McCarthy – descendants of the Kings of Munster

History of the Irish name McCarthy. Image copyright Ireland Calling

McCarthy is the most common surname in Ireland to have the ‘Mc’ prefix and the 13th most common overall. The name derives from the Irish ‘Mac Carthaigh’ and MacCarthy, MacCarty and McCarty are other common variations.

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The name means ‘son of the loving’. The motto on the McCarthy coat of arms reads ‘Forti et tibeli nihil difficile’ which means ‘Nothing is difficult to the brave and faithful’.

Linked to King Milesius

The McCarthys were an ancient clan, so old that it is difficult to know for sure their exact origins.

It is believed that they could be linked to King Milesius, the ‘soldier of Spain’, which would make the McCarthys relatives of the O’Connors.

The O’Connors are said to have descended from Milesius while the McCarthys descended from the Eoghanachta people, who in turn descended from Milesius’ son Heber.

The Eoghanachta ruled the province of Munster between the 6th and 10th centuries.

King of Munster

Eoghan Mor is the earliest known ancestor of the McCarthys and is said to be a descendent of Heber. He is the ancestor of Conall Corc who became the first King of Munster.

Corc established the Royal seat of Munster at Cashal. The McCarthys have a long association with Cashal. In 1127, Cormac MacCarthy built a chapel on the Rock of Cashal. Visitors to the Rock of Cashal can still see the remains of the building which came to be known as ‘Cormac’s chapel’.

Video of the story of the McCarthy name

Related to the O’Briens

When Corc died the Eoghanachta started to go their separate ways. King Donnchad II was the ruler of Eoghanacht Chaisil. When he died the kingdom was fought over by several pretenders to the throne.

Muiredach Mac Carthach was one of those battling for the throne. He was the son of Carthach and the first person to use the surname Mac Carthach. Mac Carthach’s great grandson, Brian Boru became the first High King of Ireland, which means the O’Briens are also distant cousins of the McCarthys.

McCarthys and the Blarney Stone

Blarney Castle was built by another man named Cormac MacCarthy in the mid-15th century. Legend has it that the Blarney Stone which is in the Castle is a piece of the ‘Stone of Destiny’ that was used in ceremonies to inaugurate Scottish Kings.

Another legend says that Cormac MacCarthy was facing a lawsuit and was told by the Goddess Clíodhna to kiss the first stone he saw as he headed to court. He kissed the stone and delivered his case in court extremely convincingly.

He brought the stone into his castle and since that day it has been thought that kissing the stone gives people the ‘gift of the gab’.

Queen Elizabeth I and the MacCarthys

Another theory of the origin of the Blarney stone legend was that Queen Elizabeth I had requested that Dermot MacCarthy should surrender his castle to show his loyalty to her. He had no intension of doing so and would keep coming up with eloquent non-offensive excuses.

This Queen is said to have commented that MacCarthy was just giving her ‘more blarney talk’.

Florence MacCarthy was Lord of Carberry in Munster. He was an ally of Queen Elizabeth I, until he married his cousin. This strengthened his territories considerably and the Queen felt he had become a threat.

She charged him with treason and he was thrown in the Tower of London where he stayed for 37 years. While he was imprisoned he wrote a history of Ireland although it wasn’t published until 200 years after his death.”

Paul Newman played William Henry McCarty aka 'Billy the Kid'

Billy the Kid

William Henry McCarty was a 19th century American outlaw, better known as Billy the Kid. He was a skilful gunman and is said to have killed up to 21 people before being captured by his onetime friend, Sheriff Pat Garrett. He was sentenced to death but killed his guards and escaped from prison.

Three months later, Garrett found him again and killed him, although there are theories that the whole thing was a set up and Garrett actually helped his friend to fake his death. Billy the Kid’s life story has inspired several literature and musical artists over the years and he has been romanticised and vilified in equal measure.

There have also been many Hollywood movies about him and he has been played by the likes of Paul Newman, Kris Kristofferson and Emilio Estevez.

Famous McCarthys from around the world

Joe McCarthy
Joe McCarthy

Joe McCarthy is remembered by baseball fans as one of the best managers in the game. He was the manager of the New York Yankees from 1931-1946. He won nine league titles and seven World Series Championships throughout his career and he still has the best career win percentage in history. He was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1957.

Another Cormac McCarthy was the American novelist born in 1933. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for ‘The Road’, which was made into a hit movie. Another of his novels, ‘No Country for Old Men’ was made into an Oscar winning movie. His novel ‘All the Pretty Horses’ was also made into a hit movie.

Mick McCarthy was a Republic of Ireland soccer captain, nicknamed ‘Captain Fantastic’ during his playing career. He went on to lead the team to the World Cup as a manager in 2002.

Irish Names