McGee Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select McGee Meaning
The Gaelic elements mag, a rendering of mac (or “son of”), and the personal name aodh, meaning “fire,” gave rise to the surnames McGhee, McGee and Magee in Scotland and Ireland.
McGhee is the Scottish
spelling for the most part, although this name did spread to Ulster at
the time of the
Scottish plantations. The McGee
and Magee names were also in Ulster. McGee
of Irish origin was mainly found in Donegal, Magee of Scottish origin
in Antrim.  Often Magee was the Protestant name and McGee the
Catholic one

Select McGee Resources on

McGee Ancestry

ScotlandMcGhees in Scotland may have been Irish in origin, although they do seem to have preceded the Irish McGees. The
name in Scotland was first recorded
with Gilmighel
McEthe of Dumfries at the Ragman’s Ball in 1296 and may have dated back several centuries earlier.

Gilbert M’Ghie was the first Lord of
Balmaghie (meaning M’Ghie’s town) in Galloway
the year 1400
His descendants acquired progressively more
influence and importance, especially with Sir John M’Ghie in the 1640’s
during the reign of the Stuarts. A branch of the family
controlled the
Rinns of Islay
for several

However, their prominence was lost with the
sale of their estates and an extremely severe lack of male heirs. By the 18th century the McGhee families of
Balmaghie, Airie and Airds, and Castlehill were all practically

  • John McGhee, the last of
    Castlehill, had six
    daughters, the eldest of whom had six sons who all died
  • while William
    McGhee, a merchant in Edinburgh who had inherited Balmaghie with its
    4,000 acres
    of agricultural and sporting land unexpectedly, had no interest in the
    estate and sold it in 1768
    . The last of the McGhee line at Balmaghie
    were said to have been two old ladies who lived and died in a cottage

By the late 19th century, the McGhee and McGee names in Scotland were
mainly to be found in Lanarkshire, in and around Glasgow, rather than
in their earlier homeland in SW Scotland.

Irish McGee and Magee history has been more sketchy.

The old Irish form of the name was Mac
(meaning “son of Hugh.”). Another derivation in
Donegal was Mac Gaoithe (“of
the wind”). A family of this name served as erenaghs in Donegal
in the parish of Condahorkey. The name there became McGee or
sometimes McKee. They were to be found along the border with

Tyrone had some early Scottish settlers by the name of McGhee or
McGee. Sir John McGhee of Balmaghie died in 1617 and was
buried in Leckpatrick cemetery near Strabane. His line extended
to George McGhee who was buried there in 1741.

The spelling in county Antrim was generally
Magee. It was said that the Magees of Island Magee, a peninsula
on the coast near Larne in Antrim, had come originally from the
Scottish Rinns of Islay. Other Scots Irish in Antrim also adopted
the Magee spelling, although some still kept the old Scottish
spelling. Their numbers

  • James Magee, born in Belfast in the early 1700’s, who was a
    newspaper printer and publisher whose business later expanded through
    his sons to Dublin. This line was covered in F.J. Bigger’s 1916
    book The Magees of Belfast and Dublin.
  • Martha Magee, the widow of a Presbyterian minister in Lurgan, who
    endowed Magee University in Derry on her death in 1846.
  • Richard McGhee, also from Lurgan, who was a Protestant labor
    union activist at the time of Home Rule.
  • and the Rev. Robert Magee from Belfast who was instrumental in
    securing the Loyalist ceasefire during the sectarian strife in 1994.

America. The McGees and Magees who came to America in
the 18th century were invariably Scots Irish. Michael McGee who
arrived in Brunswick county, Virginia in the 1750’s was thought to have
originated from Island Magee in Antrim. His son
Michael McGee moved
to Abbeville, South Carolina in 1791.

Other Scots Irish who made the journey across the Atlantic were:

  • John McGee who may have been born in 1730 while enroute from
    Ireland to America. He died in North Carolina just before the
    outbreak of the Revolutionary War. His second wife Martha,
    however, was recognized as a heroine during that conflict. Two of
    their sons John and William moved to Tennessee in the 1790’s and became
    prominent Presbyterian ministers there.
  • five McGee brothers from Tyrone who came to Augusta and Botetourt
    counties, Virginia in the 1750’s. They migrated to Kentucky with
    Daniel Boone around the year 1775.
  • John McGee who fought with the 12th Virginia Regiment during the
    Revolutionary War and later made his home at McGee Cove in Warren
    county, Tennessee.
  • and Patrick Magee from Antrim who came to Georgia in 1779 and
    settled in Missouri territory.

another Tennessee line began with Barclay McGhee, Scots Irish from
North Carolina, who was a merchant and successful land speculator in
Blount county, Tennessee. His son John built up a large
property base of former Indian land along the Little Tennessee
river. This land remained in his descendants’ hands until the
1960’s. John’s son Charles, who based himself in Knoxville, was
responsible for much of the railroad construction that took place in
east Tennessee during the 1870’s and 1880’s.

David McGee from Scotland enlisted in the Continental Army in 1777 and
fought in the Revolutionary War. Afterwards he too moved to Tennessee
and then onto Alabama. He was said to have had six
wives. The McGee in the song Me and
Bobby McGee

was in fact a Tennesseean, although her real name was Bobby McKee.

Fibber McGee was a fictional American, from a
long-running radio comedy series. One
McGee family history in America, together with the story of the McGees
Scotland and Ireland, was traced in James McGee’s 2007 book A
Branch of a
Tree: A McGee Family in History.

Canada. Thomas
D’Arcy McGee, born into an Ulster
family in Louth, came to North America in 1842 and eventually made his
home in
Montreal. He was Catholic and a
passionate advocate of Irish and Canadian nationalism who was gunned
down on
the streets of Ottawa in 1868, one year after Confederation.

D’Arcy’s family was originally from county
Down. His grandmother Elizabeth Magee
had in fact immigrated to Canada in 1823, settling in Lanark county,
Ontario. John Wellington McGee, born
there in 1863, considered himself a descendant of D’Arcy McGee. He had been born Magee but on converting to
Catholicism changed his name to McGee.


Select McGee Miscellany

McGees, Magees, and McGhees Today

Numbers (000’s) McGee Magee McGhee Total
Ireland     2     3     –     5
UK (incl. N. Ireland)     7   10     5    22
America    19     9     6    34
Elsewhere*     8     4     2    14
Total    36    26    13    75

*Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

The McGees of the Rinns of Islay.  The MacGees of the Rinns of Islay go back to the 14th century and possibly earlier.  A
commentary in the Annals of Islay reveals:

“The MacGee family was the most important
family in Islay under the Lords of the Isles.
A local tradition has it that McAodha na Renna (MacGee of the
Rinns) was
known as the Islay seer and was buried beside the ancient chapel on
Orsaig island.  When he died and what his
Christian name was
is uncertain.”

In 1493 the Scottish King
James IV defeated the MacDonalds and their leadership of the Isles.  The MacGees were still landholders in Islay
during the 1500’s but may have later dispersed for Antrim. 

The Last McGhees of Balmaghie.  After William McGhee had sold the Balmaghie estate in 1768, the last of
the direct line from Balmaghie were apparently two old cronies who were
recorded as follows in Malcolm Harper’s 1876 book Rambles in Galloway:

“Burnside Cottage is about a mile
from the Lochenbreck Hotel, on the right of the road to
Lauriston.  Its interior was a very good specimen of the general
character of the Galloway cottage of old times.  Up to the time of
their deaths it was the abode of Tibbie and Maggie McGhee who were
well-known characters in the district.  They were said to have
been the last representatives of the once powerful race of McGhees of

Michael McGee of Abbeville, South Carolina.  Michael
McGee was born in Virginia in 1759 and died in South Carolina in
1834.  He was buried in the Turkey Creek
Baptist church cemetery near Ware Shoals in Abbeville.
His tombstone read as follows:

to the memory of Michael McGee
who departed this life the 21st of June 1834 aged 74 years and 4 days.  He was a soldier in the Revolutionary War and
had been a member of the Turkey Creek Baptist church upward of forty
years.  Peace was his theme in life.  And he died in peace with all men and his

Blessed are the dead which die in
the Lord, from henceforth yea saith the spirit that they may rest from
labors and their works do follow them.”

Michael McGee was said to have come into this section of South Carolina
in 1791 on horseback.  His wife Anne also
rode a horse.

He had courage and he began to buy up the cheap land which the
state was offering to sell at very low prices per acre and on easy
terms to
induce settlers to come.  It was said that
Michael was very thrifty and saved his money. Soon he became a sort of
community banker who would lend cash to neighbors of his own selection.
never required security, only a plain note, but he picked his borrowers.

All that remained of his home in 1999 was a
tall crooked chimney.  His descendants
lived there until Jesse McGee removed himself to Greenville.

The Murder of Thomas D’Arcy McGee.  Nine months after becoming a country, Canada was rocked by a national trauma
that was on the
emotional scale of the Lincoln assassination three years earlier.
Well after midnight on April 7, 1868, one of the fathers of the new
nation, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, was murdered by a single bullet fired at
range, steps away from Parliament where he had just delivered a
defense of the
fragile federation.

that day, a shaken Prime Minister
Sir John Macdonald (who had personally carried McGee’s body into
his rooming house after the murder), reported the news to a hushed
House of
Commons. Fighting back tears, he described his friend as a “hero who
a martyr to the cause of his country, whose hand was open to everyone,
heart was made for friends and whose enmities were written in

A week
later, on what would have been McGee’s
43rd birthday, 80,000 Montrealers — in a city of only about 100,000 —
lined the
streets to watch another 15,000 mourners march in his funeral
procession. It
remains the largest funeral in Canadian history.

Chaveau, the first premier of
Quebec, also
addressed the Commons on the afternoon of the murder. He described
McGee as the “prince of orators” and his death as “the baptism
in blood of the Confederation he did so much to bring about.” 

Me and Bobby McGee.  Kris Kristofferson wrote the song, Janis Joplin made it a hit in 1971, and it has remained a classic.

song is essentially a road story about two
drifters.  The narrator speaks of
travelling as vagrants and hitching a ride on a diesel truck through
the American
South, ending up in California.  As Janis belts out:

is just another
word for nothing left to lose,
don’t mean nothing honey if it ain’t free, now now.
And feeling good was easy, Lord, when he sang
the blues,
You know feeling good was good enough for me,
Good enough for me and
my Bobby McGee.”

Bobby gets tired of life on the road and decides to settle down “up
Salinas” and parts ways with the narrator.

was Bobby McGee?  The title in fact came
from Kristofferson’s producer
Fred Foster and Bobby McKee, a secretary in his building in Nashville.  But Kristofferson misheard the name and Bobby
was born.  Bobby was a woman in
song but a man in Janis’s version.


Select McGee Names

  • Gilbert M’Ghie was the late 14th
    century first Lord of Balmaghie in Galloway in SW Scotland.
  • D’Arcy McGee was an Irish
    publisher and politician in Canada in the mid-19th century who is sometimes considered as the father of Canadian Confederation.
  • The McGee Brothers – Sam with guitar and Kirk with banjo – were one of the most enduring country acts on the Grand Ole Opry stage in Nashville since its opening in 1926.
  • Alan McGee from Glasgow was a prominent British record producer in the 1990’s.

Select McGee Numbers Today

  • 22,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Northern Ireland)
  • 41,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 19,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

These numbers include McGhees and Magees.


Select McGee and Like Surnames 

These are surnames from the Scottish Lowlands.  Some are clan names; some – like Gordon, Graham and Hamilton – have Anglo-Norman antecedents that crossed the border into Scotland; and some – like Douglas and Stewart – were very powerful in early Scottish history.  Stewart in fact became the royal Stuart line.





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