Islandmagee DNA Group Project

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The aim of the project, which is managed by the North of Ireland Family History Society, is to explore the connections between people who are the descendants of those who lived in the historic North of Ireland parish of Islandmagee in County Antrim, which has strong Scottish and some English connections and a number of families that have lived in the district for generations. By testing people with known connections to the original families we will be able to confirm connections going back many generations, in many instances going beyond paper records.

We are working with the local community and have gathered together a team with a lot of experience in carrying out family history research and interpreting DNA test results who will analyze the results and handle queries from matches. The project will allow individuals around the world to identify that they have ancestors from Islandmagee with benefits for tourism, increasing community cohesiveness, and benefiting generations to come as information is identified and made available for further research.

I am Anne Johnston and am a Project Administrator on the Group Project on Family Tree DNA. The project is being managed by the North of Ireland Family History Society but is not limited to Society members. If you have Islandmagee ancestry or know anyone who has please contact me. I am also looking for experienced Wikitreers with Irish family history research experience who can set up profiles for members of old Islandmagee families.


The project covers DNA test takers who have ancestors from the parish of Islandmagee. There will be testers who match those from Islandmagee through other family lines. They are not part of the project.

It is a parallel project to the Ballycarry DNA Group Project which covers the Templecorran parish and as the two parishes are adjacent to each other there is some overlap between the families.


Islandmagee (or Island Magee) is a narrow peninsula about 6 miles long and 2 to 3 miles wide on the south-east coast of County Antrim, separated from the mainland by Larne Lough. Eastwards, it looks across to the Galloway and Ayrshire coasts of Scotland, Northwards, the Mull of Kintyre in Argyllshire is visible along with the islands of Islay and Jura in the Inner Hebrides. Being so near to Scotland has had a defining influence on Islandmagee's history and culture.

Islandmagee is known locally as 'the Island'. There are no towns on the peninsula - it has a generally dispersed rural population with three small villages, Ballystrudder, Mullaghboy and Millbay. The nearest towns are Larne (across Larne Lough), which has a long history as a major port, and Carrickfergus, one of the oldest towns in Ireland dating back to the 12th century.

There are 25 townlands in the parish of Islandmagee:

• Balloo • Ballycronan Beg • Ballycronan More • Ballydown • Ballyharry • Ballykeel • Ballylumford • Ballymoney • Ballymuldrogh • Ballyprior Beg • Ballyprior More • Ballystrudder • Ballytober • Carnspindle • Castletown • Cloughfin • Drumgurland • Dundressan • Gransha • Kilcoan Beg • Kilcoan More • Mullaghboy • Mullaghdoo • Portmuck • Temple-Effin


The origin of the name Islandmagee (Irish: Oileán Mhic Aodha) is Magee’s island or peninsula. The Mac Aodha (Magee) family was a prominent Irish Gaelic sept (a sub-division of a clan). In the early medieval period the area was known as Rinn Seimhne (pronounced Rin Shevne and meaning the headland of a tribe of people called the Seimhne). It was a minor kingdom within Ulaid, a Gaelic over-kingdom in north eastern Ireland. In the Annals of the Four Masters it is recorded that in the year of the world 2859 King Neimhidh (pronounced Nevy) with his four sons led a colony into Ireland and built Rath Cimbaeith (pronounced Rah Kimbee) in Seimhne.[1]

The parish and surrounding region is thought to have been one of the earliest inhabited areas in Ireland and has numerous archaeological sites including:

• Ballylumford Dolmen – known locally as the ‘Druid’s Altar’. It is probably the remains of a portal tomb dating to the early Neolithic period (c. 4000-3600 BC) when the first farming communities were established in the area.[2]

• Neolithic houses with artefacts including pottery have been excavated in the townland of Ballyharry.[3]

• Two late Bronze Age roundhouses have been excavated at Ballyprior Beg.[4]

• The below ground remains of a medieval settlement at Portmuck include a church and graveyard.[5]

• Two dinosaur bones believed to be 200 million years old were found in Lower Jurassic strata exposed on Islandmagee, the only dinosaur bones ever to be found in Ireland.[6]

In the 13th century the Bissett family from Scotland was granted the lease of Islandmagee and the lands later came into the ownership of the MacDonnells when Margery Bissett, the sole heir, married John Mór Tanister MacDonnell. In 1621 the lands were granted to Arthur Chichester, 1st Baron Chichester, the Lord Deputy of Ireland. He leased it to Sir Moyses (Moses) Hill who built a tower house at the southern tip of the peninsula called Castle Chichester (also known as Castle Chester) and settled a number of his own people on the land. Over the next few centuries the Chichester and Hill families continued as landlords under the titles Lord Donegall and Viscount Dungannon.

Viscount Dungannon Rent Poster

On the evening of the 8th January 1642 Islandmagee was the site of a massacre of allegedly 3000 Catholic men, women and children (although this figure was probably a gross over-estimate - probably no more than 50) when English and Scottish forces emerged from Carrickfergus Castle to the south with orders to kill all of the Catholic inhabitants of the area. The reason was the believed connection of the McGees with Sir Phelim O’Neill, the renegade Antrim nobleman who was the leader of the 1641 Rebellion in the province of Ulster. Nowadays Islandmagee is predominantly Presbyterian reflecting the Lowland Scots who have crossed the Irish Sea and settled there.

In 1711 Islandmagee was the site of a witch trial when 8 women were convicted of witchcraft and were jailed for a year and ordered to stand 4 times in the stocks on market day.

It is said that almost every male on Islandmagee took part in the 1798 Rebellion. They sailed across the lough to Larne and played a large part in winning the town for the United Irishmen.

In the early 1800s Islandmagee was regarded as a haven for smugglers. One of the caves used by the smugglers was found to have an artificial floor of timbers, concealed under a covering of stones and shingle. Underneath, hewn out of the bedrock, was a cavity where the smuggled goods were hidden. Caves around the coast were used to conceal gin and tobacco, both of which had a high customs duty.

Although farming was the most important industry on Islandmagee in past centuries, seafaring has been a way of life for many families. It claims to have more master mariners and sea captains per head of population than any other part of the British Isles. In many families it was a generational occupation and was a rite of passage for many young men from ‘the Island’. Islandmagee has had 3 Admirals/Rear Admirals, all born and brought up in the parish – Robert Symington, Robert Brice and Charles Hudson.[7]

There is a reputed connection between Islandmagee and the engineer and inventor James Watt. James was born in Greenock, Renfrewshire, Scotland and was a sickly and delicate child who later suffered from bouts of depression and headaches. At one point he was sent to the fresh air of Islandmagee to recuperate from an illness and stayed in the basement of the house of his nephew and his wife, Alexander Hay and Isabella Clark. Isabella was the daughter of Elizabeth Watt, James's sister. While staying at the house he made toys to entertain the Hay children but was sent home after some blew up![8]

The peninsula is overwhelmingly Presbyterian, reflecting the closeness to and settlement from Scotland. According to a religious census in 1834 86.4% of the islanders were Presbyterians with 8.6% being Anglican and 3.3% Methodist. The 4 churches on the Island are St John's Church of Ireland, First Islandmagee Presbyterian Church, Second Islandmagee Presbyterian Church and Islandmagee Methodist Church.


The following table gives the population of the parish as recorded in the censuses taken between 1821 and 1911. The figures indicate significantly more females than males because many of the male heads of household were away at sea on census night.

Males Females Total Houses
1821 1076 1223 2299 431
1831 1206 1404 2610 469
1841 1267 1515 2782 520
1851 1221 1483 2704 531
1861 1302 1484 2786 552
1871 1272 1449 2721 572
1881 1220 1424 2644 577
1891 1063 1306 2369 556
1901 1025 1256 2281 551
1911 917 1168 2085 535


The following surnames were to be found in the parish in both the 1800s and 1900s:[9] Surnames in bold indicate surnames in the ancestry of test takers in the project.

Aicken Aiken Alexander Allen Arthur Arthurs Auld Bell
Blair Brennan Brannion Brown Browne Cain Kerr Cameron
Campbell Davidson Davison Dick Donaldson Donnan Duff English
Esler Essler Ferris Flack Fleck Flake Fleke Forsyth
Forsythe Fullerton Gordon Greenlee Greenlees Hagan Haggan Haigan
Hegan Heggan Heggen Huggan Haggen Hamilton Hawthorn Hawthorne
Headles Heddles Henderson Hill Holmes Jackson Jones Kain
Kane McKane Laird Laverty Lewis Long Macauley McAuley
McCauley Mann McAlister McAllister McCafferty McCalmont McCalmond McAlmont
McCleland McClelland McClenaghan McClenahan McClenihan McCray McCrey McCrea
McCready McCreedy McDowell McDoal McGowan McIlwain McIlwaine McKay
McKey McKeen McKean McKinstry McMullan McMullen McMurtry Murtry
McNeilly Meneilly Menilly Millar Miller Milliken Murphy Napier
Neilson Nelson Niblock Orr Ross Smiley Smith Smyth
Stewart Stuart Templeton Tweed Walker White Wilson Wright

The following surnames can be found in the parish in the 1800s but have disappeared by the 1900s:

Barr Barry Berney Black Boyle Brackenridge Bradford Brangan
Caldwell Carruthers Clements Codd Colvin Crooks Cunningham Curry
Davis Dempsey Doole Dunbar Eames Eisner Elfin Erskine
Fenny Ficke Finney Fleming Gates Gauley Gillan Gilliland
Glover Gregg Grey Griffith Hall Hanna Harney Harvey
Heney Herron Hickson Higgins Hoey Hood Horseborough Jeffries
Kincaid Lack Lopton Loughran Marrs McAlison McBride McBurney
McCaherty McCambridge McCaul McClaren McClernan McCoy McDonald McElhearne
McGarrell McGill McGonnery McGovern McGucken McIlhago McKergon McKinn
McMeekin McMicken McTeer McTeir McTominy Morton Mulligan Murdock
Murray O'Neil O'Neill Parker Pennell Petticrew Pinkerton Potter
Rea Roddick Sellars Shaw Sloan Stannus Stephenson Stevenson
Sweeny Taylor Temple Tole Verner Wallace Ward Watson

Project Links

  • Group Project on FTDNA - This is a link to the main project page on Family Tree DNA. If you want to join the project transfer your DNA results to FTDNA, make sure you are logged into your account and click on 'Join'. If you have tested elsewhere, instructions on how to transfer to FTDNA can be found here You must have proven ancestors from Islandmagee in order to join the project. If you want to contact us to discuss, email us at
  • Category:Islandmagee DNA Group Project - This is a link to the ancestors of our test takers. As living people, you will not have access to the details of our test takers (they have black dots against them) but you will be able to see sourced information about their ancestors. This covers all their ancestral lines so will include lines that are not from Islandmagee.
  • Category:Island Magee Parish, County Antrim - This is a link to profiles of people who were born or died in Islandmagee. We are collecting DNA from the descendants of these people, regardless of where they currently live.
  • Category:Ballypriormore Cemetery, Islandmagee, Antrim - This is a link to people buried in Ballypriormore Graveyard located in the townland of Ballypriormore. According to local tradition, the site was originally a Danish burial place and the Danes brought over a shipload of their native soil to hallow it.[10] The oldest gravestone dates from 1657 and many of the eighteenth century stones have well-carved coats of arms.
  • Category:St. John's Church of Ireland Graveyard, Islandmagee, Antrim - This is a link to people buried in St John's Church of Ireland Graveyard located in the townland of Ballyharry. The church dates from 1595 and the oldest gravestone is from 1752. All denominations have used the graveyard, but since the "Island" is largely Presbyterian, most of the gravestones are of Presbyterians.
  • Category:Ballykeel Graveyard, Islandmagee, Antrim - This is a link to people buried in Ballykeel Graveyard (otherwise known as Islandmagee Old Church Graveyard). There are ruins of the old St John's Church, which was abandoned by 1600, still visible in the centre of the graveyard. The oldest gravestone dates from 1697.
  • Category:Islandmagee Cemetery, Islandmagee, Antrim - This is a link to people buried in Islandmagee Cemetery (also called Islandmagee New Cemetery). located in the townland of Ballyharry. It was established by the local authority and is now used for the majority of burials on the peninsula.
  • Islandmagee Parish - This is a link to additional information about the parish of Islandmagee.


  1. History of Islandmagee by Dixon Donaldson p7. Published by the author in 1927. Facsimile reprint by Islandmagee Community Development Association in 2002.
  2. Megalithic Technology Tom D. Hayes Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Third Series, Vol. 64 (2005), pp. 174-175 accessed at JSTOR.
  3. Ballyharry's Game... Norman Crothers Archaeology Ireland, Vol. 10, No. 4 (Winter, 1996), pp. 12-14 accessed at JSTOR.
  4. The Excavation of Two Late Bronze Age Roundhouses at Ballyprior Beg, Island Magee, County Antrim Ian Suddaby, Ian Armit, Mike Church, Mike Cressey, Sarah Gormley, Eiméar L. Nelis, Catherine M. Dunne, Eileen M. Murphy Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Third Series, Vol. 62 (2003), pp. 45-91 accessed at JSTOR.
  5. The Excavation of a Medieval Rural Settlement Site at Portmuck, Islandmagee, County Antrim Sue Anderson, Alastair Roy Rees, Catherine M. Dunne, Sarah Gormley, Sheila Hamilton-Dyer, Eileen M. Murphy, Eiméar L. Nelis, Mark Noel Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Third Series, Vol. 63 (2004), pp. 76-113 accessed at JSTOR.
  6. Belfast Telegraph 25th November 2020 accessed on 13th April 2021
  7. Unpublished family tree 'There's Something in the Wind' researched by Deirdre Stewart Sprott (nee Kerr).
  8. Unpublished family tree 'There's Something in the Wind' researched by Deirdre Stewart Sprott (nee Kerr).
  9. Based on the Tithe Applotment Books (1834), The Primary Valuation of Ireland (1862) and the 1901 and 1911 Censuses of Ireland.
  10. History of Islandmagee by Dixon Donaldson. Published by the author in 1927. Facsimile reprint by Islandmagee Community Development Association in 2002.

Comments: 10

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Several of my ancestral surnames (Graham, Jamison, Little and Martin [sp. var. for all] appear in various records for Island Magee. The earliest I've found is Little in the 1630 Muster Rolls. However, I do not know if these families will directly connect to my own who ended up in County Down 200 years later. My 2 brothers (including ydna) and I have (including mtdna) our results on FTDNA. Since they're not confirmed ancestors, I'm not sure if you'd like us to join but glad to do so. Thanks!
posted by Beth (Brown) Golden
Hello all. I've just signed up to this website to find out more about my ancestors from Islandmagee. My grandfather was Gilbert Yates Hamilton, and his grandfather was John Ferguson. That's all I know at the minute. I look forward to learning more.
posted by Karl Hamilton
Hi Karl

Have you tested your DNA? If so, with which company? Where are you living? Profiles of people from Islandmagee are being posted as part of the Islandmagee DNA Project. If you are interested in testing or have tested and wish to join the project contact me via a private message (my details are under Profile Manager near the top of the page).


posted by Anne Johnston
My Donaldson family seems to relate to the Donaldsons of Islandmmagee. How do I join?
posted by Mark Donaldson
Hi Mark

Have you tested your DNA? If so, with which company? Contact me on [email address removed] Regards Anne

posted by Anne Johnston
Mt aunts told me a long time ago that we - my surname is Ferres - originally came from Islandmagee. I have tried to establish a connection with the Ferrises who live there now, to no avail. At some stage, perhaps in the late 18th century, my family moved to Belfast. I believe that our name was originally spelled FERRIS. The male Christian names reappearing are Robert and James. When they moved to Belfast they worshipped in St Anne's Church, Donegall Street.
posted by [deleted]
Hood surname in 1800's gone by 1900's? Not so. Dougie Hood was my Uncle Sammy's ferry partner until 1982.
posted by Roger McCalmont
Hi Roger

Can you tell where the Hoods are in the 1901 and 1911 census records for Islandmagee? That is what I used, as indicated in the referenced sources.


posted by Anne Johnston
I see your point; Hood not at Islandmagee in censuses.
posted by Roger McCalmont

This is just incredible! Wow, I can't wait to start looking into everything you have here!


posted by Mags Gaulden