Wednesday, 20 May 2009


I had an email today from someone in Surrey, England enquiring whether the name 'McIlhagga' relates to the name 'McHarg'. He had read that I had begun to research this question using the new science of DNA analysis. One would only get into this if all other avenues of searching had closed down. The issue was this: a McHarg DNA Project had approached me wanting to know whether I had any proof of the two names being connected, perhaps one being a variant of the other. Doubtless they had got this possibility from one of the authors who had linked the names. If you look up MacHarg in MacLysacht's The Surnames of Ireland it simply says, 'Tyrone name is an earlier form of Maharg. See MacIlhagga'. Under MacIlhagga he has 'A Scottish name found in Co.s Antrim and Derry. MacElhargy, MacIlhargy and Maharg are variants of it'. Robert Bell in The Book of Ulster Surnames follows him. I disagree. George F. Black in The Surnames of Scotland, in a longish section on MacHarg doesn't mention MacIlhagga. In all my research into the clan name I have come across many variants, but never McHarg, nor indeed MacElhargy nor McIlhargy.

So I had my DNA analysed! I opted to have a 37 'markers' test which is meant to give you a very accurate comparison of your genes with those of someone else. The 'super test' goes up to 67 markers. As a result you are told your 'haplogroup' and what it means and you are told the names of the people who 'match' you. My haplogroup is R1b1c which apparently is the most common group of people in European populations. It is believed to have expanded throughout Europe as humans re-colonized after the last glacial maximum 10-12 thousand years ago. Surely I was going to find a DNA match? But no! Out of the tens of thousands of people who have been tested I do not (yet) have anyone who matches me exactly with 37 markers, nor even with 25 markers! I know that 6 MacHargue and one McHarg men have been tested, but not one of them appeared in my 'matches' - not even down to 12 markers!

Is this enough to say that there is no link between McIlhagga and McHarg and that the two names are definitely not related? Well, not quite. I am the only McIlhagga who has been tested and although I do not know of any breaks in my ancestral line - I don't know of any putative fathers - there may have been one, way back. The only way to progress this search is to have more McIlhaggas tested. Only results from a number of tests would endorse my views on the relation of the clan to the McHargs - or not! But who knows, will anyone else come forward to have their DNA analysed?


Some time ago I purchased a privately published book, Nigh on Three and a Half Centuries, A History of Carnmoney Presbyterian Church, by Robert H. Bonar. My hope was that I would find a reference to an early clan member. I was disappointed but found a reference which was perhaps the next best thing. In 1686 Carnmoney called the Revd. John Munro who had been ordained in Argyllshire, Scotland, to be its minister. Among the sixteen elders involved in the Call was Patrick McBurny.  He was clearly the ancestor of the Patrick McBurney who married Agnes Fulton and whose seventh child (and sixth daughter) Betty Burney (they all dropped the 'Mc'), born about 1762, married Nathan McIlhaggar in about 1783, presumably in Carnmoney Presbyterian Church. I note that Nathan's surname and that of his offspring is spelled differently in different contexts: McIlhaggar, McIlhagar, McIlhaggart and McIlhagger.

The International Genealogical Index (IGI), presumably searching the Carnmoney baptismal registers, records six offspring of 'Nathan' as follows:

Nathan born about 1784
Jon born about 1785
George born about 1797
Patrick born about 1799
Nancy born about 1800
Nathan born about 1804.

Now clearly there are some problems here. There is a long gap of twelve years between 1785 and 1797 and it looks as if there might have been two families. Were all six the children of Nathan married in 1783? The only other Nathan we have who might have fathered the later children is Nathan born in 1784, but if (eg) George was his son, Nathan (junior) would have fathered him when he was only 12 or 13 years old, which is extremely unlikely, apart from which we have no marriage for this Nathan. Another 'problem' might be thought to be that Betty (nee Burney) would have been rather old at 42 when she had her last child, but surely this is not all that unusual. If all six were one family, the fact that there are two Nathans in the list of offspring must mean that the first one died before he was 20 years old. Also the 12 year gap might have been filled with other children who died in infancy who are not recorded. Our best suggestion at this time is that we are dealing with the six children of Nathan and Betty.

Our next question must be 'What happened to each of their children?'. Nathan (the first) we must presume died either in infancy or at least before he was 20 when Nathan (the second) was named. Jon had a son Jonathan who was baptised 15th March 1807. Of Patrick I'm afraid we know nothing further. However George and Nancy present us with a problem. An individual has entered on the IGI the following: 'About 1820 George McIlhaggart married Mrs. Agnes McIlhaggart', which is not very helpful, though George, son of Nathan and Betty, may indeed have married an Agnes. There is also a documented IGI entry for 25th May 1821 for Agnes M'Illhagart marrying Robert George at Carnmoney. Now the names Agnes and Nancy are used interchangeably, so the Agnes whom Robert married could well have been Nancy the daughter of Nathan and Betty. She would have been 21 in 1821, 'just the right age'. If this is the case, then two Georges have been confused and it is probable that we do not have any evidence of George son of Patrick being married. However, to complicate matters, we do have the baptism of an Elizabeth M'Ilhaggart (IGI Batch 8407433) at Carnmoney on 15th April 1822 whose father is George M'Ilhaggart. Elizabeth had to be either the daughter of George (son of Nathan) by an unknown woman, or the daughter of Robert George who has changed his name to George McIlhaggart/er, ie has taken the surname of his wife Agnes/Nancy. 

Lastly in this generation there is Nathan (the second) born 1804, interestingly baptised in Carnmoney Parish (Anglican) Church on 8th April. Perhaps if the first Nathan had died, Patrick and Betty couldn't face having another Nathan baptised in the same church. This Nathan married Ellen Wilson in Carnmoney on 21st May 1830. They had eight children, the first three months before they married, as follows:

Archibald born 8th Feb. 1830 (baptised 19th Sep. 1830)
Elizabeth born 30th Nov. 1831 (baptised ?)
Jonathan born 20th Apr 1834 (baptised 27th Jul. 1834)
William born 30th Apr 1836 (baptised 18th Jun.1836)
Robert or Nathan born 25th Jul 1838 (baptised 2nd Sep. 1838)
James born 25th May 1840 (baptised 11th Oct 1840)
Samuel born 30th Jul. 1842 (baptised 27th Nov. 1842)
Letitia born 21st Dec. 1844 (baptised 27th Jan 1845).

We have noted the records of three clan generations at Carnmoney. We must finally record another Carnmoney marriage. John McIlhaggo/a married Margaret Douglas(s) from nearby Templepatrick. She was from a Scots-Ulster family who had moved from Ayrshire in the first decade of the 17th Century. John was in fact the Jonathan above, son of Nathan and Ellen. John and Margaret had six children, the first of which, Hannah, was born in Carnmoney before the family moved to Belfast. Hannah was to marry Robert Killips in 1889 and produce a family of ten. Descendants of their sixth son, whom they called John McIlhagga (Killips), flourish today in the small English county of Rutland.

Monday, 18 May 2009

The early Antrim triangle

In County Antrim, Northern Ireland, the present day A5 driving south divides at Ballynure into the A5 and the A57. They form two sides of a triangle, the third side of which is the A6. The A57 takes you through Ballyclare, past a sign on your right to Doagh, and on to Templepatrick. The A5 takes you down to Newtownabbey and a couple of miles off to the left on the A8 to Carnmoney. Go back in time about 300 years and in that triangle you would have found our earliest Clan settlers in the Plantation of Ulster who we must presume sailed over The North Channel from the west of Scotland. In an blog on the 13th April I have referred to the three earliest men of whom we know, who appear in the 1669 Hearth Money Rolls in the townland of Cogry in the parish of Doagh Grange near Ballyclare. They were named Alex McIlhago, Allexander McIlhago and James McIlhaga. They must have been born in the first half of the 17th Century, whether in Scotland or Ireland we do not know.

Although in the earlier blog I have made a conjecture about their link with their Scottish homeland, unfortunately we don't have any evidence of marriages or offspring for them. It is just possible that Helen McHago (presumably an abbreviation of McIlhago) was a grand-daughter of one of them. She came from Carnmoney to marry James Millikin in Ballyclare on 26th May 1713. Ballyclare is a sizable townland of 1013 acres in the barony of Upper Antrim in the civil parish of Doagh Grange. And to find the first sizable clan family we need to stay at the southern apex of the 'triangle' in the smaller townland of Carnmoney. It was a village of 456 acres in the barony of Lower Belfast, in the civil parish also named Carnmoney. However, again unfortunately, we have another large gap of possibly two generations before we meet a man named Nathan who was born at the end of the 1750s. For us he has to be considered the progenitor of the Carnmoney branch of the clan. We will look in detail at this family in another blog.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Death in Belfast

Through the 'magic' of Google we have received the news of the death in Belfast on 25th April of Martha McIlhagger. She was buried at Roselawn Cemetery. She was the widow of William McIlhagger who predeceased her on 23rd October 1993. They are now buried together in Roselawn. William and Martha had two sons, one of whom, Billy (William Boyd) predeceased them on 15th May 1972 aged 35 (born 5th May 1937). They are survived by their other son who is married with three children and two grandchildren.

This family belongs to one of the most complete Clan Family Trees we have, with 254 people on it, covering eight generations. Martha's husband was the son of William Boyd (born 8th December 1880 in Belfast) who married Eleanor in 1908. He had three sisters, Kathleen, Elizabeth and Elsie. William Boyd had five siblings, all the offspring of George McIlhagger who married Mary Jane Boyd in 1876. George was a Police Sergeant with the Royal Irish Constabulary who spent much of his working life in Laurencetown, County Galway, though he retired to Belfast. George was the son of David McIlhagger and Mary McAusland and the grandson of Robert George and Agnes McIlhagger.

Friday, 15 May 2009

A Middle Clan Name

The 1911 Census of Ireland has a particularly interesting entry for 33 Jersey Street, Shankill, County Antrim. It is for the Johnston family. William is 31 and Sarah 36. There are three children, Robert 7, Samuel McIlhaga 6 and Evelyn 4. Why was Samuel given the middle name McIlhaga? Perhaps it was his mother's maiden name, though I have no record of a Sarah McIlhag(g)a born in or near 1875.  There is a similarly mysterious example on a website called where there is Evelyn V. McIlhagga Milligan who died in 1999. Like Samuel, I do not know to which Clan family she belongs, but no doubt these are examples of parents wishing to preserve the Clan name when otherwise it might have been lost.

There are other examples of which we know, where we also know to which family they do belong. In accord with a policy of only using the full names of people who are deceased at the time of writing, we can record that John and Sarah McIlhagga of Belfast have a grandson whose first and middle names are John and McIlhagga. John McIlhagga Collins (1945-1982) was the son of Albert Collins and Agnes McClure McIlhagga of Glasgow. Agnes McIlhagga X and William McIlhagga X are the two eldest children of William Meldrum and Minnie McIlhagga of Glasgow. Annie McIlhagga Y is the grand-daughter of Robert Dunlop McIlhagga and Annie Thompson of Castlequarter, County Antrim. Mr. & Mrs. McIlhagga in Wales have two grandchildren who they say are very proud of their middle name. They are Cameron McIlhagga Z and Catrin McIlhagga Z. If anyone knows of other examples I would very much like to hear from them.