McBeath of Londonderry, Ireland


From Cumber, Londonderry, to Belfast, Glasgow, Nebraska and beyond.


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The McBeaths come from Londonderry. The family name McBeath or occasionally McBeth occurs in our ancestry. The McBeath usage seems to have been retained in Ireland and Scotland whereas McBeth is more common in the USA line.

James McBeath (1795 - 1843)

The family can be traced back to my 2nd Great Grandfather, James McBeath who was born c. 1795 in Cymber (present day Cumber), Londonderry, Ireland. He married Mary Denniston, sometime before 1828 and they had 8 children. He died c. 1843. Cymber no longer exists, and has likely become Cumber, which in 1794 ( was split into Cumber Upper and Cumber Lower. The McBeaths, Millars and Mowbreys all came from farming families in the Cumber-Coleraine region of Londonderry. Much of this heritage has been researched by my cousin, Dr Chris Morrow.

Chris Morrow, Ballynamore Road, Cumber.

James and Mary's 4th son William emigrated to the USA in 1860, at the age of 23, in the aftermath of the Great Potato Famine of 1846-49. He changed the spelling of his name to 'McBETH' which nicely distinguishes that line from the Irish one.

Cumber Lower

Cumber Lower (1837) is a parish, in the barony of TIRKEERAN, county of LONDONDERRY, and province of ULSTER, 6 miles (S. E. by S.) from Londonderry, on the road to Dungiven; containing 4584 inhabitants. This parish was separated from the original parish of Cumber in 1794, when this portion of it, comprising, according to the Ordnance survey, 14,909 statute acres, was constituted a parish of itself. The land under cultivation is very fertile, particularly that portion which lies in the vale of the Faughan; good pasturage is obtained on the mountains, which compose about one-third of its surface. Several mountain streams run through the parish, of which the Burntallaght is the most interesting; on this water is a beautiful cascade, called the Neiss, which falls over a ridge of clay-slate nearly 80 feet.

Considerable portions of the parish are the property of some of the London chartered companies, by whom great improvements have been effected. In the vale of the Faughan, which extends through the parish and is pleasingly wooded, stand several elegant houses, surrounded by grounds of singular beauty. The inhabitants combine with their agricultural pursuits the weaving of linen cloth; and there is an extensive bleach-green, where 16,000 pieces are annually finished, principally for the English market. There are several handsome bridges both of wood and stone, and between the Oaks and Oaks Lodge is a suspension bridge, which, as seen from the road, has a very pleasing effect. The principal residences are the Oaks, that of Acheson Lyle, Esq.; Oaks Lodge, of Hugh Lyle, Esq.;the Cross, of James Smith, Esq.; and the Glebe-house, of the Rev. William Hayden.

The living is a rectory, in the diocese of Derry, and in the patronage of the Bishop: the tithes amount to £560. The glebe-house was erected in 1800, by a gift of £100 from the late Board of First Fruits: the glebe comprises 106 acres, of which about 30 are uncultivated. The church is a convenient and substantial edifice, built in 1795, by aid of a gift of £500 from the Board. The rector has every fifth presentation to the perpetual cure of Learmount, a district formed out of the original parish of Cumber, in 1831.

City of Londonderry, 1793. (Picture credit)

In the Roman Catholic divisions the parish is partly in the union or district of Glendermot, and partly in that of Cumber Claudy; the chapel, which belongs to the former, is a small edifice, situated at Mullaghbuoy, in the mountain district. The Presbyterians have a large meeting-house at Breakfield, in connection with the Synod of Ulster, of the first class. The male and female parochial schools at Aughill are supported by the rector; and there are large schools at Ervey, Tamnamore, and Ballinamore; the first was built and is supported by the Grocers' Company. The remains of antiquity are numerous; at Slaght Manus is a very large cromlech, the table stone of which is 10 feet long, and is supported by four pillars; and at Mullaghbuoy are the remains of another, but less perfect. In the townland of Listress is a large artificial cave, with five chambers, all built of field stones, covered with broad flag-stones, over which is a covering of earth two feet thick.

(From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837)

Cumber Upper

Cumber Upper is a parish, partly in the barony of STRABANE, county of TYRONE, but chiefly in that of TIRKEERAN, county of DERRY, and province of ULSTER, 7 ½ miles (N. E.) from Londonderry; containing, with Claudy (which has a daily penny post), 5430 inhabitants. The early history of this parish cannot be satisfactorily traced, further than that St. Patrick, having crossed the Foyle, founded several churches in this district, one of which occupied the site of the present church of Cumber. The original name is variously written by early historians; the present is modern, and acquired since the taxation of Pope Nicholas in 1291. At the Reformation the rectory belonged to the abbey of Derry, and was given by James I. to the bishop, as part of the abbey lands. In 1622, it appears, by the Ulster Visitation book, to have been held with Banagher.

The ancient parish of Cumber was the most extensive in the diocese, until 1794, when it was divided into Upper and Lower Cumber, by order in council: the parish of Upper Cumber, according to the Ordnance survey, comprising 26,202 ¼ statute acres, of which 23,072 ¾ are in Derry, and 3129 ½ in Tyrone; the latter form a hilly district amid the Mounterloney mountains. In some parts, particularly on the Walworth estate, and on that of Learmont, the land, though hilly, is well cultivated; the extensive bogs are being worked out, and brought into cultivation.

The inhabitants combine the weaving of linen cloth, with agricultural pursuits; there are several commodious and excellent bleach-greens on the Faughan water, none of which, however, are now at work. The southern parts of the parish consist chiefly of mountains, the principal of which is Sawel, the highest in the county, being 2236 feet above the level of the sea; its summit is on the boundary between two counties. These mountains afford excellent pasturage on every side; and the rivers Faughan, Glenrandle, and Dungorthin have their sources in them. There are large woods and much valuable timber in the demesne of Park- Learmont; and the plantations of Cumber, Alla, and Kilcatton greatly embellish the surrounding scenery. There are several large and elegant houses, of which the principal are Learmont, the seat of Barre Beresford, Esq.; Cumber House, of John H. Browne, Esq.; Kilcatton Hall, of Alexander Ogilby, Esq.; and Alla, of the Rev. Francis Brownlow.

The living is a rectory, in the diocese of Derry, and forms the corps of a prebend in the cathedral of Derry, in the patronage of the Bishop: the tithes amount to £740. The glebe, situated in Glenrandle, half a mile from the church, consists of the townlands of Alla, Gilky Hill, and Tullentraim, containing 1508 statute acres. The church is a large modern edifice, with a small bell turret on the western gable, erected in 1757, on the site of an ancient building. In 1831, eight townlands were separated from the parish, to form part of the new district or parish of Learmont, and the rector of Upper Cumber has the alternate presentation to that perpetual cure. In the Roman Catholic divisions the parish is partly included in the union or district of Banagher, and partly forms the head of a district, comprising also a part of that of Lower Cumber; there are chapels at Claudy and Gortscreagan.

The Presbyterians have a meeting-house at Claudy, in connection with the Synod of Ulster. The parochial school, situated on the glebe lands of Alla, is well built and convenient; it is supported by the trustees of Erasmus Smith's charity, and is under the management of the rector, who has endowed it with two acres of land. Male and female schools were built and are supported by the Fishmongers' Company; and they have also excellent male and female schools at Gortilea and Killycor. There are also schools at Ballyarton, Craig, Kilcatton, and Claudy. A female school at Claudy is principally supported by Lady Catherine Brownlow, who likewise contributes to some others. A female work school at Cumber was built and is supported by Mrs. Browne and other ladies of the parish. A male and female school at Learmont is principally supported by the Beresford family.

There are also Sunday schools and a private day school. At Mulderg is a large dispensary, built and supported by the Fishmongers' Company. There are the remains of a druidical altar at Baltibrecan; and at Altaghoney were discovered, in the summer of 1835, three stone coffins, each covered with three flag stones, and in each an urn containing ashes, calcined bones, &c. The graves were two feet deep in the gravel, where 8 feet of bog had been cut off the surface; and near the coffins were two idols, carved out of solid oak, which, with the urns, are now in good preservation, in the museum of Alex. Ogilby, Esq., of Kilcatton, who has also a good collection of lands/Family-Pages/McBeath/capes, groups, &c, more than 200 of which are from his own pencil.

(From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837)

McBeath/McBeth Family Name

This surname McBETH was common in Scotland in early times from the 11th to the 14th century. In old Gaelic it was spelt MACC BETHAD, and means 'son of life' a name for a religious person or meaning 'one of the elect' a man of the cloth. In modern Gaelic the name is spelt as Macbeatha. A twelth-century variant, Malbeth is found in record. It is thought the spelling McBeath, a variant more common in Ireland, may infact be the original, which was carried to Scotland from Northern Ireland in the 5th century by the then Scots or Scottish. In 19thC Ireland, the surname is only found in Londonderry.

Macbeth (1005-1057) Mormaer (aka Earl or Count) of Moray, became King of Scots after having murdered King Duncan I at Bothnagowan near Elgin on 14th August 1040. "The use he made of his acquired power so far as authentic records show, was generally for the good of his country; while his character, far from being irresolute, was marked by vigour and ability. He was a friend of the poor, the protector of the monks and the first Scottish king whose name appears in ecclesiastical record as the benefactor of the Church" (A short history of the Scottish Highlands, Mackenzie, published in 1906).

Alba, the country which became Scotland, was once shared by four races; the Picts who controlled most of the land north of the Central Belt; the Britons, who had their capital at Dumbarton and held sway over the south west, including modern Cumbria; the Angles, who were Germanic in origin and annexed much of the Eastern Borders in the seventh century, and the Scots.

The latter came to Alba from the north of Ireland late in the 5th century to establish a colony in present day Argyll, which they named Dalriada, after their homeland. The Latin name SCOTTI simply means a Gaelic speaker. Other records of the name mention John McBehaig and Duncan N'Behaig, who were servants to John Campbell, prior of Ardchattan in 1622. The associated coat of arms is recorded in Sir Bernard Burkes General Armory. Ulster King of Arms in 1884. Granted in Scotland in 1678.

It has long been a matter of doubt when the bearing of coats of arms first became hereditary and it was not until the Crusades that Heraldry came into general use. Men went into battle heavily armed and were difficult to recognise. It became the custom for them to adorn their helmets with distinctive crests, and to paint their shields with animals and the like. Coats of arms accompanied the development of surnames, becoming hereditary in the same way.

Coats of Arms, Crests.

It's customary to link (or attempt to link) one's family name to a Coat of Arms or Heraldic Crest. Some of them may be associated with the family, but not always. In the case of McBeath/McBeth, I have identified the following, one of which may have been legitimately used by 'our' McBeaths, but I have found no compelling evidence for a particular Crest.

Above: Irish McBeath/McBeth, Scottish McBeath.

Below: The Crest on the Left is the Scottish MacBeth, whilst that on the right is the Irish McBeth. Note that McBeth and McBeath spellings were often used interchangeably.

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© Updated: 16 August, 2018