Main Square, Courtrai, Belgium
So what of our surname spelled with one 'g'? It can be argued that the Gaelic original of the name and some of the earliest anglicised versions, especially in Scotland, had only one 'g'. However, by the 19th Century in both Scotland and Ireland the spelling found most frequently had two 'g's. Mostly where there is one 'g', as in the Scottish 1871 Census, this appears to be part of the evolution of the name within a family. For example, the 1871 family is spelled McIlhaggart in 1881 and then McIlhagga in 1891. There is however one consistent exception, a family from Ireland which is found first in records on the Continent, and then in England.
This particular family is an interesting example of the importance to genealogists of the 1912 Ulster Covenant. There are no McIlhagas in the 1911 Irish Census but there are three 'one g' names just a few months later signing the Covenant. First there is a Nathaniel McIlhaga, and to be honest I don't know where he fits in. He lives at 33 Linwood Street, Belfast, an address which does not appear with a clan name in 1911. Then we have a husband and wife who interestingly give an address in Courtrai, Belgium. According to the PRONI transcription they were 'W.J.' and 'Lenah'. 'W.J.' must be William John Marrs McIlhaga and 'Lenah' is a mistranscription for Norah his wife. 'W.J'. was in fact a flax buyer who was certainly from a family which originated in Ireland. He had followed his father Samuel who had also been a flax buyer. Samuel had died eight years before and it was from the maiden name of his wife Grace Marrs that their son got his third name.
We know of this father-son relationship and of the flax connection in Belgium from the reference to Samuel's Will in the PRONI Calendars:
Will proved in probate 17 May 1904 Dublin Registry (1902-8). MCILHAGA, SAML. Belfast Adm. 1904. "Administration of the estate of Samuel McIlhaga formerly of Belfast and late of 10 Boulevard du Midi, Courtrai, Belgium, Flax Buyer, who died 28th March 1904 at latter place granted at Dublin to William J. McIlhaga, Flax Buyer. Effects £2,789. 14s. 7d."
William John Marrs was born on 26th August 1877. He was almost ten years older that Norah Wellwood, born 15th April 1887 whom he married on 2nd January 1908 in St. Columba's Church of Ireland, Knockbreda, Belfast, County Down. William gave his place of residence as Courtrai, Belgium and his occupation as Merchant. Norah's father was John Edwin Wellwood, also a Merchant. Interestingly her marriage witness was Isobel McIlhaga. We must presume she was William's sister. The Sarah, daughter of (a possible Samuel McIlhaga), mentioned in my last blog, probably born about 1875, was of an age to be another sibling. I also have a note of another possible sister, Margaret, born 16th October 1870. It is possible that she was the eldest sibling, giving us in turn a likely marriage date for Samuel and Grace at the end of the 1860s, and therefore a birth year for Samuel at the end of the 1840s.
William and Norah had three children, two of whom moved to Merseyside, England and one back to Northern Ireland. Noreen Wellwood McIlhaga married George Claude Havelock Siggins. She died in 1977 in Donaghadee, County Down. Dorothy Helen died in 1988 in Birkenhead on the Wirral, Merseyside. Their brother David also moved to the Wirral where his descendants still live. In this rapid survey of 'one g' surnames there remains a nuclear family and I do not know if they are related to those already mentioned. The father, Alexander, could have been a sibling of Samuel. Alexander was resident in the townland of Ballycloghan near the mid-Antrim town of Broughshane where he was married to Nancy and where on the 10th February 1866 their daughter Margaret was baptised.