McCartney Surname Meaning, History & Origin

McCartney Surname Meaning

Macartney is an anglicized form of the Gaelic MacArtain in Scotland or MacCartaine in Ireland.  The Gaelic prefix mac means “son of” and Artain is a diminutive of the Old Celtic byname Art, meaning “bear” or “hero.”  The Macartney spelling has generally given way to McCartney.

McCartney Surname Resources on The Internet

McCartney and Macartney Surname Ancestry

  • from Scotland (Galloway) and Ireland (Ulster)
  • to England, America and Australia

Scotland. McCartneys have their origin in Scotland, although their earlier roots may have been in Ireland. These Macartneys were to be found in Galloway in SW Scotland in the 16th century.  The areas where they settled in Kirkudbright were Auchinleck, Blaiket, and a spot known at the time as Macartney.

Galloway.  The Macartneys had acquired the farm at Auchinleck, originally part of Dundrennan Abbey, through the grace of the Maxwells in 1587.  These Macartneys were said to be originally from Ayrshire.  Their forebear was George Macartney who had married Mary McCollough in Kirkudbright in 1522.  Captain George Macartney of this family departed for Ulster in 1649 to form a new line there.  But Macartneys remained at Auchinleck, as their gravestones in Dundrennan Abbey reveal.

The farm at Blaiket Mains in Urr parish came into Macartney hands a little later. These Macartneys suffered for their adherence to the Presbyterian religion, being fined and imprisoned and having their estates seized.  

The area known at Macartney lay at the junction of Crossmichael and Kirkpatrick.  Possibly the Macartneys of Mickle Leathes lived there.  It is now called Walton Park.

Macartneys began leaving Galloway for Ulster in the 17th century.  The Maxwells seem to have been instrumental in this migration.  “Galloway land was very poor, stony and hilly and was not much good for anything more than cattle raising.  The move to Ulster was prompted by the promise of good productive land in Ireland.  As well, people were escaping from the oppression of the Church of England religion which could dispossess and imprison those who refused to abandon their Presbyterian faith.”  

The Macartneys reassembled in Antrim.

Glasgow. Today there is a sizeable McCartney population in Glasgow and its environs.  But many of them are probably the descendants of McCartneys in Ireland who had crossed back to Scotland:

James McCartney, for instance, had come as a young man in the 1860’s to Glasgow in search of work.  He married there, worked as an onion dealer, and raised his family in the Gorbals. 

John McCartney was a Glasgow tram driver disabled by work injuries in the 1920’s.  His son Hugh was active as a trade unionist and became a Scottish Labor MP, as did his son Ian who later served in the Blair Cabinet.  Sadly, Ian’s son Hugh was a young man who died of a heroin overdose.

Ireland.   Macartneys settled in Antrim.  Macartney was in fact listed in Petty’s Census of 1659 as a principal Irish surname of the barony of Belfast.

Belfast.  Captain George Macartney arrived in Belfast in 1649 at the time of Cromwell.  The family was to remain a force in Belfast and in county Antrim for generations to come.  He was one of three George Macartney merchants active in Belfast in the late 17th century.

His son George was a Belfast MP for fifty years and bought the Lissanoure estate in Ballymoney in 1733.  The family thus became country gentlemen.  A later George Macartney set off for London, married well, and was a distinguished diplomat, his career culminating in his appointment as the first Ambassador to China in 1792. The Lissanoure estate passed through many Macartney hands after his death in 1806.  But the last of them proved to be reckless with his money and the estate had to be sold in 1943.

Meanwhile William Macartney sat in the Irish House of Commons for Belfast from 1747 to 1760.  His son Sir John also sat in the House and was created a baronet in 1799.

McCartneys have not been immune from the sectarianism in Belfast society.  However, two who have been killed in the Troubles have been on the Catholic divide in society – John McCartney killed by Loyalists in the 1920 Belfast riots and Robert McCartney, also a Catholic, but killed in 2005 apparently by members of the Provisional IRA.

England.  Liverpool followed Glasgow as a destination for Ulstermen.  Paul McCartney’s family history was perhaps typical of many, with his McCartney forebears arriving from Ireland in the 1860’s and both of his parents being of Irish origin.

America.  McCartneys in America have tended to be Scots Irish, with many of them entering via Pennsylvania.  Their numbers included:

  • James McCartney who arrived from Ireland in 1770 and fought in the Revolutionary War.  He later moved west to Ohio.   
  • Ephraim McCartney who was born in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania in 1772.  His family moved around Pennsylvania in the early 19th century before heading west to Iowa in the 1850’s.  
  • and William McCartney, born in Pennsylvania in 1781, who headed west in the early 1800’s to Ohio and then to South Bend, Indiana (where he was a judge and land speculator). His son Thomas migrated to California at the time of the Gold Rush. 

Australia.  Hussey Macartney, eldest son of Sir John the baronet, came to Melbourne in 1847.  Five years later he was appointed the Dean of Melbourne’s first cathedral, a position he was to hold until his death in 1894.  Hussey’s son John operated sheep stations in Queensland and had a passion for riding.  

“In 1859 John took up the Waveroley run near Rockhampton.  He soon became a legend, both as a horseman and as a collector of runs.  He was said to have regularly ridden the 125 miles from Waverley to Rockhampton in one day, carried out all necessary business, and retraced the 125 miles the next day.”

Paul McCartney’s Family Ancestry

Paul McCartney’s ancestor came from Ireland and arrived in Liverpool in the 1860’s.  Paul’s grandfather and father were both musicians in Liverpool.  Paul met John Lennon there to form the band that became the Beatles.

Just click below if you want to read more about this story:

McCartney Surname Miscellany

McCartney Origins.  The McCartneys are believed to have originated in the 13th century with Donal Cartnach in Ireland. His eldest son Donal served under Robert the Bruce’s standard in Ireland.  After the Battle of Dundalk he was said to be rewarded with land in Scotland called Glen Artney.

However, this land was lost and many of Donal’s descendants decamped to Galloway, acquiring land at Loch Urr.

Macartney Gravestone at Dundrennan Abbey in Kirkudbright.  There are a number of Macartney gravestones in the burial grounds of Dundrennan Abbey.   One of the most interesting has the following inscription:

“Sacred to the memory of Robert Macartney, born 1722, died at Auchenleck in 1798  and of his wife, Elizabeth Mac briar, born 1732, died at Auchenleck in 1807.

Also of John Macartney in Hall and Auchenfad, second son of the above, born at Auchenleck in 1764, died at Auchencairn in 1849 and of Marion his wife, daughter of John Macartney and Mary Barton, born in 1768, died at Auchenfad in 1831.

Also of Robert Macartney, eldest son of the above, born  at Auchenfad in 1799, died at Dundrennan House, in 1886 also of Eliza, his wife, eldest daughter of Ebenezer Halliday of Kirkland of Gelston, born in 1802, died at Dundrennan House, in 1881.

Also of Jeanne, Lady Macartney, nee du Sautoy, the beloved wife of Sir Halliday Macartney, Knight Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George, fourth son of the above, died at Hove, Sussex, 1902, in her 41st year; also of the said Sir Halliday Macartney, born 1833, died at Kenbank, Dalry, Galloway, in 1909.”

Sir Halliday Macartney made his name and his reputation in China.  He arrived there in 1862 and helped the Chinese establish a military arsenal in Nanking.  He was Governor there for twelve years before the Chinese entrusted him with being their representative in Europe.  By this time his unrivalled knowledge of the Chinese language, customs and policies led to him being described by Anglo-Chinese officials as “a thorough Chinaman.”

Macartney Merchants in Belfast.  There were three Macartney merchants, all called George, in Belfast in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

  • The first was George Macartney from Auchinleck who arrived in Belfast in 1649, was foremost in his Protestant allegiance during the Glorious Revolution, and died there after King William had retaken the town in 1691.  His son George was an MP and acquired the Lissanoure estate in 1733.
  • The second was “Black” George Macartney from Blacket, who arrived shortly afterwards and was a merchant and shipowner in Belfast.  He probably died around 1702.  His son Isaac followed in his footsteps, being described in the 1720’s as “one of the most opulent merchants and bankers in Ulster.”  He inherited estates through his wife in Down and Armagh.  Later Macartneys of this line were to be found in Australia.
  • The third was “Brown” George Macartney, who arrived later.  He was also a Belfast merchant and lived onto 1722.

Lissanoure Castle.  George Macartney the diplomat loved Lissanoure and would come home as often as he could. In 1770 he began the re-building of the old castle when the Gothic mansion overlooking Lough Gill was replaced with a Georgian manor house and semi-circular yard of grand dimensions.

However, by the 19th century the castle was often in need of repair as it suffered from damp.  The family would then have to move out for periods.  A later George Macartney had a cottage by the side of Lough Gill, just a short distance from the castle but in a beautiful setting, rebuilt in 1833 for the family’s use.  After a time at the cottage, the family was preparing to return to the castle when a terrible incident took place which was talked about all over Ireland.

A great ball was scheduled as a “house-warmer” for the night of October 5, 1847.  About noon on that day it occurred to one of the men organizing the move that there was gunpowder in an old vault underneath the castle and that it would be a good idea to have a look at it. When one of the casts was opened, the butler was asked to take the son and heir out of the room for safety.  As he closed the door, the draught blew some gunpowder into the fire and this produced eventually a huge explosion which blew up the castle and killed Mrs Macartney.

From then on the family lived at the cottage and the castle remained in ruins, with only the yard intact.

James McCartney, Revolutionary War Soldier.  James McCartney of Ross county, Ohio made the following statements in his application for pension for his service in the Revolutionary War:

  • “that he was born in the county of Londonderry in Ireland on the 11th day of April, 1745 (and this appears in the record of his age in the old family bible that belonged to his father Isaac),
  • that he came to America about four or five years before the commencement of the Revolutionary War, landed at Philadelphia, and afterward removed to Westmoreland county, Pennsylvania, from which place he was drafted to serve as a private soldier in the Militia.”

This application was started on the 10th day of October, 1832.  McCartney did get his pension and lived on in Ross county before dying in 1835 at the ripe old age of ninety.

Reader Feedback – McCartneys in Pennsylvania and Illinois.  I’ve traced my family back to 1744 – in New York, Pennsylvania, southern Indiana and ending in Peoria, Illinois. There are marriages to the Maxwells (with pictures from the 1800s I have of both) plus documentation of William McCartney in Pennsylvania who was a prominent boat builder.

Jeffrey McCartney (

McCartney Names

  • George Macartney was an Irish-born British statesman, colonial administrator and diplomat of the 18th century.
  • Paul McCartney made his name with John Lennon and the Beatles in the 1960’s and has continued as a best-selling recording artist.

McCartney Numbers Today

  • 9,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 4,000 in America (most numerous in Pennsylvania)
  • 4,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)




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Written by Colin Shelley

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