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Mc Carthy Family History

“Fortis ferox et celer”

Strong courageous and swift

Mac Cárthaigh- anglicised MacCarthy, McCarthy, MacCarty, MacArthie, Carthy et al. Woulfe gives the root as Cártach, Old Celtic 'Caratacos', meaning 'loving' ('Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall', 1923). That must remain conjectural; one thing not in doubt is the antiquity of this name.

Generally, MacCarthy has retained its prefix 'mac', although Carthy is still plentiful, either as such or in its abbreviated form 'mc'. Of course, the old red herring that Mac is Scottish and Mc is Irish (or was it the other way round?) should by now be dead and buried.

It is in the top 12 names in Ireland, and looks set to stay there; the majority of them in Co Cork. Their stamping ground was always south Munster, where as descendants of Olioll Olum, king of Munster in the 3rd century(!), they came to rule the Eoghanacht, named after Eoghan, son of Olioll, and their ancestor also. This was before they took their surname, which originated in Cartach, the Lord of the Eoghanacht, who died in 1045, in the deliberate burning of his castle by the O'Lonergans, according to 'The Annals of the Four Masters'.

In fact, there are frequent references to them throughout the 'Annals', so important a role did they take, particularly after the high king of Ireland's 'sponsorship' of the MacCarthys in the mid twelfth century. Certainly, Ruaidrí Ó Conchobair wanted to help the MacCarthys, the leading family of the Eoghanacht, to establish the kingdom of Desmond, and thus drive a wedge through the Munster territory of the Ó Briain kings of Thomond.

One finds the name as a 'Principal Irish Name' in the Cromwellian 'Census' of 1659, carried out by William Petty's officials:

Co Cork
Cork City, 17 families of McCarthey; Ibawne and Barrymore, 19 McCarthy; Killbrittaine, 23 Carthy; Carbery East, 26 O Carthy, Carthy Oge and Carthy (this is not the disparate surname Ó Carthaigh of Connacht); Carbery West, 24 McCarthy; Barrymore, 11 Carthy.

Co Limerick
Connologh Barony, Carty/McCarty 18.

Co Waterford
Barony Cosmore & Cosbride, Carty/McCarty 7.

There are no instances of the name in the Census returns for Cos Tipperary and Kerry.

By the mid nineteenth century and Griffith's 'Valuation' of households, the most common variant of the name seems to have been McCarthy, and the ensuing counties had the most: Cork 2094 + City 204, Kerry 715, Limerick 280 + City 30, Waterford 129.

The Registrar's figures for births in 1890 reveal that most occurred in Munster, 438, with the next highest number in Leinster with a mere 35! The counties with highest numbers were Cork (with more than half the total Irish figure, which was 481), Kerry and Limerick.

A mere glance at the historical background indicates Co Cork as MacCarthy Heartland. The three great divisions of Clan Carthy were MacCarthy More [big, great], actually based in Kerry, MacCarthy Reagh ['swarthy'] and MacCarthy of Muskerry.

Two favourite historical MacCarthy figures of mine are [abundant choice!]:

Finin MacCarthaig, king of Desmond, 13th century resistance fighter; he curbed the Norman expansion in Munster.

Donough MacCarthy [1594-1665] Viscount Muskerry; he was a shrewd and intelligent operator in the upheavals of the mid 17th century. After the Confederacy of 1641, he was a builder between religious and ethnic sectarian interests, in facing the main threat: Cromwellian tyranny. In this he wasn't aided by the extreme catholic faction, headed by Rinuccini, the papal legate. The Muscrys [sic] held Blarney Castle.

Among their many foundations, the MacCarthys built the holy Rock of Cashel.

The Cormac Mor who lived in Blarney castle temp Elizabeth 1st, and was known as the 'Baron of Blarney', attended the Parliament in London in 1578. He also became a Protestant. A tale has it that his consistently evasive letters, in response to Queen Elizabeth’s demands roused her to call his protestations ‘blarney’. So started the legend that kissing the Blarney Stone would convey eloquence.

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Areas of origin

  • Tipperary, Munster, Ireland

    Learn more about Tipperary on Ireland101

  • Cork, Munster, Ireland

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  • Cork, Munster, Ireland

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  • Kerry, Munster, Ireland

    Learn more about Kerry on Ireland101