A Letter from Ireland:

Blarney Castle and Your Irish Ancestry


Blarney Castle

Here’s a picture of a castle you may have heard of – Blarney Castle in County Cork (anyone kiss the famous Blarney stone?).

Our journey today looks at the surname of the family who built this castle – the MacCarthys. So, if you have “MacCarthy” somewhere in your family (or are just plain curious) – then read on (and do share this post with your curious friends :) ) …

If are a MacCarthy (or part) – then there is a 60% chance that you have lots of relatives in the County Cork area. But where did this surname come from?

Blarney CastleBefore surnames came into use in the 9th century, the “Éoganacht” were a federation of tribes in Munster that claimed a common lineage. They were noted as kings of Munster from an early period until the 10th century. One of these tribes was the Eóghanacht Chaisil [Cashel] – a tribe that has supplied us with the MacCarthys, O’Sullivans, O’Callaghans and O’Keefes.

But the Mac Carthaigh (Mac Carthy) family was the chief sept of the Éoganachta Caisil. MacCarthy (Mac Cárthaigh) – is a name that comes from Carthach, a son of Saerbhrethach, a king of the Eoghanacht-Caisil who died in 1045.

However, dynasties ebb and flow – and these families all spread southwards into modern counties Cork and Kerry in the 11th and 12th centuries with the rise of the rival Dal gCais dynasty and the arrival of Normans. After being driven from their homeland around Cashel, the MacCarthy chiefs moved into Desmond (which means south Munster). Here they split into four noted septs over time: the MacCarthy Mór (head of all the MacCarthys, who ruled over much of south Kerry); the Duhallow MacCarthys, who controlled north west Cork; MacCarthy Reagh based in southwest Cork; and MacCarthy Muskerry, who ruled an area stretching from Blarney to the Cork / Kerry border.

Kissing the Blarney StoneAnd back to Blarney Castle. It was built around 1480 by Cormac MacCarthy – Lord of the Muskerry branch of the MacCarthys. He was slain by his brother Eoghan in 1495 – while he in turn was killed and succeeded by Cormac’s son – Cormac Óg – in 1498. That’s families for you!

So if you have MacCarthy blood in you – and have a chance to visit Blarney Castle (and even kiss the Blarney stone), don’t forget to take a trip in the countryside to the west and southwest of Blarney until you hit the sea. Many of the castles you will come across were strongholds until the 16th century of the various groups of the MacCarthy clan – descendants of the Kings of Munster!

  • elliot mccarty says:

    i have traced my ancestry back to i believe patrick mccarty and all i can find is that he sailed from Ireland it the early 1700 some of the first to make settlement in Pennsylvania. One thing i would like to know is as far back as i know of when mccartys of my set write there name we put 2 lines under the first c does that have any significants.

  • Yvonne McCarthy says:

    I have traced my ancestors to Denis McCarthy born in Ireland 1814 sailed to Australia then to New Zealand would love to go back futher

    • Carina says:

      Come join us in The Green Room where we can assist you in your search Yvonne.

    • Maureen K Cosentino says:

      I also have an ancestor, Denis McCarthy, born in Ireland. “Aug 1850: Marriage in Springfield, MA; Dennis McCarty (age 27), married Ellen Ambrose (age 24) no father’s name given; both born in Ireland.” Also, “• 1860 US Census: Dennis (36), Ellen (32) and children Jerry (6), Mary (4) and Elizabeth (1) (b Illinois) living in Chicago. My great grandfather, John Francis O’Shaughnessy married Mary McCarthy, no idea what date. Do know they lived in Chicago.

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