MacQuillan – what a strange name!

by Anthony J MacQuillan

McQuillan Clan Genealogist (aka “Tony J”)

Well, this is the name many people of Irish descent have either inherited or adopted! This website gives some of the possible variations, but there may be more:

MacQuillan, MacQuilland, MacQuillen, MacQuillian, MacQuillin, MacQuillion, MacQuillon, MacQuilly, MacWillie, McQueelan, McQueelin, McQuelan, McQueland, McQuelian, McQuelin, McQuellan, McQuelland, McQuellin, McQuillan, McQuillan, McQuilland, McQuillen, McQuillian, McQuillin, McQuillion, McQuillon, Quillan, Quillen, Quillin

Although I am Australian by naturalisation, my father was certainly Irish; he was born in Coleraine (then Co Londonderry) in 1901 and his birth was registered as Cecil James McQuillan.  But by the time he was a teen-ager his mother had changed the family name to MacQuillan. Cecil’s father was James, a grammar school head in Larne, Co Antrim. Family legend is that his wife believed he was less likely to be mistaken for Catholic if Mac was substituted for Mc. The school, Larne Grammar School, was a Presbyterian foundation, six of the seven trustees who reviewed the fourteen applicants in 1903 and who appointed James headmaster were Presbyterians. James was Episcopalian (otherwise Anglican or Church of Ireland). It interested me when I finally went to Ireland that some journalists had adopted M’Quillan, so as not to give offence perhaps.

When I was married in 1959, as a newcomer to Australia, the MC at our wedding celebration, a man some would say was the epitome of Chips Rafferty, an arch-typical Australian farmer who had trouble remembering my name, said “Well we all know Diana here, but the fellow she has just married has a strange name. I was in the chook yard this morning thinking about what I should say today and rehearsing Tony’s surname so I wouldn’t forget. There was a rooster’s tail feather on the ground,” he said pulling it out of his pocket. “You all think this is a chook’s feather, but no, it is a quill. Somewhere in his name is quill – Mac Quill an.”

Time goes by and for a while Cecil lived with my wife and me before he died in 1989. Although his children, including me, had often asked for a bit of family history; his typical response was “Oh, you don’t need to worry about that – it’s all in the past.” Indeed, but at a later family celebration he let slip that we were descended from gentlemen farmers in County Armagh – I wish. He and Diana spent a lot of time together when he was widowed in 1986 and she had long become a keen family historian. As anyone who knows a family member of this bent, it is an infectious disease. Diana infected Cecil and persuaded him to jot down longhand what he could remember about his life. He was eighty-six. When he died he left his jottings, a large collection of  Kodak black and white prints and a preliminary report he had commissioned from the Ulster Historical Foundation. The report that successfully went back to his great grandfather Alexander, born about 1792 at Mullalelish, Civil Parish of Kilmore, Co Armagh, who was a linen weaver and we later found that his father, Joseph, born about 1762 was an illiterate farm labourer. This was all grist for the mill for me when I retired to Yass in 2000 and privately published Cecil’s memoir for his family. As I edited and wrote my father’s life story, I soon became aware of a possible reason for his reticence in earlier times; he was homesick; having spent much of his working life in Africa away from his beloved Larne.

As I have already adverted, a genealogy infection can be easily caught and my source of infection is my wife, who thoroughly researched her father’s Australian family and is currently working on her mother’s. It was therefore natural that I should develop my father’s initial research, which I have done. Membership of the Clan McQuillan Association is part of this development.

Tony J MacQuillan
Clan Genealogist