This surname recorded in the spellings of MacNealey, McNeilly, McNeillie, McNillie, McNeely, McNelly, Mcneely, Neilly, Neeley, Nealey, and Neely, derives from the famous clan name of 'Mac Conghaile'. The derivation is from the ancient Gaelic pre 10th century 'cu' meaning 'hound'. Broadly the translation is 'the son of the descendant of the hound'. The latter was probably a nickname for a chieftain who possessed the qualities associated with that animal, i.e. speed, tenacity, and strength. Most Irish surnames have developed a wide range of variant forms, and this is no exception. The name is (in all its forms) most associated now with County Antrim and County Tyrone, although it has been claimed that the descent may be from a Galway sept formerly 'Mac Conghaola', the name translation being the same. The changes in spelling from the Gaelic to the English are most responsible for the variant forms, and examples of these include Benjamin Neely, christened at Clogher, County Tyrone, on July 17th 1772, and George Neilly, who with his wife Mary, was a witness at the same village on September 27th 1792. Other recordings include William and Mary McNealey, whose daughter Jane was christened at Drumglass, County Tyrone, on March 3rd 1832, and interestingly a Mary Nealy, aged eighteen, is numbered amongst the people fleeing the Irish 'Potato Famine', who joined the ship 'Rappahannock of Liverpool', bound for New York, and who collected passengers at Londonderry, on June 12th 1846. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of John McNeely, which was dated October 28th 1686. This was during the reign of King James 11, of England, 'the last Roman Catholic king', 1685 - 1689. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop", often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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