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.

McCarthy Resources on

McCarthy Ancestry

The 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.

MacCarthys divided over time into four main branches:

  • MacCarthy Mor in south Kerry
  • MacCarthy Duhallow in northwest
  • 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
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.

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.

America.  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
were prominent in Virginia local politics in the 18th and 19th

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

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
  • 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
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

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:

McCarthy Names

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.
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

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)




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