lowland (protestant) parts of Scotland. The Presbyterian Scots were a thorn in the government's side at home (James wanted to appoint bishops, whom they opposed, sometimes violently) but in Ireland would be a check on the Catholic natives.

A note on the spelling "Macartney" - when one of sheriff George's family (maybe George, but I think a son or grandson) was made a judge, the clerk in London who prepared the warrant used that spelling and, rather than risk upsetting the applecart, the new judge and his family happily adopted the new spelling. Since they were the best known and wealthiest of the name, others who "made the grade" (even if unrelated) followed suit; so there were a few upper-class Macartney's and scads of less well off McCartney's (many of whom later emigrated to America).


Dr. Hugh MaCartney: © May 2005

Much has been written about the origin of the name and most of it is very dubious. I think most people now believe that the name was originally an Irish Gaelic name, possibly MacArt or MacArtan. (Art is a man's name and means "bear".) It is likely some of the clan (mostly from southern County Down) went across to Scotland to raid in the 13th or 14th centuries. Likely some stayed on and the name was modified to McCartney, Macartney, McKertney and other variables.

In the early 17th century many came back to Ulster with Hugh Montgomery and James Hamilton and settled in Antrim and Down mainly. Some people say we are derived from the MacCarthys of Munster (Co. Cork) but this is most doubtful.

I have many doubts as have others that the Ulster McCartneys/Macartneys were indeed related to the MacCarthys of Co. Cork although the same story keeps getting repeated from book to book. The red hand device is usually associated with the O'Neills of Ulster and the MacCartans of South Down were vassals of theirs in the 13th. and 14th. centuries.

So much is guess work that I think it wise not to be too dogmatic about our origins -- which likely will never be entirely worked out.


Thanks to friend Len McCartney for pointing me in this direction. The name does has some connection to Scotland, as noted in the following article.

"“Less than a mile further down the water, on the same side as Arkland [Scotland}, stood the old Castle of Marcartney or Makartna, which is the oldest form of the name that I have seen (1502). Close to the farm of Wee Park the ruins of the castle are still visible. It was a place of some extent and strength. Very probably this property received its name from a family named MacKartan (1244) or MacCartney..."

Rev. W.A. Stark, F.S.A., SCOT.; The Vale of Urr
Extracted from The Gallovidian (an Illustrated Southern Counties Magazine) Spring 1906 Volume VIII.

This does not conclude that the name originated in Scotland. It is simply another connection. With all of the different spellings of McCartney/MacCartney it is hard to be conclusive about anything.

There are so many possibilities for the origin of the name and we've only seen three of them:
1) a branch of the McCarthy's of Munster,
2) a Scottish origin, and
3) northern Irish origin with a move to Scotland and back.

Because there is so much controversy about the origin of the name,I fully concur with Hugh's final statement. What really matters is where your line started. You will only find that by tracing it back, so "Enjoy your Journeys in Genealogy".