Sunday, May 24, 2009


One day years ago I was listening to David Brudnoy's talk show. It was around St.
Patrick's Day time and David had some expert on Irish history and genealogy on
to answer questions from callers about their Irish ancestry. I decided to call and
ask about the McFarlands, my Mom's maternal line. When I got on, Mom
listened in on the radio out in the kitchen.

I can't recall exactly what he said. All I do recall was that he said McFarland was
from Northern Ireland, probably Scottish in origin and many of the name were
Protestant. He theorized that some of the name emigrated to Ireland when the
British settled Scottish Protestants in the Ulster area and later converted to
Catholicism for convenience.

What I DO recall was my Irish Catholic Mom's vivid remarks after the call was
over and I walked out to the kitchen!

I didn't really think much about it again until I started researching the family tree.
I know that my great grandfather John McFarland' s wife Annie Kelley was born
in Roscommon which is in the north central part of the island (or so I've been
told by family tradition) but I've no idea where he himself was born.

The website Irish Surnames says the name originated from the Gaelic name
of the "...Mac Parthalain Sept that was located in County Armagh in the North of
the country..." and that many of the descendants can be found in Ulster. Apparently
"Parthalain" is the Gaelic form of "Bartholomew" and a mythological figure who
led an invasion of Ireland from Magna Graecia (Sicily) 300 years after the Flood.
"In the 16th century MacParlan appears chiefly in Co. Leitrim where, along with
Armagh, it is principally found today." (The Surnames of Ireland by Edward
Neafsey, p. 6)

Every source I've found online gives a similar history and origin. Of course, the
Scots were originally from Ireland, so ultimately there is an Irish origin for the
name. But if I accept that, there are a questions that need answers. Michael
McFarland and Annie Kelley were Irish and married in the Catholic Church but the
marriage took place in Edinburgh, Scotland. Did Michael look for work in Scotland
because he had Scottish kin? If Michael was Catholic, did he convert or had one of
his ancestors converted after coming to Ireland(if indeed his ancestors were Scots).
And of course, I've yet to discover where and when Michael McFarland himself was

Hmm. My late Mom wouldn't be happy about this! I better find some answers!

(written for the 13th Edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage and Culture)


Harold's Daughter said...

For what it's worth, McFarland is a familiar name in Topeka KS. Locals have been eating at McFarland's Restaurant for decades, and a couple of blocks away is a gated community called "McFarland Farms", which until a few years ago was only a huge field owned (of course) by the McFarland family. It happens to be across the street from a Catholic cem that I visited the other day. Many tombstones show Irish towns as birthplaces.

These may not be yours, Bill, but if anyone reading this has McFarlands in Topeka (or Kansas) and needs a lookup, let me know.

Bill West said...

None of my McFarlands have made it
that far west but thanks for the offer, and maybe some reader will be able to take you up on it!

PrestonFM said...

If you can find a direct male descendant of your McFarland ancestor they can participate in the MacFarelane DNA study. About 100 MacFarlane's and McFarlands have taken the test. You very well might find some distant relatives that have the answers you're looking for.

As for me, a McFarland whose ancestors were in Ireland for 150 years, I expected my closest matches to be with the other McFarland's out of Ireland. However, my closest matches are some MacFarlanes in Scotland.

Anyway, you can find more on the test at