Ewan J. Innes, MA(Hons Scot. Hist.) FSA Scot
Synopsis: This essay describes the reason why other than nineteenth century migration, there are no O' surnames in Scotland, but there are Mac surnames in Ireland. This debunks the myth that Mac is Scottish and Mc is Irish.
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Firstly, it is complete and utter nonsense that Mac and Mc
indicate Scottish or Irish origins. They are both EXACTLY the same word, the Mc
is actually the abbreviated form of Mac (and sometimes meic) and was usually
written M'c (sometimes even M') with the apostrophe indicating that the name has
been abbreviated (there are many other characters indicating abbreviation
including two dots under the c).
There is however one distinction you can make as far as differentiating
between a name being Scottish or Irish. If it is an O' name it is always Irish
(those in Scotland are mostly nineteenth century emigrations), but if it is a
mac, mc or other variation it can be both Scottish or Irish!
Irish legal tracts of the fifth century recognise 3 grades of kingship:
rí túathe - ruler of kindred
rí túath - Overlord of other kindreds
- also ruire (ro aire)
rí ruirech - king of overkings
- also rí cóicid - king of a fifth (e.g.. king of Munster)
The above grades are purely legal, in the Irish annals they are
simply described as rí - you were supposed to know as you read the annal
which grade a particular king belonged to. There was no legal office of ard rí
(high king), this was a fiction of tenth and eleventh century historians trying
to place the Úi Néill as overlords of everybody.
This early society was anything but static, new kindreds rose as
old ones vanished in name. The names given to kindreds were always in two parts,
with the first always denoting kinship.
In the early historical period (c.AD400) a new term comes into
use for kindred naming Úi. This is in turn replaced by cenél and, around the
tenth century in Ireland, by clann (a little later in Scotland - the first being
MacDuff in the eleventh century). The sixteenth century saw this replaced in
both Ireland and Scotland by cinneadh.
The second element of a kindred name was always an historical figure and almost always male.
Around AD400, the Dàl Cuinn (kindred of Conn) led by Niall
Noigiallach (Niall of the nine hostages) began to expand at a rapid rate, as
they do so they get a new name the Úi Néill.
The Úi Néill begin to move north and takeover much of northern
and middle Ireland. The northern and southern branches then split into new
kindreds all said to be named after sons of Niall and each one representing a
tuath with a king. As a group one will be overking of the rest and be king of
the northern or southern Úi Néill. The king of the northern or southern Úi
Néill would also be king of the whole Úi Néill kindred.
|Main kindreds of the Northern Úi Néill
|Main kindreds of the Southern Úi Néill
Very few of them at the beginning of the sixth century can be
direct descendents of Eogain, therefore they were people from the kindred which
Eogain and family ruled over.
In many cases, they become so weak that they are absorbed into
the incoming kindred, in others they remain in being but are subordinated to the
incoming kindred. For instance the Airginalla were a subordinate kindred under
the northern Úi Néill and were known as the "hostage givers". Some
of the kindreds within the Airginalla became professional soldiers, indeed one
the Úi macc-Uais were the main fighting arm of the Úi Néill.
The kingdom of Dàl Riata established by the expansion from the
kingdom of Dàl Riata on the Ulster coast across to the west coast of Scotland
around the 500s, consisted of three kindreds:
Cenél nGabrain (Gabrain died in 558)
As you can see there were no Úi kindreds, therefore the
expansion of Dàl Riata into Scotland came after the Cenél naming pattern
Around the tenth century there were two forms of address for the rí.
The first structured like Donald son of X son of X in Gaelic was Donald ua Donald. The ua would later become O' in Ireland.
The alternative form of ua was Donald mac meic Donald or Donald
son of the son of Donald. Meic Donald would later became the form of address.
Both ways existed in Scotland and Ireland, but this latter was most common in
By the twelfth century the following structure is seen in the address of the rí:
||Style of rí
(last to come into being)
The use of surnames came very late to Scotland, because of this,
the period where the form O' had been productive was past, and the form mac was
THIS IS WHY OTHER THAN NINETEENTH CENTURY MIGRATION, THERE ARE
NO O' SURNAMES IN SCOTLAND, BUT THERE ARE MAC SURNAMES IN IRELAND.