Origin and Meaning
The name translates to 'descendent of Giollagán' a diminutive of Giolla, meaning 'servant, youth'. Spelling variations include: Gilligan, Gilegan, Gillegan, Giligan and others. This name was to be found predominently in County Derry, in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries this area was commonly known as MacGilligan's country. The MacGilligans were recognised as one of the three main septs of this area. By the middle of the seventeenth century the prefix Mac was already to be found being dropped. Now while the name can still be found in areas of Ulster it is most prevalent in Leinster and Connacht. The MacGilligan herald bears the Latin inscription " Semper fidelis" which translates" Always faithful."
Development and History
First found in county Derry where they held a family seat at a place called Magilligans Strand, Magilligan is named after the family who were the hereditary farmers of the church lands of a former monastery at nearby Duncrun, and is an interesting case of a parish preserving a clan name, the older form being Ard MacGilligan. Magilligan was the home of a famous Ulster Harpist, Denis O'Hampsey who is buried in St Aidan's Churchyard. The Magilligans served has part of the O'Cathain Sept and provided serve in times of war and paid tribute to the O'Cathain Overlord.
Descendants of Oilioll
The magilliganes were then the scattered families of a once numerous and influential tribe, whom McFirbis notices in his enumeration of the descendants of Oilioll, son of Eoghan Breadach, as the Ui-Giollain, or Giollagain. "The parish of Tamlaghtard was called Ard Mcgillygan in the 16th century , from the family who were the hereditary tenants of the twelve quarters of church land which were in it. In later times Ard has been dropped, so that this parish appearing on the ordance map as magilligan will prove a lasting memorial of the family." none of the family appear to have distinguished themselves on either side during the struggles between the english and the native irish in the 16th century. possessing the church lands in the parish, the leaders of the sept were probably "scholars," or persons devoted to the study and administration of the brelon laws. The parish bearing their tribe name of the Magilligan extends from the summit of Bentevenagh and the mouth of the river roe northward to the east side of the entrance of Lough Foyle, and thence 4 miles in a south-eastward direction along the Alantic. Magilligans were hardly known at the commencement of the 17th century, from the cause, no doubt, already mentioned. Only one Donough magilligan is named in the state papers relating to that period, as having been a deputy from Sir Niall Garve O'Donnell to Sir Cahir O'Dogherty. during the revolt of the latter.