Some thoughts on the origin of surname McElhiney

(Extracted from McElhinney Forum on GenForum)

I have seen various articles on this web site to do with the origin of 
the Mc Elhinney surname, so I decided to write to a weekly publication 
here in Ireland called Irelandís Own, a magazine that has a small 
section devoted to the meaning and origin of surnames. I have every 
faith that this is correct as this magazine has been dealing with 
articles of this type for 100 years.

The reply was as follows:

"Both Mc Elhinney and Mc Ilhinney represent the original Gaelic name 
mac giolia chainnigh, meaning "son of the devotee of Cainneach (
saint canice)".

There were four saints of this name, one of which was originally from 
Dromachose in county Derry, the most important being patron of Kilkenny.

According to Robert Bellís Surnames of Ulster:
The mac giolla cainnigh was an obscure sept of the cenel eoghain, 
i.e. Of the race of eoghan, son of Niall of the nine hostages, whose 
territory originally comprised the present counties of Derry and Tyrone 
and the Baronies of Raphoe and Inishowen in Donegal."

This means that the surname can be traced back to Eoghan who was a son 
of Niall of the nine hostages who was a king in ancient Ireland.

In some searching I did a while back I remember being warned not to 
make this to make this direct connection between Kilkenny (the place) 
and the name MacKilkenny (which, as you correctly say is the name 
that McElhinney evolved from). The 'kenny' part of the names are 
identical and indeed relate to the same holy man 'Choinnigh', but 
the 'kil' part in the name MacKilkenny derives from 'Goilla' - a 
follower or sevant (of Choinnigh), just like the scottish gaelic 

In the place Kilkenny the 'kil' refers to church (of Choinnigh). There 
are of course many placenames in Ireland and Scotland that have the 
Gaelic prefix meaning church.

In pronunciation terms the place name Kilkenny and the name 
MacKilkenny (later corrupted to McElhinney and [many]others)have 
converged but their initial meanings are quite different and there 
is no proof as I understand it for any geographical link between 
Kilkenny and MacKilkenny (the only 'proof' being this name link 
which isn't so). The MacKilkenny/McElhinney etc geographical location 
is Donegal/Derry and has no links to lands further south like Kilkenny.