Select McElroy Surname Genealogy

The two commonest spellings of the name are McElroy and McIlroy.  It is both Irish and Scottish in origin.  The root in each case is the Gaelic Mac giolla Ruaidh, composed of the elements Mac, meaning “son of,” giolla being “youth”, and ruaidh being “red haired” - hence "the son of the red haired youth." 

Some think that McElroy is Irish in origin and McIroy Scottish in origin.

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Scotland.  The name McElroy was first found in the 14th century in Dumfriesshire as Michael McGilrey a tenant in Thornhill.  Michael McYliroye was the baillie of Ayr in 1500.  The name also cropped up in the parish of Ballantrae in Ayrshire.  One family line began with the marriage of Hugh and Esther McElroy in Wigtown in 1712.

The proximity to Ireland meant some emigration there over the years, either as plantation settlers in the 17th century or as soldiers to fight for Cromwell or later for William of Orange.  In Ireland their name seems to have become McIlroy.

MacElroy in Ireland originated at Ballymacelroy on the east side of Lough Erne in county Fermanagh.  Ballymacelroy was also to be found in Tyrone and Antrim.  The name cropped up in the old Annals:
  • in 1476 the chief Donal died and was replaced by his son Brian
  • and in 1492 Ballymacelroy was destroyed by the O’Neills.
The spelling became Gilroy in Connacht.

In 1990 the McElroy/McIlroy spellings were fairly evenly divided in Northern Ireland, 53% being McElroy and 47% being McIlroy: 
  • Fermanagh and Tyrone remained important counties for McElroy, although the name extended as well into Monaghan and the southern parts of Armagh and Down.  Clogher in Tyrone recorded 61 McElroy families in the census of 1860.
  • McIlroy was more localized, to Antrim and Belfast and to the northern parts of county Down near Belfast.  Sir William McIlroy of Hilden was well-known in the early 20th century for his expertise on flax.
The McElroy and McIlroy names were both found in county Down.  The earliest record there was of a John McGylboy who was the Canon of Dromore around the year 1406.  It was said that there were two McElroy branches, the “red” and the “black” McElroys.  More recent numbers have included:
  • Archibald McIlroy, the local JP and writer who went down with the Lusitania in 1915.
  • and James McElroy the acclaimed fiddler.
Rory Mcilroy the golfer was born in Holywood, county Down.  His grandfather Jimmy had repaired cranes in the Belfast docks where the Titanic was built.

America.  There were reports that the McElroy name had appeared in Maryland land grants as early as 1659, either as indentured servants or being transported there.  John McElroy was born in Cecil county, Maryland in 1690, married there, and then moved to Wake county, North Carolina sometime in the 1720’s.  Later descendants spread across the South.

The McElroy name first appeared in Pennsylvania in 1717.  Some of these McElroys settled in Bucks county. William McElroy was recorded in Doylestown in 1749 and Sarah McElroy was the subject of a fatal duel in 1798.  Other McElroys in Pennsylvania migrated to Virginia, to Kentucky (in 1830), and later to points south.  John McElroy’s 1901 book The History of Scotch Irish McElroys in America covered these lines.

Two McIlroy lines, both said to have been of Scottish descent, were in Arkansas by the early 1800’s:
  • Daniel McIlroy, born in Virginia in 1756, fought in the Revolutionary War, being captured during the Battle of Long Island.  His grandson Daniel settled in Randolph county, Arkansas in 1813.  By 1889 his son Hemmet was the oldest living settler of Randolph county.
  • while John Paul McIlroy, born in North Carolina in 1787, was believed to have been the forebear of the McIlroys of Dalton in Randolph county.
Canada.  Henry McElroy and his family from county Down were one of the military families that first settled Richmond, Ontario near Ottawa in 1818.  Three years later William McElroy and his family from Armagh came to Ontario, moving around several times before settling in Oshawa.  Three of his sons later moved to Waupun, Wisconsin.  Meanwhile Samuel McElroy and his family came to Dundas county, Ontario from Ballymoney in county Antrim sometime in the 1840’s.

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If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

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John McElroy was the Jesuit priest who founded Boston College in 1857.
Neil McElroy was President of Procter & Gamble and US Secretary of Defense under President Eisenhower.
Jimmy McIlroy
was a well-known Northern Irish footballer of the 1950’s and 1960’s.
James McElroy of Drumnaquoile was an acclaimed fiddler from county Down.
Rory McIlroy is a professional golfer from Northern Ireland, the first ever to win four majors by the age of twenty five.

Select McElroys Today
  • 6,000 in the UK (most numerous in Antrim)
  • 7,000 in America (most numerous in Texas) 
  • 6,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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