McCoy

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McCoy Surname Genealogy


The
root of the McCoy surname is the old Gaelic Mac Aodha,
meaning “son of fire,”which was originally the name of a
Celtic pagan god. 
This
name cropped up in the
Western Isles of Scotland, where Gilchrist M’ay of Ugadale was recorded
in
1326, and this produced the Mackays of Kintyre and Islay; and on the
Isle of
Man,
where the name
Cucail Mac Aedha
appeared as early as 1098, and here it came out as MacQuay or Quay. 

Many of them became mercenaries, called
Gallowglasses, to Irish chiefs in the 14th century and stayed.  Their surnames in Ireland were various but
the most common one became McCoy.

The real
McCoy
– meaning “the genuine article” – is an idiom that has
been around
since the mid-19th century.  There are
many explanations but no agreement as to where the term came from.

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McCoy Resources on
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McCoy Ancestry

Ireland.  The
McCoys had originally come to Ireland as
Gallowglasses at the behest of the McDonnells. 
They settled first in Ulster, but a number then made the move to
the
banks of the Shannon river in Limerick in the early 1500’s.
There
were some McCoys in Fermanagh and Donegal that were originally
MacHugh, a branch of the O’Flaherty clan in Connemara. 
And there were also Scottish MacKays
that arrived later in the 17th and 18th centuries and became McCoys.

The
anglicized spelling of the name was initially very variable – from
McCoy and
MacCoy to MacCay, MacKay, McKie, MacCooey and others as well.  Often the MacKay
and McCoy
spellings were
interchangeable.  In
general it is true to say that whenever
McCoys were found, there were MacKays close by.  Many McCoys
emigrated to
America
in the 18th century. 

Notable McCoys in
Ireland have been the two Gaelic poets – Art MacCoy from Ulster in the
18th
century and Father Edward MacCoy from Galway in the 19th.  Today
McCoys are
principally to be found in the Armagh-Monaghan area in Ulster on both
sides of
the border, with some also in Antrim, including at one time on Rathlin Island,
and others in Limerick and Cork.  The best
known is Tony McCoy, the champion
horse racing jockey from Antrim.

America.   The
McCoys of Norfolk county, Virginia – starting with
Dennis McCoy in 1648 – appear to have been the first McCoys in America.  But there is no indication of where they came
from and why.

James McCoy from county Tyrone meanwhile was in Augusta county,
Virginia
by the 1730’s.  A descendant John
McCoy was
captain of the Augusta county militia during the Revolutionary War.  Another McCoy line from Augusta county made
its home in McCoy, Montgomery county.

An early arrival from
Scotland was Alexander McCoy who came to Windham, New Hampshire in 1721.  He was a soldier during the French and Indian
wars.  The only thing remarkable about
his son John was the manner of his death.

“One
day John McCoy laid down under a tree.  While
here, an earwig entered his ear. 
Efforts to dislodge it were made, but they were unavailing and it
caused his
death.”


John McCoy from county Down came to Rye township in
Cumberland county, Pennsylvania sometime in the 1750’s. 
He operated a sawmill and gristmill there.  His
descendants migrated first to Kentucky
and then to Louisiana.  Mary McCoy,
on the death of her husband in 1858, became the mistress of the Bayou
Boeuf
plantation in Louisiana.  

Maryland
and Kentucky
.  John McCoy came to
America from Belfast in 1732 and received a land grant in what is now
Washington county, Maryland.  He operated
the Neglect plantation there.

A branch
of his family, through “Old” William McCoy, migrated to Pike county,
Kentucky near
the West Virginia border around the year 1810. 
His descendants were the McCoys of the famous Hatfield-McCoy feud
in the 1880’s, a story told in Otis Rice’s 1982 book The
Hatfields and the McCoys
. 
The McCoy numbers here included “Squirrel Huntin’” Sam McCoy who
lived
until 1941 and whose memoirs and family tree were published in 1979.

Another
Maryland-to-Kentucky line began with Daniel McCoy who first owned land
in
Frederick county, Maryland in 1749.  His
son Daniel was in Bourbon county, Kentucky around 1810. 
But these McCoys later moved onto Indiana in
1830.

Heading West. 
It is uncertain who
David McCoy’s parents were, although they were believed to have been
Enoch and
Sarah McKay, natives of Virginia.  They
died soon after David’s birth in 1790 and he moved to Ohio and then in
1818 to
Sangamon county, Illinois where he built a sawmill and gristmill.  David passed on his entrepreneurial spirits
to his son Joseph who is credited with opening up the markets for
cattle by
extending cattle drives to the rail lines at Abilene, Kansas.

Some McCoys
went further west.  Arthur McCoy, known
as “the wild Irishman,” left Ireland for the California goldfields in
1850 and
then ended up in eastern Missouri during and after the Civil War.   There were reports of him joining the
James-Younger gang of bank and train robbers.  He
is said to have died sometime in the
1870’s. Meanwhile James McCoy came to
California from Ireland in 1850 and stayed there.  He
was one of the early settlers of San Diego
and held the post of sheriff there from 1862 to 1872. 
His home in Old Town San Diego has been
preserved
.

Canada.  Archibald
McCoy left Tyrone for Hinchenbrooke in
Huntingdon county, Quebec in 1836.  One
of his sons John
McCoy
died,
curiously, after fighting in the American Civil War. 
The family history was recounted in Robert
McCoy’s 1992 book The Archibald McCoy
Family of Herdman Corners.

South Sea Islands.  The McCoy name came to the South Sea Pitcairn
Islands because William
McCoy
,
a
mutineer on the Bounty in 1789,
ended up there.  McCoys continued on the
island with his grandson Matthew who was its Chief Magistrate.  In 1935 Annie McCoy, aged about seventy, was
the sole McCoy left.  Others were living
on Norfolk Island
.

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McCoy Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:



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McCoy Names

Joseph
“Cowboy”
McCoy
 was
the 19th century American entrepreneur famous for promoting the
transport of
Longhorn cattle from Texas to the eastern United States.
Randolph “Ole Ran’l” McCoy
was the
leader of the McCoy clan in the notorious Hatfield-McCoy feud in
Appalachia in
the 1880’s.
Tony McCoy
 is a former horse racing jockey from Northern
Ireland who was the British Champion Jockey for a record 20
consecutive times,
from 1995 to 2015
.

Select McCoys Today

  • 7,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Northern Ireland)
  • 35,000 in America (most numerous in Texas) 
  • 7,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


PS. You might want to check out the surnames page on this website. It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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