McGuinness Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select McGuinness Meaning
Magennis is an Irish surname, today spelt McGuinness,
McGinnis, and Guinness
and is derived from the male given name Aonghus meaning “unique choice.”  Its
first bearer is believed to have been
Aonghus Turimleach, one of three Irish brothers who invaded Scotland in
the 3rd
century B.C. and gave his name to the East Coast district of Angus.
The ancestry
of the Gaelic Magennis/McGuinness family in Ireland is said to have
gone back
to a 5th century chief of Dal Araidhe. The
Guinness spelling is rarer, but more prominent because of the famous
Guinness brewing family. The spelling in
America and Canada tends to be McGinnis.

McGuinness Resources on

McGuinness Ancestry

The first recorded
spelling of the family name was Mag Aonghusa, dated around 1150 in the Early Records of Iveagh in county Down.
At that time the
Magennises had become the chiefs of the territory of Iveagh in the
mountains. By
the 15th century they had expanded Iveagh all the way
east to Dundrum castle
where county
Down meets the Irish Sea.

The four main branches of the Magennis clan then were
Castlewellan, Corgary, Kilwarlin, and Rathfriland, between whom there
rivalry. However, they were soon to face
a new common enemy, the English:

  • Sir Hugh Magennis placated the English in the
    late 16th century, but his son Art Roe Magennis fought against them and
    had his
    lands ravaged.
  • in the next century, during the colonization of Ulster,
    Magennis again appeased the English, with Art Roe being ennobled as
    Magennis of Iveagh. But many disgruntled
    and dispossessed Magennises joined the Irish rebellion of 1641. It was at this time that Conn Magennis’s
    daughter Larissa died in tragic
    More land
    occurred. The Magennis viscountcy was attainted after the
    Williamite war in

Magennises fled Ireland at that time as Wild Geese. The best known of
these was
Brian Magennis, the second Viscount Iveagh, who was a colonel of
Regiment in the Austrian Imperial Army.
He was killed in action in 1703.

The McGuinness spelling began to displace Magennis
in the 18th century. There were 70
McGuinnesses recorded in county Down in Griffith’s
of the 1850’s. Charles McGuinness the Irish
adventurer of the
early 1900’s, nicknamed “the nomad,” was born in Derry.
Martin McGuinness, the Sinn Fein republican
who rose to high office in Northern Ireland, also came from Derry.

Guinness. The Guinness family is an
Anglo-Irish Protestant family noted for their accomplishments in
banking and politics. These Guinnesses
had been tenant farmers in Dublin in the 17th century.
It was Arthur Guinness, born
in Celbridge
, who started the famous Guinness brewery in Dublin
in 1759.

His family claimed a descent from the Gaelic Magennis clan
in county Down. But recent DNA evidence suggests a descent
from the McCartans
, another county Down clan,
whose home at Kinelarty included
the townland of Guiness near Ballynahinch.

The brewing line at Dublin, makers of “the
black stuff,” passed from the first Arthur Guinness to the second
Guinness and then to Sir Benjamin Guinness who by the 1850’s had become
richest man in Ireland and was made a baronet in 1867 for his
contributions. The Guinness company
remained in family hands through most of the 20th century, with a later
Benjamin Guinness being its Chairman from 1961 to 1992.
Other Guinnesses made their mark in politics.

The banking line of Guinnesses descended from Arthur’s brother Samuel
who set himself up as a goldbeater in Dublin in 1750.
His son Richard was a Dublin barrister; and
Richard’s son Robert founded the merchant bank of Guinness Mahon in

Joyce’s 2009 book The Guinnesses covered
this family’s history.

America. Shipping records show Irish
immigrants coming to America mainly
McGuinness or McGinness.
But they
adopted the spelling of McGinnis in America

The main entry point was Pennsylvania which today still has the largest
number of McGinnises. Among the McGinnis
arrivals there were:

  • John McGinnis who arrived from Antrim in the 1720’s. From
    John to Walter Fletcher McGinnis
    were seven generations of
    McGinnises. Walter made his name as an oil
    prospector in southern
    Kansas in the early 1900’s.
  • Samuel McGinness who came to Chester county from
    Antrim in 1764. He died there around
    1800. He was thought to have been
    related to the Magennis Viscounts Iveagh. His
    grandson Benjamin
    brought up in Lancaster county, migrated west to California in the
  • Francis McGinnis who came from Dublin in the 1770’s,
    settling in
    Westmoreland county. He and his wife
    Rebecca had nine children, many of whom moved west to Kentucky. Their line was covered in Sherry Lowe’s 2009
    book My McGinnis Clan.
  • and William McGinnis who arrived from county Down in
    1782. A later William migrated to
    Youngstown, Ohio in the 1860’s where he found employment in the iron
    mills. A man of keen scientific
    interests, he was elected a member of the American Association for the
    Advancement of Science in 1899.

Teady Magin, who changed his name to Timothy
McGinnis, was an Irish fur trader and Indian agent in upstate New York
in the
1740’s. His son Robert was a Loyalist
who departed for Canada.

A later New York arrival in 1838 was Patrick Maginnis
from county Clare in Ireland. He worked
on the railroads and this took him west to Illinois and Minnesota. His son Martin fought in the Civil War and
then moved to Montana territory where
engaged in mining and published the
Helena Daily Gazette.

Canada. Some
McGinnises were Loyalist in America and crossed the
border into Canada after the Revolutionary War was over.
Robert McGinnis and his sons John and Richard
McGinnis, who had fought with Butler’s Rangers in upstate New York,
ended up in
Quebec. Robert died in Montreal in 1796. There were descendants via his son John.

John McGinnis came with his family to Wellington county, Ontario from
county Down in
1831 and settled in Puslinch township. He and his seven sons all
survived the
cholera epidemic that hit the area three years later.

Australia. At the tender age
of 15 George McGinnis was sentenced in county Meath in 1796 to life
transportation to Australia. George who
was illiterate married in 1807, received his conditional pardon in
1810, and
was an early Hawkesbury settler. He died
in 1829. Hugh and Elizabeth McGuiness
came to Sydney with their family from county Monaghan as free settlers
on the Crescent in 1840.


McGuinness Miscellany

Magennis, McGuinness, McGinnis, and Guinness Today

‘000’s Magennis McGuinness McGinnis Guinness Total
Ireland     0.1     5.0     0.1     5.2
UK     1.5     8.5     0.6     0.4    11.0
America     0.1     2.0     9.5    11.6
Elsewhere     0.3     3.0     3.0     6.3
Total 2.0    18.5 13.1 0.5 34.1

Dundrum Castle.  Dundrum Castle in county Down had been built by the Anglo-Norman John de Courcy in
1177, but
captured from them by the Magennis clan sometime in the 1400’s.  They were probably responsible for the
construction of the stone curtain wall of its outer bailey at that time.

Magennis surrendered
the castle to the English in
1601.  It was briefly recaptured at the
time of the Irish uprising in 1641.  But
then Oliver Cromwell took it back and dismantled the whole structure in
1652.  All that is left of the castle today is a large part
of the circular central keep and some portions of the outer curtain
wall which
surrounded it in the past.

The Death of Lassara.  At the time of the Irish uprising in 1641, Conn Magennis was the Magennis clan
chief at
Iveagh in county Down. During the winter
a wandering harper had stayed with the Magennises, entertaining them
each night
with his playing by the glow of their campfires.  With
the advent of spring and early summer he
lingered on and one morning met Lassara, daughter of the Magennis, who
had become
fascinated by his music.  He invited her to go away with him to
his island keep
in Lough Ochter, away from the strife of the impending uprising.

He had
previously approached her father Conn for her hand in marriage but had
refused.  Lassara nevertheless agreed to
go with him.  It was arranged that at
dawn on the following day, when she heard his harp playing, they would
meet and
journey to Nun’s Island where they would be married.
At daybreak the next day, they met as
arranged and made their way to Nun’s Island, intending to proceed from
there to
the harper’s home at Ochter Island.

At dusk that evening, they reached the
Clanrye river and, taking a skiff that was moored to the bank, made
their way
down river to Nun’s Island.  Even in the fading light, however,
they were
spotted by a keen-eyed English sentry as they passed Narrow Water
Castle.  When
he received no reply to his challenge, the sentry fired, killing the
who fell overboard into the dark depths of the river.

Lassara collapsed with shock
into the bottom of the boat and was carried to the bank a little
on.  There she was rescued by the
soldiers from the garrison, only to be imprisoned when they identified
her as
the daughter of Conn Magennis.  She was
kept in the dungeon of the castle, her only comfort being that she
could still
hear the music of her murdered harpist as dusk fell each evening. The
now began to pester her for her favors and threatened to have her
unless she consented to marry him.

One night, when the warden came to her cell
and opened the door, she slipped past him and ran up the back stairway
to the
battlements, pursued by the furious Englishman.  She then leapt
from the
battlements to join the harpist near the spot where he had perished
just a
short time before.

Conn learned of the fate of his daughter Lassara and
subsequently led the clan from their territory to Narrow Water Castle,
they captured after a fierce battle.  The
lecherous warden was said to have chosen to throw himself into the
river rather
than face death by the vengeful sword of the Magennis.

It is said that in
winter-time, when storms rage round the ancient battlements, the
music can be heard above the howling of the wind, while the sad ghost
Lassara Magennis floats down from the top of the castle.  The harp
notes fade
away and finally cease as her apparition sinks slowly into the depths
of the
river below the ancient and blood-stained castle of Narrow Water.

The Guinness Family and Celbridge.  In 1722 Richard Guinness arrived in Celbridge in county Kildare and was
employed as a land steward there by Archbishop Arthur Price of the
Oakley Park
estate. One of his duties was to supervise the brewing of beer for the
on the estate.  It was also in this year that Dr. Price took over James
brewery (formerly Norris’s pub and now the Village
).  It was thought to have been
the first house of the Guinness family in Celbridge.

Arthur Guinness, his son,
was born in Celbridge in 1725.  He was named after the Archbishop
who had left
both father and son £100 in his will.
Arthur Guinness brewed his first beer at James Carberry’s
brewery in

At the age of 31 Arthur Guinness had a small brewery in Leixlip.  In 1759 he arrived at St. James’ Gate in
Dublin where he established one of the world’s most famous breweries.

McGuinness and Variants Coming to America.  Shipping records show Irish
immigrants coming to America mainly as McGuinness or McGinness.  But they generally adopted the spelling of
McGinnis in America.

McGuinness McGinness McGinnis
Ireland    354    209    147
Elsewhere    138     70     59
Total    492 279 206

From John to Walter Fletcher McGinnis.  Out of Ireland there came
in the early part of the 18th century John McGinnis.
He came from Antrim and settled in
Pennsylvania.  From him to Walter
Fletcher McGinnis covered a period of seven consecutive generations of
family history:

  • John McGinnis, the original immigrant
  • James McGinnis
  • Edmond
  • Edmond McGinnis Jr.
  • Dr. Ira Edmond McGinnis
  • Dr. James Allen McGinnis
  • and
    Walter Fletcher McGinnis.

Twenty one members of the McGinnis family served in
the Revolutionary War.
At least two of the family were on the US fleet that landed at
Cruz, Mexico during the struggle with the Huerta government.

Dr. James McGinnis from Indiana came to Kansas in 1854
when he was just
eighteen years old.  A true pioneer, he
took an active part in the early development of Butlercounty.  He
was one of the leaders in organizing a vigilance committee who meted
summary justice to some of the outlaws in the early history of the

Walter F. McGinnis, born there in 1860, became interested in the oil
business in his thirties.  He believed
that Butler county had oil under its surface.
In 1912 he began taking oil leases in the county.
The big result came with the completion of
the test well on the Stapleton estate in the fall of 1915. That well
the presence of oil in profitable quantities at a depth of from 525 and
feet to 2,500 feet.

Benjamin McGinness’s Travails.  In May 1843 Benjamin McGinness
left his farm in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania and started with his
family in
wagons for Illinois. They arrived at a point near Nauvoo in Hancock
county two
months later. They halted there with the intention of purchasing land.

misfortune overtook him.  He fell into the hand of land sharks who
sold him land
to which they could give no valid title.  The real owners appeared
in a short
time and took steps to take it from him. He with the majority of the
around Nauvoo were finally driven over the Mississippi River by a mob.

They took
their weary march across the prairies of Iowa for Council Bluffs.
Here he and
his family arrived in due time and remained two years. Still impressed
with the
idea of moving west, Benjamin pushed on to Salt Lake city where he
arrived in
about 1855. He remained there a short time, then went on to California,
settling in San Bernardino around 1858. Here he found an arid country.  But the climate was all that could be desired
so he settled there.

In 1869 he started on a visit to his old home in
Pennsylvania. He traveled by wagon until he met the Union Pacific
near Cheyenne in Wyoming. From there he could go much faster.  He
spent the fall
and winter among his friends and early in the spring of 1870 returned

Broken down in health from the long journey and exposure
on the plains, he
never fully recovered and died that year in San Bernardino.


McGuinness Names

  • Arthur Guinness founded the famous Guinness brewery in Dublin in 1759. 
  • Charles Donagh Maginnis was an Irish-born architect
    who started the Boston firm of Maginnis & Walsh 
    in 1905. 
  • Sir Alec Guinness was a well-known British actor who died in 2000.  He was born in London in 1914 to no known father.
    His mother gave him the name of Guinness at his birth. 
  • Martin McGuinness was an Irish
    republican and Sinn Fein politician who became Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland in 2007

Select McGuinness Numbers Today

  • 11,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Northern Ireland)
  • 12,000 in America (most numerous in Pennsylvania)
  • 11,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)


Select McGuinness 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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