A Letter from Ireland:
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The Irish Surname McCarthy/McCarty

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Irish Surname McCarthy

The surname McCarthy (also Carthy/McCarty) is one of the most popular among our readers. But what are it’s origins? Where does it comes from?

Origin of the Irish Surname McCarthy.

The surname McCarthy comes from the Irish “Mac Cárthaigh”. Carthach was a King of Munster who died in early 11th century. His son assumed the surname “Mac Carthach” in honour of his father and that has become the surname of this leading family of the Eoghanacht tribe ever since. McCarthy is one of the most numerous Mac names in Ireland at present.

Home Counties of the McCarthy.

The Surname McCarthy is associated with the province of Munster in the south of Ireland down through the centuries. Cashel in Tipperary would have been the original power centre of the McCarthys – and seat of the Kings of Munster. However, following power struggles with the Dal gCais (and the O’Briens) since the 10th centuries – the McCarthys moved further south into Munster – and Munster was divided in Thomond (North Munster) – ruled by the O’Briens, and Desmond (South Munster) rules by the McCarthys.

The homelands of the McCarthys were put under further pressure with the arrival of the Normans.
From the 13th century, the McCarthys were divided into four main groups (and our readers would come from one of these groups and locations). They were:
  • McCarthy Mór (the main group) – which ruled over Kerry and parts of Cork. Their principle seat was at Muckross near Killarney.
  • McCarthys of Muskerry – which ruled over mid-west Cork – their chief residence being Blarney Castle near Cork City.
  • McCarthy Reagh (grey) – of Southwest Cork. Kilbrittain Castle was their chief residence.
  • McCarthys of Duhallow – in North west Cork. They were based in the town of Kanturk.
However, by the end of the 1600s the four families had lost their power – lands and castles confiscated. But most members of the McCarthy clans can still be found around these parts to this day.

Castles of the McCarthys.

I have mentioned the main seats of the branches of the McCarthys above. In addition – there are about 26 castles built by the various branches throughout Cork and Kerry. Some are in full working order (almost!) – like Blarney Castle and Kilcoe Castle in West Cork (the seat of the actor, Jeremy Irons) – while some are just piles of rubble at this point.

There are also many Abbeys and sites of interest associated with the clans. Places like Muckross Abbey near Killarney, Killcrea Abbey near Ballincollig and of course – Cashel of the Kings in Cashel, County Tipperary.
  • Cathal Mac Cárthaigh says:

    What about McCarthy Sowney (Suibhne)?

  • sue says:

    My McAllen ancestors are from Derryhumma, County Clare. There are only 2 males & 1 female with the surname left in the village!

  • CARTY has a number of septs, main of MacCarthy, but from Wexford, second a branch of O Rouke from Roscommon, and an unverified branch in Ards in Down in the 1500’s seen on an Elizabethan map.

    Mine are from Longford, and are O CARTHAIGH in Irish, so probably of the O Rourkes.

  • Kathleen Busbee says:

    Glad to have found another resource in my search . I’m descended from the Muskerry line of MacCarthys who came to the colonies in the late 1600s.

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  • Don McCarthy says:

    Greetings from Australia. Thanks for the info; must come over and see it all for myself soon.

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