Mackay Surname Genealogy

– or in Gaelic MacAoidha – is
a Scottish Highland clan, deriving from mac
meaning “son of” and Aoidh,
often written in English as “Ive,” meaning “fire” and originally the
name of a Celtic god:

  • the Mackay clan came originally from Strathnaver in Caithness and
    said to have had Pictish origins.
  • the
    MacAoidha name also produced the Mackays of Kintyre in the Western
    Isles (the Mackays and McCays of Ugadale) and the Mackies first found in
The MacAoidha name cropped up as well
in the Isle of Man and in Ireland.
Cucail Mac Aedha, tracked in Moore’s Manx
, appeared as early as 1098, from which came MacQuay.
The Gaelic O’Macdha sept,
to be found in
Connacht and Tipperary, was one source of the surname Mackey:
“Mackey may be of either Irish or Scottish
origin. Pronounced with the stress on the first syllable,
it is Iriah, an anglicized form of the Gaelic O’Macdha, descendant of Macdha (a name meaning “virile” or
“manly”). With the stress on the second syllable, it is a variant
of the Scottish McKay.”

McKay and its variant McCoy, usually found in
Ulster, seem to have been Scottish imports. Other name variants
in Ireland have been McKee and McHugh (as Aoidh was often anglicized as


Resources on

Mackay Ancestry

The Mackays descended from the Old Maormors or rulers of
Caithness and their homeland, Duthaich
Mhic Aoi
or “Mackay country,” has been in the far northeast of
mainland Scotland. Their clan history over the years has been
recounted in the Rev. Angus Mackay’s 1906 book The Book of Mackay.

The first chief of whom a written record exists was
Angus Dubh Mackay (or Black
Angus) in the early 1400’s. His was the land “from
Drimholiston to Kylescue” and he could raise a mighty fighting
force. In 1431 Angus married Elizabeth,
sister to Domhnall the Lord of the Isles, and she brought with her a
dowry of 100 fighting men from Lochaber. Their sons were known as
the Abrach Mackays and were the earliest sect of the Mackay clan.

Mackays were renowned for their strength, courage, and skill in
fighting and they were involved in endless battles against their
neighboring clans during the 15th and 16th centuries.

“In 1542 chief Donald Mackay of
Strathnaver invaded and molested the lands of clan Sutherland. He
burned the village of Knockartoll and stole many goods from
Strathbrora. Clan Sutherland and clan Murray attacked the Mackays
at Ailtan-Beath. After the battle the Mackays fled and much of
the stolen booty was recovered. Donald Mackay himself was
captured and imprisoned at Foulis castle.”

In 1626 Sir Donald Mackay raised an army of over 3,000 men and fought
in Europe in the Thirty Years War. He was ennobled as Baron Reay (after
the name of the clan territory). The Mackays themselves were
anti-Jacobite during the 18th century and thus were saved the
Government backlash after Culloden.

However, the Mackay chiefs had
become increasingly indebted and were being forced to sell off their
the last of which went in 1829. Mackays on the land became
victims to the Highland clearances.

“The eastern side of Strathnaver, over
20 miles, was cleared in 1814, with houses, outhouses, mills, kilns,
and every other structure destroyed in order to form three sheep
farms. Some 85,000 acres of land was cleared of the 150 families
who had lived there for generations. In 1819 the land from Mudale
to the sea, another 28 miles, was made desolate and the inhabitants
expelled to form two sheep farms. In less than a week the whole
of this area was devastated and denuded of more than 400 families.”

Large numbers of Mackays
began to emigrate.

Holland. The Mackays were
supporters of William of Orange who took the English crown in 1688 and
a Mackay regiment fought in the Dutch service against the French.
Their leader, Aeneas Mackay, died in this service. But his widow,
who was Dutch, brought up his family in Holland. It was to this
branch of the family to which the Reay title passed in 1875.

Ireland. Some Scottish
Mackays came to Ireland as gallowglasses or
mercenaries to Irish warlords in the 16th century. Others from
Kintyre had long-standing links with the O’Donnell sept in
Antrim. And others again may have come as a result of
the Scottish plantstions in Ulster.

McKay, found in Ulster mainly, is probably of
Scottish origin, as is McCoy. In fact these two names were often
used interchangeably during the 19th century. Mackey in Ireland
may be of
Irish or Scottish origin.

England. Mackays in
England may be Scottish, such as the Mackays who in the
late 19th century had invested in and ran the Trowbridge woollen mill
of Palmer & Mackay in Wiltshire.
But a large number of the Mackays and Mackeys in Lancashire were of
Irish or Scots
Irish origin.

McKay, Mackie, and Mackey are
common names in America, McKay and Mackie from Scotland and McKay and
Mackey from Ireland. Among the 18th century arrivals were:

  • Robert Mackay, a Quaker pioneer in America who first settled in
    New Jersey in 1723 and then moved to Warren county, Vurginia.
    Family tradition has it that Robert had come from Scotland with his
    parents as part of the Perth Expedition. The house built by his
    son Robert in Cedarville, Virginia still stands.
  • John and
    Ann Mackey,
    who came
    Ireland with their family iin the early 1750’s. They eventually
    settled in Rowan county, North Carolina where John died at Mackeys
    creek in 1787.
  • Iver McKay, who came to Bladen county, North Carolina from
    Argyllshire in Scotland around 1760. His grandson James was
    an influential Congressman for North Carolina in the 1830’s and
  • Robert Mackay from Scotland, who had established himself as a
    merchant in Savannah by 1760. The Mackays were prominent
    Savannah merchants and plantation owners up to the time of the Civil
  • Donald Mackay, who in 1760 stayed on in the Mohawk valley in
    upstate New York after having served with the 78th Highland Regiment in
    Quebec. A Loyalist, he and his family departed for Canada after
    the Revolutionary War was over.
  • and Thomas McKie from county Tyrone in Ireland who arrived in
    North Carolina around 1770. He fought in the Revolutionary War,
    drew land in Georgia, and moved to Elbert county there with his family.

Beatrice Mackey Doughtie’s 1961 book The
Mackeys and Allied Families
traced Mackeys from Lauderdale
county, Alabama.

Heading West Two
McKays made names for themselves in the American West in the 19th

  • one was David McKay from Caithness who had come out to
    Lake City in the 1860’s and was the father of two prominent leaders of
    the Mormon church.
  • the second was John Mackay from Dublin.
    He struck it rich in a silver mine in California in 1873. From
    the proceeds he developed an international cable business, first across
    the Atlantic and then, continued by his son Clarence, across the
“Clarence Mackay was said to have
inherited $500 million on the death of his father in 1902. In
1926 his daughter Ellin married Irving Berlin against his wishes and he
disinherited her.”

. Some early McKays in Canada were fur
traders. Alexander and William McKay were Loyalist sons from
upstate New York who had crossed over to Canada in 1792. William
fought on the British side in the War of 1812; while Alexander headed
west and was one of the founders of Port Astoria on the Columbia river
(he was killed there in 1811 during an Indian uprising). Son
Thomas worked for the Hudson Bay Company and later settled in

James McKay, a trader also with the Hudson Bay Company, became a
leading figure in the Red River settlement in present-day
Manitoba. Another early Manitoba settler was John Richard McKay
who died in Brandon in 1810. His son Charles moved onto
Washington county, Oregon in the mid 1800’s.

McKays in the Maritime provinces could be:

  • Loyalists who had resettled there (many of whom were to be found
    in St. John, New Brunswick)
  • British soldiers who had stayed on after their period of duty was
    over, such as the McKays of Jordan Falls, Nova Scotia – from whom came
    McKay the shipbuilder.
  • or new arrivals from Scotland. One such was John McKay, an
    settler on Prince Edward Island.
“The British brigandine ship Edinburgh had a complement of
seventy passengers and their register showed the McKay family names and
the payments for their passage. The vessel set sail from
Campbelltown in Argyllshire and reached Prince Edward Island on
September 17, 1771.”

John’s son Archibald lived and died in Malpeque,
Prince Edward Island
. John was followed in 1773 by
Roderick Mackay on the Hector,
the first Scottish emigrant
ship to Pictou, Nova Scotia. In 1805 another John Mackay, the
last of
a long line of
Mackay pipers
, arrived in Pictou.

There were also McKays escaping the Highland clearances, such as
Alexander and Katherine McKay who departed Scotland for Lanark township,
in 1832; and William Mackay who came to Prince
Edward Island around the same time.

Australia and New Zealand.
The MacKays were a wealthy family who arrived in New Zealand on the Slains Castle in 1844.

“The MacKay family even brought a
prefabricated home which took a week to unload and servants, including
a shepherd and a blacksmith.”

They were a Mackie Aberdeen merchant family, not the MacKay lairds as
they had depicted themselves in the painting The Emigrants.

Meanwhile, poorer Highland emigrants to New Zealand usually had
assisted passage. That was the case with Angus MacKay who had
arrived on the Henrietta in
1860 and settled, as did many other Scottish Highlanders, in Otago,
South Island. Robert Mackay was a shepherd at the Rakaia Gorge
station outside Canterbury, his daughter Jessie a well-known New
Zealand writer and poet.

The Mackay name is best known in Australia through John Mackay, the son
of Scottish immigrants, who explored the northeast coastline of
Queensland in the 1860’s. The town of Mackay was named
after him. More recently the Mackay name in Queensland has been more
associated with bananas. Stanley Mackay first began growing
bananas in Queensland in 1945 and his family’s banana plantations are
now the largest in Australia.

Mackay Miscellany

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

Select Mackay Names

Angus Dubh Mackay (Black Angus),
who lived in the
early 15th cntury,
was the first recorded chief of the Mackay clan.
Sir Donald Mackay in 1626
raised an army of over 3,000 Mackay men and fought
with them in Europe in the Thirty Years War.
Donald McKay was a
Canadian-born American designer and builder of sailing ships in Boston
in the mid 19th century.
John Mackay was an American
capitalist who developed an international cable business. When he
died in 1902 he was one of the richest Americans of his day.
James Mackay of Arbroath, later
Lord Inchcape, was a British colonial administrator in India and a
diplomat in Asia in the early 1900’s.

Select Mackays

  • 46,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Lancashire)
  • 30,000 in America (most numerous
    in California)
  • 62,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).




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