Recorded in many spellings of which the most popular are probably McElrath, McIlrath, McIIwrath, and McIlwraith, this clan surname is of early and confused Scottish origins. It derives from the Gaelic Mac gille Riabhaich, and translates literally as the son of the follower (gille) of the brindled one! As to who the brindled one was is not proven, but he may have been a holy man, since "gille" can mean servant, but more usually in ancient times described a friend or follower. It is said to be the most widespread Scottish surname compounded with "gille", and is particularly popular both in Galloway on the South-West coast , far north throughout the Highlands, as well as in Northern Ireland. Early examples of the surname recordings showing the variant spellings include Thomas M'Gilrewy, given as being a Douglas tenant in the barony of Buittle in 1376, whilst Donald Makgillereoch appears as a witness in the Book of the Thanes of Cawdor, in 1488. Nele M'Ilwraith, a follower of the earl of Cassilis, was charged with murder in 1526, whilst in the Isle of Skye, there is a place called Baile Mhic Illeriabhaich meaning the township of the Macgilleriabhachs. A bond of service called a manrent was signed between the between this family and the lord of the Isles at Castle Camus, Skye, on August 13th 1632. The name was introduced into Ulster by Scottish settlers, and is now very numerous in the north-eastern counties of that province, "Mac giollaRiabhaigh" being the early Irish form of the name. Here recordings include that on December 1st 1845, of Alexander McElrath and Anne Currens who were married at Clogher, County Tyrone. The first recorded spelling of the family name is believed to be that of John Make Gille Reue. He was a Scottish hostage, held in Carlisle Castle, during the reign of the Interregnum Government of Scotland, 1296 - 1306. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was sometimes known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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