McElroy Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select McElroy Meaning
two commonest spellings of the name are McElroy and McIlroy.  It is both Irish and Scottish in origin.  The root in each case is the Gaelic Mac giolla Ruaidh, composed of the
elements Mac, meaning “son of,” giolla
being “youth”, and ruaidh being “red haired” – hence
“the son of the red haired youth
.”  Some think that McElroy
is Irish in origin and McIroy Scottish in origin.

McElroy Resources on

McElroy Ancestry

name McElroy was first found in the 14th century in Dumfriesshire as
Michael McGilrey a tenant in Thornhill.  Michael
McYliroye was the baillie of Ayr in 1500.
The name also cropped up in the parish of Ballantrae in
Ayrshire.  One
family line began with the marriage of Hugh and Esther McElroy in
Wigtown in

The proximity to Ireland meant some emigration there over the years,
either as plantation settlers in the 17th century or as soldiers to
fight for Cromwell
or later for William of Orange.  In Ireland their name seems to
become McIlroy.

Ireland.  MacElroy in Ireland originated at
Ballymacelroy on the east side of Lough Erne in county Fermanagh.
Ballymacelroy was also to be found in Tyrone and Antrim.
The name cropped up in the old Annals:

  • in
    1476 the chief Donal died and
    was replaced by his son Brian
  • and
    in 1492 Ballymacelroy was destroyed by the

spelling became Gilroy in Connacht.

In 1990 the McElroy/McIlroy
spellings were fairly evenly divided in Northern Ireland, 53% being
McElroy and
47% being McIlroy:

  • Fermanagh
    and Tyrone remained important counties for
    McElroy, although the name extended as well into Monaghan and the
    parts of Armagh and Down.  Clogher in Tyrone recorded 61 McElroy
    in the census of 1860.
  • McIlroy
    was more localized, to Antrim and Belfast and to
    the northern parts of county Down near Belfast.  Sir
    William McIlroy of Hilden was well-known in the early
    20th century
    for his expertise on flax.

McElroy and McIlroy names were both found
county Down. 
earliest record there
was of a John McGylboy who was the Canon of Dromore around the year
1406.  It was said that there were two
branches, the “red” and the “black” McElroys.
More recent numbers have included:

  • Archibald
    McIlroy, the local JP and
    writer who went down with the Lusitania
    in 1915.
  • and James
    the acclaimed fiddler.

Mcilroy the golfer was born in Holywood, county Down.
His grandfather Jimmy had repaired cranes in
the Belfast docks where the Titanic 
was built.

America.  There
were reports that the McElroy name had appeared in Maryland land grants
early as 1659, either as indentured servants or being transported there.  John McElroy was born in Cecil county,
in 1690, married there, and then moved to Wake county, North Carolina
sometime in
the 1720’s.  Later descendants spread
across the South.

name first appeared in Pennsylvania in 1717.
Some of these McElroys settled in Bucks county. William
McElroy was recorded in Doylestown in
1749 and Sarah McElroy was
subject of a fatal duel in 1798.
Other McElroys in Pennsylvania migrated to Virginia, to Kentucky
1830), and later to points south.  John
McElroy’s 1901 book The History of Scotch
Irish McElroys in America
covered these lines

Two McIlroy lines, both said to have been of
Scottish descent, were in Arkansas by the early 1800’s:

  • Daniel
    McIlroy, born in
    Virginia in 1756, fought in the Revolutionary War, being captured
    during the
    Battle of Long Island.  His grandson
    Daniel settled in Randolph county, Arkansas in 1813.
    By 1889 his son Hemmet was the oldest living
    settler of Randolph county.
  • while
    John Paul McIlroy, born in North Carolina in
    1787, was believed to have been the forebear of the McIlroys of Dalton
    Randolph county.

Canada.  Henry
and his family from county Down were one of the
military families
that first settled Richmond, Ontario near Ottawa in 1818.
Three years later William McElroy and his
family from Armagh came to Ontario, moving around several times before
in Oshawa.  Three of his sons later moved
to Waupun, Wisconsin.  Meanwhile Samuel
McElroy and his family came to Dundas county, Ontario from Ballymoney
in county
Antrim sometime in the 1840’s.


Select McElroy Miscellany

McElroys and McIlroys in County Down.  Both the McElroy and Mcilroy names appeared in county
Down.  The earliest record was of a John
McGylboy who was the Canon of Dromore around the year 1406.  Six McIlroy families were recorded living in
Kilkeel parish in the 1659 census.  The
table below lists some names in the 18th century:

Name Parish Event Date
Elloner McAlroy Saintfield marriage to Leonard Dobbin 1709
James McElroy will probated 1751
John McElroy Seapatrick a Protestant at Banbridge 1766
Alexander McIlroy Kilkeel leased land from Lord Annesley 1781
James and John McIlroy Drumgooland flax growers 1796

Among later names in county Down were:

  • Archibald
    McIlroy, a JP from the Drumbo parish.  He
    later emigrated to Canada but was killed when the Lusitania
    was sunk in 1915.
  • and
    James (Gus) McElroy of
    Drumnaquoile.  Born in 1892, he was a
    renowned fiddler and still performing with his three sons on his 80th
    in 1972.

Henry McElroy and the 1798 Uprising.  Henry McElroy was born in 1774 in Drumgooland parish
in County Down.  As a young man he lived
through the 1798 uprising.  He and his
family were Protestant Episcopalians and were loyal to the Government
in Dublin
at the time.

other McElroys were not.  There was a
record of the McElroys near the Mournes being taken as
suspects.  Hugh and John Mcllroy had been
among the Protestant Dissenters (i.e. Presbyterians) listed for
Drumgooland in
1775.  Most of those who took part in the uprising were either
Presbyterians or
native Irish. Richard McElroy of Kilkeel
parish sold his home in 1800 and was thought to have left for America.

Sarah McElroy of Bucks County.  Sarah McElroy of Bucks county in Pennsylvania was a very beautiful and popular young woman.  In 1798 she was the occasion of a fatal duel
between two army officers.

In the burial ground of St. James’ church in Bristol,
a stone marks the grave of Captain John Sharp of the Tenth United
Infantry, the challenger.  Nearby is the
grave of Sarah who died unmarried.

Reader Feedback – McElroys from Baltimore to Texas.  Very interesting. William McElroy, in Lavaca county, Texas in 1847, was from Alabama.  I believe his father was Archibald McElroy from Baltimore who moved to North Carolina and to Tennessee.

Anthony Harrell McElroy (

James McElroy and His Three Wives.  James McElroy who arrived in Australia on the James Fernie
in 1856 was married three
times and he apparently outlasted all three of them.

first was named
Margaret and they lived at Ballymore in county Armagh.
She must have died by 1856 as he departed for
Australia with his son by her, James, and with his second wife Rachel
nee Trouten.  They settled in Maitland, NSW
and raised nine
children.  Then Rachel died.
James married a third time, to Susan nee
Armstrong.  However, a year after their
marriage Susan McElroy drowned in the Hunter river.

James Elroy of Drumnaquoile.  In 1972 there was an 80th birthday celebration in Castlewellan for the fiddler James
McElroy.  Traditional musicians
came from all over the county and a large crowd of guests from other
parts of
Ireland, England and America.  It was
obvious that this man and his family were held in high regard.  But then the musical McElroys of Drumnaquoile
were indeed a legend in these parts.

James McElroy learned the fiddle from his uncle Frank of
Legannany and
he in turn taught many young fiddlers around county Down.
He acquired the nickname of Gus at an early
age because he used to imitate the local stage comedian Gus McCormick.  He was so good at it the name stuck.  He was good also at mimicking animal
sounds.  Once he used this trick to make
two dogs fight each other.  He would also
call cows in from the fields by mimicking a calf.

played the fiddle for the
usual ceili dances and the Polka Mazurka and Highland Fling.  Gus and his sons were always ‘wild for
dancing.’  When not playing music
themselves, the McElroys would travel all over for a dance or a céilí.

Dan was still farming the original McElroy holding at Drumnaquoile, now
completely livestock-based. All the
McElroys have memories of an agricultural lifestyle that has now
disappeared – growing barley, potatoes, flax; harvesting the flax and
it in water holes to rot; cows calving and calves dying; their mother
butter at home and travelled on the bus to Newcastle to sell it around
doors. They were all born in the same
tiny bedroom ‘beyond the low room.’

Reader Feedback – Matthew McElroy in Liverpool, NSW.  I am searching for my ancestor Matthew McElroy,
baptized in 1794 in Dundalk Louth, who was transported to NSW. in 1817
on the Chapman.  He was married to
Sarah McGoveran in 1824 by
the Rev. Thierry in St. Mary’s church in Sydney.  They
had one daughter Mary Ann, born in 1822,
and lived on York Street in the 1828 Census.

Matthew was a contractor of the Parramatta
roads and earned his pardon in 1821.  He
was friends with a Michael Dwyer (a policeman buried at Waverly
cemetery with
his wife) and a Michael Conroy.  They
lived in Liverpool, NSW.

I am having a
hard time to find his and wife Sarah’s burial date.
No one seems to know. Mary Ann married a John
Tindall in 1839 the All Saints Roman Catholic church in Liverpool.

Regards, Janet Pritchard (


McElroy Names

  • John McElroy was the Jesuit priest who
    founded Boston College in 1857. 
  • Neil McElroy was President of Procter &
    Gamble and US Secretary of Defense under President Eisenhower. 
  • Jimmy McIlroy was a well-known Northern Irish
    footballer of the 1950’s and 1960’s. 
  • James McElroy of Drumnaquoile was an
    acclaimed fiddler from county Down
  • Rory McIlroy is a professional golfer from Northern Ireland, the first ever to win four majors by the age of twenty five.

Select McElroy Numbers Today

  • 6,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Antrim)
  • 7,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 6,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


Select McElroy and Like Surnames 

The Irish clan or sept names come through the mists of time until they were found in Irish records such as The Annals of the Four Masters.  The names were Gaelic and this Gaelic order was preserved until it was battered down by the English in the 1600’s.

Some made peace with the English.  “Wild geese” fled to fight abroad.  But most stayed and suffered, losing land and even the use of their language.  Irish names became anglicized, although sometimes in a mishmash of spellings.  Mass emigration happened after the potato famine of the 1840’s.

Some surnames – such as Kelly, Murphy and O’Connor – span all parts of Ireland.  But most will have a territorial focus in one of the four Irish provinces – Leinster, Munster, Ulster, and Connacht.

Ulster in NE Ireland covers the counties of Derry, Antrim, Down, Tyrone, Armagh, Fermanagh, Cavan, Monaghan, and Donegal.  Here are some of the Ulster surnames (excluding the Scots Irish surnames) that you can check out.




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