This surname was taken by descendants of both the MacAmhlaoibh sept, whose territory was Clanawley barony, County Fermanagh, a branch of the Maguires, and of the MacAmhalghaidh sept, whose sept centre was at Ballyoughloe in Clonlonan barony in County Westmeath. Some descendants of this last named sept favoured the spelling Magawley. In Ulster some of the families descend from the Scottish Macaulay clan who came over in the 17th century, although the name originated in the Hebrides, where Scandinavian influence was particularly strong. The surnames in Ireland originally signified membership of a clan, but with the passage of time, the clan system became less distinct, and surnames came to identify membership of what is called a 'sept'; a group of people all living in the same locality, all bearing the same surname, but not necessarily descended from a common ancestor. Adoption of the name by people who did not otherwise have a surname and by dependents was not uncommon. Just over one hundred years after the Norman Conquest of England, the first Normans arrived in Ireland. Richard de Clare, Second Earl of Pembroke (died 1176), was known as Strongbow. He was invited to Ireland by Dermot MacMurrough, King of Leinster, whose daughter he married, to help him in his wars with his neighbours. He was accompanied by several retainers whose name, like his own, have become well established as surnames in Ireland. The Normans established themselves in Leinster and paid homage to Henry 11 of England. Some of the Norman settlers acquired surnames derived from the Irish. Early records of the name mention Duncan filius Auleth, who witnessed a charter, circa 1285, and he was the same Duncan Macameleth, who witnessed a grant to his cousin Murechauch filius Kork in 1290. In 1326 there is an entry of a payment of cheese to two men of Iwar macAulay in Lennox, and Awla McAwla was clerk of the watch of Queen Mary's guard in 1566. John Mackalla was armourer and sword-sliper in Edinburgh in the year 1684, and Patrick M'Kalla was an apothecary in Cupwar in 1688.
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