The McCains are a small Irish clan that were for a long time an enigma. We knew who they are and where they lived, but much of their history was a mystery. There are several reasons for this. In the north of Ireland there are two Gaelic names anglicised as McCain and several non-related families have used this anglicised surname and their respective histories are sometimes confused with one another. There is also the chaos of Ulster history. So, for these reasons, the McCains were largely missed by the historians’ sieve. It was left to the McCain descendants in the Diaspora to extract their own history, which they have done with much success by using primary source research and Y-chromosome DNA testing. The real history of McCain clan is at last being told.
The anglicised forms of the name include McCain, McCane, McKane, McKain, McKean, and McKeen. Confirming the Gaelic form of the name was difficult. While this may seem surprising, as noted previously there are at least two Gaelic names anglicised as McCain in Ulster. These names are Mac Catháin and Mac Eáin and to add to the complexity, these families were often living in the same districts. However, DNA research and a study of primary sources confirmed that the McCains originated from north Antrim east of the Bann River and were linked to the name Mac Eáin.
(right, a burial stone of a prominent McCain circa 1490s)
The McCains are a classic Gaelic patronymic clan. The Patriarch of the clan was named Eáin. Eáin was a popular form of Eóin in use in the Gaelic dialect of Argyll, the southern Isles, and parts of Ulster from the 15th Century onward, Eáin is a loan word to Gaelic from the Latin Ioannes via Aramaic and Hebrew y'hohanan, meaning 'Jehovah has favoured.'
An analysis of the DNA suggests this Patriarch lived circa 1350 to 1450 AD. DNA tests have also revealed that the Ulster McCains are related to several Gaelic families from mid-Argyll associated with historical Gallóglaigh kindreds. The Gallóglaigh were a hereditary professional military caste that played a major role in the history of Ireland circa 1225 AD to 1600 AD.
Irish Gallóglach wearing their unique conical helmet, an icon of their caste
McCains appear in the primary sources from the mid-1400s onward. They are mentioned in north Antrim by the 1500s and by the late 1600s a branch of them settled in east Donegal. They were part of the old Gaelic class yet some converted to the Presbyterian faith and took a leadership role in this community and yet other McCain families remained Catholic or Anglican.
From the late 1600s until the early 1800s the McCains were most numerous on the east side of the Bann valley, from Ballymoney north to Ballyrashane and Corbally, east to Dunluce and Dunseverick. The Donegal branch of the McCain family was located in the Finn Valley and around St Johnstown.
In 1718, groups of these McCains began to immigrate to the New World and they continued to throughout the 1700s, 1800s and 1900s. One family from this clan, the Ballymoney McKeans, were the progenitors of the 1718 Ulster Migration to the Colonies. The Ulster McCains families are now located throughout the United States, and are particularly numerous in the South. In Canada they are found in New Brunswick, Ontario, and Nova Scotia. One Donegal McCain family migrated to Scotland and the descendants now live outside Glasgow. In Ireland itself few remain and these are found around Coleraine, in Dublin, in east Donegal and northwest Tyrone.
The McCains are an energetic and successful clan and have distinguished themselves in many fields. They have produced frontiersmen, writers, historians, church leaders, musicians, sport champions, attorneys, doctors, entrepreneurs, business magnates, admirals, generals, and statesmen, and their saga continues.
The Clan McCain Website: http://maceain.ulsterheritage.com/
The Clan McCain Blog: http://maceain.blogspot.com/
Barry McCain © 2008