Show ContentsMacNeil History, Family Crest & Coats of Arms

The sea-swept Hebrides islands and the west coast of Scotland, made up the ancient Dalriadan kingdom, the ancestral home of the MacNeil family. Their name comes from the personal name Neil. The Gaelic form Mac Neill translates as son of Neil.

Early Origins of the MacNeil family

The surname MacNeil was first found in on the islands of Barra, Gigha, Colonsay, and Oronsay. According to traditional records in 1049, Niall, a direct descendent of King Niall of the Nine Hostages, landed in Barra and founded the Clan MacNeill of Barra.

However, another kinsman, some believe to be the younger brother of Niall named Anrothan, married a Princess of the Dalriadans, an ancient race from which sprang most of the early Scottish Kings. Legend has it that Anrothan started the MacNeill house of Colonsay through his son Torquil of Taynish.

This latter branch acquired the lands of Gigha, Colonsay and Oronsay, beyond the Firth of Lorne. For the next two centuries it appears as though these two great houses were developing independently of one another.

Early History of the MacNeil family

This web page shows only a small excerpt of our MacNeil research. Another 361 words (26 lines of text) covering the years 1590, 1730, 1370, 1380, 1526, 1562, 1640, 1631, 1640, 1612, 1613, 1686 and are included under the topic Early MacNeil History in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

MacNeil Spelling Variations

Many spelling variations of MacNeil have been recorded over the years, including These are the result of the medieval practice of spelling according to sound and repeated translation between Gaelic and English. MacNeil, MacNeill, MacNeal, MacNeilage, MacNeale, MacNeall, MacNeille, MacNeel, MacNiel, MacGreal, Mcneil, Mcneill, McNeal, Mcneal, Mcneall and many more.

Early Notables of the MacNeil family (pre 1700)

Notable amongst the Clan from early times was Nigel M'Nele, Laird of Blarekanne c. 1370-1380; Alexander Makneyll, a notary public in Edinburgh in 1526; Richard Neile (1562-1640) was an English churchman, Archbishop...
Another 32 words (2 lines of text) are included under the topic Early MacNeil Notables in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

MacNeil Ranking

In the United States, the name MacNeil is the 8,716th most popular surname with an estimated 2,487 people with that name. [1] However, in Canada, the name MacNeil is ranked the 467th most popular surname with an estimated 10,266 people with that name. [2]

Ireland Migration of the MacNeil family to Ireland

Some of the MacNeil family moved to Ireland, but this topic is not covered in this excerpt.
Another 85 words (6 lines of text) about their life in Ireland is included in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

United States MacNeil migration to the United States +

Many who arrived from Scotland settled along the east coast of North America in communities that would go on to become the backbones of the young nations of the United States and Canada. In the American War of Independence, many settlers who remained loyal to England went north to Canada as United Empire Loyalists. Their descendants later began to recover the lost Scottish heritage through events such as the highland games that dot North America in the summer months. Research into various historical records revealed some of first members of the MacNeil family emigrate to North America:

MacNeil Settlers in United States in the 17th Century
  • Daniel Macneil, who arrived in Boston in 1652
  • James Macneil, who arrived in Boston in 1652
MacNeil Settlers in United States in the 19th Century
  • Neil MacNeil, aged 44, who landed in North Carolina in 1812 [3]

Canada MacNeil migration to Canada +

Some of the first settlers of this family name were:

MacNeil Settlers in Canada in the 18th Century
  • Malcolm MacNeil, who settled in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1779
  • Donald MacNeil, who was on record in Nova Scotia in 1785

Contemporary Notables of the name MacNeil (post 1700) +

  • Robert Breckenridge MacNeil (b. 1931), Canadian-born, American broadcast journalist and novelist, co-creator of The MacNeil/Lehrer Report in 1975
  • Neil MacNeil (1923-2008), American journalist from the Bronx, New York who worked for The New York Times, TIME Magazine and later was Chairman of the United States Assay Commission
  • Karen MacNeil, American author, journalist, wine educator, the only person to have won every major wine award in the English language
  • Hermon Atkins MacNeil (1866-1947), American sculptor from Everett, Massachusetts, best known for designing the Standing Liberty quarter
  • Cornell MacNeil (1922-2011), American operatic baritone
  • Ian Roderick Macneil of Barra (1929-2010), 46th Chief of the Clan, American-born Harvard educated law professor who gifted Kisimul Castle to Historic Scotland for 1000 years in 2001
  • Kevin MacNeil, Scottish novelist, poet and playwright born and raised in the Outer Hebrides
  • John MacNeil (1854-1896), Scottish-born, Australian Presbyterian author and evangelist
  • Angus Brendan MacNeil (b. 1970), Scottish politician, Chair of the International Trade Select Committee (2016-), Chair of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee (2015-2016)
  • Flora MacNeil MBE (1928-2015), Scottish Gaelic singer
  • ... (Another 9 notables are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)

The MacNeil Motto +

The motto was originally a war cry or slogan. Mottoes first began to be shown with arms in the 14th and 15th centuries, but were not in general use until the 17th century. Thus the oldest coats of arms generally do not include a motto. Mottoes seldom form part of the grant of arms: Under most heraldic authorities, a motto is an optional component of the coat of arms, and can be added to or changed at will; many families have chosen not to display a motto.

Motto: Vincere vel mori
Motto Translation: To conquer or die.

  1. "What are the 5,000 Most Common Last Names in the U.S.?".,
  2. "Surnames Meanings, Origins & Distribution Maps - Forebears." Forebears,
  3. Filby, P. William, Meyer, Mary K., Passenger and immigration lists index : a guide to published arrival records of about 500,000 passengers who came to the United States and Canada in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. 1982-1985 Cumulated Supplements in Four Volumes Detroit, Mich. : Gale Research Co., 1985, Print (ISBN 0-8103-1795-8) on Facebook