Through reading the material that Kevin McKee has accumulated on his website (http://www.dcn.davis.ca.us/go/getpizza/mckee/
) I have came to the conclusion that there may be a connection between the surnames McKee/McGee and Keys in Ulster. (Such a connection is mentioned in many sources, but without documentary proof.)
Many Keys trace their origins back to Fermanagh, in the region around Irvinestown. There the scent goes cold, and we have few clues about where the family originated. One tradition says that the Keys came to Ireland during James II, that the original name was MacKay (or similar) and that there may be connections with the Hamilton family and Killycrankie (the battle between James's and William's armies in 1688). The oldest known Keys in Fermanagh are a father and son named Hugh, both buried at Lisnarick, with approximate birthdates in 1660 and 1695. There is another John Key in the same plot, died in 1713, but we do not know the birthdate. The latter is the earliest date we have for an actual Keys association with Fermanagh, so we assume that they did not arrive in the area much before 1700.
On Familysearch.org I recently found a father/son named Hugh McKee, the latter born at Lisbane, in County Down, the former in Scotland, their dates coinciding with the Fermanagh dates. There is much in the history of this family to suggest that the two Hugh McKees moved west to Fermanagh at some point, changing their names in the process. Only the coat of arms seems to pose a problem, although the very fact that both families had coats of arms is tantalizing. The arms of the Keys family at Lisnarick have a rampant lion and two fleur de lis on the sheild, three crosses on the chief, a helmet, and a bare hand, open-palmed, on the crest, with the motto "Ne perii nec disperii".
For lack of documentary evidence, I then wondered if it is possible to confirm or disprove this hypothesis through documentary evidence. In checking the data in the Key(s), McKee, McGee, and MacKay surname projects at familytreedna.org, I noted a definite relationship, although the matches do not seem near enough to conclude a close relationship (the evidence suggest a common ancester perhaps 1000 to 2000 years ago, whereas we are thinking in terms of the last 400 years, give or take). However, it is possible that none of the testees among these non-Keys surnames descends from the Lisbane McKee family in County Down.
My question, therefore: If there are any males McKees who are descended from that family and who might be willing to participate in a DNA study at familytreedna.org, would they please come forward. I can explain how to proceed. Of course, even if there are McKees/McGees who do not have a known connection to Lisbane (near Saintfield, in County Down), it may nevertheless be of value to do the test, as this can help connect you to other McKee/McGee families.
I look forward to your help in unravelling this historical riddle.