MacNeill History, Family Crest & Coats of Arms

The age-old Hebrides islands and the west coast of Scotland are the ancestral home of the MacNeill family. Their name comes from the personal name Neil. The Gaelic form Mac Neill translates as son of Neil.

Early Origins of the MacNeill family

The surname MacNeill 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 MacNeill family

This web page shows only a small excerpt of our MacNeill 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 MacNeill History in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

MacNeill Spelling Variations

Medieval spelling was at best an intuitive process, and translation between Gaelic and English was no more effective. These factors caused an enormous number of spelling variations in Dalriadan names. In fact, it was not uncommon to see a father and son who spelled their name differently. Over the years, MacNeill has been spelled MacNeil, MacNeill, MacNeal, MacNeilage, MacNeale, MacNeall, MacNeille, MacNeel, MacNiel, MacGreal, Mcneil, Mcneill, McNeal, Mcneal, Mcneall and many more.

Early Notables of the MacNeill 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 MacNeill Notables in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

Ireland Migration of the MacNeill family to Ireland

Some of the MacNeill 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 MacNeill migration to the United States +

Scottish settlers arrived in many of the communities that became the backbones of the United States and Canada. Many stayed, but some headed west for the endless open country of the prairies. In the American War of Independence, many Scots who remained loyal to England re-settled in Canada as United Empire Loyalists. Scots across North America were able to recover much of their lost heritage in the 20th century as Clan societies and highland games sprang up across North America. Early immigration and passenger lists have documented some of the first MacNeills to arrive on North American shores:

MacNeill Settlers in United States in the 19th Century
  • Neal MacNeill, who landed in New York, NY in 1811 [1]

Contemporary Notables of the name MacNeill (post 1700) +

  • Hector Macneill (1746-1818), Scottish poet
  • Conor MacNeill (b. 1988), Northern Irish actor
  • Meredith MacNeill (b. 1975), Canadian actress
  • Dr. James MacNeill (1873-1945), first superintendent of Saskatchewan Hospital, North Battleford
  • Máire MacNeill (1904-1987), Irish journalist, folklorist and translator
  • James 'Jim' William MacNeill OC (b. 1928), Canadian consultant, environmentalist, and international public servant
  • Dr. Murray Macneill (1879-1927), Canadian curler from Nova Scotia who was the first skip to win the Brier in 1927
  • Lieutenant General Hugo MacNeill (1900-1963), Irish soldier
  • John Gordon Swift MacNeill (1849-1926), Irish Protestant nationalist politician
  • Daniel Francis MacNeill (1885-1946), Canadian businessperson and politician on Prince Edward Island
  • ... (Another 9 notables are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)


The MacNeill 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. ^ 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)


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