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Curtin – descendants of a hunchback chief

The surname Curtin has two separate origins; one in Co Clare and one in Co Cork. It comes from the old Gaelic surname O’Cuirtin or MacCuirtin.

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While there is debate over whether ‘O’ or ‘Mac’ was the correct Irish prefix to the name, there are now more people with the ‘Mac’ prefix. There are several variations to the name including Cartan, Cartin, Carton, Curtain, Curtayne, Curtin, MacCurtin, McCurtin and O’Curtin.

The original prefixes ‘O’ and ‘Mac’ meant that a person with the surname was either a ‘grandson of’ or ‘son of’ the person who gave their name to the main part of the surname.
History of the Irish name Curtin. Image copyright Ireland Calling

Well educated bards

Cuirtin was likely to have been the name of the leader or chief of the clan. The name means ‘hunchback’ and was likely to have been a nickname to describe the chief’s appearance. So people with the surname are likely to be descended from a hunchback chief or at least from a member of his clan.

The Curtins in Co Clare were members of the Dalcasians, which was the collective name for many of the most powerful families in Munster. The Curtins were a well-educated family. Their territory was in Corcomroe, Co Clare.

They were hereditary bards and ollaves to the O’Briens who were one of the most powerful families in mediaeval Ireland. Bards and ollaves were high ranking learned men who were poets and storytellers employed by wealthy patrons such as kings and noblemen.

Spreading through Ireland

Throughout the centuries, the Curtins had many internal battles and as a result were spread far and wide across Ireland. Various branches of the family left Co Clare and established themselves in areas of Co Limerick, Co Cork and even as far as Co Dublin.

Tomás Mac Curtain
Tomás Mac Curtain
Another family of Curtins originated in Co Cork. Their territory was the townland of Rahan in the Barony of Fermoy. Today there are more Curtins in Co Cork than any other part of Ireland.

Curtins in politics

Tomás Mac Curtain was Commander of the Cork Brigade during the Irish War of Independence. He later became Mayor of Cork. He was murdered by the Royal Irish Constabulary who were part of the British armed police.

His death caused outrage and Independence leader Michael Collins ordered the assassination of the policemen who had killed Mac Curtain.

The 14th Prime Minister of Australia was John Curtin. He was leader of the Labor Party and Prime Minister from 1941-1945.

Jane Curtin copyright Alan Light cc2
Jane Curtin
In 1943, he led his party to their greatest ever election victory.

Famous Curtins

Jane Curtin is an American actress and comedian. She first found fame on the TV show Saturday Night Live and has also starred in Kate and Allie and 3rd Rock From The Sun. She has also appeared in many popular movies such as Antz, I Don’t Know How She Does It and The Heat.

Jane’s cousin Valarie Curtin is a writer and actress. Her writing credits include the movie ‘And Justice For All’ which starred Al Pacino. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen for the movie.

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She has also appeared in TV shows such as Frasier, Becker, Just Shoot Me and ER.

Hoyt Curtin was a music producer and composer who worked for Hanna-Barberra studios. He wrote the theme tunes to some of the best loved animated shows of the last century including The Flintstones, Top Cat, The Smurfs and the Scooby Doo movies.


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