Maguire Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Maguire Surname Meaning
Maguire is an Irish clan surname from the Gaelic Mac Uidhir, meaning “son of Odhar” or “son of the pale-colored one.” The name Mag Uidhir appeared in the Annals of Ulster in the year 956. The Mag Uidhir sept first made its presence known in the Ulster county of Fermanagh in the 13th century.   Its anglicized names are Maguire and McGuire.  The Maguire spelling is more common in Ireland.

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Maguire and McGuire Surname Ancestry

IrelandThe Maguire clan became dominant in Fermanagh in the mid-13th century after supplanting former chieftains in the area. The first Maguire to become prince of Fermanagh was Donn Carragh Maguire who died in 1302. By the end of the 16th century, the Maguires controlled almost all of the land within the present day boundaries of Fermanagh. The territory was in fact known as “Maguire’s Country.”

The seat of the senior branch of the Maguires was at Lisnaskea, that of the junior branch at Enniskillen castle. The strategic location of Maguire’s castle on an island between the upper and lower Erne allowed the Maguires to control the passage of all ships between the lakes and the flow of goods into the surrounding areas. The Maguire chieftains’ navy of 1,500 boats patrolled the waterways of the lake system that extended about forty miles.

The Maguire clan was noted for its fighting qualities and was therefore particularly targeted during the English conquest of Ireland. Hugh Maguire died fighting the English in 1600 and Maguire land was confiscated by the English five years later. Cuchonnacht Maguire departed Ireland at the time of the Flight of the Earls.

There was some reprieve for the Maguires in the 1620’s when they received back part of their lands. But Connor Maguire took part in the Irish Rebellion of 1641 and was foully executed for his pains. A later Maguire chief fought for King James at the Battle of the Boyne.  After the defeat in 1691, many Maguires fled abroad and joined the Irish Brigades in France and Austria. Maguire chieftains continued abroad.

Today, those with the spelling Maguire are still largely associated with Fermanagh, although the name has also spread to neighboring counties. Those who use the McGuire spelling in Ireland may have their origins in Mayo or Roscommon.

America.  Edward McGuire came to Virginia in the 1740’s from county Kerry and prospered. One of his sons John distinguished himself in the Revolutionary War and later was a well-known Indian fighter. His family settled in Kentucky. Another son Edward was pastor of St. George’s church, Fredericksburg for forty five years; while son Hugh was a noted eye surgeon. His son Hunter was surgeon to Stonewall Jackson during the Civil War. Their story was covered in W.G. Stanard’s 1926 book The McGuire Family in Virginia.

There were other McGuires in Virginia during colonial times. Among the McGuires who fought in the Revolutionary War were one Archibald and two Williams. Archibald who fought at Tippecanoe came to Kentucky in 1800 and settled in Lee county.
The first William received his pension in Tazewell county in 1833 and died there four years later. The second William had his family captured and taken to Quebec during the conflict.

“The family story handed down was that when they were released from prison they had to walk back to their home. They slept in graveyards to be protected from the Indians. One little boy froze to death there. The other son lived because he was held in his mother’s arms inside her coat.”


The family later settled in Tennessee.

There was another Catholic McGuire family in colonial times in Chester county, Pennsylvania. John McGuire, a Loyalist, was “hunted out by over-zealous Whigs” and departed in 1776 for Nova Scotia. His son Thomas became a noted priest and writer in Quebec.

Australia. Many of the early Maguires in Australia were convicts. Patrick Maguire, for instance, was transported to Australia from Westmeath on the Guildford in 1829.

William McGuire came from Scotland, although he was probably of Irish stock. He served in the British army. However, his penalty for striking an officer was a lashing and transportation. He came to Australia in 1836.  After receiving his release he was a shepherd for a while and later bought sheep-grazing land near Armidale, NSW. In his later days he may have encountered the infamous bushranger Captain Thunderbolt who prowled that area. His daughter-in-law Margaret, who lived to be 106 and died in 1960, claimed to have offered him shelter.

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Maguire and McGuire Surname Miscellany

Early Maguires.  The following are some early Maguires of repute:

  • Cathal MacManus Maguire (1439-1498), chief of the McManus sept of the Maguires, was an Irish historian and one of the main authors of the Annals of Ulster.
  • Nicholas Maguire (1460-1512), born in county Cavan, was the Bishop of Leighlin and also a noted historian.
  • Patrick Maguire was reputed to have been the first one in Columbus’ crew to step onto American soil in 1492.  In the archives of Madrid, Father Tornitori, an Italian priest who was said to have witnessed the landing of Columbus, stated:

“On the eventful morning of the landing, boats bearing Columbus and some of his crew were launched; but approaching the land the water shallowed and Patrick Maguire jumped out of the boat to lighten the load and then waded ashore.”

Maguires and McGuires Today

Numbers (000’s) Maguire McGuire Total
Ireland    10     3    13
UK (incl. N. Ireland)    17    11    28
America     6    19    25
Elsewhere     8    10    18
Total    41    43    84

Cuchonnacht Maguire and the Flight of the Earls.  The last real Irish chieftain of Fermanagh he was also the last to give in to the English after the Nine Years War.  Once he did, Cuchonnacht found he was unable to live under English rule and law.  Having half his land confiscated by the Royal Commission in 1605, he left his land and travelled to the continent.

He was instrumental in the organizing the Flight of the Earls, acquiring the boat in France from which they sailed.  He had planned the mission for over a year and was determined to personally make sure it went to plan.  Under great personal danger he sailed with the boat back to Ireland dressed as a mariner.  He was often described as a master of disguise and adventure, but this would be his greatest test.  Near their destination the ship was stopped by a British warship and they were held for two days.  They would certainly have been arrested if Maguire had not insisted the boat be disguised as a fishing vessel by placing nets and salt onboard.

Cuchonnacht Maguire died in Italy in 1608.

Edward McGuire of Winchester, Virginia.  James McGuire fled Fermanagh for county Kerry after the failed Irish rebellion of 1641.  One line of his family enlisted in the Austrian army and distinguished themselves on the field of battle.

Edward McGuire, born near Tralee in 1717, departed Ireland in 1746.  Before he left he went down with yellow fever which left him so weakened that he thought himself unfit for a military career. He set off instead for America and landed in Philadelphia. From there he made his way to Virginia and acquired land in Winchester.  In time Edward became a wealthy and influential man in Virginia. He gave the ground as well as contributing funds to the first Catholic Church in Winchester, Virginia.

The Molly Maguires.  The Molly Maguires was a secret society that terrorized law officers in Ireland to forestall evictions and then spread to America and labor relations in the coal mines of Pennsylvania.

The name was said to have been taken from that of one woman, a widow in early 1840’s who died at the hands of her landlord.  She may or may not have existed. According to the story, the man ordered Molly Maguire off of her property.  When she refused to vacate the premises, the landlord razed the house while she was still in it.  Whether it was true or not, the news of this kind of brutality spread quickly and provoked a wave of violence against landlords in the country.

The Maguire Chieftain in Recent Times.  The last real Maguire chieftain may be said to have been Conor Maguire who took part in the Irish Rebellion of 1641 and was executed in London three years later.  By the end of the century the Maguires were in exile.  But the Maguire titles continued to be accepted in the French court in which they had given their allegiance while serving in Irish regiments there. Alexander Maguire, the last of this line, was a captain in Buckley’s regiment in the French Irish brigade.

In Ireland Constantine Maguire of Tempo assumed the mantle of Maguire chieftain in the 19th century. However, he was shot in 1834 and his title then passed to his brother Captain Bryan Maguire.  But Bryan was dissolute and his duelling and eccentricities led to poverty and early death in Dublin. His only son went to sea and was never seen again.

The title remained in abeyance until 1991 when the Chief Herald of Ireland recognized the claim of Terence Maguire, a retired Dublin accountant.  A family tradition has it that a line of Belfast Maguires were descended from Conor’s brother Thomas, the fourth son of the first Baron of Enniskillen.  But a least four of the intervening generations are undocumented and many think that this claim lacks genealogical foundation.

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Maguire and McGuires Names
  • Hugh Maguire was the Lord of Fermanagh killed in 1600 fighting the English during the Nine Years War. 
  • John Francis Maguire, the son of a Cork merchant, founded the Cork Examiner newspaper. 
  • The Molly Maguires was a 19th century secret society that terrorized law officers in Ireland and in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. 
  • Peter McGuire was an American labor leader of the late 19th century. 
  • Tom Maguire, who fought in the Irish War of Independence, was a long-serving member of the IRA (Irish Republican Army). He lived to be 101. 
  • William McGuire is an American executive who made the United Health Group one of the largest healthcare companies
    in the world. 
  • Mark McGwire was one of baseball’s leading home-run hitters in his career between 1986 and 2001. But his reputation has been sullied by steroid use.
Maguire and McGuire Numbers Today
  • 28,000 in the UK (most numerous in Fermanagh)
  • 30,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 31,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)
Maguire 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.

BradyKaneMcCormickMcGuinness
CassidyLennonMcCoyO'Neill
CorcoranMaguireMcElroyQuinn

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