The McKay Clan

“With a strong hand.”

If you were to read the ‘official’ Clan MacKay histories, you would discover that the name originated in the far Gaelic-speaking north, which today is covered by Sutherland and Caithness, although they also had lands in Moray (Banffshire). The family motto is given as “Manu Forti”, meaning “with a strong hand”, and you would see that the clan turned out to support William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, but joined the government forces to oppose the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745. The MacKay clan has an attractive array of green-blue tartans, and the current chief of the clan is, you’ll be pleased to know, Æneas Simon MacKay, Master of Reay, Baron of Ophemert and Zennewijnen, Baronet of Strathnaven.

Does any of this relate to our branch of the McKay family? Probably not or, at best, not much. Yes, there is a vague possibility that we share kindred relationships with the hereditary chiefs of the MacKay Clan—but, for the most part, peasant stock simply began to ‘adopt’ the name of the local lords when fixed surnames began to evolve not much before the sixteenth century. In fact, in highland areas, adopting a fixed surname really didn’t gain any momentum until the late eighteenth century, and our actual ‘kinfolk’ were just as likely to assume names based on locality or occupation as they were to pick the local chief’s name.

Our McKay lineage can only trace back to the early 1800s, and the earliest reference is to Aberdeenshire. Our patriarch, John [1] McKay, had moved to North Lanarkshire by the 1830s, where the family record really begins. His move to Cumnock, Ayrshire, by the 1860s brought us into contact with the McMeekin and Brown families, but his grandchildren later moved to places like Bellshill (twice), Kilwinning, Galston (twice), and Airdrie. These places were all mining villages, and that was the main occupation of our McKay menfolk for 100 years.

An interesting feature of our McKay family is that three consecutive members in the male line married lassies of Northern Irish ancestry—which meant that my grandfather, George McKay, had a lineage that was only one-quarter Scottish, but three-quarters from Ulster. However, by the 1930s, most of our close relatives had left Scotland for the USA and Australia, and our Scottish connections became very sparse. Apart from three second cousins, my McKay relatives are now ‘New World’ families.

Relevant articles for the McKay family (articles open in a new browser window):


Relevant maps for the McKay family (maps open in a new browser window):


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