McGowan Surname Genealogy

is the phonetic anglicization
of the Irish Mac Gabhainn and the
Scottish Mac Gobhainn, both meaning
“son of the smith.”
smith in olden times was an important person­age, as being the maker of
and weapons.
During English rule many McGowans in Scotland and Ireland
changed their
name to the English Smith.  
While the Scots and Irish share the McGowan name, their McGowan history differs.

McGowan Resources on

McGowan Ancestry

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
the preferred
English form, with the largest number being in Donegal.

Donegal. A
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.

Ulster. O’Gowan
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
Ballinderry in
Derry in 1773.

Scotland. There
was a MacGowan clan, often spelt MacCowan, on the river Nith in the
borders in the 14th century.

“McCowan was a family
name of distinction for hundreds of years in the Kirkconnel area.
Robert the
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
attached –
for the purposes of armory or for making horse-shoes – to the
Mackintosh and
MacPherson clans. In the 18th century
Neil Gow and his son Nathaniel from Inver in Perthshire were
pre-eminent among
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 McGowans:

  • 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
for San
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
gave the
family name to what became known as McGowan’s Pass.

“McGowan’s Pass, part of the
escarpment that crossed Manhattan at present-day Fifth Avenue and 102nd
consisted of two rock outcrops on the main road through Manhattan.”

The tavern
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.

Canada. McGowans,
mainly from Ireland, arrived into the Maritime Provinces in the late
1700’s and
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
    in 1832.

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
valley in

Three working class McGowan
arrivals into
Australia in the second half of the 19th century produced three notable

  • James McGowen was a boilermaker from Lancashire who
    came to
    Melbourne with his wife Eliza on the Western
    in 1855. Their son James, born
    on the way over, became a boilermaker like his father and then rose
    through the
    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.

McGowan Miscellany

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

McGowan Names

Gow Chrom
survived the
Battle of North Inch in 1396 and is, according to tradition, the
forebear of
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
    in Lanarkshire)
  • 12,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 11,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)




Click here for return to front page

Leave a Reply