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MacAuley – origins in Ireland and Scotland

MacAuley is an ancient Gaelic surname that can have either Irish or Scottish origins. The name is popular all over Ireland today, especially in Ulster, Connacht and Leinster.

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There are several variations including MacAulay, MacCauley, MacCawley and McCauley. See the end of this article for a list of variations.

History of the Irish name MacAuley. Image copyright Ireland CallingThere are a couple of different origins of the name. One is from the old Gaelic surname Mac Amhalghaidh which first emerged before the 9th century. The ‘Mac’ prefix means ‘Son of’ and Amhalghaidh was a personal name. The meaning of the name Amhalghaidh is unclear but some historians believe it meant ‘heir to the festering one.

So the name would have meant ‘son of the heir to the festering one’. The ancient Irish clans used to take their name from their chief or leader so the MacAuleys would have been descendants of a chief who held long grudges against his enemies.

Vikings from the Hebrides

Another theory is that Amhalghaidh meant ‘spear warrior’. So the chief of the clan would have been a fighting man who protected the tribe.

Another origin of MacAuley is the Gaelic name Aleifr, or Olaf. This name originated in the Hebrides islands off the North West coast of Scotland. The name Aleifr literally meant ‘leaving God’. It is from the Vikings, who controlled the Hebrides for many years.

The name became popular in Scotland and many Scots took the name to Ireland, particularly the north. Most of the MacAuleys in Ulster are descended from Scottish settlers.

Branch of the O’Neills

Another origin is from a branch of the O’Neill clan in Co Westmeath, who took the name MacAwley. The name is still popular in counties Westmeath and Offaly. The clan were lords of the territory of Calry, which was known in British records at the time as ‘McGawley’s country’.

The MacAuleys in Co Fermanagh were descended from Awley Maguire. Awley’s father was Donn Carrach Maguire, King of Fermanagh. The clan eventually took the name MacAwley rather than Maguire in the 15th century.

They were a reasonably powerful family in the middle ages and their territory covered the area from the town of Arney to Swanlinbar. They were often in a battle to defend their territory against the powerful O’Reilly clan. Eamon MacAwley was killed while defending his territory from an O’Reilly invasion in 1502.

Decline in power

Both MacAuley clans lost the majority of their land and power in the 1600s following the Plantation of Ulster, the Elizabethan conquest and later the Battle of the Boyne.

Following the Battle of the Boyne, in which finally Ireland lost its power to the English, many Irish Catholic lords and soldiers went to Catholic countries in continental Europe such as France and Spain and joined their armies.

Mother Catherine McAuley
Mother Catherine McAuley

One such person was Philip Henry Magawley, who became a general in the Austrian army and later became a Count of the Holy Roman Empire.

Notable MacAuleys

Mother Catherine McAuley was an orphan who grew up in Dublin. She devoted her life to God and founded the Sisters of Mercy in 1831. The Sisters of Mercy provided education for Catholic children at a time when only Protestant children were educated in Ireland. They also helped people who were ill or living in poverty.

Tucker Cawley is an award winning American writer. He is best known for co-writing the hit comedy Everybody Loves Raymond. He has won many awards including an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series.

Matt McAuley is an American musician from New York. He is best known as the bass layer for electro rock band A.R.E. Weapons.

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Oscar winning actress Ann Hathaway is descended from the McCauleys. Her mother, also an actress, was born Kathleen McCauley.

Other variations of MacAuley

There are several variations of MacAuley including; Cauley, Cawley, Gawley, MacAulay, Magawley, McAuliffe, McCauley, McCawley, McColley, McCooley, McCowley, McCullough, McCully, McGauley, O’Cally.


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