McGrath – royal poets and scholars

History of the Irish name McGrath. Image copyright Ireland Calling
History of the Irish name McGrath. Image copyright Ireland Calling

The name McGrath is common both in Ireland and around the world. It originated in Ireland around the 10th century. The name we now know today as McGrath, derived from the ancient Gaelic name MacGraith.

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At the time, Ireland had several family clans living across the country, with no one supreme leader. The clans would sometimes live in harmony, trading goods and forming alliances, and at other times fierce battles would take place for territory.

History of the Irish name McGrath. Image copyright Ireland CallingThe clans all had a leader, who was normally given a name based on a distinctive characteristic or manner. The leadership would be passed down from father to son over time, along with the name.

McGrath would have originally come from the word ‘graith’ which meant prosperous. Other clan leaders in Ireland would have given this name to one particular man, presumably because he was always wealthy due to good trade deals.

The prefix ‘Mac’ would have been added to the name, when Graith passed the leadership of the family onto his son. In ancient Ireland, Mac meant ‘the son of’, so MacGraith was the name given to the son of Graith.

In time the name was shortened to McGrath. There were two major McGrath clans in Ireland, as at some point a breakaway group separated to find new territory.

One clan was from the area around County Clare, before moving south and settling in County Waterford. They were close allies of the powerful O’Brien clan. The McGraths were the royal poets and scholars to the O’Briens, when they became Kings of All Ireland.

The other McGrath clan held territories in the north of Ireland, in the area now known as County Donegal. They were the guardians of the monastery at Lough Derg, the popular pilgrimage site known as St Patrick’s Purgatory.

The name McGrath was spread across the world in the 1800s, when thousands were forced to leave Ireland due to the ‘Great Famine’. Many McGraths emigrated and settled in Britain, America, Australia and elsewhere.

Famous McGraths from around the world

Throughout history, several people named McGrath have made a mark in their given fields. A few of the better known McGraths around today are mentioned below.

Bob McGrath is an American singer and entertainer, most recognisable as the actor who played Bob Johnson in Sesame Street.

Glenn McGrath is a retired Australian cricketer. He is regarded by many experts to be amongst the best bowlers of all time. He is also a co-founder of the McGrath foundation, which raises money and awareness in the battle against breast cancer. McGrath tragically lost his first wife Jane early, after she contracted the disease.
Paul McGrath
Douglas McGrath is an American film producer, actor and director. He has made several movies and worked with the biggest names in Hollywood. Nicholas Nickleby, Emma and I Don’t Know How She Does It are just a few of the films he has directed.

Paul McGrath is a retired Irish professional footballer. He was a key player during the country’s most successful period in history, the late 1980s and early 90s. McGrath played for Ireland at two World Cups, with the highlight his heroic performance in the famous 1-0 victory against Italy in 1994. The majority of Irish football fans would have him in their greatest ever team.

Mrs McGrath is the name of an emotional song about a young man being recruited to the army and then being injured in battle. Bruce Springsteen did a brilliant haunting version of the song.

Master McGrath is another traditional Irish song. Master McGrath is the name of an Irish greyhound that travelled to England for a big race.

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