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Irish Surname - McCarthy / MacCarthy

MacCarthy comes form the Irish MacCarthaigh, mac meaning 'son' and carthach meaning 'loving', it translates loosely as 'a loving person'. McCarthy is among the twenty most frequently found names in Ireland and it links back to prosperous people who were very powerful and well respected in Irish history.

This famous Irish surname descends from Cartach, an 11th century king of Cashel and it is claimed that the clan descends from the 3rd Century AD King of Munster, Oilioll Olum. The earliest recognisable nameholder was probably the original 'Carthach', Lord of Eoghannacht, who was king of Cashel c1040 and died in 1045. The Eoghanacht, as they were known, had dominated Munster almost unchallenged until the meteoric rise of Brian, of the rival Dal gCais clan, who claimed descent from Cas, another son of Oiloll Ollum. The Eoghanacht resisted the Dal gCais fiercely, resulting in the MacCarthys and the O'Briens, waging bitter war on each other for over a century. In the middle of the twelfth century, the MacCarthys were expelled from their homeland in the Golden Vale in Tipperary and were forced to move south into the historic territory of Desmond. The majority of their descendants can still be found in Counties Cork, Kerry and Tipperary.

There were four distinct branches of the clan scattered around Munster; those led by the MacCarthy Mor ('Great MacCarthy'), nominal head of all the MacCarthys, who ruled over south Kerry; MacCarthy Muskerry, on the Cork/Kerry border; MacCarthy Riabhach ('grey') based in Carbery in southwest Cork and the Dunhallow MacCarthys, who controlled northwest Cork. The MacCarthy septs continued resistance to Norman and English intrusion up to the 17th century when, like all the Gaelic aristocracy, they lost almost everything. Despite their displacement, the MacCarthys retained their ability to rule.

One of the early family nameholders was Fineen MacCarthy Reagh, chief of the barony of Carbery in West Cork in 1572, who lived in the famous Blarney Castle. He is also reputed as being the originator of the word 'blarney', to indicate a verbal smokescreen. Fineen drew the Queen's disapproval on himself by marrying his cousin Lady Ellen, uniting two branches of the Clan MacCarthy and thereby becoming a threat to the Queen's control of Munster. He was brought up on false charges of treason for consorting with the Spanish and was thrown into the Tower of London for almost 37 years. He wrote an impressive history of Ireland, which was published some 200 years after his death.

The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of MacCarthy Mor, which was dated 1172, rendered homage to Henry 11 of England, during the reign of Ruairi O'Conchubhaire, High King of Ireland, 1166 - 1198.

There are a large number of references to the MacCarthys in the Annals, especially in the "Annals of Innisfallen".

McCarthy distribution in the 1850s

In Griffiths Valuation c1850s, County Cork had 2298 of the total 3830 households recorded with the name. There were also 1203 Carty and 534 Carthy households.

Noteable People with McCarthy as their Surname

Cormac McCarthy is an acclaimed contemporary American fiction writer, acclaimed in literary circles for his books 'Blood Meridian', 'All the Pretty Horses' and most notably 'No Country For Old Men', which was made into an Oscar-winning film of the same name in 2007.

Eugene McCarthy was born on March 29, 1916, in the small Central Minnesota farming town of Watkins. His father, the son of Irish immigrants, was a livestock buyer and a storyteller. Eugene was the Minnesota senator who famously challenged President Johnson's Vietnam War policy. His run for the presidency was unsuccessful, but he was a statesman, a scholar and a great Irish-American.

Mick McCarthy, former manager of the Republic of Ireland soccer team who also played for, and captained, the Republic of Ireland when Jack Charlton was the Irish manager, and earned a total of 57 international caps.

Alternate Surname Spellings for McCarthy

Carthy, Carty

Please Note

There is often limited information available on a specific coat of arms and motto for an Irish surname. Sometimes there are many variations, sometimes none, we have compiled a representative, but by no means exhaustive, selection. Please visit our Coat of Arms and Motto page for more information.

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