The “science” of tracing your family tree, has become an increasingly popular pastime in recent decades. Especially in the United States, people have become fascinated about the origins of their family, as reflected by the numerous Web sites devoted to family histories, and has led to the introduction of computer programs designed to make the compilation of a family tree much easier.

Rathlin Family Names

Being a small place, Rathlin has very few family names to deal with. In one respect this is a boon to the Family Historian but, because so many different families can share a surname, it often becomes difficult to sort out who’s who.

The earliest significant account of people on Rathlin was the “Hearth Money Rolls” of 1669. Some residents of Rathlin liable for this tax were:

Kilramer (Kinramer)
Brian McCurdy, Pat McViccarr, George McGreyar, Allex McCurdy, Turl O’Caine.
Ballaghall (Ballygill)
Arch McCreige, Neile Mcffaire, Neile McCally, John McMulrogh, Thomas McMulrogh, Robert Alline, Pat Black.
Kilpatricke (Kilpatrick)
John McAllister, Widdy McAllister, Malcum McKinly, Neile McQuide, Arc Black
Ballynelargar (Ballynagard)
Pat McHarge, Daniell McCormuck, Wm McComent, ffinly McColt, ffinly McCormuck.
Malcim McQuonne, Doniell McConald, Augustin McCow, Mr. Andrew Boyd

The next major accounts of the Islanders occurs in 1766, the Religious Survey, returned by the Ministers of the various Civil Parishes to the Irish House of Lords. The return for Rathlin were as follows:

Protestant Families 28, Papist Families 92.

Names of Protestant families: Walker 1; McQuilkin 4; McAhargey 1; McArthur 2; McKey 1; McQuoig 6; McCausland 1; Horaghan 1; McCully 1; Weir 4; Hunter 1; McKinley 1; Rankin 1.

Names of Catholic families: McGillachrist 6; McCurdy 35; Morrison 6; McQuilkin 6; McFall 4; Roy 1; Millar 3; Rankin 1; Andrewson 6; McCay 1; Brallachan, 1; McKermud 1; McCargey 3; McKinley 1; McCurrey 1; McGowan 2; Walsh 1; McGrigor 1; McKeernan 1; Black 14.

There was a somewhat similar survey from the 1803 Agricultural Census. This survey was undertaken in preparation for a possible invasion by Napoleon it included heads of households but additionally listed sons of military age as potential recruits. The original, which in addition to the names and townlands, listed by townland the resources which might have been of use to a defensive operation or to be denied to an invader.

Based upon this, names and the number of families on the Island were:

McCurdy 31, Anderson 13, Morrison 13, McQuig 8, Black 7, McFall 6, McQuilk 6, McLhargy 5, Horan 4, McKinley 3, Wier 3, Lamont 3, McCarter 3, Hunter 2, McCay 2, McKey 2, McQuilkin 1, McQuilkan 1, Bradley 1, Cresly 1, Gage 1, Grimes 1, McCormack 1, Miller 1, Moore 1, Ritchurson 1, Wrenkin 1.

The spelling of these names was not set in stone (except in the graveyard) so we have varients of the spelling:

McQuig = McCouiag = McCuaig = McQuaig = McQuoig
McFall = McFaul = McPhail
McLhargy = McCargey = McAhargey = (possibly) Harbison and Curry, Currie
McCarter = McArthur = Carter
Brallachan = Bradley
Horan = Heron = Horn = Horaghan
Wier = Weir
McCully = McAuley = McCauley
McCay = McCoy
McCurrey = Currie = Curry perhaps McLhargy
McGowan = Gown = Smith (sometimes)
McKermud = McDermid
McKey = McKay (some of these families may have started as McCouaigs)
McQuilkan = Wilkinson
McQuilkin = McQuilken = Wilkinson = McCulkin = McQuilk
Ritchurson = Richardson
Wrenkin = Rankin

In 1887 a Father J O’Laverty continued: The names of the Catholic families on the island were: McCurdy 16; Morrison 4, McQuilkin 3; McFall 5; Anderson 5; McKay 2; McKinley 3; Black 4; McCouaig 2; Craig 3; Hunter 1; Horan 1; McArthur 2; McMullan 1; McCormick 1; Spence 1; Thompson 1.

Later still in the 19th Century Cecil, Smith (Smyth), Park and Glass families settled. There were also a great many Engineers, Lighthouse Keepers, Policemen, Ministers and Priests who were stationed, many with their families, some for very lengthy periods.

Frequently whole families became known collectively by the nickname or forename of a patriarch. eg. The Ruadh (Roe = Red, perhaps because of hair colour) McCurdy’s as opposed to The Beag (Beg = Small, perhaps height) McCurdys or The Allan McQuilkins against The Patrick McQuilkins.

Naming Conventions (Given Names)

Though not as strict as Scottish patterns for childrens’ forenames, Rathlin was influenced by Scotland and there are many clues to find out which Grandchild belonged to which Grandparent.

In the early to mid 1800’s the First male was named after the Father or paternal Grandfather, the first female after the Mother or paternal Grandmother. In the majority of families the first two males and females would cover the Christian names of the Parents and paternal Grandparents.

Another common method of naming was by using middle names. For example, Alan McQuilkin and his wife Susan Anderson had a son, John Allan. John Allan married Mary McCurdy and had sons: John Allan, James Allan, Joseph Allen and Patrick Allen. He also had daughters, Susan, Mary Jane. Not very inventive but a big help to descendants 150 years later! In very large families it may be possible to surmise two or three generations just by the names in one family.

By the late 1800’s it was common to see both the Paternal and Maternal Grandparents forenames used.

Given Names (equivalents)

Very confusingly individuals could interchange names very frequently:

Domhnall = Donald = Daniel and sometimes Dennis
Eoin = John = Iain
Agnes = Nancy = Nan and sometimes Ann or Nessie
Jane = Jean = Jeannie
Patrick = Peter


When researching your Irish ancestors in other areas try to imagine yourself as the Registrar or Census Enumerator listening to an Irish accent saying the names. It then becomes easier to explain McArthurs as McCarter, McCurdy as McGurdy or even McCready, McQuilkin as McCulkin.

A short time ago I came across someone with the first name AMOR registered in Greenock. In fact the girl’s name was EMMA but the father was from Devon. Nuff said! Another famous example is the Araphady family who appear on a census return in Ayrshire, Scotland (a clue to the correct name: there wasn’t a Dinny and no motor cars were involved). My own surname, Keogh, has been spelled and pronounced more ways than I can remember …. but I only recently found out why an Irish pal insisted on calling me “Foggy” and the only version I really LOATHE is “Key Hole”.

Rathlin Townlands

There are twenty-two townlands in Rathlin, but earlier there were only six. Here are the six, with the present day townlands which they contain:

Kenramer: Kinramer North, Kinramer South, Kebble, ?Cleggan
Ballygill: Ballygill North, Ballygill Middle, Ballygill South
Kilpatrick: Kilpatrick, Knockans
Ballynavargan: Ballyconagan, Church Quarter, Mullindress, Ballynagard, Glebe, Demesne
Ballycarry: Ballycarry, Ballynoe
Kinkeel: Craigmacagan, Carravindoon, Carravinally, Roonivoolin, Kinkeel

Ballynoe was next to be created, before 1569, by taking the southern part of Ballynavargan (modern Glebe, Demesne) and Ballycarry (modern Ballynoe).

The island was redivided into 21 townlands in 1760s, with Glebe later separated in 1825, to give the present 22.
Kebble, Kilpatrick and Ballynagard were let out for sheep in the 1860s, and the people removed. Kebble was walled, but tenants remained there until 1830. Kilpatrick was walled as a relief measure in the 1850s and 1860s.

As stated before it was sometimes difficult to work out who was who, luckily many islanders suffixed their names with the place that they lived. Rathlin townlands are as follows:

Ballycarry Irish Name Baile Caraidh
Ballyconagan Irish Name Baile Coinneagain
Ballygill (Middle, North, South) Irish Name Baile Ghaill
Ballynagard Irish Name Baile na gCeard
Ballynoe Irish Name Baile Nua
Carravinally Irish Name Ceathru na hEaladh
Carravindoon Irish Name Ceathru an Duin
Church Quarter An English Name Where present churches are situated
Cleggan Irish Name Cloigeann
Craigmacagan Irish Name Creag Mhic Again
Demesne An English Name
Glebe An English Name
Kebble Irish Name An Caibeal
Kilpatrick Irish Name Cill Phadraig
Kinkeel Irish Name An Ceann Caol
Kinramer (North, South) Irish Name An Ceann Ramhar
Knockan Irish Name An Cnocan
Mullindress Irish Name Maoil na nDreas
Roonivoolin Irish Name Rubha na bhFaoileann

Clachans (subtownlands and obsolete townlands)

Ballyvargan = Ballyconagan (+ possibly Mullindress)
“Bo-in-thermore”, above Ballycarry
Brockley = Ballygill Middle
Carnasheeley = in Ballygill?
Carrickagile = in Ballynoe
Carriveanank, Caravankey = Ballygill North
Castle Quarter = in Ballycarry
Coolnacrock = in Ballynoe – or Ballygill Middle or Ballyconagan or Kinramer North
Crockascreidlin = in Ballycarry
Crocknafeeragh = Ally Lower in Carravinally
Crocknanagh = in Ballyconagan
Crookaharnan = ?? in Craigmacagan
Garvagh = in Ballygill South
Glackacarn = in Ballycarry
Glackanacre – in Upper End; sweat house between Garvagh and Glackanacre;
Glackantimore = ?? in Kinraver
Glacklugh – in Upper End,
Killaney Bay – passim in
Killavrooain – in Knockans,
“Larrybane” – et passim
Ouig = in Demesne
Park = ?in Ballynagard
Shandragh = Knockans South < Sean-Làrach
Station = the coastguard houses in Demesne
Ushet = in Roonivoolin

One part of the Island was/is known as Ouge or Ouig but is not a townland. So a John McCurdy of Ouig could be differentiated from a John McCurdy of Kinramer. At different periods other places other than townlands seem to have been used, including:

Carricknagarrowna, Crackaskredelan, Sker Beg, Sker More, Stackaniska, Stacknacally, Stacknaderginan and, The Bull


Unlike today when people change occupations like socks (if you can find a job [or afford socks]) for family history purposes jobs were for life. A John McCouaig, Weaver, married to an Elizabeth Black producing a son John was unlikely to be the same family as John McCouaig, Farmer, married to an Elizabeth Black producing a son James. However, if somebody moved away to work in one of the industrial centres, Greenock, for example, an inordinate amount of “Ships Carpenters” came from Rathlin. Surprising since there were so few trees on the Island (perhaps they were all used up while men were learning a second trade!)

There are always exceptions to all of the above but searching for these clues can help to sort out the many tangled branches of your Rathlin family trees.

Population Figures