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16 October 2014
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Charlie Dillon Baile an Chaistil

We will take a look at surnames which are to be found in and around the Ballycastle and north Antrim area. Due to its obvious proximity to Scotland, it is perhaps no surprise to learn that many of the local Gaelic surnames have their origin in Scotland and in the Isles. This harks back to the days when this part of Ireland and neighbouring areas of Scotland formed a Gaelic sea-kingdom in which families ruled and lived on the islands and between the two mainlands.
The Mac Dónaill, the McDonnells, have a long tradition in the area and were recently the ruling family. The name McNeill, Mac Néill, is another example of this overseas link. The Mac Néill seem to have had their seat of power on the islands of Gigha and Barra, and have spread from there to north Antrim. The MacAuley, Mac Amhlaoibh have spread from similar Scottish roots, this time from Dumbartonshire, to become prevalent in the Ballycastle area. The Amhlaoibh from whom this surname takes its origin seems to be a Norse / Viking figure, perhaps a derivation of the name Olaf. Amhlaoibh was a mythical hero figure in the Norse / Icelandic folklore, and it is widely believed that it was from this same Amhlaoibh that Shakespeare drew the inspiration for his famous character Hamlet.
An exception to this pattern of Scottish origin is the surname McQuillan, Mac Uilín, which appears to mean ‘son of little Hugh’ and has its origin in Wales, from where the McQuillan came shortly after the Anglo-Norman invasion. They ruled the area known as the Route until they eventually lost control to the McDonnell’s in the sixteenth century. Testament is born to their longstanding links with the area in the fact that the local GAA club still carries their name.
McElhatton is a surname also associated with N. Antrim and has its origin in Mac Giolla Chatáin, meaning the follower of St. Catán. A branch of the Ó Donnghaile (Donnelly) also have links with the Ballycastle area, the name meaning brown or dark haired, and courage or valour.


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