McGowan Surname Genealogy
is the phonetic anglicization
of the Irish Mac Gabhainn and the
Scottish Mac Gobhainn, both meaning
“son of the smith.” The
smith in olden times was an important personage, as being the maker of
and weapons. During English rule many McGowans in Scotland and Ireland
name to the English Smith. While the Scots and Irish share the McGowan name,
their McGowan history differs.
McGowan Resources on
- Clan Gow, McGowan
McGowan history in Scotland.
- McGowan Surname History
McGowans in Ireland.
- Brief History of the McGowan Family
McGowans in New Brunswick.
- McGowan DNA Project
Ireland. The MacGabhainns were chronicled as a powerful
family originating in the ancient kingdom of Breffny, now mostly county
Cavan. However, by the late 12th century
the English had expelled them from this territory and pushed them west
TirChonaill in modern-day Donegal. Here
they were no longer chieftains and were under the McDonnell rule.
did remain in Cavan, but later changed their name to Smith. Outside Cavan, in the
adjoining counties of Leitrim, Donegal, Sligo and Monaghan, McGowan was
English form, with the largest number being in Donegal.
family of McGowans held church lands
in the parish of Inishmacsaint and most McGowan numbers in 1857 were in
parish. There were also McGowans at
Ballyshannon. Because of their
prominence a separate Donegal family based near Raphoe, the Mac
anglicized their name to McGowan.
was also an old Ulster family centered
around Ballygowan in county Down. But
many of the McGowans in Ulster today were probably Scots Irish in
origin. One such family, descended
from James MacGowan, was initially in Tyrone and then moved to
Derry in 1773.
was a MacGowan clan, often spelt MacCowan, on the river Nith in the
borders in the 14th century.
name of distinction for hundreds of years in the Kirkconnel area.
Bruce had a company of McCowans in the upper Nith district.”
Many of these McCowans had migrated from
Dumfriesshire into Ayrshire by the 1500’s.
Other early McGowans were to be found
in Perthshire. According to tradition,
they were descended from GowChrom, the local smith, who survived the Battle of North Inch between rival
clans in 1396. Gow here derived from the
Gaelic gobhan, meaning smith.
and McGowan emerged as surnames, with their bearers initially
for the purposes of armory or for making horse-shoes – to the
MacPherson clans. In the 18th century
Neil Gow and his son Nathaniel from Inver in Perthshire were
composers and players of fiddle music at that time.
The Gow name later extended into
McGowans at St. Ninians
in Stirlingshire have been traced back to 1682.
Henry McGowan was born in nearby Bannockburn in 1846. He was the father of Sir Harry McGowan, the industrialist who first
created the British
chemical giant ICI and then served as its Chairman from 1930 to 1950.
America. The early McGowans in
America appear to have
been Scots or Scots Irish. William
McGowan, born in Maryland around 1708, settled in Tyrrell county, North
Carolina; while John McGowan from Scotland who arrived in Augusta
Virginia in the 1740’s was the forebear of the McGowans of Craighead
William McGowan, Scots
Irish from county Antrim, arrived with his family in Charleston, South
in 1801. They settled in the Laurens
district. This line produced two notable
- Samuel McGowan, born in 1819, a Confederate
Brigadier General during the Civil War and later a local politician and
- and Samuel McGowan, born in
1870, who was a Fleet Paymaster for the US Atlantic Fleet in the early
and subsequently held the rank of rear admiral.
Ned McGowan was born in 1813 into an Irish
Catholic family in Philadelphia. A fiery
man, he was expelled from city politics after a brawl and left the city
Francisco at the time of the California Gold Rush.
A whipped-up anti-Catholic furor then caused
him to flee across the border into British Columbia in 1856. There he was caught up in other skirmishes
that became known as McGowan’s War. The
rest of his life was less eventful and he died in San Francisco in
poverty in 1893.
New York. The largest number of
McGowans in New York in
the 1920 census were in New York. Most
were of Irish origin.
There was an early McGowan presence in 1756 when Irishman
Daniel McGowan acquired a tavern in the northern part of Manhattan and
family name to what became known as McGowan’s Pass.
escarpment that crossed Manhattan at present-day Fifth Avenue and 102nd
consisted of two rock outcrops on the main road through Manhattan.”
itself became known as McGowan’s and
was held by the family until the 1840’s.
The main McGowan influx came in the late
1800’s. John J. McGowan, for
instance arrived in the 1870’s and settled in Brooklyn.
Many Irish joined the New York Police Department,
as did three generations of McGowans beginning in the late 1800’s. The third of these, William J. McGowan born in
1923, retired in
1972 and opened an Irish pub on Second Avenue and 50th Street.
mainly from Ireland, arrived into the Maritime Provinces in the late
early 1800’s. The following came to Nova
- Robert McGowan, who had arrived on the Hopewell,
was recorded in the Amherst census of Cumberland county
in 1770. Known as Robert the Elder
because of his support for the local Presbyterian church, he became the
surveyor in 1793.
- and Michael McGowan who arrived in 1781 settled first in
Liverpool and then moved to Port Medway where he farmed.
His son settled in Westfield, Queens county
Arrivals into New Brunswick came a little later. McGowans were at Maces Bay in the early
1800’s. William McGowan was born there
in 1816. Hugh McGowan, a laborer, was
in St. John by 1833; Michael McGowan came to settle in the Memramcook
Australia. Three working class McGowan
Australia in the second half of the 19th century produced three notable
- James McGowen was a boilermaker from Lancashire who
Melbourne with his wife Eliza on the Western
Bride in 1855. Their son James, born
on the way over, became a boilermaker like his father and then rose
trade union ranks to become the first Labor Premier of New South Wales
- William and Jane McGowan had come to Melbourne from
Scotland a few years
later. Their son Gentleman Jack McGowan
was a champion Australian boxing champion. During
his long career in the ring he fought over 110
battles and was
the first fighter to win three Australian titles at different weights.
- while Thomas,
McGowan, probably Scots Irish, and his wife Mary arrived in Adelaide in
1878. Thomas, like his father, was a
railwayman, and his son J.P. was also at first a railwayman. J.P. subsequently decamped to America and
became a famous Hollywood actor of the silent era.
If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:
Gow Chrom survived the
Battle of North Inch in 1396 and is, according to tradition, the
the McGowans in Scotland.
J.P. McGowan, born in Australia, was a pioneering Hollywood actor
during the silent
Sir Harry McGowan was a prominent British industrialist who
Chairman of the chemical company ICI from 1930 to 1950.
Alistair McGowan is an English impressionist and comic
actor popular on British TV.
Shane MacGowan is the lead singer
of the Celtic punk rock band The Pogues.
Select McGowans Today
- 14,000 in the UK (most numerous
- 12,000 in America (most numerous in California)
- 11,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)
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