Select McCarthy Surname Genealogy

McCarthy is the anglicized form of the Gaelic "Mac Carthaigh" or son of Carthach, a personal name meaning "loving."   The name is Irish rather than Scottish despite the fact that the "son of" prefix is mac rather than the more common o. 

There are several other forms extant, including Carthy and Carty.  Another variant, McCartney, comes from a Scottish family founded by Donal, a grandson of the first McCarthy king of Desmond. 

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Select McCarthy Ancestry

IrelandThe origin of the MacCarthy clan begins with Carthach in the 11th century, a rival to the semi-legendary Brian Boru.  Carthach's son, Muiredach mac Carthach, was the first to assume the name of MacCarthaigh.  This family, driven out of Tipperary, established themselves as the leading clan in Munster.  The MacCarthy Kings of Desmond can be traced from 1118 to 1596. 

The MacCarthys divided over time into four main branches:
  • MacCarthy Mor in south Kerry
  • MacCarthy Duhallow in northwest Cork
  • MacCarthy Riabhach/Reagh in Carbery in southwest Cork
  • and MacCarthy Muskerry on the Cork/Kerry border.
The MacCarthy Reaghs were said to have founded the monastery of Timoleague in 1240.  They had their principal seat first at Kilbrittain castle and then at Springhouse near Bansha.  This Springhouse estate was considered at the time to be the largest cultivated farm in Europe.  Later these MacCarthy Reaghs regrouped at Oakmount near Skibbereen. 

It was the MacCarthy Muskerry who built Blarney castle in 1446.  Cormac MacCarthy put off Queen Elizabeth's demand for allegiance with his "fair words and soft speech" - which was how the Blarney stone acquired its reputation for imparting eloquence to those who succeeded in kissing it.  

The MacCarthy families opposed the English encroachments until the 17th century when, like the other Gaelic families, they lost almost everything.  The last of the MacCarthy Mors was Finian MacCarthaigh, known to the English as Florence MacCarthy, who spent the latter part of his life in custody in London whilst his lands were distributed amongst his relatives and the English colonists. 

Some MacCarthys managed to hold onto their lands at this time, but later lost out because of their support for the Jacobite cause.  Justin MacCarthy founded the Irish Brigade in the service of the French King; others left for America.  And more McCarthys departed for America and for Canada in the 19th century.

Even so, McCarthy remains a common surname in Ireland, with about half of the McCarthys to be found in county Cork today.  Morty McCarthy's book Dowtcha Boy is an anthology of present-day Cork slang. 

The McCarthys in Early American History by Michael J. O'Brien was published in 1968. 

Virginia.  The first arrivals would appear to have been Charles and Owen McCartie.  They came to Virginia in 1662, it is thought from Kinsale in Cork, on the Plaine Joane.  Dennis McCarthy was recorded in Old Rappahannock county records in 1675 and Daniel McCarty in Westmoreland county records thirty years later.  Daniel and his descendants were prominent in Virginia local politics in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Elsewhere.  There were McCarthy arrivals during colonial times into Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York.  However, the largest influx was into Massachusetts. 

Thaddeus McCarthy first appeared in Boston records in 1666.  Captain William McCarthy was the best-known Boston shipowner of his day.  The numbers of McCarthys in Massachusetts increased markedly in the 19th century. McCarthys in the 20th century included William McCarthy who became head of the Teamsters union in 1988.

Heading West.  A number of McCarthys headed West.  Eugene McCarthy for example, a contractor during the construction of the Northern Pacific railroad, moved to Montana.  His son helped to map the Glacier National Park.  Two well-known 20th century politicians with roots in the Midwest were Senator Joseph McCarthy from Wisconsin and Senator Gene McCarthy from Minnesota.

Canada.  McCarthys who made it to Canada in the first half of the 19th century included:
  • Timothy and Ellen McCarthy from Cork who settled in Nepean township, Ontario in 1823.
  • Michael and Catherine McCarthy from Limerick who settled in Bathurst, New Brunswick in 1828      (their descendants later moved to Maine). 
  • Timothy and Jane McCarthy from Cork who settled in Port Neuf, Quebec in the 1830's.          
  • Daniel and Abigail McCarthy from Cork who settled near Peterborough, Ontario in 1838.
The most successful turned out to be D'Alton McCarthy of the McCarthy Reaghs who had arrived in Canada in 1845.  He made his reputation as a barrister and Queen's Counsel.  His son moved their fledgling legal practice to Toronto in the late 1870's.  It is now McCarthy Tetrault, Canada's premier law firm.

South America.  John and Mary McCarthy and their five children had emigrated from Ireland to Argentina on the SS Dresden in 1889.  Their descendants, members of the Argentine Makarte family, later served with distinction on Irish merchant vessels during World War Two, something that was recently acknowledged by a ceremony at the Irish embassy in Buenos Aires.
England.  Fewer McCarthy numbers crossed the Irish Sea to England than crossed the Atlantic.   Those who did settled in either London or Lancashire. 

Two who made it in London in the early 20th century were Lillah MacCarthy, a popular dramatic actress of her day, and Sir Desmond MacCarthy, a London drama critic.  More recently, the McCarthy family, originally from county Clare, have been one of the great cornerstones of Irish music in London.

Australia.  Many of the Irish sent to Australia in its early years were political prisoners.  Denis McCarthy, for instance, was transported to Tasmania, following his capture during the 1798 rebellion. When he drowned in mysterious circumstances twenty years later, the Hobart Town Gazette described him as "a man with a speculative turn who had been the owner of three vessels and had acquired considerable land and other property."

Another who prospered then was James McCarthy.  His early history is uncertain.  But in 1804 he received a land grant at Cranebrook in the Penrith region of NSW.  He proved very adept at farming the land; while his home became a center for Catholic services.  His name lives on locally in the McCarthy Catholic College.

A later arrival, but also revered in the Catholic community, was Dr. Charles McCarthy who emigrated to Sydney in 1884.  He was a surgeon, physician to Cardinal Moran, and also, during his time in Australia, an accomplished painter and sculptor.

Select McCarthy Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

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Tadhg MacCarthaigh
became the first king of Desmond (Cork and Kerry) in 1118.
Thaddeus McCarthy, a prominent Irish bishop in the late 1400's, was beatified by the Catholic Church in 1896.
Glenn McCarthy was a flamboyant Texan oil tycoon, often called "the king of the wildcatters."
Joseph McCarthy was the American senator who hunted down communists in the 1950's, giving rise to the term "McCarthyism."
Gene McCarthy was the anti-Vietnam Presidential candidate in 1968.
Pete McCarthy was the author of McCarthy's Bar, a popular travelogue of present-day Ireland.
Cormac McCarthy is an American novelist and playwright whose novel, No Country for Old Men, was an Academy Award winning film in 2007. 

Select McCarthys Today
  • 10,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 32,000 in America (most numerous in Massachusetts)
  • 61,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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