Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Sixteenth Century

When I started tracing my own McIlhagga family I quickly realised I had little hope of going back beyond the end of the eighteenth century.  But would I get anywhere if I tried some tracing in the opposite direction, forwards from the earliest references I could find?  All the advice is against such an approach - start with yourself and work backwards - but with a 'rare' surname it might produce something interesting anyway!  For the time being I think I've done all I can by rooting around in Celtic (Saxon) times and Medieval times, witness my earlier blog items.  And I haven't found anything specific in either the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries, though I live in hope that something will turn up.  There are however three valuable references in the sixteenth century that may have links both back to earlier times and forward to more contemporary times.

The first 'modern' anglicization of the original Gaelic clan name is as a Charter witness at Colmonell in Ayrshire, today a beautiful Conservation Village in Carrick.  It can be found in John Anderson's , Calendar of the Laing Charters AD 854-1837, where Michael Macylhaggow is found as a witness in 1527.  He would of course only have had to be twenty-eight years old to have been born in the previous century.  His is the only version of the name which uses the letter 'y' as the vowel in the abbreviation of 'Ghille'.  Now, on a visit to Colmonell about eight years ago I was surprised by the beautifully carved sign at the entrance to the village which referred to St. Colmon of Ella (hence the village's name) who, it is said, built a cell there about 555 AD.

St. Colmon of Ella was reported to be a nephew of St. Columba of Iona (who of course came from Ireland to Scotland) and was none other than the St. Colmon Elo who had persuaded our own clan 'originator', Mochuda, to settle in Rahan, before he moved on to Lismore!  However fanciful it may seem, it would indeed be serendipidous if Colman had brought the clan name, 'Devotee of Mochuda' with him when he ventured from Ireland to Colmonell in the sixth century.  Perhaps he brought with him a companion who had been a follower of Mochuda and who was known as such.  Maybe when we meet Michael in the 16th century the clan had existed in Carrick, Scotland, as long as it had in Lismore, Ireland!  Incidentally a stone plaque over the door of the present much later church reads 'Heir is ane hous bult to serve God in 1591', indicating an earlier stone church taking us back physically to a time fairly soon after the time of Michael Macylhaggow.

Our second sixteenth century reference is in The Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, 'Registrum magni sigilli regum Scotorum'.  On 18th September 1553 Patricius McIlhagon witnessed a charter to Kennedy of Bargaltoun at Balmacclanoquan in Kyle in the 'sheriffdom of Air'.  The charter concerned the transfer of land between two Kennedy cousins and was confirmed by Queen Mary.  Colmonell is in fact home to the Kennedies of Bargany. Given the time-scale we may just have a link from Michael in 1527 to Patrick in 1553, for they must have been but one generation apart.

The third and final reference in sixteenth century Scotland is to a Robert M'Ilhago in Tradidnell in 1597.  It is interesting to note that all the earliest examples of the clan name have a final long 'round' vowel, as in Gilmagu, Gilmalagon, Macylhaggow, McIlhagon and M'Ilhago.  G.F.Black in his The Surnames of Scotland thinks that the final 'n' of McIlhagon (as also in Gilmalagon) has been miswritten for an original 'u', thus maintaining more clearly that long vowel.  As we see when we move into the next century the name Robert is one which is inherited through a number of generations, as is the form of his surname, McIlhago/McElhago.

We may never know whether there was a succession 'Michael - Patrick - Robert', but there may have been, and we may have a Scottish progenitor who was born in the fifteenth century!

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