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Mac Cárthaigh
Armorial of MacCarthy
Country Kingdom of Desmond
Parent house Eóganachta
Founder Cárthach mac Saorbhreathach
Final ruler Florence MacCarthy
Current head Liam Trant MacCarthy
Cadet branches MacCarthy Reagh
MacCarthy of Muskerry

MacCarthy (Irish: Mac Cárthaigh), also spelled McCarthy, is a Gaelic Irish clan originating from Munster, an area they ruled during the Middle Ages. It was and continues to be divided into several great branches. The MacCarthy Reagh, MacCarthy of Muskerry, and MacCarthy of Duhallow dynasties were the three most important of these, after the central or MacCarthy Mór line.

Their name, 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 High-King Brian Boru, and what would become known as the McCarthy Clan was pushed out of its 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. [1]

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 Desmond, from king Robert the Bruce of Scotland, 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.

Notable people[edit]

Kings of Desmond 1118-1596[edit]

  • Tadhg, eldest son of Muiredach, 1118–1123
  • Cormac Mac Carthaigh, his brother, 1123-1127 & 1127-1138
  • Donogh, his brother, 1127 & 1138-1143
  • Dermod, his nephiew, 1143–1185
  • Donal, his son, 1185–1206
  • Fingen, his brother, 1206–1207
  • Dermod, son of Donal, 1207–1229
  • Cormac, his younger brother, 1229–1247
  • Donal Gott MacCarthy, 1247–1252
  • Fínghin of the Battle of Callann, 1252–1261
  • Cormac, younger brother, 1261–1262
  • Donal, eldest surviving son of Cormac, 1262–1302
  • Donal, eldest son of Donal, 1302–1306
  • Donogh, brother of Donal, 1306–1310
  • Dermod, son of Donal, 1310–1326
  • Cormac, brother of Dermod, 1326–1359
  • Donal, son of Cormac, 1359–1390
  • Tadhg, son of Donal, 1390–1428
  • Donal, eldest son of Tadhg, 1428–1469
  • Tadhg, brother of Donal, 1469–1503
  • Donal, son of Tadhg, 1503–1508
  • Cormac, brother of Donal, 1508-1516 & Tadhg IV, son of Donall, 1508–1514
  • Donal, son of Cormac, 1516-ante 1558
  • Donal, ante 1558-1596

MacCarthy Mor scandal[edit]

See Terence Francis MacCarthy and Chief of the Name.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]