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McCoy, McCoey, McCooey, McCovey

Arms of McCoy of Ulster and Scotland

Arms of McCoy of Waterford and Scotland

Arms of Coey (McCoey / McCooey / McCoy) of Belfast. This coat of arms includes a great deal of traditional O'Neill symbolism.

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The personal name Aodh was, and still is, a popular and common one among the people of the Gaels and has been largely anglicised as Hugh. It is not surprising therefore that as surnames started to come into being from the tenth century onward, that patronymics based on Aodh should arise separately in several place and thus the names Mac Aodha, Mac Aoidh and O hAodha (meaning 'son' of and 'grandson of' Hugh) arose in Ireland and Scotland. In Ireland the name is generally anglicised as MacHugh while in Scotland MacKay is the more usual form. From families of MacKay that migrated to the Ulster province of Ireland arose the variant form MacCoy or McCoy. As late as 1900 the name MacCoy was still being used interchangeably with MacCay near Castlederg, Co. Tyrone, with MacKay around Monaghan town and in Newry, Co. Down, and with MacKie in the Ballyshannon district of Co. Donegal.

MacCoy is a fairly common name in Ireland. It is chiefly to be found in Ulster on both sides of the border (Armagh-Monaghan area) with a sprinkling in Cork and Limerick and in general, it is true to say that wherever the McCoys are found, there will be MacKays close by. The MacKays and MacCoys are not by origin Irish in the usual sense of the word, since they came to Ireland as galloglasses in the wake of the MacDonnells.

Galloglasses were mercenary soldiers, imported by the Irish clan chiefs, mainly in Ulster but also further afield, to aid in the defence of their clan territories. A fifteenth century account of them states: "They, the Irish, have one sort of footmen which can be harnessed in mail and basinettes, having every man of them a kind of battle-axe and they be named galloglasses. These sort of men be those that do not lightly abandon the field, but bear the brunt to the death. These men are commonly wayward by profession than by nature, big of limb, burly of body, well and strongly timbered, chiefly feeding on beef, pork and butter." They earned their reputation the hard way, and were the biggest reason the chiefs Uí Neill slowed the English advance northward from the Pale several hundred years. Many of them got grants of land from the Irish chiefs and went on to found some of the most respected clans of the Ireland, such as the Sweeney's, McCabes, Brennain, MacKay, MacCoy, Sheehy and McFadden. The home territory of the MacCoys was the southern isles of Scotland (Islay etc.) - though the original Gaelic settlers in Alba came, no doubt, from Ireland. Like the MacDonnells some of the MacCoys went south, hence the presence of the families in Munster.

The fact that they were galloglasses suggests that the McCoys of Ireland were not part of the well-known Clan Mackay of Scotland, who claim descent from the Royal House of Moray through Morgund of Pluscarden. Doubtless some Irish MacKays are of this origin, but most will be descendants of the MacKays of Kintyre, who were called of Ugadale and are mentioned in a manuscript of 1450. These were vassals of the Isles, and had no connection with the Mackays of Strathnaver. Some historians assign to them a Celto-Irish descent, in the 12th century, after King William the Lion had defeated Harald, Earl of Orkney and Caithness, and taken possession of these districts. Others suppose that they were descended from what are called the aboriginal Gaelic inhabitants of Caithness.

There will also be some MacCoys, for instance in Fermanagh and Donegal, that were originally MacHugh, a branch of the O'Flahertys in Connemara. In addition there is a rare Louth - Down name, in Irish MacCobhthaigh, which is usually found as McCovey, but also as McCoey and McCooey. This name has also become McCoy in places and the Ulster Gaelic poet Art MacCoy (1715-1774) who was also known as MacCooey, was of this family.

The name has not been very noteworthy in the political and cultural history of Ireland, but in this connection Rev. Edward MacCoy (1839-1872), Gaelic writer, may be cited. Sir Frederick MacCoy (1823-1899), the Dublin-born naturalist, is best known for his work in that field in Australia. The National Museum collection of Australia was transferred from the Government Assay Office to the University of Melbourne and Professor Frederick McCoy was appointed the inaugural director in 1858.

The origin of the expression "The Real McCoy" is in dispute: some authorities state that it is a corruption of the Portuguese word Macao (i.e. heroin from Macao). Another story relates to Charles "Kid" McCoy (real name Charles Selby) who was a clever and popular fighter at the turn of the century. He is credited with inventing the corkscrew punch, which was thrown while rotating the fist. To gain a psychological advantage over his opponents, McCoy feigned illness before several bouts or he would spread the word to the media that he neglected training. On fight night, much to the surprise of the press and his opponents, McCoy was usually fit and ready to fight. Thus, reporters often asked, "Is this the real McCoy?" Following major success in the ring in the late 1800s he was knocked out in five rounds by James J. Corbett, the former heavyweight king in 1900. Then, in 1903, he challenged for the light heavyweight title but lost to champion Jack Root. After leaving the ring, McCoy tried acting but didn't find the same success. In 1924, McCoy was charged with the murder of his lover, was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Three years after he was released from jail, McCoy took an overdose of sleeping pills and died. A third story relates to Elijah McCoy who was born in Colchester, Ontario, Canada on May 2, 1844 and educated in Scotland as a mechanical engineer. He returned to the United States and settled in Detroit, Michigan. He invented a lubricator for steam engines, which allowed machines to remain in motion to be oiled; his new oiling device revolutionized the industrial machine industry. Elijah McCoy established his own firm and was responsible for a total of 57 patents. The term "real McCoy" refers to the oiling device used for industrial machinery. His other inventions included an ironing board and lawn sprinkler. He died on October 10, 1929 and was buried in Detroit, Michigan. Finally, a letter written by the author Robert Louis Stevenson in 1883 includes the line "he's the real Mackay" and almost certainly refers to the famous Scottish firm of whisky makers.