McGrath Surname Genealogy

McGrath surname is derived from the Gaelic MacGraith and the personal name Craith, meaning “grace” or
“prosperity.”  It
is a view traditionally held that MacCraith was a name
bestowed upon the descendants of Ahearne, the brother of Brian Boru.  The McGrath clan did find a place as the
hereditary poets and bards of the subsequent O’Brien princes of
The name is found throughout Ireland.  The “th” in McGrath is
generally silent.  The alternative spelling of McGraw came from
county Down in Ulster and is common in America.

McGrath Resources on

McGrath Ancestry

From the O’Brien starting point of Thomond, the McGraths
separated into two main
septs, one in an area known as Termon McGrath in Donegal in the
northeast and
the other in Waterford in the southwest.

The McGraths of Termon McGrath
were recorded in the Annals of Ulster from the time of
their first chieftain in 1290 to the
siege of Castle McGrath by Protestant forces in 1641 and the subsequent
confiscation of their lands by Cromwell.

mac Ruaidhri Mac Craith was a writer of the clan who flourished in the
century.  But perhaps the best known of
these McGraths was Bishop Miler McGrath who started life
as a Franciscan friar but then abandoned his faith to become the
Protestant Archbishop of Cashel in Tipperary.
He died in 1622 at the ripe old age of one hundred.

During the 1300’s some McGraths followed their O’Brien patrons
southwest to Dungarvon and Lismore in
Waterford.  By the side of the sea they
set up an Augustinian monastery and later built the Abbeyside castle to
it.  In the old monastery graveyard there
was an ancient slab of stone which stated:

“Donald McGrath was buried here in
1400, having died on March 17th in his seventieth year.”

Abbeyside castle itself survived, albeit in a
dilapidated state, until 1916.  The
McGraths in Waterford suffered at the time of Cromwell, none more so
than the McGraths of Sleady castle.

By the time of Griffiths
Valuation in the mid 19th century
, McGrath was prominent:

  • in
    Tipperary (with 17% of the numbers)
  • followed by Waterford (with 11%).

spelling was divided 75% McGrath and 25% Magrath, although the Magrath
spelling share is much lower today.  McGraw was
a spelling variant that was found in limited numbers in county Down in

.  The spelling in America
divides approximately
50/50 between McGrath and McGraw.  McGraw’s relative popularity may have come
from the numbers in upstate New York who could have followed the
Samuel McGraw who came to Cortlandville township from New Haven in 1803
and gave
his name to the township of McGraw.

Patrick McGrath came to upstate New York from Limerick and his family
became McGraws.  Son James McGraw founded the famous book
publishing company of McGraw-Hill in 1885 and successive McGraws have
headed this company since that time.

ancestry of Tim McGraw the country singer does trace itself back to
county Down
in Ulster.  His forebears left there for
in the 1850’s.  The family had moved to
California by 1900 which was where the baseball pitcher Tug McGraw was
born and
then his son Tim.

Magrath name came to America with John Magrath who had taken part in
1798 Rising in Ireland, been captured, and then escaped.
He made it to South Carolina
where he prospered as a merchant in Charleston.  His
son Andrew became a prominent lawyer there and had the distinction of
being the
last Confederate Governor of South Carolina (from 1864 to 1865)

Canada.  McGraths from Waterford, along with a number of other
Waterford families, emigrated to Newfoundland in the late 18th
century.  McGrath descendants can still be found today fishing off
Fogo island, one of the few Catholic Irish settlements on the northeast
coast of Newfoundland.

A later arrival was Daniel McGrath of Lismore in Waterford (from the
Clanaboy McGraths) who came to Montreal and died there in 1860 at the
splendid age of 109.  His son Thomas was an alderman in Montreal.

Australia.  Some McGraths caught up in the 1798 Irish Uprising ended
up as rebels
shipped to Australia
as political psrisoners.  Later
came McGrath free settlers.  Many arrived from the Tipperary
area.  Patrick McGrath came with his family from Tipperary to the
Downs region of Queensland in the 1860’s.  They settled in the
Laidley area.  McGrath Crossing was named after them.

earlier arrival had been Darby McGrath from Waterford who had come to
Australia as a convict in 1834.  After his release he followed
his brother John to Brisbane in the late 1840’s.  Hw was described
there as an “unscrupulous Irish land speculator.”  He was able to
hide his convict origins, was successful in his land dealings, and was
later a horse breeder.

McGrath Miscellany

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

McGrath Names

Miler McGrath was
a 16th century Franciscan friar who converted to Protestantism and
became the wealthy Archbishop of Cashel.
James H. McGraw founded the McGraw-Hill
publishing company in 1885 with his life savings.  
, known as “little Napoleon,” was famous in baseball circles
as a
player with the Baltimore Orioles and as the long-time manager of the
New York
Ali McGraw
was a well-known film actress of the

was the premier
fast bowler in the Australian cricket team in the early 2000’s.

Select McGraths Today

  • 15,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 22,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 41,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)




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