Brady Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Brady Surname Meaning

The Irish name Brady is derived from the Gaelic name MacBradaigh, which means “spirited.”

Brady Surname Resources on The Internet

Brady Surname Ancestry

  • from Ireland (Cavan and Monaghan)
  • to America and Australia

Ireland.  The original Irish name for Brady was MacBradaigh and they were a powerful sept located in East Breifne, their chief holding sway over a territory lying a few miles east of Cavan town in county Cavan.

The first use of the name Bradaigh occurred in the Annals of the Four Masters in 1256 in reference to the death of Tighearan MacBradaigh in a battle against the neighboring O’Rourkes. The earliest recorded namebearer was Gilbert MacBrady, the bishop of Ardagh from 1396 to 1400. There followed other MacBrady bishops and poets.

Bradys are mostly to be found in Ireland in Cavan and nearby Monaghan today. John Brady of Johnstown was a magistrate in Monaghan in the 1870’s and was recorded as holding land in counties Monaghan, Cavan and Leitrim.

There were Bradys who had once been O’Gradys in Clare, many of whom were from Limerickand descended from the Rev. Hugh Brady, the post-Reformation bishop of Meath.  

America. Early Bradys came to Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania.  Hugh and Hannah Brady were probably the first Bradys in America, arriving in 1732 and settling in the Cumberland valley. The old Brady homestead there has survived. Many of their descendants fought in the Revolutionary War. Hugh Brady was a Brigadier General in the War of 1812 and Captain Sam Brady was a well-known Indian scout.

The Brady Genealogy, begun by William Young Brady, has documented the large number of descendants of Hugh and Hannah Brady.

Michael and Rose Brady arrived from Cavan in the 1830’s. Their son Terence was a shipowner in Bristol, Pennsylvania but died at a young age. Another Brady family in Pennsylvania headed west in the 1860’s and settled in Kansas. James Brady moved further west to Idaho in 1895 and became Governor of that state in 1909.

Elsewhere. Peter Brady, an Irish immigrant, was a prominent local politician in Washington, D.C in the early 1800’s. His son Peter joined the Texas Rangers and fought in the Mexican War. He later became one of the first settlers in Arizona.

Anthony Brady had come to upstate New York as a young boy in 1857 from northern France where his Irish parents had temporarily settled. He became a highly successful investor in railroads and lighting companies and left a fortune on his death in 1913.  His sons James and Nicholas carried on his business empire. Brady was the great grandfather of Nicholas F. Brady, a former Senator from New Jersey who became US Secretary of the Treasury under Reagan and Bush.

John Brady from Cavan fled the potato famine in Ireland around 1850 and made it to California. His descendant Tom Brady has been the star football quarterback for the New England Patriots, winning the Super Bowl no fewer than seven times (including once in 2021 at the age of forty-three with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers).

Australia. Matthew Brady was a celebrated bushranger in Tasmania in the early 1800’s, sometimes known as “the gentleman bushranger.” After two years on the loose he was finally captured by a bounty hunter in 1826 and hanged at Hobart.

John Brady was a Catholic priest from Cavan who came out to Western Australia in 1843. However, he was not able to withstand the stresses of founding a diocese in a new and unsympathetic environment.  Eventually he withdrew to his native diocese of Kilmore in Ireland and spent his last years as a hermit in France.

Another John Brady stayed. He had been apprehended for robbery in Liverpool in 1854 and transported to Western Australia. His descendants are still there.

Tom Brady’s Family Ancestry

Tom Brady’s forebears fled Ireland at the time of the potato famine and made it to San Francisco.

Just click below if you want to read more about this history:

Brady Surname Miscellany

MacBrady Bishops and Poets.  Gilbert MacBrady was Bishop of Ardagh from 1396 to 1400 and there were three MacBrady bishops of Kilmore in the 15th and 16th centuries. In 1454 Andrew MacBrady, the bishop of Kilmore, provided a cathedral church for the diocese.  The Cavan Crosier, staff of the early MacBrady bishops, was one of the few Irish crosiers to have survived the Reformation and is now in the National Museum in Dublin.

In the 18th century three MacBradys distinguished themselves as Gaelic poets in the 18th century.  They were Fiachra MacBrady, Rev. Philip MacBrady, and Phelim Brady, the last-named usually referred to as “bold Phelim Brady the bard of Armagh.”

Bradys from County Limerick.  The Rev. Hugh Brady, born around 1520, was the fourth son of Donough O’Grady of Kilballyowen in Limerick, alias Sir Denis O’Grady alias O’Brady.  Sir Denis had taken the English side, was granted lands in county Clare by Henry VIII, and had adopted the Brady name.  Hugh was Protestant Bishop of Meath from 1563 to 1584.

His descendants have included: the Rev. Nicholas Brady who published with Nahum Tate, the Poet Laureate, a version of the Psalms that was included in the Book of Common Prayer in 1698; Sir Maziere Brady, the Lord Chancellor of Ireland from 1846 to 1866; and E.J. Brady, a Catholic descendant in Australia who was a poet and the writer of some popular sea ballads.

The Old Brady Homestead.  In 1997, after discovering a copy of The Brady Annals in the Tennessee State Library, Dick Brady was intrigued with the wealth of family history he had just found.

His interest was particularly ignited by a photograph taken in 1909.  This photograph included a group of unknown ancestors gathered at the grounds of the family pioneer patriarch – Hugh Brady who had immigrated from Ireland in 1732 and settled in Pennsylvania.  Behind the group of people stood a two story structure known as the Old Brady Homestead.

Immediately he knew that he had to find out whether it was still standing or not. The fact that the house had survived the constant threat of Indian attacks during the early years to be still standing in 1909 was miracle enough; but what could the possibility that it had withstood the threats of nature and urban sprawl to be still standing in 1997.

A trip to Pennsylvania was immediately planned.  After exploring all of the country roads near and around the Conodquinet creek, the discovery was made. Thanks to Dick Brady, the Old Brady Homestead was saved.

General Hugh Brady.  General Hugh Brady served in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Black Hawk War.  He was presented with a gold saber encrusted with diamonds and pearls from the state of Pennsylvania for his bravery at the battle of Falling Timbers.

He later was instrumental in the establishment of Fort Brady in Michigan which was at that time at the outer edges of the old Northwest Territory.  He is accredited for making a peaceful settlement between the military and the Indian tribes of the area.

Bradys from Cavan to Bristol, Pennsylvania.  Michael and Rose Brady were to be found in Lavey in county Cavan in the 1821 census.  Michael was recorded at that time as a tenant farmer and his wife as a flax spinner.

The Bradys left Ireland for America around 1832 (the date given for their arrival by their eldest son Terence when he was applying for a carpenter’s certificate). The Brady family moved first to New York City and then in the late 1830’s to Bristol in Bucks county, Pennsylvania.

Bristol was an important port for the transportation of coal.  Coal was barged from Easton via the Delaware canal to Bristol where it could be loaded on ships and transported to market.   Son Terence became involved in the building and ownership of coal ships for this trade, including the schooner George Washington.  In 1852 however, the vessel ran aground near Cape island off New Jersey and both ship and cargo were lost.

Two years later Terence contracted typhoid fever and died at the age of forty three. Later Bradys of this family went west to farm in Nauvoo, Illinois.

The Brady Genealogy.  William Young Brady, born in 1869, devoted his life to documenting the descendants of Hugh and Hannah Brady until his death in 1959.

He started contacting the eldest first to get their recollections of our pioneer ancestors so that he could record their memories of them and the ones that had been passed down to them from their parents. This information provided the links to very legitimate information about Brady ancestors in the 1700’s.

This kind of first and second hand information would have been impossible to document if William had not taken on the task at that time and left it for future generations to figure out. He knew the importance of the families history and the duty of preserving it for generations to come.

Since then, through the works of Donna Cuillard and others to bridge the gaps since 1959 until and beyond the new millennium, thousands of Brady descendants have been documented.  The Brady Genealogy now boasts of approximately 7,000 descendants in a massive database diligently maintained by Bill Kleinecke.

Matthew Brady the Gentleman Bushranger.  Matthew Brady was born of Irish parents in Manchester in 1799.  He grew into a good looking man who had received some level of education as he was able to read and write.  He was employed as a groom when he forged his master’s name on a cheque to pay off a debt. In 1820 he was tried for the crime and sentenced to transportation to Tasmania for seven years.

He was anything but a model convict in Tasmania, recording many punishments for his misdemeanors, but this did not deter his resolve to escape. In June 1824, while working on a vegetable farm, Brady and six other convicts escaped and seizing a boat from Macquarie Harbor, got clean away.

The gang was on the loose for almost two years, committing innumerable robberies.  But he was sometimes called the “Gentleman Bushranger,” due to his good treatment and fine manners when robbing his victims.

In March 1826 Brady was shot through the leg on one of his raids and it would not heal.  Two of his accomplices then turned traitor and led the police to where he and his gang were hiding out.  Brady escaped the ensuing gun battle, but was captured soon after by the bounty hunter John Batman.

He was brought to the gallows at the old Hobart jail on May 4, 1826 and hanged.  Brady’s cell had been filled with flowers from the ladies of Hobart town, which tended to support his claim to be a “Gentleman Bushranger.”

Brady Names

  • Andrew MacBrady was the first bishop of Kilmure in Cavan to provide a cathedral church for the diocese. That was in 1454.
  • Rev. Philip MacBrady was a 17th century Gaelic satirical poet and Protestant clergyman in county Cavan.
  • Matthew Brady was the Irish-American photographer who documented the American Civil War.
  • Diamond Jim Brady, born in New York, became a hugely wealthy and flamboyant businessman and financier of the late 19th century.
  • Jim Brady was the American White House press secretary who survived the assassination attempt on President Reagan in 1981.
  • Tom Brady was the star football quarterback for the New England Patriots, winning the Super Bowl no fewer than seven times.

Brady Numbers Today

  • 22,000 in the UK (most numerous in Glasgow)
  • 29,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 24,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)

Brady and Like Surnames 

The Irish clan or sept names come through the mists of time until they were found in Irish records such as The Annals of the Four Masters.  The names were Gaelic and this Gaelic order was preserved until it was battered down by the English in the 1600’s.

Some made peace with the English.  “Wild geese” fled to fight abroad.  But most stayed and suffered, losing land and even the use of their language.  Irish names became anglicized, although sometimes in a mishmash of spellings.  Mass emigration happened after the potato famine of the 1840’s.

Some surnames – such as Kelly, Murphy and O’Connor – span all parts of Ireland.  But most will have a territorial focus in one of the four Irish provinces – Leinster, Munster, Ulster, and Connacht.

Ulster in NE Ireland covers the counties of Derry, Antrim, Down, Tyrone, Armagh, Fermanagh, Cavan, Monaghan, and Donegal.  Here are some of the Ulster surnames (excluding the Scots Irish surnames) that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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