McGrath Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select McGrath Meaning
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 prisoners.  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

Termon McGrath.  Termon McGrath lay in the barony of Tirhugh in South Donegal. The
territory incorporated the modern town of Pettigoe and the ancient
island and lake of Lough Derg.  It was
said that the Termon was under the divine protection of the local St.
(Dabhog) and of the hereditary McGrath chieftain.

The McGrath clan was
the hereditary Corabs of this pilgrimage island, controlling the routes
in and out of the
island and thereby gaining revenues from the pilgrims making their way
from all over Europe.  Nearby was Termon
Castle (or Castle McGrath) and Carraig McGrath, the inauguration site
of the
McGrath chieftains.

The McGrath chieftains remained in possession of this
territory from the 12th century until the eventual confiscation of
lands by Cromwell in the 17th century.

The Story of Sleady Castle.  Philip McGrath was called Philibna Tsioda (Silken Philip
meaning polished or elegant). He had built Sleady Castle in 1628 for
his new
wife Mary.  It was an elegant four-story
structure.  However, he died only five
years later and it was his wife and his three daughters – Margaret,
and Mary – who were to inhabit the house.
In the summer of 1641 the mother had invited three English
officers to
be her guests at Sleady castle.

While the officers visited with Mary and her
daughters upstairs the servants who had accompanied them to Sleady
Castle were
visiting with the servants of the castle.
The servants of Sleady Castle decided to treat their visitors to
at a nearby public house. They persuaded Mary’s brother-in-law that one
of them
would stay behind to watch the lowered drawbridge until they returned.

No sooner had they left than the kitchen maid,
who had been left to guard the drawbridge, placed a light in one of the
flanking towers. This was a prearranged signal to one of the local
bandits who
inhabited the woods near the castle. The bandits soon entered the
castle and
took as much plunder as they could carry and also took the three
officers as

The bodies of the officers would not be found for another
months but by the fall of that year the Rebellion of 1641 was raging
the country. The McGraths were treated as traitors because of their
involvement in the disappearance of the three officers. Eventually a
decree of
forfeiture went forth against the McGraths that affected all their
These were confiscated by the Government and apportioned among strangers.

The Jolly Merchant.  The McGrath poetic traditions may be said to have been extended to the 18th century entertainer Aindreas MacCraith who became
known as An Mangaire Sugach (The
Jolly Merchant).  The following are some
lines from The Boatman’s Hymn that
were attributed to him:

“Bark that bore
me through foam and squall,
You and the storm are my castle wall,
Though the sea
shall redden from bottom to top,
From tiller to mast she takes no drop.”

McGraths and Magraths in Griffith’s Valuation.   Griffith
surveyed the landowners in Ireland between 1848 and 1864.
The following was his numbers for McGrath and Magrath by the
leading counties
at that time.

County McGrath Magrath Total
Tipperary    456    146    602
Waterford    329     43    372
Kilkenny    153     60    213
Limerick    172     33    205
Down    140     60    200
Dublin     91     94    185
Clare    148     35    183
Cork    120     35    155
Elsewhere    981    384   1,365
Total   2,590    890   3,480

McGraths and McGraws in America.  According to Doug Currie, the author of the book A Genealogy of the McGraws of Truxton, McGraws from Tipperary had come to New
York as McGraths in 1850 but were recorded as McGraw in the 1855 New York state census.

is possible that the nearby
town of McGraw, then known as McGrawville, might have had some
influence in the
change in spelling.  John, his son, did
use McGrath on the headstones of his wife Ellen and his children who
died of
the cholera epidemic in 1883.  But John’s
son, John J. McGraw, the famous manager of the New York Giants at the
of the 20th century, maintained the use of the McGraw version of the

Some commentators
have also said that McGrath immigrants had not liked the Americans
pronouncing the “th” when to them it was silent.  McGraw was closer
to their pronunciation.

McGrath Rebels Shipped to Australia.  Some McGraths involved in the 1798 Irish Uprising ended up being shipped to
Australia as political prisoners.

Name Trial Shipped on
Annesley McGrath 1800 in Dublin (life term) Hercules
James McGrath 1801 in Kildare (seven years) Hercules
James McGrath 1805 in Dublin (seven years) Tellicherry
Michael McGrath 1805 in Kildare (seven years) Tellicherry
Peter McGrath ? in Limerick (life term) Atlas

McGrath from Waterford remained rebellious against British rule in
Australia.  At one stage he was found guilty of harboring a
bushranger.  Then he was transported to Port Macquarie for an
alleged burglary.

had married a fellow convict Elizabeth Somerville in Australia and had
seven children with her.  But seeing no hope of release, he asked
his friend James Ward to take care of his family.  This he did,
marrying Elizabeth and having a further five children with her.
James was later transported to Norfolk Island where he died in 1837.


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.   
  • John McGraw, 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 Giants. 
  • Ali McGraw was a well-known film actress of the 1970’s. 
  • Glen McGrath was the premier fast bowler in the Australian cricket team in the early 2000’s.

Select McGrath Numbers 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)


Select McGrath 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.

Munster in SW Ireland covers the counties of Clare, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary, and Waterford.  Here are some of the Munster surnames that you can check out.




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