The mysterious Eoin MacNeill connection

Portrait of Eoin MacNeill, Irish scholar and Politician (Wikipedia)

Eoin MacNeill was an influential Irish scholar and a key figure in the emergence of an independent Republic of Ireland in the early twentieth century. He was a co-founder of the Gaelic League, which sought to re-introduce the study of Gaelic language, history, and culture in Ireland. He led the establishment of the Irish Volunteers, a national volunteer force that was used by the Irish Republican Brotherhood during the violent Easter Uprising of 1916. Although a strong supporter of Irish independence from Great Britain, MacNeill was considered a moderate and unsuccessfully attempted to stop the uprising when he learned of the planned action. Nevertheless he was arrested and sentenced to life in prison for his involvement, but released in a general amnesty of 1917.

So what is the connection to my family tree? My husband’s great-grandfather was Maurice John Macauley (1878-1965). Maurice’s mother was born Lillian Ann Gracey in Glenarm, Northern Ireland, circa 1836. In the 1851 Ireland census, she was a fifteen year old girl living in Glenarm with the family of Charles Macauley, a local physician. Living in the same household was Charles’s 22 year old daughter Rosetta. Rosetta later married Archibald MacNeill, and gave birth to Eoin MacNeill in 1867.

The connection between Lillian Gracey and Rosetta Macauley continued; in 1855 Lillian married her first husband Arthur Boyle in Belfast, and Rosetta was one of her witnesses. Lillian and Arthur had one son, Henry Boyle (1856-1933) before Arthur’s death. Henry became a catholic priest, and appears to have been associated with Eoin MacNeill, as there are two photos of Henry in an archive of friends and associates of MacNeill held by the University College Dublin.

Lillian Ann and Rosetta were certainly friends, but there is reason to believe that they may have been related, perhaps as cousins. Lillian’s second marriage was to Hugh Macauley in Belfast in 1867. Hugh Macauley is listed in the 1901 Irish census as born in Carnlough, a small village only about two miles north of Glenarm. In their parish marriage record, it was noted that the couple received a bishop’s dispensation for 2nd degree consanguinity, which implies that they were first cousins, and shared one set of grandparents. It was also recorded that Hugh’s parents were from Glenarm. The obvious question is, if Lillian and Hugh were related as first cousins, and Lillian’s good friend Rosetta was a Macauley, was Lillian also Rosetta’s cousin through a shared Macauley ancestor? It seems quite likely. Granted, there were a good number of Macauleys in Glenarm in the 19th century, but circumstances point to a familial relationship.

It would help to know the grandparents of both Lillian and Hugh. Sadly, I haven’t yet discovered Lillian’s mother, who may have been a Macauley from Glenarm. From her marriage records, I know that Lillian’s father was called Robert Gracey (more on this mystery figure in a coming post). Hugh’s father was listed as Henry, and a Henry Macauley does appear in Griffith’s valuation for the Harphall section of Carnlough, but I’ve found no clues about who Hugh’s mother may have been.

So at this point, I can only come up with a hypothesis that Eoin MacNeill and my husband’s great grandfather Maurice John Macauley may have been 2nd or 3nd cousins. When the current pandemic dies down and the world returns to something like normal, I think a research trip to Belfast is in order!


  1., Eoin MacNeill: UCD’s scholar revolutionary, 2015
  2. Irish Republican News, Eoin MacNeill and the Irish Volunteers, 2016
  3. Irish American, Eoin MacNeill: The Man Who Cried Halt!, 2016
  4. RTÉ.ie, Ireland Century 1913-2013, What was the Easter Rising?, 2013
  5. University College Dublin archives, Tierney/MacNeill Photographs, date created 1880/1889


  1. […] my last blog post, I wrote about a connection between my husband’s 2nd great grandmother Lillian Ann Gracey […]

    July 3, 2020
  2. Eleanor Duggan said:

    Hi there
    In my family there is confusion between whether a great great grandmother is a cousin of Eoin Mac Neill or his sister.

    Her name is Margaret Mac Neill and she became MaGill

    Some of my family have her on genealogy sites as a sister and some of my family think she was a cousin

    He did write letters from jail to a sister Margaret

    She was also definitely from Glenarm

    March 2, 2021
    • dreamer said:

      Funny that you should mention Magill! I just discovered within the last few days that my Hugh Macauley had a sister Ellen, who married Henry Magill in Glenarm in 1847. To the question of Margaret MacNeill – I found Margaret’s baptism record for Glenarm (parents Archibald and Rosetta) on April 21, 1872. I did see a user-submitted mention of a Margaret MacNeill (sister of Eoin) marrying a Magill, but the birth year was given as 1858, which is pretty far off from 1872. There is also a letter from Margaret to Eoin dated 1925 (in the University College Dublin collection) that gives her last name as MacNeill, so unless she married (to a Magill?), divorced, and went back to her maiden name, Eoin’s sister didn’t marry, and she wouldn’t seem to be your Margaret.

      There were other Margaret MacNeills born in Glenarm around the 1860s. Here are two I found:
      – Margaret Jane born 1869 Glenarm (parents William McNeill and Margaret McLaughlin)
      – Margaret born 1865 Glenarm (Daniel McNeill, Mary Ann McKay)
      There was a Margaret McNeill who married Daniel Magill in Larne in 1876 (her father was also a Daniel McNeill).

      There were SO many Mac/McNeills, O’Neills, and Magills in the Glenarm area, it’s difficult to keep track of who’s who, especially with common first names so often used.

      Good luck with your research!

      March 2, 2021
      • Eleanor said:

        I’m sorry ive never-ending this reply. Thank you. Yes it’s very difficult to work out connections. Yes the 2nd one you mentioned whose gather was Daniel and married Daniel magill is out one. Daniel was a family name. Thanks

        April 5, 2023
  3. Eleanor Duggan said:

    Would you know anything about that connection or his sisters?

    Many thanks

    March 2, 2021

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