McGhee/Magee – origins in Ireland and Scotland

History of the Irish name Magee. Image copyright Ireland Calling
History of the Irish name Magee. Image copyright Ireland Calling

The surnames Magee or McGhee is thought of as predominantly a Scottish name but it is popular in Ireland and also has Irish as well as Scottish origins.

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There are a number of variations to the name including MacGee, MacGhee, MacGhie, McGahy, McGee, McGoey, Mogey, Moggie and Moggy.

God of the sun

History of the Irish name Magee. Image copyright Ireland CallingIt comes from the old Gaelic name MagAoidh. The name was split into two parts. ‘Mag’ was a prefix, similar to the more common ‘Mac’ and meant ‘son of’. Aoidh was a personal name which meant ‘fire’. It came from Aodh, who was the Celtic god of the sun.

It was a popular name for several early Irish kings. The name Aoidh was anglicised to either Hugh or Eugene so sometimes the surname McGhee is said to have meant ‘son of Hugh’.

Irish McGhees

In Ireland the family originated in Ulster and had territory in Donegal and Tyrone. The name MacGee is still popular in those counties while the Magee variation is more common in other Ulster counties such as Antrim, Armagh and Down.

A lot of the McGhees in Ulster are of Scottish origin. Many Scottish McGhees arrived in Ireland as part of the Plantation of Ulster in the 17th century. This was when the British confiscated land from Irish landowners and gave it to Scottish Protestants.

Scottish McGhees

McGhee is also an ancient Scottish name. The famly were related to the MacDonald, MacHughs and MacKays.

The McGhees were a powerful family and lords of Balmaghie and Galloway. The origins of the Scottish McGhees is uncertain and it is possible that they may have been descended from an Irish chief. It is likely that the Irish and Scottish McGhees are distant relatives as there was a lot of travelling across the Irish Sea in both directions over the centuries.

They were a politically savvy family and during the reign of the Stuarts, they became more and more influential. Eventually the clan died out due to a lack of male heirs.

The names, with all their variations, spread the world in the 19th century. Millions of people left Ireland due to the potato famine. They emigrated to countries such as the USA, Britain, Australia and Canada in large numbers.

Debbie McGee. Photo  copyright RobOldfield CC3

Debbie McGee

Famous McGhees

Debbie McGee is a British TV personality. She is famous as the wife and glamorous assistant of magician Paul Daniels.

Francis Magee is an Irish actor. He has appeared in movies such as Layer cake and Sahara. He has also appeared in numerous popular TV series such as Game of Thrones, Peep Show, Bad Girls and EastEnders.


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