39. An Old Record and a New Insight into the Origin of the Boyle Family at Kelburn


15 Kelburn Castle front.6.89
Kelburn Castle, from the author’s visit in 1989

The origin of the Boyle family at Kelburn (or Kelburne), Ayrshire, Scotland, has long puzzled historians and genealogists.  The wording of the authoritative 1904 genealogy of the family is typical:

There seems to be no doubt that the lands of Kelburne in Cunningham were held by ancestors of the Earls of Glasgow for many years before 1292 … but the records of their tenure have disappeared: and for long afterwards the succession to the lands can only be inferred from the occasional occurrence, in records and charters, of the name and designation of Boyle of Kelburne. [1]

When more specific estimates have been proposed for the first appearance of the family at Kelburn, the dates have tended to be “deep” — as, for example, the modern suggestion that the family acquired Kelburn in 1143 [2].  As indicated in my recent book on the Bole/Boyle family genealogy, such suggestions may have derived from the legend that the family was granted the property because it was related by marriage to Hugh de Morville, a magnate who came to Scotland sometime after 1124.  Unfortunately, that logic seems to be confused, because the marriage relationship between the Morvilles and the Boyvilles (as the Boyles were then styled), did not occur until sometime between 1216 and 1272, and involved Boyvilles of co. Cumberland, England, not of Kelburn [3].

Recently, on rereading one of the few authentic records of the early history of the family for perhaps the hundredth time, I had an insight that suggests a less deep origin at Kelburn.  I propose that the property came to the family only about the year 1270.

The Record

The record in question was described in the 1904 genealogy:

Sir George Mackenzie, who died in 1691, mentions as extant in his time a ‘sasine of the lands of Kelburne given to Richard Boil, eldest son to Boil of Kelburn and Marjory Cumin his wife, daughter to Cumin of Rowallen, and this was in the reign of K. Al. 3,’ (i.e. between 1249 and 1285-86). [1]

Although I had previously read this closely when examining the relationship between the Boyles and the Cumins, I had never asked something obvious.  Why was Boil of Kelburn’s wife mentioned in the sasine?  A sasine, a term specific to land ownership in Scotland, was issued to show that an heir had lawful possession of a piece of property.  In most cases, property descended from a deceased owner to his oldest surviving son or brother.  In such cases, there was no need to name a spouse.

Yet there was Marjory Cumin, daughter of Cumin of Rowallen.  The insight came to me in the proverbial flash: Perhaps Kelburn came to the Boyles through their intermarriage with the Cumin family.  If so, there would have been every reason to mention Marjory in the sasine.

Supporting Circumstances

An important consideration is that Kelburn, as stated in the first citation above, is part of Cunningham, or Cunninghame, the northernmost district of Ayrshire north of the Irvine River.  The district was granted to Hugh de Morville in the time of King David I (reigned 1124-1153).  From the Morvilles it passed by inheritance and marriage to the lords of Galloway, a co-heiress of which, Dervorgille, married John de Baliol [4]. It appears that Dervorgille received the bulk of the Cunningham lands.

Thus in 1268, when John de Baliol died [5], it is probable that what is now Kelburn lay within the feudal domain of the Baliol family. This conclusion was also reached by Ayrshire historian William Robertson, who pointed out that when John de Baliol’s namesake son later became King of Scotland, “The Boyles of Kelburn therefore became tenants in chief of the Crown” [6].

A critical juncture in the story of Kelburn may therefore have been reached near the time of John de Baliol’s death. About the year 1269, Sir John Comyn, “the Black”, lord of Badenoch, married Alianora Baliol, the sister of the future King John Baliol [7].  In effect, through this marriage, two of the most powerful families in Scotland formed a military alliance.

Comyn is the same surname as Cumin.  As we have seen, the 13th century sasine summarized by Sir George Mackenzie ascribed the wife Marjory Cumin, daughter of Cumin of Rowallen, to Boil of Kelburn.  Thus was provided a vector by which the Boyle family may have acquired Kelburn. Specifically, it seems possible that because Cumin of Rowallen was a member of the newly allied Comyn family, the Baliols granted him feudal rights to Kelburn in return for military service.  In turn Cumin may then have granted Kelburn to his Boyle son-in-law.  Then after Boyle died, a sasine was granted to the couple’s son Richard Boyle, confirming his possession of Kelburn.

Not only are the linkages logical, they explain why there are no previous mentions of Boyles at Kelburn [9].  They imply that Richard Boyle was the first hereditary laird of Kelburn in the Boyle line, his father “Boil of Kelburn” having been so only by right of marriage.

A Tight Chronology

If this was indeed the scenario by which Kelburn came to the Boyles, events must have transpired along a tight chronology. This conclusion derives from another 17th-century clue to the family’s origins:

There is… a Chartor extant Granted by [Sir Gilchrist Mure, or More] to his daughter Anicia of the lands of Cuthsach, Gulmeth, Blaracharsan… [etc.]  [Portions of land] now not knowne by these names….  Ritchard a Boyle del Culliburne, having obtained fra Sr Walter Cumine ane an. rent [i.e., an annual rent] of fiftie schilling out of the lands of malsland… is supposed (& not vnprobably) to have obtained in marriage the forsd. Anicia, and wt her the land forsds. disponed to her by Sr Gilchrist, being certainlie lands of Polruskane… [8]

The gist of this difficult passage is that Sir Gilchrist Mure granted a charter of Polruskane to his daughter Anicia, who is believed to have been the wife of Richard Boyle.  Presumably he was the same Richard Boyle named in the 13th century sasine — for he had obtained a rent from Sir Walter Cumin.

The chronological relevance is that Mure died in 1277, and Sir Walter Cumin died before Mure [8].  Thus if the scenario is correct, within about 8 years of the Comyn-Baliol marriage alliance, in approximate order (a) Kelburn was granted by the Baliols to Sir Walter Cumin, (b) Kelburn was regranted by Sir Walter Cumin to —– Boyle, the previously married husband of his daughter Marjory, (c) —– Boyle died, (d) Richard Boyle received sasine to Kelburn by right of his Cumin mother, (e) Sir Walter Cumin granted rents to Richard Boyle, (f) Sir Gilchrist Mure granted Polruskane to Anicia, (g) Richard Boyle married Anicia Mure, (h) Sir Walter Cumin died, and (i) Sir Gilchrist Mure died.  Even if some events appear in the list out of order and the chronology extended somewhat beyond Gilchrist’s death, it seems likely that the Boyles acquired Kelburn about 1270.  They could not have done so later than 1286, the latest possible date of Richard Boyle’s sasine.

Genealogical Complexities

There are, however, certain genealogical complexities that accompany the scenario.  Chief among them is that Sir Gilchrist Mure was himself a son-in-law of Sir Walter Cumin of Rowallen [8].  That creates at least the appearance of Richard Boyle having married his own close relative when he married Gilchrist’s daughter, Richard’s mother having been a Cumin of Rowallen.

Closer examination, however, reveals that Anicia Mure could not possibly have been Sir Gilchrist’s child by his Cumin wife.  The reason is that Gilchrist married Isobell Cumin after the battle of Largs [8], which occurred in late 1263.  Thus any offspring of the couple could not have been of age, as was Anicia, to be granted land before Gilchrist’s death in 1277. Gilchrist must have had an unknown first wife, a supposition supported by his age, nearly 80, at the time of his death [8].  Anicia must have been Gilchrist’s child by that wife, making her unrelated to her husband Richard Boyle.

Interestingly, an argument can be made that Richard’s mother was the daughter not just of some generic Cumin of Rowallen, but of Sir Walter Cumin himself.   Diligent searches have failed to turn up any other Cumins associated with that location. Rowallen was in Walter’s possession by 1263 [8], and he may have been the first Cumin owner.  He was certainly the last, for after his death sometime prior to 1277, Rowallen passed to the Mures [8].

A Final Question

A final question worth considering is whether a circa 1270 origin for the Boyles at Kelburn allows the family’s legendary (i.e., undocumented) participation in the battle of Largs in 1263 (see blog entry 28. The Kelburn Thistle and the Boyle Family).  The short answer is “yes”.

If Anicia More was of age to be granted land prior to her father’s 1277 death, she may have been born (at a guess) around 1254. Her husband Richard Boyle may therefore have been born about 1250, and his father “Boil of Kelburn” about 1224.  The latter would certainly have been of military age in 1263, even if these estimates are off by a few years.

Furthermore, the father was probably of the district of Cunningham when the battle occurred.  This inference follows from his pre-existing marriage to Marjory Cumin, and her family’s possession of Rowallen at the time of the battle.  Rowallen — or Rowallan as it is spelled today — is in Cunningham and is located about 25 road miles SE of Kelburn. Although under the scenario, Boyle would not have been in possession of Kelburn at the time, he was likely from the district and could well have served in the battle of Largs.

4 Graffiti on south wall of castle
Graffiti on the south wall of the castle, 2016. To the right of the coat of arms is part of the original keep, probably 13th century.

Postscript: Unfortunately my “sabbatical” is not yet over.  I have composed this in a lull in the writing of my psychology textbook.  That lull is now over, so I return to that work.


[1] Boyle, R. (1904).  Genealogical Account of the Boyles of Kelburne, Earls of Glasgow.  No place, private print.

[2] Information retrieved from http://www.countryfile.com/days-out/kelburn-castle-ayrshire (2018).

[3] Boles, D.B. (2017). The Origins and Descendants of James Bole of Westmoreland and Armstrong Counties, Pennsylvania.  Tuscaloosa, AL: private print.  Available through Lulu.

[4] Chalmers, G. (1890). Caledonia: Or, A Historical and Topographical Account of North Britain. Paisley: Alexander Gardner, vol. 6.

[5] Robertson, G. (1820). Topographical Description of Ayrshire; More Particularly of Cunninghame. Irvine: Cunninghame Press.

[6] Robertson, W. (1908). Ayrshire: Its History and Historic Families. Kilmarnock, Scotland: Dunlop & Drennan, v. 2.

[7] The exact date appears to be unknown, but cannot have been many years off of 1269.  John, the son of John and Alianora, was one of the leaders of a Scottish army in 1296, and the following year had at least one child old enough to serve as a hostage.  Thus the younger John could not have been born much after 1270 (Paul, J.B., The Scots Peerage.Edinburgh: David Douglas., v. 1, p. 508, 1904-14).

[8] Mure, W. (1825). The Historie and Descent of the House of Rowallane.  Glasgow: Chalmers and Collins.  The original manuscript was written in or before 1657.

[9] A major reason to propose this scenario is the conclusion mentioned in the text, that Kelburn was part of the Baliol domain. Thus the question is how Baliol land came to the Boyles, and the scenario provides a possible answer. Alternatively, however, it is possible that the Cumin family, seated at Rowallen within Cunningham, had prior possession of Kelburn and that it came to the Boyles as a tocher (wedding portion) on the marriage to Marjory Cumin circa 1250.  While this would not change the scenario in one respect — Kelburn would still have come by way of the Cumins — it would change the date at which it occurred.






28. The Kelburn Thistle and the Boyle Family

On this day, October 2nd, 753 years ago – in 1263 – a small Scottish force met an equally small invading Norwegian force on a beach near Largs, Ayshire. Although the Norwegians were able to hold the field after fierce back-and-forth fighting, they were subsequently forced to gather their dead and retreat to their ships. It was the beginning of the end of Norwegian overlordship of the western seaboard of Scotland. Three years later, by the Treaty of Perth, King Magnus VI Haakonsson of Norway ceded the Hebrides and the Isle of Man to King Alexander III of Scotland.

By military standards the action had been a small one, tactically inconclusive even though it ultimately proved strategically significant. In a sense the invasion had even been accidental, for while the Norwegians had amassed a vast armada of ships, it had been a storm that prematurely drove some of the boats onto the beach, triggering the Scottish reaction. Similarly, it was weather that forced the armada to retreat to Norway.

A Fateful Thistle

Beyond the bare historical account there is a curious, romantic story about the Battle of Largs that holds great cultural significance for Scotland. According to tradition, the Norwegian presence on the beach at Largs was unsuspected until one of the barefoot Norsemen stepped on a thistle, crying out in pain. The Scottish troops were alerted, and the battle was on. As a result the thistle has become a symbol of Scotland itself.

Is the thistle story true? There appears to be no primary source for it. But as early as 1470, King James III used the thistle as a national symbol on coinage. In 1540, King James V created the Order of the Thistle, an honorary title for Scottish knights. The thistle today is regarded as the oldest of the national flowers, and it decorates many a coffee mug and T-shirt in tourist shops in Edinburgh.

Kelburn in the Battle of Largs

The thistle tradition holds a special place in my heart, because tradition also places the Boyle family of Kelburn Castle at the Battle of Largs, aiding King Alexander [1]. Possibly commemorating that, in the 19th century, Kelburn Castle had a turret that terminated in what was said to show “the finishing personality and nationality of Scottish architecture — the crest of the Laird surmounted by the thistle.” [2]

Was the fateful thistle a Boyle one? Largs is only two miles from Kelburn Castle. Given that the site of battle is not entirely certain, and that lordly domains extended over large distances, it is not out of the realm of possibility. However, most likely not. In the middle and late 13th century, the lordship of Largs was held by the Baliol family [3], and that likely encompassed most if not all of the possible battle sites.

Thistles at Kelburn

Nevertheless there are still thistles at Kelburn. Earlier this year my wife and I toured the castle gardens. We found among the proliferation of flowers in the Plaisance, the brilliant rose of the thistle (photo). Whether the traditions are true or not, my ancestral estate of Kelburn recognizes its place within the colorful, historical Scottish landscape.


Postscript: Developments in the Boyle of Kelburn Ancestry

This is only one of several blog entries I have written on the Boyles of Kelburn. Others include “8. The Kelburn Castle Origin of the Boles Family: A DNA Success Story”, and “24. Tartan Day and Our Scottish Origins”.

As outlined in the first of those blog entries, there is Y-DNA evidence that my ancestor James Bole (1752-1836), of Westmoreland and Armstrong counties, Pennsylvania, was descended from the Kelburn Boyle family. In a book I expect to release in January 2017, I include a lengthy “Origins” chapter that outlines the most likely line of descent of James from the Kelburn family – and beyond.

The story runs through known Boyle settlers of the Plantation of Ulster under King James I of England (VI of Scotland), back to Boyles of the west coast isles, before coalescing with the ancestry of the Boyle Earls of Glasgow around the year 1495. The book is titled, “The Origins and Descendants of James Bole of Westmoreland and Armstrong Counties, Pennsylvania.”

Meanwhile, if you are a Boyle or Boles, please consider Y-DNA testing! Any male bearing the Bole/Boles/Bowles/Boyle name, of these or other spellings, who is thought to have Irish origins and a Protestant background but whose background is otherwise unknown, has a legitimate shot of descending from the Kelburn family.

You can obtain further information from the project webpage at http://www.ancestors-genealogy.com/bowles/index.html. Clicking on the “visit this site” link provided there will show the range of tests available. It is strongly recommended that 25 or more genetic markers be tested, as the 12-marker test is not very diagnostic. Besides providing you with evidence bearing on your own origins, your test results will be of considerable benefit to the Bowles DNA Project — even if you know little about your exact ancestry.


[1] Tales From Scottish Lairds (1985). Norwich: Jarrold Colour Publications.

[2] Millar, A.H. (1885). Historical and Descriptive Accounts of the Castles and Mansions, of Ayrshire. Edinburgh: William Patterson.

[3] Chalmers, G. (1890). Caledonia: Or, A Historical and Topographical Account of North Britain. Paisley: Alexander Gardner, v. 6.

Picture attribution:

Personal photo.

24. Tartan Day and Our Scottish Origins

Happy Tartan Day! It’s probably safe to say that most Americans don’t know about this commemoration of Scottish heritage, or that the U.S. Senate in 1998, the House in 2005, and the President in 2008 recognized it. Whether official or not, it has spread to other countries of the Scottish diaspora — notably Canada, Australia (although there it is celebrated on July 1st), and Argentina. It has even gotten back to the home country of Scotland, where regional councils are attempting to promote it as a global celebration [1].

Why April 6th? That was the date in 1320 that the Declaration of Arbroath was signed, declaring Scottish independence from England. I have written about the declaration previously on my Bolesbooks Facebook page. Considered by many a foreshadowing of our own Declaration of Independence, it denied the divine right of kings and left to the nation the choice of its sovereign.

Some Scottish Origins

In the case of my family tree it was understood from an early date, certainly the early 1960s if not previously, that we had discernible Scottish origins among its many roots. However, this came from an indirect assessment of surnames more than from direct evidence. Ancestral “Mc” surnames such as McCrosky, McFadden, and McIntire were recognized as most probably either Scottish or Scotch-Irish, even though repeated searches failed to turn up evidence of specific places of origin. The later additions of my wife’s ancestral families of McClain and McMurtrie fell into the same vaguely Scottish category.

Today we have hints of whispers of the origins of a couple of these families: Possibly co. Antrim, Ireland, for the McCrosky (McCoskery) family, and co. Antrim, Ireland, for the McMurtries, who in both cases were therefore most likely Scotch-Irish [2]. But actual hard evidence of specific geographic locations has been slow in coming. Below I’d like to highlight three ancestral lines for which hard evidence exists, namely the Ellyson, Boles, and McQueen families.

The Ellyson Family

I descend from Virginia’s Ellyson family through my mother. Her ancestor Deborah Harbour’s mother was a Thomas, her mother was a Jordan, and her mother was Susanna Ellyson, daughter of Joseph Ellyson, a Quaker of New Kent county, Virginia. From there the line is traceable to two Robert Ellysons, father and son, who lived in Gloucester and James City counties. The two are almost universally confused both because they shared their given name, and because they died nearly simultaneously (1668/9 in the case of the son, and about 1669 in the case of the father) [2,3].

Their distinctness, however, is attested by an extraordinary family Bible entry written in the late 1700s, reciting the ancestry of one Robert Allison (Ellison) three generations back to the younger Robert Ellyson, then to his father Robert, and finally to the immigrant ancestor John Allison. The entry concluded with a geographic payoff: John was stated to have come from Windyedge, co. Lanark, Scotland, sometime before 1625 [3].

This account has been sufficiently corroborated through other evidence that it can be taken as largely accurate. One thread of evidence is that an Alison family is historically known at Windyedge, a farm located in Avondale parish in the vicinity of Strathaven. One member was James Alison, born 1621, who resided at Windyedge. His sons John, Michael, and Archibald all took up the cause of the Covenanters, a nationalist Presbyterian movement that dominated Scottish politics between 1638 and 1651, but which was doomed to defeat by the forces of Oliver Cromwell and later King Charles II [3,4]. John was taken prisoner at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge in 1679, and banished to Virginia. Michael fled to Ireland after the military defeat at Airsmoss in 1680, and was at the siege of Londonderry in 1688/9. Archibald, however, was the most unfortunate. He was executed at Edinburgh in 1680, his dying statement appearing in the book A Cloud of Witnesses [3].

The Virginia Ellyson family, incidentally, provides a major royal descent from King Edward I of England, as well as from a raft of noble families. This thread came into the family from the marriage of the younger Robert Ellyson with a Gerard wife, about the year 1655 [2,3].

The Boles Family

I have written extensively about the Boles family origin in a previous post, 8. The Kelburn Castle Origin of the Boles Family: A DNA Success Story. The American ancestor was James Bole (1752-1836), who died in Armstrong county, Pennsylvania, and whose son William (my ancestor) added the friendly ending “s” to the name [2].

For many years we thought the Boleses might be English. However, their true origin began to emerge when it was discovered, from the apparent statement of a grandson, that James was born in Ireland. That, and his known Presbyterian religion, pointed clearly to a Scotch-Irish origin. In other words, James was almost certainly the descendant of a Scot who had crossed to Ireland, probably specifically to Ulster [2].

The next realization was the family might ultimately have been from Kelburn, Ayrshire, Scotland. This hypothesis emerged as it began to be appreciated that the spelling of the surname varied in American records, and Bole could sometimes appear as Boyle. A family named Boyle, now Earls of Glasgow, have been seated at Kelburn castle continuously since at least the late 1200s, plenty of time to generate cadet lines, one or more of which may have crossed to Ireland. Furthermore until early in the 20th century, the surname Boyle was pronounced in Ayshire as Bole, potentially explaining how the Bole and Boyle spellings could refer to the same family.

The Kelburn hypothesis recently received a ringing confirmation when it was discovered that a male-line descendant of James Bole has a Y chromosome with similar genetic markers to that from a male-line descendant of John Boyle (1688-1740), the 2nd Earl of Glasgow and a member of the Kelburn family. The relationship certainly was not close; my ancestor may have left the castle, never to return, around 1430. Nevertheless it affords a second specific Scottish location to feel a connection to, one that is all the more meaningful because it connects me to the origin of my surname.

The McQueen (MacQueen) Family

The family most appropriate to recognize this Tartan Day, however, may be the McQueens. Unlike the Ellysons and Boleses, who were Lowlander families having little to do with tartans, the McQueens were Highlanders and presumably did wear the plaid (see graphic).

The MacQueen Tartan

I have written extensively about my ancestor Dugal McQueen (ca 1666?-1746) in two posts, namely 4. Dugal McQueen, Scottish Rebel and Gateway Ancestor to Royalty, and BRIEFLY NOTED: A McQueen 300th Anniversary. It is sufficient to say that he is known to have been of Pollochaig, Moy parish, co. Inverness, Scotland, a location made possible to identify through an English prison record establishing his Moy origin [2]. Today the manor house at Pollochaig is in ruins but can still be visited at its location near Tomatin.

Dugal’s known ancestry is very extensive, being known in his male line for an additional two generations back to 1644, with a family presence at Pollochaig likely back to about 1510, and for many generations back through his mother and numerous intermarried Scottish families [2].

Dugal came involuntarily to Maryland in 1716, exiled and probably in chains, having been captured in the Battle of Preston the previous year [2]. Whatever one’s views of the failed Jacobite rebellions of the 1700s, their participants saw them as nationalist expressions of freedom from English overlordship. That seems appropriate to recognize on Tartan Day.

Final Thoughts

The difficulty of genealogically “jumping the pond” to Scotland should not be underestimated. Looked at together, the three geographic locations I’ve described were all the result of unusual discoveries. They included a remarkable family Bible entry, a converging pair of Y-DNA tests, and an obscure prison record from a failed rebellion. Other families, like the McClains, McCroskys, McFaddens, McIntires, and McMurtries, have so far proved impossible to trace back to Scotland. In most cases this is due to the stretch of years taking family origins beyond available church records, and in some if not most cases due to intervening lost generations spent in Ireland.

Nevertheless unusual records sometimes exist, and they make good material for the genealogist’s craft. Keep weaving your threads together! But on today’s Tartan Day, feel free to celebrate your Scottishness no matter how it is known.


[1] Information retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tartan_Day (2016).

[2] Boles, D.B. (2016). The Omnibus Ancestry: 589 Documented American and European Lines, 2nd edition. Available for download through Lulu.

[3] Boles, D.B. (2005). Snyder-Harbour Ancestry. Available for download through Lulu.

[4] Information retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Covenanter (2016).

Picture attribution: Owner Celtus, “MacQueen tartan (Vestiarium Scoticum).png”, retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MacQueen_tartan_(Vestiarium_Scoticum).png. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.


9. The Irish, The Not So Irish, and The More Irish Than The Irish

For more on the families mentioned in this post, please see The Omnibus Ancestry, available for download through Lulu.com.

St. Patrick’s Day is a good time to review genealogical transplants from the Ould Sod. That’s surely an apt term for loveable old Ireland given its ubiquitous peat mires and boggy weather. My wife and I have contrasting connections, for hers were Catholic immigrants while mine were Protestant. But as will be seen, distinctions can blur.

The Irish

My favorite Irish immigrant on my wife’s side is Patrick Hickey, who sailed from Ireland in 1849 at the peak of the potato famine. My wife’s grandmother helpfully referred to him as “Paddy Hickey from county Cork” shortly before denying it, while another family member claimed he was from co. Wexford [1]. Those very Irish statements of family origins seem likely to remain the final word until my dying day, if ever I live that long.

Counties of IrelandTraditionally the Hickeys have been considered Celtic in background, with a presumed history extending back thousands of years in Ireland. The surname, it is said, derives from the Irish word “iceadh”, meaning “healer”. Surname expert Edward MacLysaght has stated that the Hickeys are “A medical family of the Dál gCais” [13], referring to a tribe claiming descent from Cormac Cas, a King of Munster of the 3rd century AD. Its septs include the Clancys, Kennedys, MacMahons, MacNamaras, and O’Briens among others [2]. At some point earlier or later, legend fades into myth and the Dál gCais claim descent from Milesius, the supposed ancestor of all Irish Celts, living around 1000 BC give or take a couple of hundred years [3].

Unfortunately for these traditions, modern Y-DNA testing indicates that the Dál gCais families do not share a common ancestor [4]. Even among the Hickeys themselves there are multiple origins [5]. Perhaps that’s to be expected of an occupational surname, for surely many Irish families had healers.

The Not So Irish

The Not So Irish were the interlopers, settlers in Ireland from Scotland and England. They were the orange to my wife’s green, good Protestants all. I recently wrote of my own Scotch-Irish family in “The Kelburn Castle Origin of the Boles Family: A DNA Success Story”. It was a family that originated in Ayshire, Scotland, went to Northern Ireland probably after 1606 when Scottish migration began in earnest [6], perhaps settled in co. Londonderry (known as Derry by the Green Irish), and then sailed to America after 1752 [1].

But there were others in my background as well. Cunninghame is a district of Ayrshire that gave its name to the Cunningham family. My ancestor Mary Cunningham was a “small sister” among three who came to America from Dublin in 1729, in the company of a couple employing the eldest as an indentured servant. Mary was 12 but already a Quaker [1]. She was thus a genealogical treasure for her numerous descendants by her eventual husband Richard Robinson, for the Quakers were among the most careful record keepers of the time. Her ancestry can be traced three generations in Ireland, through the Cunningham, Tomey, and Auliffe families [1].

Those names show how distinctions can blur. Tomey is a form of O’Twomey, a native Irish name meaning “descendant of Tuama” [8], while Auliffe is a form of MacAuliffe, believed to be Norse as it derives from the name “Olaf” [7]. Twomey is well known in counties Cork, Kerry, and Limerick, Ireland [1]. Daniel Tomey, Mary Cunningham’s great-grandfather, is in fact first known as a resident of the city of Cork in 1645. MacAuliffe is also a southwestern Irish name prominent in co. Cork [13], although in this case the great-grandfather, Edward Auliffe, was of co. Kilkenny about 1671 [1]. Both families were almost certainly Catholic shortly before these 17th-century dates, attesting to Quaker success in gaining converts — and blurring the presumed Scottish Presbyterian origins of the Cunninghams.

Another Not So Irish ancestral family of mine was the Hollingsworth family. Its earliest known ancestor was Henry Hollingsworth, whose name appeared on a 1630 muster roll in Oneilland Barony, co. Armagh. His family also became Quaker [1]. He was certainly of English extraction, the surname ultimately deriving from a place name in co. Chester, England [9].

The More Irish Than The Irish

“More Irish than the Irish” is a term used to refer to descendants of soldiers in the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland in the 12th and 13th centuries [10]. The invasion started in 1169, undertaken at the behest of Dermot MacMurrough, deposed King of Leinster. The portion of the island that was occupied reached nearly half by 1200 and three-quarters by 1250 [11].

Why more Irish than the Irish? Because over generations, many of the newly settled families acquired the customs and language of the Irish, as well as their sons and daughters as husbands and wives. Religion was not an issue, for the Protestant Reformation was still centuries in the future. The families were and largely continued to be Catholic. In many cases the only way to tell that they were not completely ethnic Irish was by the evidence of their surname.

Among many others the early settlers included the Sinnotts and Colfers, Flemish mercenaries of the Normans [11]. They are my wife’s ancestors. Catherine Sinnott, the immigrant ancestor, was one of six sisters who came from Kilmore parish, co. Wexford, in the 1850s and 1860s. She married Patrick Hickey in Ohio, the couple later removing to Illinois. The family is traceable in Irish Catholic church records, with Catherine’s grandfather John Sinnott (1734/5-1823) having married a wife from the Colfer family [1].

The Unexpected Melting Pot

As these examples show, Ireland has been a melting pot to an extent not widely appreciated by American descendants of its people.   Many of us are used to thinking in terms of two groups at most: The Catholic native Irish, and the Presbyterian Scotch-Irish. But the Irish could also be Norse, English, and Flemish, as illustrated in the relatively recent ancestry of just my wife and myself [1]. True, we’ve not yet traced back to any of the shipwrecked sailors of the Spanish armada, a more controversial contributor to Ireland’s population [12]. But one never knows what the future holds when pursuing The Genealogist’s Craft.

For more on the families mentioned in this post, please see The Omnibus Ancestry, available for download through Lulu.com.


[1] Boles, D.B. (2016).  The Omnibus Ancestry.  Ebook available for download through Lulu.com.

[2] Information retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dál_gCais (2015).

[3] Information retrieved from http://www.nemhnain.com/dal-gcais (2015).

[4] Information retrieved from http://www.irishtype3dna.org/surnames.php (2015).

[5] Information retrieved from http://www.worldfamilies.net/surnames/hickey/results (2015).

[6] Information retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulster_Scots_people (2015).

[7] Information retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McAuliffe_(surname) (2015).

[8] Information retrieved from http://www.surnamedb.com/Surname/Twomey (2015).

[9] Information retrieved from https://www.houseofnames.com/hollingsworth-family-crest (2015).

[10] Information retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/More_Irish_than_the_Irish_themselves (2015).

[11] Roche, R. (1970). The Norman Invasion of Ireland. Tralee, Kerry, Ireland: Anvil Books.

[12] Information retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_people (2015).

[13] MacLysaght, E. (1980). The Surnames of Ireland. Dublin: Irish Academic Press.

Picture attribution: Retrieved from http://irishpoliticalmaps.blogspot.ie/2012/07/the-counties-of-ireland.html. Used by permission.

8. The Kelburn Castle Origin of the Boles Family: A DNA Success Story

The subject of this article is now covered at length in a  New Book!  Also mentioned in the article is a Boles family of Clontibret parish, co. Monaghan, Ireland, covered in The Ancestors and Descendants of Pearcy and Ann (Swanzy) Boyle (Bole, Boles) of Co. Monaghan, Ireland (2014). Both books are available for download through Lulu.com. Please press here to access the site.

In the 1980s, while preparing to write a book on my paternal ancestry, I noticed something curious about my Boles surname. In Pennsylvania records of the 18th century there seemed to be little barrier to the name being alternatively spelled Bole, Boles, Boyle, or Boyles [1].

A little investigation revealed two different causes. First, as surname expert E.C. Smith pointed out:

The addition of -s as it developed later was doubtless just fashion or force of habit, a friendly but meaningless ending to a name… [10]

That made some sense. But the second, more interesting cause actually suggested the possible origin of my family. For in writing about the name Boyle, Scottish surname authority G.F. Black noted:

This Scottish surname . . . is of Norman origin, from Boyville, otherwise Boeville or Beauville, near Caen . . . [David de Boiuil] appears as a witness between 1164-74 . . . In 1291 Henry de Boyville was castellan of the castles of Dumfries, Wigtown, and Kirkcudbright . . . In course of time the pronunciation of the name slipped into one syllable, written in 1362 Boyll, 1367 Boyuil, 1482 Boyle, 1500 Boyl . . . The name is not common anywhere outside of Ayrshire and Wigtownshire, where until recently [publishing in 1946] it was pronounced in common speech as “Bole.” [2]

In other words the equivalence between “Bole” and “Boyle”, names quite different to the modern ear because they are pronounced “Bowl” and “Boil” respectively, betrayed a possible Scottish origin. In the two counties mentioned, Ayrshire and Wigtownshire, they had historically been pronounced the same.

I was immediately drawn to this explanation of the equivalence between “Bole” and “Boyle” because my immigrant ancestor James Bole (his son William adopted the “s”) was a Presbyterian from Ireland [1]. The Presbyterian religion is well represented in both Scotland and Northern Ireland. I could easily envision an immigration route leading from southwestern Scotland to Northern Ireland to Pennsylvania.

Kelburn Castle

Taking my cue from Black’s discussion of the surname, I next investigated the Scottish Boyles. I quickly located records of an extraordinary family seated at Kelburn (or Kelburne) Castle, Ayrshire, two miles SSE of the town of Largs. They were distinguished from nearly all other landed Scottish families by having resided at their castle almost continuously, it was reputed, since about the year 1140. That was an important consideration, because the intervening 800+ years had provided ample time to spin off many descending lines — and Northern Ireland was just a short boat ride away.

As Black noted, the Scottish surname likely originated as a place name, specifically Boyville in Normandy. It presumably came to the British Isles on the heels of the Norman conquest in 1066. It spread widely throughout England, with one prominent family of Boyvilles taking up residence in co. Cumberland, on the border of Scotland, before 1130 [9]. It is thought to have been imported to Scotland as the result of a project of King David I, who after his accession to the throne in 1124 invited families from the north of England to settle in the lowlands. His intention was to create a garrison to thwart rebellion in the northern reaches of his country [3].

Allegedly the Boyvilles were connected to the Anglo-Norman Hugh de Morville, who was granted much of northern Ayrshire by the king. Under the feudal system, he in turn granted Kelburn to them [4]. There they built a castle, much-altered and supplemented to create the present structure. In fact there is some controversy as to whether any of the original castle remains, but it is thought that the east end may include a portion of an early building [5].

Although there are fragmentary mentions of the family at Kelburn in the early centuries — e.g., Richard de Boill in 1329, probably the same Richard listed in Ayrshire in 1296; Richard’s son Robert also in 1296; John Boyle in 1417; Sir Patrick Boil in 1433 — the connected pedigree of the family commences with one Robert Boyle, who had sasine (i.e., a transfer implying that his predecessor had died) of the Kelburn lands in 1456. He was the grandfather of William Boyle, who possessed Kelburn sometime before 1478. From William can be traced the modern family at Kelburn, in unbroken descent [6].

The great ancestor of the family was David Boyle, elevated to the peerage of Scotland in 1699 as Lord Boyle, of Kelburne, Stewarton, Cumbra, Largs, and Dalry. By patent dated 1703 he was created Baron Boyle of Stewarton, Cumbra, Fenwick, Largs, and Dalry, Viscount Kelburne — and most importantly, Earl of Glasgow. His prominence is attested by his appointment to the king’s Privy Council. He died in 1733, having married twice and having had several children [7]. It is through David that the present family at Kelburn trace their ancestry, and a representative remains the Earl of Glasgow.

KelburnCastle01In 2002, with my family I was privileged to enjoy a tour of the castle guided by Lady Isabel Glasgow. Much of the grounds are part of “Kelburn Castle, Country Centre & Estate” (www.kelburnestate.com), a park offering verdant strolls along forest paths and waterways; riding and camping facilities; and play activities for children. In 2007 the estate received international notice when four Brazilian artists were allowed to decorate the oldest portions of the castle (see photo).

DNA Despair

Over the quarter century since I initially suspected a family connection to Kelburn, I doubted I would ever be able to either prove or disprove it. At one point I thought I had covered part of the distance by tracing my Boleses to Clontibret parish, co. Monaghan, Ireland. That apparent discovery, however, quickly fell to ruin when DNA testing revealed that I am genetically unrelated to two descendants of the Clontibret family [11].

DNA testing emerged as a popular genealogical research tool at the beginning of this century. The most-used procedure is to test the Y chromosome in men for a set of genetic markers that can vary in number, most often 25, 37, or 67 markers. If two men have markers that match sufficiently closely, and they share the same surname or variants of a surname, there is a high degree of confidence of relationship. Because the Y chromosome descends only from father to son, the relationship is exclusively through the male (typically the surname) line.

Thus it was that having tested, I learned in 2010 that I differed in a number of markers from the two Clontibret descendants [11]. That outcome threw me into a kind of genealogical despair, because I was right back to where I’d been in the 1980s: All I knew was that my immigrant ancestor was an Irish Presbyterian who had come to the country sometime after the mid-1700s [1]. Because many Irish civil records of a genealogical nature had perished in a disastrous fire in 1922, it seemed all I was ever likely to know.

DNA Delight

In the intervening years, I assumed administration of the Bowles DNA Project from its founder. Despite the title of this project (located at http://www.ancestors-genealogy.com/bowles/index.html), it serves all variations of the surname including Boals, Boales, Boles, Bolles, Bolls, Booles, Boules, Bowles, Bowls, Boyle, Bolds, and others — with or without the friendly ending “s”. The duties are relatively light, consisting mostly of checking the results of new Y-DNA tests for relationships to existing members, inviting new members, and keeping the website up to date. My own test, of course, is entered at the site. Over the years results accreted that led to my categorization under “Group 8”, a set of about a dozen related test results from families appearing to originate in Northern Ireland.

In mid-February of this year I checked an unusually large backlog of test results. In the most recent batch I found that one new test, of a man named Boyle, matched a number of members of my group. I emailed a routine invitation, advising that the results placed him in Group 8 and asking that he consider joining the project.

Almost immediately I received an answer. It was from a professional genealogist in Scotland. He indicated that his client, who he was not free to identify,

… has a proven documented ancestry from the Boyle family of Kelburn Castle in Ayrshire, Earls of Glasgow.

To say I was stunned would be an understatement. With one simple genetic test result, my connection to Kelburn Castle was proved beyond any reasonable doubt. While the genealogist assured me that his client was not of the immediate lineage of the current Earl of Glasgow, he was a descendant of John Boyle (1688-1740), the 2nd Earl of Glasgow.

The Relationship

Of course I delved into the results as quickly as I could. I concluded that as Group 8 members go, I am not particularly closely related to the castle family. My best guess, based on estimates of mutation rates in the Y-DNA markers and of the average number of years between generations, is that my line converges with theirs about the year 1430. There is of course much imprecision in this estimate. But in any case it highlights the futility of attempting to establish a true genealogical connection: Even the castle family’s connected pedigree only extends back to about that time, and intervening records are few.

Other members of the group may have brighter genealogical prospects. A number appear closely related enough that they may converge with the castle family’s ancestry after 1550. That is well within the timeframe of the established pedigree. It is even possible that some are descendants of known Kelburn Boyles who moved to Ireland. Among them were William Boyle, who in 1614 leased Moyle in the manor of Donboy, precinct of Portlough, co. Donegal, Ireland, and his sons Robert and James; Robert Boyle, of Carrickmacross, co. Monaghan, Ireland, in 1665; and Thomas Boyle, of Tullochdonell, co. Louth, Ireland, in 1680 [6]. There was also a possible branch of the family located at Limavady, co. Londonderry. It descended from a James Boyle who settled at Limavady about 1660. The family used a coat of arms similar to that of the Kelburn family, although the exact genealogical connection if any is unknown [8].

For me personally, however, knowing there is a genetic connection is plenty enough. It means that I will always have a place in Scotland I can visit with some “pride of ownership”. For the first time I can stroll along its forest paths and waterways knowing, and not just suspecting, that I’m stepping in the footprints of my ancestors. I anticipate a very satisfied feeling.

The subject of this article is now covered at length in a  New Book!  Also mentioned in the article is a Boles family of Clontibret parish, co. Monaghan, Ireland, covered in The Ancestors and Descendants of Pearcy and Ann (Swanzy) Boyle (Bole, Boles) of Co. Monaghan, Ireland (2014). Both books are available for download through Lulu.com. Please press here to access the site.


[1] Boles, D.B. (2016). The Omnibus Ancestry. Tuscaloosa, AL: private print.  Available through Lulu.

[2] Black, G.F. (1946). The Surnames of Scotland: Their Origin, Meaning, and History. New York: New York Public Library

[3] Fry, P., & Fry, F.S. (1982). The History of Scotland. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

[4] Tales from Scottish Lairds (1985). Norwich, Eng: Jarrold Colour Publications.

[5] Information retrieved from http://data.historic-scotland.gov.uk/pls/htmldb/f?p=2200:15:0::::BUILDING,HL:7294 (2015).

[6] Boyle, R. (1904). Genealogical Account of the Boyles of Kelburne. Private print.

[7] Burke, B. (1876). A Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerage and Baronetage of the British Empire. London: Harrison and Sons.

[8] Boyle, E.M.F.G. (1903). Genealogical Memoranda Relating to the Family of Boyle of Limavady. Private print.

[9] Information retrieved from http://www.1066.co.nz/library/battle_abbey_roll1/subchap76.htm (2015).

[10] Smith, E.C. (1969). American Surnames. Philadelphia: Chilton Book Co.

[11] Boles, D.B. (2014). The Ancestors and Descendants of Pearcy and Ann (Swanzy) Boyle (Bole, Boles) of Co. Monaghan, Ireland.  Tuscaloosa, AL: private print, available through Lulu.

Picture attribution: Owner Supergolden, KelburnCastle01.jpg, retrieved from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:KelburnCastle01.jpg. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.