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Magennis is an Irish surname, today spelt McGuinness, McGinnis, and Guinness, and is derived from the male given name Aonghus meaning “unique choice.”  Its first bearer is believed to have been Aonghus Turimleach, one of three Irish brothers who invaded Scotland in the 3rd century B.C. and gave his name to the East Coast district of Angus.

The ancestry of the Gaelic Magennis/McGuinness family in Ireland is said to have gone back to a 5th century chief of Dal Araidhe.  The Guinness spelling is rarer, but more prominent because of the famous Anglo-Irish Guinness brewing family.  The spelling in America and Canada tends to be McGinnis

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IrelandThe first recorded spelling of the family name was Mag Aonghusa, dated around 1150 in the Early Records of Iveagh in county Down.  At that time the Magennises had become the chiefs of the territory of Iveagh in the Mourne mountains.  By the 15th century they had expanded Iveagh all the way east to Dundrum castle where county Down meets the Irish Sea.

The four main branches of the Magennis clan then were Castlewellan, Corgary, Kilwarlin, and Rathfriland, between whom there was rivalry.  However, they were soon to face a new common enemy, the English:
  • Sir Hugh Magennis placated the English in the late 16th century, but his son Art Roe Magennis fought against them and had his lands ravaged.
  • in the next century, during the colonization of Ulster, the Magennis again appeased the English, with Art Roe being ennobled as Viscount Magennis of Iveagh.  But many disgruntled and dispossessed Magennises joined the Irish rebellion of 1641.  It was at this time that Conn Magennis’s daughter Larissa died in tragic circumstances.  More land forfeitures occurred.  The Magennis viscountcy was attainted after the Williamite war in 1693.
Many Magennises fled Ireland at that time as Wild Geese. The best known of these was Brian Magennis, the second Viscount Iveagh, who was a colonel of Iveagh’s Regiment in the Austrian Imperial Army.  He was killed in action in 1703.

The McGuinness spelling began to displace Magennis in the 18th century.  There were 70 McGuinnesses recorded in county Down in Griffith’s Valuation of the 1850’s.  Charles McGuinness the Irish adventurer of the early 1900’s, nicknamed “the nomad,” was born in Derry.  Martin McGuinness, the Sinn Fein republican who rose to high office in Northern Ireland, also came from Derry. 

.  The Guinness family is an extensive Anglo-Irish Protestant family noted for their accomplishments in brewing, banking and politics.  These Guinnesses had been tenant farmers in Dublin in the 17th century.  It was Arthur Guinness, born in Celbridge, who started the famous Guinness brewery in Dublin in 1759.

His family claimed a descent from the Gaelic Magennis
clan in county Down.  But recent DNA evidence suggests a descent from the McCartans, another county Down clan, whose home at Kinelarty included the townland of Guiness near Ballynahinch.

The brewing line at Dublin, makers of “the black stuff,” passed from the first Arthur Guinness to the second Arthur Guinness and then to Sir Benjamin Guinness who by the 1850’s had become the richest man in Ireland and was made a baronet in 1867 for his philanthropic contributions.  The Guinness company remained in family hands through most of the 20th century, with a later Benjamin Guinness being its Chairman from 1961 to 1992.  Other Guinnesses made their mark in politics.

The banking line of Guinnesses descended from Arthur's brother Samuel who set himself up as a goldbeater in Dublin in 1750.  His son Richard was a Dublin barrister; and Richard's son Robert founded the merchant bank of Guinness Mahon in 1836.

Joe Joyce’s 2009 book The Guinnesses covered this family’s history.

  Shipping records show Irish immigrants coming to America mainly as McGuinness or McGinness.  But they generally adopted the spelling of McGinnis in America.

Pennsylvania.  The main entry point was Pennsylvania which today still has the largest number of McGinnises.  Among the McGinnis arrivals there were:
  • John McGinnis who arrived from Antrim in the 1720’s.  From John to Walter Fletcher McGinnis were seven generations of McGinnises.  Walter made his name as an oil prospector in southern Kansas in the early 1900’s.
  • Samuel McGinness who came to Chester county from Antrim in 1764.  He died there around 1800.  He was thought to have been related to the Magennis Viscounts Iveagh.  His grandson Benjamin McGinness, brought up in Lancaster county, migrated west to California in the 1850’s.  
  • Francis McGinnis who came from Dublin in the 1770’s, settling in Westmoreland county.  He and his wife Rebecca had nine children, many of whom moved west to Kentucky.  Their line was covered in Sherry Lowe’s 2009 book My McGinnis Clan.
  • and William McGinnis who arrived from county Down in 1782.  A later William migrated to Youngstown, Ohio in the 1860’s where he found employment in the iron mills.  A man of keen scientific interests, he was elected a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1899.
Elsewhere.  Teady Magin, who changed his name to Timothy McGinnis, was an Irish fur trader and Indian agent in upstate New York in the 1740’s.  His son Robert was a Loyalist who departed for Canada.

A later New York arrival in 1838 was Patrick Maginnis from county Clare in Ireland.  He worked on the railroads and this took him west to Illinois and Minnesota.  His son Martin fought in the Civil War and then moved to Montana territory where he engaged in mining and published the
 Helena Daily Gazette.

.  Some McGinnises were Loyalist in America and crossed the border into Canada after the Revolutionary War was over.  Robert McGinnis and his sons John and Richard McGinnis, who had fought with Butler’s Rangers in upstate New York, ended up in Quebec.  Robert died in Montreal in 1796.  There were descendants via his son John.

John McGinnis
came with his family to Wellington county, Ontario from county Down in 1831 and settled in Puslinch township.  He and his seven sons all survived the cholera epidemic that hit the area three years later.

.  At the tender age of 15 George McGinnis was sentenced in county Meath in 1796 to life transportation to Australia.  George who was illiterate married in 1807, received his conditional pardon in 1810, and was an early Hawkesbury settler.  He died in 1829.  Hugh and Elizabeth McGuiness came to Sydney with their family from county Monaghan as free settlers on the Crescent in 1840

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

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Arthur Guinness founded the famous Guinness brewery in Dublin in 1759.
Charles Donagh Maginnis
 was an Irish-born architect who started the Boston firm of Maginnis & Walsh in 1905.
Sir Alec Guinness
was a well-known British actor who died in 2000.  He was born in London in 1914 to no known father.  His mother gave him the name of Guinness at his birth.
Martin McGuinness
 was an Irish republican and Sinn Fein politician who became Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland in 2007.

Select McGuinnesses Today
  • 11,000 in the UK (most numerous in Northern Ireland)
  • 12,000 in America (most numerous in Pennsylvania)
  • 11,000 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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