History of the Name - Pt. 1

As you may know, "mac" in Gaelic means "son of." (As an aside, the "O" prefix to an Irish surname, "ui" in Gaelic, roughly means "grandson of," or, "descended from.") Before surnames came into use, individuals were known by identifying their father after their name. For example, if this writer had lived back then, he would have been known as "Seamus mac Robert", because his father's name was Robert. Thus, one had to know who the father was to know who the individual was.

Carthach, was a king of the tribe/clan/sept of Eoghanacht Chaisil (d. 1045). Carthach's son, Muiredach mac Carthach, was the first of his race to assume the name of "MacCarthaigh," which was anglicized to MacCarthy and its variations later. Thus, the Irish family name we know as MacCarthy (McCarthy, McCarty, MacCarthaigh, etc., etc.) stems from the 11th century a.d.

Ireland and Munster

With the above as background, let us briefly recount some aspects of Irish history and geography that are germaine to the history of the McCarthy name. Our interest lies in the southwestern area of the island of Ireland known as Munster (Gaelic: Mumhain). Early Celtic Ireland was divided into many smaller kingdoms, known as tuatha, each of which was independent under its own elected king. Around the beginning of the Christian era, the island was divided into five groups of tuatha, known as the "Five Fifths." These groups of tuatha, or kingdoms, were Munster (Mumhain), Ulster (Ulaidh), Meath (Midhe), Leinster (Laighin), and Connaught (Connacht). Four of these - excepting Meath (Midhe) - later evolved to be provinces of Ireland.

Munster is the southwestern "Fifth," kingdom, or province, of Ireland. It is composed, today, of the counties of Clare, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary, and Waterford. The whole of the Kingdom of Munster encompassed some 9,469 square miles. Munster was ruled by the Eoghanachta dynasty for much of its existence. Another name for the Eoghanachta people was "Eugenians."

The Eoghanachta were a race/clan that is thought to have originated from Heber, eldest son of Milesius, who is believed to have come from Iberia to Ireland centuries before the birth of Christ. It is not completely certain whether Milesius was a real historical figure, or semi-mythical, a fabrication of medieval Gaelic monks.

Eoghan Mór and Conall Corc

Legend has it that Eoghan Mór is the 46th in descent from Heber of the Milesians. Eoghan Mór was also known as Eoghan Taidlech or Mug Nuadat. The latter name was his throne name, and is literally translated as "Slave of (the god) Nuadu." He assumed this name in honour of the dynastic god, Nuadu, over whose cult he probably presided. Eoghan Mór (died c. 192 a.d.) is the farthest-back known ancestor of the MacCarthys.

Eoghan Mór was the 4th-great-grandfather of Conall Corc (d. 379 a.d.), who is generally-accepted as the first historical King of Munster. King Conall Corc established the royal seat of Munster at Cashel (Gaelic: Chaisil, in the present-day county of Tipperary).

Among the descendants of Conall Corc, the Eoghanacht became six different septs:

• Eoghanacht Aine
• Eoghanacht Airthir Chliach
• Eoghanacht Chaisil
• Eoghanacht Glendamnacht
• Eoghanacht Locha Lein
• Eoghanacht Raithlind

About half of the Kings of Munster were of the Eoghanacht Chaisil sept. Here is a discussion of the septs descending from Epghan Mór, from the southern Ireland yDNA Project. Besides the various MacCarthy septs in Desmond (Epghanacht Chaisil), there were other important families descending from Eoghan Mór. They were: the O'Sullivans and the MacGillicuddys (Eoghanacht Chaisil); the O'Keefes (Eoghanacht Glendamnacht); the O'Kirbys (Eoghanacht Aine); the O'Moriartys (Eoghanacht Locha Lein); and, the O'Donoghues (Eoghanacht Raithlind).

Donnchad II and The Dal gCais

Sixteen generations down in the E0ghanacht Chaisil lineage from Conall Corc, is Donnchad II, who was also a King of Munster until his death in 963 A.D. At Donnchad's death, Mathgamain mac Cenneetig of the Dal gCais, and King of Thomond, usurped the throne of Munster. Thus began the subsequent centuries of conflict between the pretenders to the throne of Munster - descendants of the Eoghanacht sept (usually MacCarthys) versus descendants of the Dal gCais sept (usually O'Briens).

In fact, the King of Eoghanacht Raithlind, Maelmauad mac Bran, killed Mathgamain in 976, and re-took the throne of Munster for the Eoghanacht. Unfortunately, he himself was killed two years later by Brian Boru (b. ca 941), the half brother of Mathgamain, and Brian assumed the title of King of Munster. Brian Boru, of the Dal gCais (Dalcassian) sept, was the progenitor of the O'Brien clan.

Munster Becomes Desmond and Thomond

The treaty of Glanmire in 1118 divided the Kingdom of Munster into northern (Tuadh Mumhain = Thomond) and southern (Des Mumhain = Desmond) halves. The Kingdom of Thomond was ruled by the Dal gCais dynasty of the O'Briens. The Kingdom of Desmond, which was the greater part, (covering some 4,500 square miles), was an Eoghanacht state, and was ruled solely by the MacCarthys (Eoghanacht Chaisil).

Continue to Pt. 2...