Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Robert LOONEY's Manx origins

My husband Stephen's surname is LOONEY and I do his genealogy research. The family hails from the Isle of Man, a tiny island in the Irish Sea almost equal distance from Ireland, England and Scotland.

His imigrant ancestor, Robert Looney (c.1692-c 1770 VA), came to Pennsylvannia about 1731. Family history says he was from Man, but we were unable to prove this until DNA testing came along. Now we have a genetic map of Robert's y-DNA through testing of a number of his LOONEY male descendants. Another LOONEY surname tester's ancestors went from Man to Australia and also has a very close match, so we feel certain that they are from the same Manx family as the descendants of Robert. An early Robert Looney family history linked the family to Ballagilley farm in Maughold parish, but there is no proof that Robert came from there. There are many Looneys on Man, but they were prevalent in the 1700s in Maughold and in Lonan parishes. We went to the Isle of Man searching for my Manx ancestors and found Stephen's ancestors instead.
The names LOONEY and LEWNEY are two Manx variations of the same name derived from the original Gaelic according to "Surnames of the Manks" [sic] by Leslie Quilliam (1989).
The original name is thought to be Mac Giolla Dhomnaigh, meaning "Son of  the Lord's servant." [p.95] The Mac Guilley names once consisted of three parts: Mac = son, Guilley = boy or young man, often dedicated to be a servant or follower of a particular saint, and a saint's name. It is thought that there was a special connection with, or affection for a saint, as in the priesthood. [Early priests were not celibate. The movement towards celibacy did not begin until around 300 AD and marriage was not forbidden until the 1100s.] Guilley is the Manx spelling and Giolla the Gaelic. "Mac Guilley" later eroded  by disappearing in this case to just LOONEY.  [p. 19] "Mac" and "Mc" have been dropped from most Manx names.

A second possible original name is O'Luinigh, descendant of Luinigh, which means "armed."

The first written reference found was in 1498 "MacGillowny" and later "Lowney" 1640. Other spellings of the name came later. Lewney first is found in 1623 and Looney in 1644. Of course they could have been used earlier--that is just the first record found at the time of the book's printing in 1989. Around that time Lewney and Looney became separate families and both names now exist on Man. There are graves on Man and even in Maughold dating from the 1600s in both names. Spelling did not start to standardize anywhere until the 1700s.

LOONEY is pronounced colloquially [which is often the earlier version] on Man like Luna. This may explain why one branch decided to spell it that way when they moved to Tennessee. Modern pronunciation is Looni.

The name LOONEY is distributed on Man mainly in Maughold Parish. Lonan and Ramsey are the next most popular parishes for the name.

The Isle of Man was settled as early as 10,000 years ago probably by Iron Age Brythonic Celtic tribes from mainland Britain who built cairns, roundhouses, promontory and hill forts. The Irish are thought to have invaded near the end fof the Sixth Centruy. Scandinavian "Vikings" began plundering in the 800's and the Norwegians ruled the kingdom of "Man and the Western Isles" [of Scotland] until 1217.
Christianity was reputed to have been brought to Man by St. Maughhold (d. c 488 AD), who is considered the Patron Saint of Man. There are many versions of the tles, but supposedly he arrived by coracle (small boat), after being banished from Ireland by St. Patrick. Man has many lovely early Celtic Crosses such as the ancient Lonan Wheel-headeded cross. 
After the Norwegians came, the crosses added the Scandinavian carvers' designs and mythological figures into their works.
Several years ago the LOONEY List on Rootsweb decided to use y-DNA testing to try to establish a map of the DNA of Robert Looney the Emigrant. Currently my husband (who is the 8th generation from Robert through his son Adam) has a exact 12-marker match with 9 other Robert Looney descendants. Using 37 markers, he has 6 matches.  

Interesting to me also is that he is in Haplogroup I1. This group is mainly present in Scandinavian countries, where it can represent up to 50% of the population. This would fit in with the Norse invasion of Man and explain my husband's red hair.


  1. Hey I would like to do a DNA test to see my blood line and generation from Robert Looney cause my name is Larry Looney and all my family is from buchanon ,Virginia and they are all Looney my email is jessilooney6@gmail.com you can contact me this way thank you

  2. Thank you for this post, I believe I can trace ancestry back to this Robert Looney from the isle of man as well!

  3. Additional information on Quilliam's book for citations: Surnames of the Manks [sic] by Leslie Quilliam, Cashtal Books, 1996, Douglas, Isle of Man