Fad leis seo a thagadh cairde agus lucht gaoil an té a bhí ag imeacht chun na coigrithe. B’anseo an scaradh. Seo Droichead na nDeor.
Picture of immigrants on the Quay – Cork. Ireland – notice the ‘Quebec’ destination: 2
Welcome to my history of the McCutcheons from Donaghadee. I am hoping to provide interested readers with insight into the McCutcheon family and its history. Their story is an epic with no real beginning or ending. It is an historic tale played by real people upon the world stage, encompassing many countries spanning several continents. There were no scripts, no rehearsals, neither directors nor writers in the making of the story. The McCutcheons were historical characters who lived it in full-time real life, creating the story as they went about their daily lives.
And what a story is it. 500 years. It is a story of the common man, beginning as seafarers and pirates in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, moving as Gallowglass and/or Redshanks to Ireland, to be forever known as Ulster Scots, then journeying thousands of miles away to settle an unknown wild country.
They were well suited for the task. They were not very far removed from the bloody fighting of the Scottish clans. Husbandry was in their blood and they knew hard work; they were no stranger to poverty, famine and bad living conditions. Hunting wild life was like second nature to them. They had a strong sense of family and were true to their religion. They were loyal to their country once they adopted it and were prepared to die for it. Above all, they kept their sense of fairness, forward thinking and adaptability. The part they played in building the foundation of Canada and the United States cannot be under estimated.
By 1867 the Irish accounted for 24 percent of the Canadian population. They were 2nd only to the French in terms of the largest of the ethnic groups. Between 1820 and 1845 sixty percent of all immigrants to Canada came from Ireland. The McCutcheons from Donaghadee were the fore-runners of this mass migration.
Most of them set down their roots in Canada, never to be moved again. However, 25 percent of our McCutcheon ancestors who landed on Canadian shores, meandered south to the United States as will be seen in the historical data in the following pages.
This story has been put together through the collective efforts of many individuals conducting research over a long period of time and who have been willing to share their stories and information; as well as recollections of past ancestors, either through story telling or written histories.
Two people need special mention here:
Alice Burke, for it was through her efforts many years ago that laid the foundation for this history. She researched and wrote a book called “McCutcheon Pioneers”. She is quoted in this narrative on several occasions. And of course, there are stories of the lives from other families when they converge with the McCutcheons from Donaghadee.
Barry Stewart, whom I first found an internet record dated 6th May 2001, searching for information on his Irish ancestry, is the source of the correct and copious amounts of information currently on the internet for the McCutcheons. Barry is a great-great grand-son of Hugh McCutcheon from Donaghadee.
Why have I chose the name: “McCutcheons from Donaghadee” when all other information points to Grey Abbey? Simply put it was an “x”. In February 1829 an illiterate man made his “x” on a petition when he was working on the “Rideau Canal” because he believed that his countrymen whom he had just left behind needed a chance at a better life than the one he had just left. The petition began: “It is our candid and sincere opinion that the description of Poor in Ireland alluded to would be highly benefited by being sent to Canada on the conditions proposed. Most of us have relatives residing in that county in impoverished circumstances……”
Hugh McCutcheon was from Donaghadee.
An Historic X.
I need to regress a bit here. According to the earliest written records known, the McCutcheons originated in Kintyre, Argyll, Scotland circa 1490. Until very recently, they were thought to be a “sept’ of Clan Donald. However, in 2017, DNA findings have proven that there are no McDonald DNA matches in the McCutcheon blood line. According to the DNA findings, at the DNA y – 111 marker there are only two names involved – McCutcheon and Campbell. Simply put, both paternal and maternal originators of the McCutcheon name were both Campbell’s.
Clan Campbell was at times at great conflict with Clan Donald.
Because of this “lack of legitimacy”, the McCutcheons, except in rare instances, never were in contention for the “top dog” position of Chief or Laird. These chiefs-lairds fought over the ownership of lands, intermarrying with aristocracy to secure positions and or titles (such as the Earl of Ross), favours within respective churches, and overall ownership of chattels such as cattle, horses, sheep, food products. And they used whatever method necessary to achieve that, including piracy.
The highland clans, the MacDonald’s, MacLeod’s, MacAllister’s, Campbell’s, to name a few, were war-faring. They needed a ready source of warriors, which they harvested in times of clan battles. A very elite class of warrior was developed around 1250, called “gallóglaigh”. By 1500, there was a newer Scottish mercenary called “Redshank.” The Redshank was more seasonal employment than the galloglass and these mercenaries in turn, became elite clans, made up of the respective kinsmen of the war-faring Chief/Laird.
These “gallóglaigh” fighters wore long coats of padded cotton or chain mail and they wore a conical shaped iron Helmut on their heads. Their weapons were Claymores and Sparths. A Claymore was a broad double-sided sword and a Sparth was a two-handed axe as pictured. This is an old drawing from Ireland dated 1521 depicting both their dress and weapons. 4
The family of Colin MaKachane 5 of Campbeltown, Argyll was a family of blacksmiths who were famous for their ‘sword-smiths’. They were supposedly famous makers of the “Claymore”, an instrument used by the gallóglach. There is a damaged Celtic cross which lies at Kilkerran Cemetery which commemorates Colin MaKachane and his wife Katherine. There is an insignia on this cross of a warrior on horseback, with claymore, spear, spurs and pointed Helmut. This suggests that Colin was a “gallóglach”.
It is the Sparth axe that the galloglass was most famous for. With it they could break a knight’s lance or bring down a horse and rider.
Who were the Scottish “gallóglach”? They were Scottish highland minor noblemen, too ambitious to be famers or fishermen, rejected by family or King, some considered illegitimate in the eyes of the church or otherwise disgraced. The Scottish “gallóglach” were few in numbers but had an odium humanitatis. They lived in an excessively violent and chaotic society, always at war, warriors to the core. They were mercenaries who delighted in executions, didn’t mind raping women or murdering children. In battles, the Scottish “gallóglach” took no prisoners. They were elite mercenary clans within a clan. And yet the English spoke of them respectfully and considered them “gentlemen”. The Irish kerns they did not. 3
It is probable that the McCutcheons were one of these elite clans of Redshanks. The McCutcheon’s most likely entry into Ireland came by way of “gallóglach”. The homeland of the “gallóglach” was the rugged western coastal area of Scotland, Argyll and the wild Hebrides. These north western Isles were called “Innse-Gall” meaning Isles of the Foreigners in reference to their Viking heritage. This is the Gall in “gallóglach” (singular) or “gallóglaigh” (plural). There were 6 very powerful Galloglass Clans; 4 of them being MacDonalds. It is probable the McCutcheons were a branch of the MacDonnell’s of Islay and Kintyre.
Although the Scots had been migrating to Ulster for centuries, the Scottish migration to Ulster in the early 17th century came two ways permanently:
First, The Plantation of Counties Down and Antrim by Hamilton and Montgomery beginning in 1606 was the largest movement of lowlander Scots to Ulster and the event that receives the most attention. The planters names were all recorded by Montgomery and no McCutcheons were recorded by him as planters. 8 McCutcheons were not known to be the more civilized and educated lowlanders; they originated in the wild and untamed land of the Scottish highlands. They were incorrigible highlanders through and through.
Second, by way of Sorley Buy (Sòmhairle Buidhe – Sorley meaning the golden haired) MacDonnell (1505-1590) and his son, Randall. Between 1560 and 1650 these mercenary Clans flowed into Antrim in mass quantity, so much so, that the English Crown, feeling threatened by them, began to execute as many of them as they could, the ones who didn’t die on the battlefield. The Scottish longboats loaded with mercenaries, left Mull in Kintyre, sailed the short distance, landing on the shores of Antrim. This was a one-way trip for them. The only persons making the two-way journey were the MacDonnells, returning for more battalions of warriors.
The survivors of these fighting men were given small plots of land as payment in the counties of Antrim and Down.
The Irish welcomed the Scots presence in Ireland about as much as the bubonic plague.
The Galloglass frequently served as body guards and personal aides to military leaders. More often than not, they simply fought for payment in land or women. Once they settled on the land, they then received supplies from the locals. They were paid with 3 cattle per quarter year and all the butter and grain they needed. They were joined by other Scottish mercenaries from the Hebrides that the English dubbed “Redshanks”, alluding to the Scot’s practise of going barelegged and barefoot. These warriors wielded the claymore. The Redshanks were a more seasonal group of mercenaries than the galloglass.
Description of the Redshanks comes from a highland priest in 1542 describing them to Henry VIII: “referring to Highlanders and Isles men, they call us in Scotland Redshankes, and in your graces domain rough-footed Scottes. Please it to your Majesty to understand, that we of all people can tolerate, suffer and away best with cold for both summer and winter (except when the frost is most vehement) going always bear legged and bare footed; our delight and pleasure is only in hunting of red deer, wolves and foxes and grays, whereof we abound and have great plenty….the tender delicate gentlemen of Scotland call us Redshankes…..again, when the frost is most vehement, which we cannot suffer so well as snow, we go hunting and slay a red deer, we flay off the skin and set our bare foot inside thereof and stretch up to our ankles, prick the upper part with holes that water may pass when it enters and stretch the hide up with a thong made of the same material and tie it above our ankles…..we make our shoes with the rough hide side outwards……” This priest noted to King Henry VIII that Redshanks were good swimmers.
What was life like for a day in the life of a Red Shank? Here is a primary description: “Colla MacDonnell [Sorley Buy’s brother] is represented as passing through the Route …… in command of a Scottish auxiliary force intended to assist O’Donnell, in a struggle then pending between him and O’Neill of Tyrone. It so happened that Colla arrived at Dunluce Castle where he and his redshanks were hospitably entertained. Macquillin, the lord of dark Dunluce, just then chanced to be at war with O’Cahan beyond the Bann, and the latter had swept away a vast spoil of cattle from the fields of the Route only a few days before the arrival of the Scottish party from Cantire [Kintyre]. By way of making some small return to Macquillin for his hospitality, Colla MacDonnell offered a “day’s fighting” of his whole party against the O’Cahans, an offer which Macquillin was only too happy to accept. So Macquillin and the Highlanders went against the enemy and where there was a cow taken from M’Quillin’s people before, there were two restored back…..” Colla and his Red Shanks stayed the entire winter at the gracious invitation of Macquillin. It was more likely that the Red Shanks had been quartered on that hapless chief, according to the custom of bonachta (coin and livery).
How tough were these Galloglass and Redshank mercenaries? I found this story told by an eye-witness Reverend Alexander Carlyle at this last battle. He saw an Irish soldier: “trailing his leg, so shattered at the thigh by a cannonball that it hung by a mere thread of skin. Observing his comrades somewhat dismayed at his misfortune, he hailed them with a cheery voice, ‘Ha, comrades, such is the luck of war; neither you nor I should be sorry for it. Do your work manfully. As for me sure my lord Marquis will make me a trooper (horseman), now I am no good for the foot (infantry).’ With these words he coolly drew his knife, without flinching cut away the skin with him own hand, and gave the leg to a comrade to bury.”
Shakespeare mentions them in his play “MacBeth”;
The merciless Macdonwald,
Worthy to be a rebel, for to that
The multiplying villainies of nature
Do swarm upon him, from the Western isles
Of kerns and gallowglasses is supplied.
In the play, this was an anachronism. However, it does lend authority to the existence of the galloglass in the MacDonald hierarchy.
Two of the six most famous suppliers of Galloglass and Red Shank warriors were MacDhòmhnaill (MacDonald/McDonnell) from Kintyre and Islay and Mac Dubhghaill (MacDougall/McDowell) from Lorne.
Galloglasses and Redshanks were finished by 1650. Their method of warfare was made redundant by the musket. One of the last known was Alasdair Mac Colla Chiotaich MacDhòmhnaill – known in English as Alastair, son of the left-handed Macdonald, who died in battle in 1647 in Ireland. He has been immortalized in a Scots Gaelic waulking song “Alasdair Mac Colla Ghasda”.
County Down, a maritime county whose population in 1821 was 325,410 (1831 the population was 325,012), was named after its County Town “DOWNPATRICK”. County Down is one of 32 counties lying within the historical Province of Ulster. Approximately 108,000 acres, which represent 18% of the entire county, are unprofitable bog and mountain. However, in 1600 the whole County was “all waste and desolate”. The lowlander Scots transformed a large part of it to good, arable farmland in a few short years. Historically this matches the approximate date that the McCutcheons set down roots in Ulster. The McCutcheons are listed on a document as being one of the pioneer families in County Down in 1648. 1 They may have arrived from Kintyre in longboats some time before that, between 1575 and 1625. Their way of life as a Red Shank died with the coming of the musket and they needed to turn to husbandry to support their families.
They became grafted onto the “Ulster” stem and came to be known as “Ulstermen.”
The first record of a McCutcheon buried in the graveyard of Grey Abbey is Hugh McCutcheon (spelled McCutchen on the head stone) who was born in 1677 and he died at the age of 69 in 1746. This information can be found in Volume 12, Gravestone inscriptions. Where was Hugh born? Hugh was probably born in County Down and it was his father (Hew MacHutchon born in 1642) who made the journey from Kintyre to Ireland.
The population of the entire County of Down in 1659 was 15,183 spread across 32 civil parishes. About 40 percent of this population was residing in Belfast.
The Townland of Sloanstown is in the parish of Donaghadee sharing a common border with the parish of Grey Abbey. It is very easy to understand why the McCutcheons sometimes are referred to as originating in Grey Abbey. The town of Grey Abbey is located on the shores of Strangford Lough, derived from an Old Norse word meaning “strong fjord”.
Sloanstown is an English name adapted from a possible Irish name for this place-name such as Baile Uí Shluáin. The surname Sloan is common in County Down. Slowan is cited as one of the most common Irish surnames in the Census of 1659. The Sloan’s of Counties Antrim and Down are of Scottish origin. No forms for Sloanstown have been found earlier than 1659. Old forms of the name were: 1659 – Slewanstowne; however, by 1810 it came to be called Sloanstown. It is 261 acres in size. John McCutcheon of Sloanstown (1725-1800) was a listed freeholder here in 1792.
Cottown is a Townland located in the parish of Bangor which borders the parish of Donaghadee. It is a bit larger at 1,266 acres in size. Samuel, although not listed as a freeholder, was called Samuel of Cottown on his head stone. He was the founding father of “Clan McCutcheon”.
Both the ancient Townland of Greyabbey and the small village of Greyabbey derive the name from the Cistercian Abbey monastery dating back to 1193, located on the north side of the village. In 1600 the area was “wild and wasteland”. Hamilton granted the area to Hugh Montgomery in 1618 and by 1659 the population of the entire parish was only 117 people. The most common names were Brown, Baillie and Hamilton, reflecting their Scottish lowland ancestry.
The parish of Donaghadee had a little more population in 1659. There were 83 English/Scots and 63 catholic families in the parish.
McCutcheon was not a common name between the years 1650 and 1800 in Counties Down and Antrim. Prior to 1800, there were less than 50 McCutcheons listed as freeholders in the entire County of Down. I found only one in Antrim, a Samuel McCutcheon, a butcher by trade. There would have been more, as only those Protestants with a freehold of at least 40 shillings per year were legally permitted to vote and were thus registered. They represented less than .01% of the population of the County. Small numbers.
And so why is tracing our ancient ancestry so difficult in Northern Ireland? A few reasons: the destruction in 1922 of most of the public records of Ireland by the British Government in an attempt to bring Ireland to its knees; lack of census records in Ireland; the fighting highland clans thought that reading and writing was for “sissies”, not an endeavour to be undertaken by warriors. So their record keeping depended upon “shenachies”.
In a list of Presbyterian names in the Parish of Donaghadee in the Ballynahinch Church records after 1641, probably dating circa 1648, lists 500 pioneer’s names. McCutcheon is one of them. 1
From an early date, pioneering seemed to be in their blood.
Finally, I want to remind readers that there are inconsistencies, errors and some speculation in the earlier days of the history. They are unintentional and can be corrected. I would appreciate hearing from my many McCutcheon cousins.
My story begins John, Samuel, Robert, Hugh and Sarah of Greyabbey, County Down, who migrated to Canada between 1821 and 1826 to form the second largest conglomeration of McCutcheon’s on the North American continent. Their descendants today number over 20,000.
1 Ros Davies County Down Ireland; Genealogy Research Site;
2 Illustrated London News; 10 May 1851: Irish Emigrants Arrival at Cork. — .on the Quay; 387. [Note the signs with North American destinations: Boston, New York, and Quebec.] http://www.victorianweb.org/periodicals/iln/6e.html
3 Galloglass 1250-1600: Gaelic Mercenary Warrior: published 2010. (Author’s Collection).
4 Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gallowglass_-_D%C3%BCrer.png English: A drawing of Irish soldiers by Albrecht Dürer, 1521; Original caption: Also gand dy krigsman in Irlandia hindr engeland / Allso gend dy pawern in Irlandyen / 1521 AD; Caption by Heath (1993): Clearly the front two figures represent galloglasses while the others are their servants or kern.” 1521. This image is scanned from Ian Heath, The Irish Wars, 1485-1603, Osprey Publishing (1993), photograph by Jörg P. Anders. Original in Kupferstichkabinett, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Preussischer Kulturbesitz.
5 Clan MacFarlane Genealogy: http://www.clanmacfarlanegenealogy.info/genealogy/TNGWebsite/getperson.php?personID=I2628&tree=CC
8 The Hamilton & The Montgomery Manuscripts; The MacDonnells of Antrim. (Author’s Collection).
a Ulster Society.
b Ulster Genealogical and Historical Guild.
c Clan Donald Society – Edinburgh. http://www.clandonald.info/
d Sir Walter Scott`s Poem: “Lord of the Isles”:
e Gravestone Inscriptions of County Down – 19 of 21 volumes. (Author’s Collection).
g County Atlases of Ontario.
h Book Entitled “The Scottish Migration to Ulster in the Reign of King James I” by M. Percival–Maxwell. (Author’s Collection).
i The Hamilton Manuscripts. (Author’s Collection).
j The Montgomery Manuscripts. (Author’s Collection).
k The MacDonnells of Antrim. (Author’s Collection).
l Book Entitled “Clan Donald” by Donald J MacDonald published 2008. (Author’s Collection). NOTE: In 1644, Donald of Moidart (a branch of Clan Ranald) upon the invitation from Antrim, took 300 of his clan to Ireland, and along with Glengarry men under Angus Og MacDonald, took part in the seizure of Belfast, Knockfergus, Coleraine and Derry. (page 317).
m Book Entitled “Reliquiae Celticae” By Reverend Alexander Cameron LLD published 1894.
o Ros Davies County Down, Northern Ireland
Ireland Family History Research Site © Rosalind Davies 2001. Permission granted to reprint research for non-profit use only.
p An Illustrated History of Ireland from AD 400 to 1800 by Mary Frances Cusack. Page 323; http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/14754.
DEFINITIONS OF SOME SCOTTISH GAELIC TERMS: The Gaelic terms are italicized:
Alasdair – Alexander.
Aonghas – Angus.
Baile – Town.
Chiainn Domhnaill – Clan Donald.
Clann Ùisdein – Children of Hugh.
Dubh – Black.
Dhòmhnaill – Donald. Pronounced “Donnell.”
Dunscaith – Fort of Sgaithaich.
Eoin – John.
Gallaibh – Caithness (name of a place in Scotland).
Gallóglaigh – Gallowglass.
Gilleasbaig – Archibald.
Gorm – Bluish-green.
Hearach – Harris.
Mhic – Mac. Son of. May also be Mc, Ma or M’.
Mhic Dhòmhnaill – Macdonald. Pronounced ‘ic doonell.
Mac Ùisdein – Son of Hugh.
Raghnall – Reginald.
Ŕi Innse Gall – King of the Isles.
Shenachie – Story teller or historian.
Somhairle – Somerled.
Ùisdean – Hugh. Pronounced “Oosdn” or “Ooshdn”. The pronunciation sounds like the ocean waves hitting the shoreline.
Ùisdein – Patronymic from the personal name of Hugh. Patronyms are components of a personal name based on one’s father. Used as a means of conveying lineage. Patronyms predate the use of last names. Example: MacÙisdein. The historical Society for Clan Donald use MacÙisdean not MacÙisdein.
Ùis Ùis – Translates as spirit, breath or life as in Ùis gebreatha or usquebaugh which means “water of life” and is the Gaelic name for……..Whiskey.
Uist – West.
© Angela Andrew