Rev. Mr. W.K. McKay's Gaulish, Scottish, & Irish-Milesian heritage

In June 1836, the Belfast News-Letter published an article entitled, "Genealogical sketch of the Rev. W. Kennedy M'Kay." [1] This sketch had been written by Mr. M'Kay for insertion in his recently published work, the rather grimly inscribed, Mystero-Lermeneusis: being an explanation of the prophetic symbols of the Apocalypse. [2]

The following is an outline of this blog article, submitted as a set of introductory notes to the sketch penned by Mr. M'Kay:

The writer of the genealogical sketch was born William M'Kay, in the parish of Ballyclog, county Tyrone, not far from Stewartstown. His parents were the Rev. Thomas M'Kay (d.1822), minister of the Presbyterian congregation at Brigh, and Jane, daughter of the Rev. William Kennedy (1724-1801), minister at Carland. Later in life, the Rev. Mr. M'Kay added Kennedy to his surname as a nod to his mother's ancestry.

Mr. Kennedy M'Kay was great great grandson to the Rev. Thomas Kennedy (1625-1714), the first minister of Carland congregation, and Mary, daughter of Capt. William O'Brien. His great grandparents were the Rev. John Kennedy (1683-1761) of Benburb and Elizabeth Stevenson. He was, therefore, also great great grandson to Capt. James Stevenson of Stewartstown. Finally, Mr. Kennedy M'Kay was a contemporary, and first cousin, of the Rev. Dr. James Kennedy Bailie, D.D., F.T.C.D. (1793-1864)—who had written his own genealogical notes about their shared Kennedy and O'Brien ancestry.

Upon completing his education at the University of Glasgow, Mr. M'Kay was licensed by the Tyrone Presbytery to preach in 1824. He was ordained by the Ballymena Presbytery to Portglenone in 1826. It isn't clear just how long Mr. M'Kay administered this charge. Killen states he obtained leave to resign in 1859, after which he was assisted by Mr. John Houston, and that he died on the 15th February 1876. [3] However, in a news article about a meeting of the General Assembly in June 1869, he was listed as Mr. Kennedy M'Kay (Stewartstown). [4] Though Mr. M'Kay was never minister of the congregation in that town, he appears to have lived his latter years at Brigh, in the parish of Ballyclog, co. Tyrone.

Mr. M'Kay married Elizabeth, daughter of Hugh Robison, Esq., of Killymurries, county Antrim, on the 30th October 1834. [5] By his will, it appears that Mr. M'Kay had two sons by his first marriage—William Kennedy M'Kay, jun., who had emigrated to the Australian colonies, and Thomas, at home in Brigh. [6]

Already a familiar name in the religious and newspaper press when the Genealogical Sketch was written, in 1832 Mr. M'Kay had published The Elementary Principles of the Government of the Church of Christ, "dedicated with a view to establish and illustrate the Scripturality and Apostolical Antiquity of General Presbyterianism." [7] Two years later, as part of the Rev. Dr. Cooke's campaign against the new system of National Schools, Mr. M'Kay waxed lyrical in joining his voice to the opposition, by writing a lengthy poem entitled, Jerusalem's expostulation with the advocates of the New Education Board. Not surprisingly, the editor of the Northern Whig responded with a scathing review. [8]

Mr. M'Kay was not retiring by nature, often taking a prominent stand on controversial matters. On the subject of the new system of National Schools, for example, in 1832:

     While Dr. Cooke led the Synod to oppose this new system of
   education, the Rev. George McClelland (Ahoghill) and the Rev.
   William McKay (Portglenone), led a section of the Orangemen in
   a much more forcibly expressed opposition against all
   Protestant schools in their neighbourhood that had been placed
   under the obnoxious Board of Education. ... At the next meeting
   of the Synod, Mr. McKay was severely censured;... [9]

The following newspaper account of a presentation by the congregants to Mr. M'Kay reveals their high estimation of his religious doctrines and advocacy:

     Testimony of Esteem.——One hundred and fifty members of the
   first Presbyterian Congregation of Portglenone, to testify their
   respect for their minister, the Rev. Wm. Kennedy M'Kay, and to
   afford a proof of the esteem which they entertain for him on
   account of his consistant [sic] advocacy of Orthodox doctrines,
   and his uncompromising attachment to the principles of the
   Reformation, assembled at his residence a few days since, and
   in the space of one hour and an half set for him an acre and a
   half of potatoes. [10]

Four years later, a number of the inhabitants of Portglenone signified their appreciation of Mr. M'Kay's anti-Repeal sentiments:

     Presbyterianism and Repeal.——The Rev. W.K. M'Kay.——We
   understand that the inhabitants of Portglenone have resolved to
   present the Rev. William M'Kay with a substantial testimonial
   of their sense of the service done to society and the state, by
   his seasonable opposition to the Repeal Agitation in his
   neighbourhood, and also for his brilliant defence of Protestant
   principles in his book on the Revelations. We cordially concur
   with the inhabitants of Portglenone in their feelings toward
   their respected pastor.——Very few men have taken up the Anti
   Repeal cause so warmly as himself in the North of Ireland, and
   we sincerely trust that the gentlemen who have taken into
   consideration the subject of presenting him with a suitable
   testimonial, will not be disappointed in their most desirable
   project. [11]

In April 1848, during the throes of the Great Famine—when agrarian unrest and antipathy towards landlords were running high—Mr. M'Kay demonstrated his support for the Tory position:

     A very important and highly influential meeting of the gentry,
   clergy, and other inhabitants of Ballymena, and its neighbour-
   hood, was held on Tuesday, in the new Court-house of that town,
   for the purpose of expressing loyalty to the Throne, and a
   determination to assist the constituted authorities in the
   suppression of sedition, and the protection of the lives and
   property of the well-disposed. [12]

Finally, the following note, published by way of an obituary in the Belfast News-Letter's column of miscellany entitled, "Waifs of Conversation," reveals the loquacious aspect of this man:

     The late Rev. W. Kennedy M'Kay, Portglenone——and in refer-
   ring to him we much regret to be obliged to use the word late
   ——was a very able, and in some respects singular, man. His
   speeches in Assembly were distinguished by the results of
   much reading, a most retentive memory, and a volubility of
   utterance that could only be equalled by Charles Matthews,
   the younger, in his "Patter versus Clatter." Dr. Cooke knew
   his value as a debater, and in closing his address, and
   willing to have a reliable adherent to occupy the house, was
   no infrequently accustomed to say, "and now, Moderator, I
   give place to my friend Mr. M'Kay, who, I see, is anxious to
   address you;" and just as the name was spoken Mr. M'Kay was
   up, his dark, bright eyes glistening with delight, and
   plunging headlong and with marvellous rapidity into the
   question under discussion. In his speeches were always
   interspersed paranthetical [sic] remarks, very telling and
   very amusing. Here is one by way of illustration. In a
   debate on the Magee bequests, Professor Wallace, then a
   minister in Derry, made frequent mention of the "Sainted
   Mrs. Magee, now in glory." Mr. M'Kay, in reference to this,
   spoke of her as "the Widow Magee, now in heaven, by the
   concession of Mr. Wallace of Derry
." Alas! that we have, in
   our reminiscences, so often to use the adjective late, but it
   is our satisfaction to know that we have still among us
   living contemporaries, whose memorabilia may through us, it
   is hoped, be transmitted, which otherwise might be lost
   because unwritten
. Meantime, we speak of those who are passed
   from among us." [13] [Emphasis added by the transcriber.]

In his enumeration of an impressive array of illustrious ancestors,‡ Mr. M'Kay declared that he was:

  • Celtic, through his father's line, and great great grand nephew to General Hugh M'Kay of Scourie, Sutherlandshire, who served William III during the Revolution of 1688;
  • Scottish, by his mother's ancestry: through the Rev. Thomas Kennedy (1625-1714), a descendant of the Earls of Cassillis of Ayrshire in Scotland through Sir Alexander Kennedy of Craigoach; and,
  • Irish, also by his mother's ancestry: through Capt. William O'Brien, a descendant of Cormac Cass, a king of Munster in 360, and Oliol Olum.

The surnames of his nearer relatives in Ireland are listed in the section, Family history connections: surnames and place names, below.

Towards the end of his narrative, Mr. M'Kay's motivation for holding forth on his heritage is revealed:

     From this account, it will appear that I derive my descent
   from a Gaulish, Scottish, and Irish-Milesian origin, and that I
   have a right to the exercise of freedom to preach the Gospel
   among the simple of Milisian Irish, if God should call me to
   it, without being taxed by the Irish priesthood as an alien
   stranger, invading the privileges of the Irish, and possessing
   no sympathy for them, as not of their kindred origin.

Not only did Mr. M'Kay consider that his claim‡ to Milesian origins qualified him to minister to the native Irish, but he also betrayed his prejudices by his use of the word, simple. At least two newspapers mocked him for this offence, and rightly so. ‡ Today, as written previously, it is proving immensely difficult to analyze the ancestral claims to the Earls of Cassillis, let alone to the Barons of Inchiquin and the King of Munster. Unfortunately, one does have to question whether such proofs ever existed.

Declining to comment on either the arguments made by Mr. M'Kay for Irish-Milesian heritage, or the theological discourse which concludes the sketch (this writer being altogether unqualified to do so), the next segment of this article presents a family tree extract of the House of Cassillis.

The chart, below, is an extract of the family tree for the Earls of Cassillis and the Kennedy family of Culzean. It was composed primarily from two of Burke's Peerages (1878, 2001) [14] and James Paterson's History of the County of Ayr (1852) [15]. Several other sources† have been integrated into the chart in order to illustrate the claims made in the Irish Fasti and by two Irish Presbyterian ministers that their great great grandfather, the Rev. Thomas Kennedy (1625-1714) of Carland, was a descendant of the house of Cassillis. The two ministers were, first, the subject of this blog article, the Rev. Mr. W.K. M'Kay, and second, the Rev. Dr. James Kennedy Bailie (1793-1864), who were not only contemporaries but also first cousins. † The sources are provided at the top of the chart (below), underneath the title.

A careful reading of the chart should clarify the points of dissension between the various sources. Not only did McConnell, Dr. Bailie, and Rev. Mr. M'Kay introduce conflicting claims of kinship, but there are also differences between the genealogies presented by Burke and Balfour Paul on the one hand, and those by Paterson, Douglas/Wood, McDowall, and Moss, on the other. All of these inconsistences, and the absence of adequate genealogical proofs—together with the research conducted and the essay written by Iain Kennedy on the subject—render the claims made by McConnell and the Kennedy descendants unsupportable. Arguably, the "received" genealogies—Balfour Paul, Burke, Douglas/Wood, et al—could be considered unreliable sources of genealogical data, as well.

This latter statement may go too far, but I am not sufficiently encouraged to input any of these data into our family tree ... though the chart, and the accompanying discussion, would find their way into a family history report, consigned to their proper places as footnotes.

Earls of Cassillis and Kennedy of Culzean: a family tree extract
comparing several sources, and illustrating the claims to kinship
for the Rev. Thomas Kennedy (1625-1714) of Carland and
the Rev. Gilbert Kennedy (1627-1688) of Dundonald, co. Down,
as published in the Irish Fasti (McConnell et al), and asserted by
the Rev. Dr. Jas. Kennedy Bailie and the Rev. Wm. Kennedy M'Kay.

© Alison Kilpatrick, 2016.

Click on image to view in new window.
File size = 417Kb.

Mr. M'Kay listed the following families as his near relatives in Ireland:

  • Bailie of the parish of Donaghenry, co. Tyrone (said to descend from a branch of the house of Lamington in Scotland);
  • Dobbs, Moore, and Stewart, of Stewarthall, co. Tyrone;
  • Jackson of Coleraine, co. Derry;
  • Lindsay of Loughrea [i.e., Loughry, near Cookstown], co. Tyrone;
  • Richardson of Augher, co. Tyrone; and,
  • Saunderson of Cavan;

... all of whom he described as zealous advocates of Presbyterianism ... save the family of Lindsay, which always adhered to the Church of England.

Please note that, as far as I know, these families were not related to the Stevensons of Stewartstown—though they were almost certainly known to one another.

Someone interested in studying the career of Mr. M'Kay would be advised to visit the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, which holds the Rev. Wm. Kennedy McKay Papers, 1824-1965 (PRONI ref. D2594).

As for this gentleman's descendants, there are several research leads worth pursuing:

  • In 1868, the birth of William K. McKay, son of William K. and Isabella McKay. Registered at Sydney, New South Wales. [16]
  • In 1886, William K. M'Kay was named as a lessee, with others, of twenty acres in the parish of Bringellet, county of Bathurst, in New South Wales.[17]
  • In 1894, William Kennedy M'Kay, senr., and his wife, Isabella, were noticed under Section 11 of the Bankruptcy Act, 1887, in the July-August edition of the New South Wales Government Gazette. [18]
  • In 1899, William Kennedy M'Kay, jun. and John Lovett were listed as lessees of one acre in the parish of Bringellet. [19]
  • In 1906 (10th September), inquest held on the body of William Kennedy McKay at Wellington, New South Wales: born at Sydney; died at Camelford Park, District of Wellington; age: 40; died 3rd October 1906; cause of death: heart failure. [20]
  • In 1908 (24th July), the death of Isabella McKay, aged 64 years, wife of William Kennedy McKay, of Rockley, at the residence of her son-in-law, A.J. Lander, Addison-road, Manly, New South Wales. [21]
  • In 1909 (6th October), the marriage of John Caldwell McKay, son of William Kennedy McKay and Isabella Caldwell, to Elizabeth Mary Donohoe, daughter of James Donohoe and Elizabeth McSweeney, at Manly, New S. Wales.[22]
  • In 1913, William Kennedy M'Kay, miner, of Back Creek, was listed in the Electoral Roll for Brownlea polling-place, District of Lyndhurst, New South Wales. [23]
  • In 1933, Wm. K. McKay was listed at 294 Hampshire-rd, Suns., W.20, in the Victoria street directory. [24]
  • The 1901 Census of Ireland [25] recorded the McKay household in Brigh as follows:
    • Thomas McKay, head of family, Presbyterian, read & write, age 54, male, farmer, married, born in co. Antrim
    • Lizzie, wife, Presbyterian, read & write, age 42, female, married, born in co. Tyrone
    • Thomas, son, do., do., age 29, male, farmer's son, not married, born in co. Tyrone
    • Jane, daughter, ... age 26, ... born in co. Tyrone
    • Robert, son, ..., age 21, ... do.
    • Amelia A., daughter, ..., age 10, ... do.
    • Gertrude, daughter, ..., age 8, ... do.
    • Laura, daughter, ..., age 7, ... do.
    • Annie Stewart, sister in law, Presbyterian, read & write, age 56, female, farmer's daughter, not married, born in co. Tyrone.


Belfast News-Letter (BNL), 17 June 1836 (pg. 4). "Genealogical sketch of the Rev. W. Kennedy M'Kay." Digital copy online at The British Newspaper Archive, (accessed 2014-02-24, by subscription).

Please note that some news articles contain language and characterizations which may have been in common use at the time the articles or stories were written, but which are no longer acceptable. These articles do not reflect the opinions of the transcriber or web site owner.


M'Kay, W. Kennedy. The Mystero-Lermeneusis: being an explanation of the prophetic symbols of the Apocalypse. Belfast: M'Comb & Greer, 1836.


Killen, W.D. History of Congregations of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Belfast: James Cleeland, Edinburgh: James Gemmell, 1886.


Northern Standard, 12 June 1869 (pg. 4). "General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland," with a mention of the Rev. Wm. Kennedy M'Kay. Online at The British Newspaper Archive, op. cit. (2016-07-10).


BNL, 18 Nov 1834. Marriage notice: "On the 30th Oct. last, the Rev. William Kennedy M'Kay, Presbyterian Minister, Portglenone, to Miss Elizabeth Robison, youngest daughter of Hugh Robison, Esq. Cottage, Killymurries." Online at The British Newspaper Archive, op. cit. (2016-07-10).


Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, Belfast. (a) Will Calendar entry, and (b) Copy will of the Rev. William Kennedy McKay. Online at the PRONI's web site, (accessed 2014-11-09, 2016-07-10).


BNL, 29 May 1832 (pg. 3): Advertisement for a religious publication written by the Rev. William Kennedy M'Kay. Online at the British Newspaper Archive, op. cit. See also BNL, 2 Oct 1832, for a letter written by Mr. M'Kay, in which he refutes a "philippic"† written to the editor of the Northern Whig (4 Oct 1832, pg. 2) by "a person calling himself 'Dissenter' against his book." † Philippic: a bitter attack or denunciation. (, accessed 2016-07-11).


Northern Whig, 4 Sept 1834 (pg. 4). "Jerusalem's expostulation with the advocates of the New Education Board," by the Rev. Wm. Kennedy M'Kay; review by the editor of the Whig. Online at the British Newspaper Archive, op. cit. (2016-07-11).


Latimer, William Thomas. A History of the Irish Presbyterians. 2nd ed. Belfast: James Cleeland, and William Mullan & Son, 1902 (pg. 453). Transcribed by Alison Kilpatrick.


Londonderry Standard, 27 May 1840 (pg 2). "Testimony of Esteem," to the Rev. Wm. Kennedy M'Kay. Online at the British Newspaper Archive, op. cit. (2016-07-11). Transcribed by Alison Kilpatrick.


Londonderry Standard, 31 Jan 1844 (pg. 3). "Presbyterianism and Repeal," re: the Rev. Wm. Kennedy M'Kay. Online at the British Newspaper Archive, op. cit. (2016-07-11). Transcribed by Alison Kilpatrick.


Derry Journal, 3 May 1848 (pg. 1). "A very important and highly influential meeting," with a mention of the Rev. Mr. Wm. Kennedy M'Kay. Online at the British Newspaper Archive, op. cit. (2016-07-11). Transcribed by Alison Kilpatrick.


BNL, 11 Mar 1876 (pg. 4). Memorial note re: the Rev. Wm. Kennedy M'Kay. Online at the British Newspaper Archive, op. cit. (2016-07-11). Transcribed by Alison Kilpatrick.


(a) Burke, Sir Bernard. A Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerage and Baronetage, &c. London: Harrison, 1878. (b) Burke's Landed Gentry: The Kingdom in Scotland. 19th ed. Vol. I. Stokesley, North Yorkshire: Burke's Peerage, 2001.


Paterson, James. History of the County of Ayr. Vol. II. Edinburgh: Thomas George Stevenson, 1852.


Australia, Birth Index, 1788-1922. Online at (accessed 2016-07-11, by subscription).


New South Wales Government Gazette. Sydney, Australia: New South Wales State Records Authority, 1853-1899. Jan-Mar 1889, pg. 1659, lease no. 2610. Online at (accessed 2016-07-11, by subscription).


Ibid. July-August 1894 (pg. 5180).


Ibid. Jan.-Feb. 1899 (pg. 951).


Registers of Coroners' Inquests and Magisterial Inquiries, New South Wales. 1834-1942. Online at (accessed 2016-07-11, by subscription).


The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 July 1908 (pg. 12). National Library of Australia. Trove digitised newspapers, online at (accessed 2016-07-11).


Catholic Church. Mary Immaculate (Manly). FHL film no. 992808. Online at (accessed 2016-07-11).


Australian Electoral Commission. Online at (accessed 2016-07-11, by subscription).


Australian City Directories. Gould Genealogy & History, South Australia. Digital copy online at (accessed 2016-07-11, by subscription).


1901 Census of Ireland. County Tyrone, Ballyclog District Electoral Division. Household no. 1: Thomas McKay, head of family, Brigh townland. Digital copy of household return online at the National Archives of Ireland, (accessed 2016-07-11).

Please cite your sources.


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"The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."—Lesley Poles Hartley (1895–1972), The Go-Between (1953).

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