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McCarthy or MacCarthy (Mac Cárthaigh in Irish), meaning "son of Cárthach" (whose name meant "loving"), is a common surname that originated in Ireland. Several variants are found, such as McCarty (most common in North America) as well as Carthy and Carty (though these latter are also the Anglicization of an unrelated name, Ó Cárthaigh). 60% of people with the surname in Ireland still live in County Cork where the family was very powerful in the Middle Ages.
The origin of the name begins with Carthach, an Eóganacht Chaisil king, who died in 1045 in a house fire deliberately started by one of the Lonergans (who were members of the Eóganacht's arch-enemies, the Dál gCais). Carthach was a contemporary and bitter rival of the semi-legendary Brian Boru, and what would become known as the McCarthy Clan were pushed out of their traditional homelands in the Golden Vale of Tipperary by the expansion of the O'Brien sept in the middle of the twelfth century.
Carthach's son was known as Muireadhach mac Carthaigh (meaning "Muireadhach, son of Carthach"). Such ephemeral patronymics were common at the time. However, when Muireadhach died in 1092 his sons Tadhg and Cormac adopted Mac Carthaigh as an actual surname. Following the treaty of Glanmire in 1118, dividing the kingdom of Munster into Desmond and Thomond, this Tadhg became the first king of Desmond, comprising parts of the modern counties of Cork and Kerry. For almost five centuries they dominated much of Munster, with four major branches: those led by the MacCarthy Mór (Great MacCarthy), nominal head of all the MacCarthys, who ruled over much of south Kerry, the Duhallow MacCarthys, who controlled northwest Cork; MacCarthy Reagh or Riabhach ('grey') based in the Barony of Carbery in southwest Cork; and MacCarthy Muskerry, on the Cork / Kerry border.
Each of these families continued resistance to Norman and English encroachment up to the seventeenth century when, like virtually all the Gaelic aristocracy, they lost almost everything. An exception was Macroom Castle, which passed to the White family of Bantry House, descendants of Cormac Láidir Mac Cárthaigh. This was burnt in 1922 and is part of the local golf club today. 
The Muskerry McCarthy's historical seat is Blarney Castle in County Cork. Legend has it that the Blarney Stone was given as a gift to Cormac MacCarthy, King of Munster from Robert of Bruce who presented the 'magical' stone in gratitude for his assistance in the battle of Bannockburn in 1314. The third castle built on the site (the castle which stands to this day) was built by another McCarthy descendant, Dermot McCarthy, in 1446. Dermot was known for his eloquence, hence the Blarney Stone's reputation for imparting the gift of the gab upon those who kiss it.
The number of references to the MacCarthys in the Annals, especially the "Annals of Innisfallen", is very great. Carthach was the son of Saoirbhreathach, a Gaelic name which is anglicised as Justin, and in the latter form has been in continuous use among many branches of the McCarthys for centuries. Another male forename similarly associated with them is Finghin, anglice Fineen, but for some centuries past, the name Florence (colloquially Flurry) has been used as its English form. From the thirteenth century, when Fineen MacCarthy decisively defeated the Geraldines in 1261, down to the present day, Fineen or Florence MacCarthys and Justin MacCarthys have been very prominent among the many distinguished men of the name in Irish military, political and cultural history.
Until the dissolution of the kingdom in 1596, the crown was vested in the hereditary possession of the Mac Carthy (by the law of tanistry).
Eleven septs of the illustrious McCarthy family in Kerry are given in Kings History of Co. Kerry
- (1) Sliocht Owen More of Coshmaing
- (2) Sliocht Cormaic of Dunguile
- (3) Sliocht Fineen Duff of Ardeanaght
- (4) Sliocht Clan Donell Finn
- (5) Sliocht nInghean Riddery
- (6) Sliocht Donell Brick
- (7) Sliocht Nedeen
- (8) Sliocht Clan Teige Kittagh
- (9) Sliocht Clan Dermod
- (10) Sliocht Clan Donell Roe
- (11) Sliocht MacFineen
The MacCarthys are closely related to a number of other Munster families. These include the O'Sullivans, O'Callaghans, O'Keeffes, O'Donoghues, and O'Donovans. An early sept of the MacCarthys themselves are the MacAuliffes.
Rulers of the Kingdom of Desmond, the MacCarthys stood among the greatest Irish dynasties of the last millennium.
- Andrew McCarthy (born 1962), actor
- Andrew C. McCarthy, attorney and columnist
- Arch McCarthy, former Major League Baseball player
- Benni McCarthy, South African footballer
- Brandon McCarthy, U.S. baseball pitcher
- Brandon Scott McCarthy (United States Marine), Sgt. USMC 2005-2012
- Carolyn McCarthy (born 1944), U.S. congresswoman
- Con McCarthy (rugby league), rugby league footballer of the 1910s for New Zealand, and Hawke's Bay
- Cormac McCarthy (born 1933), Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist
- Dalton McCarthy (1836–1898), Canadian lawyer and politician
- Daniel McCarthy (1995- present) Drug dealer, loving father and head of the White Supremacy.
- David McCarthy (disambiguation), several people
- Dennis McCarthy (composer) (born 1945), composer of film scores
- Dominic McCarthy (1892–1975), Australian recipient of the Victoria Cross
- Douglas McCarthy, singer in Nitzer Ebb
- E. Jerome McCarthy, marketing scholar and inventor of 4Ps of marketing
- Earl McCarthy (born 1969), Irish freestyle swimmer
- Eugene McCarthy (1916-2005), U.S. congressman and senator
- Fabian "Fabe" McCarthy (born 1919), Australian rugby union player
- Glenn McCarthy (1907–1988), American oil tycoon and businessman
- Harry McCarthy, variety entertainer, wrote "The Bonnie Blue Flag" in 1861
- J. Thomas McCarthy (born 1937), American educator, author and attorney
- James McCarthy (disambiguation), several people
- Jenny McCarthy (born 1972), American anti-vaccine activist and former Playboy model and actress
- Joe McCarthy (manager) (1887–1978), Hall of Fame baseball manager
- John McCarthy (disambiguation), several people
- Joseph McCarthy (1908–1957), U.S. senator
- Joseph McCarthy (lyricist) (1885–1943), Tin Pan Alley lyricist ("You Made Me Love You")
- Justin McCarthy (disambiguation), several people
- Kevin McCarthy (actor) (1914–2010), American film actor
- Kevin McCarthy (California politician), U.S. congressman (2007–present)
- Mary McCarthy (CIA) (born 1945), former CIA employee
- Mary McCarthy (fiction writer), Irish novelist
- Mary McCarthy (screenwriter)
- Melissa McCarthy, actress
- Michael McCarthy (disambiguation), several people
- Mick McCarthy (born 1959), football player and manager (former manager of Republic of Ireland)
- Mike McCarthy (American football) (born 1963), NFL coach
- Nicholas McCarthy, guitarist of Scottish band Franz Ferdinand
- Nobu McCarthy (1934–2002), actress
- Patrick McCarthy (disambiguation), several people
- Paul McCarthy, American contemporary artist
- Pete McCarthy (1952–2004), pen name of Peter Charles Robinson, British broadcaster and travel writer
- Rachel McCarthy, poet, critic and broadcaster
- Rory McCarthy, holder of two aviation world records, former business partner of Sir Richard Branson, founder co founder of Wagamama.
- Shaun Lloyd McCarthy (1950-2000), aka Desmond Cory, novelist, screen-play writer
- Stephen McCarthy (disambiguation), several people
- Steve McCarthy, Canadian hockey player
- Thaddeus McCarthy (1455–1492), Irish bishop
- Thaddeus McCarthy (jurist) (1907–2001), New Zealand jurist
- Thomas McCarthy (disambiguation), several people
- Tim McCarthy, US Secret Service agent injured in a President Reagan assassination attempt
- Tom McCarthy (broadcaster), radio play-by-play announcer for the New York Mets on WFAN 660 in New York
- Tom McCarthy (writer), English novelist
- Tommy McCarthy (1863–1922), Hall of Fame baseball outfielder
- Wayne W McCarthy (born 1963), CYO Drum Corps Champion, DCI Finalist,1978-1980
- William C. McCarthy (1820-1900), mayor of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1875–1878
- Denis Florence MacCarthy, Irish poet, translator, and biographer, 1818–1882
- Desmond MacCarthy, English critic, 1878–1952
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