John McCain with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern
Senator John McCain descends from a McCain family that emigrated from Ulster to the American Colonies in the early 1700s. His family first appears in tax records in 1722 in the Donegal township in the Pennsylvania Colony. The McCain family are not typical Ulster Scots, in that they are of Highland Scottish origins and migrated from mid Argyll to east Donegal, to the St Johnston area, before the Plantation of Ulster which began in 1608.
There was a large movement of Highland Gaels to east Donegal beginning in the late summer of 1569. The exact year the McCain family settled in Donegal is not known, but they last appear in mid Argyll in 1570. These Highland Gaels were called Redshanks in those days and the group that settled in the Laggan district in eastern Donegal were associated with Clan Chaimbeul alliances and high level marriages to the Ó Dónaill clan there. There are Scots-Irish from Derry, Donegal, Tyrone, and Antrim origins, that are of Highland Scottish origins, usually from mid Argyll, the Lennox district around Loch Lomond, or the southern Hebrides.
Senator McCain’s family settled in Mississippi in the 1830s and are known there as the Teoc McCains. Teoc is the small community in Carroll County, Mississippi that grew up around the plantation of this branch of the McCain family. Teoc is a Choctaw Indian word, a shortened form of Teoc Tillila which means Tall Pines. Their patriarch, William Alexander McCain, named his plantation Waverly, but the Choctaw name stuck and the area is called Teoc to this day.
Senator McCain’s second cousin is the author Elizabeth Spencer. In her memoir Landscapes of the Heart she writes of her days spent at Teoc and her McCain kin. She has a fascinating bit of oral history relating to the McCain family. It is a romantic story of the McCains as Highland Scots, being supporters of Mary Queen of Scots and leaving Scotland after her downfall in 1568.
During the course of the McCain Family DNA Project, DNA results and primary sources located provided support to the family's oral history. The historical McCains are linked to Mary Queen of Scots' primary supporter and military commander, Giolla Easpuig Caimbeul, the 5th Earl of Argyll. The McCains lived on his lands and were captains and tacksmen for the Earl. It was the Earl that arranged the migration of Redshanks to the St Johnston area to accompany his cousin, Fionnual Ní Dhónaill (née Mhic Dhónaill) who was the wife of Aodh Mac Manus Ó Dónaill. Fionnula Ní Dhónaill is better remembered by her nickname, Iníon Dubh. She became a major player in Irish history and was the mother of Aodh Ruadh Ó Dónaill. In Ulster Senator McCain's family first appear in written records living on the lands of Iníon Dubh.