Select McGrath Surname Genealogy

The McGrath surname is derived from the Gaelic MacGraith and the personal name Craith, meaning "grace" or "prosperity."  It is a view traditionally held that MacCraith was a name bestowed upon the descendants of Ahearne, the brother of Brian Boru.  The McGrath clan did find a place as the hereditary poets and bards of the subsequent O’Brien princes of Thomond.  

The name is found throughout Ireland.  The "th" in McGrath is generally silent.  The alternative spelling of McGraw came from county Down in Ulster and is common in America.

Select McGrath Resources on The Internet

Select McGrath Ancestry

Ireland.   From the O'Brien starting point of Thomond, the McGraths separated into two main septs, one in an area known as Termon McGrath in Donegal in the northeast and the other in Waterford in the southwest.

The McGraths of Termon McGrath were recorded in the Annals of Ulster from the time of their first chieftain in 1290 to the siege of Castle McGrath by Protestant forces in 1641 and the subsequent confiscation of their lands by Cromwell.

Seán mac Ruaidhri Mac Craith was a writer of the clan who flourished in the 14th century.  But perhaps the best known
of these McGraths was Bishop Miler McGrath who started life as a Franciscan friar but then abandoned his faith to become the wealthy Protestant Archbishop of Cashel in Tipperary.  He died in 1622 at the ripe old age of one hundred.

During the 1300’s some McGraths followed their O’Brien patrons southwest to Dungarvon and Lismore in Waterford.  By the side of the sea they set up an Augustinian monastery and later built the Abbeyside castle to protect it.  In the old monastery graveyard there was an ancient slab of stone which stated:

“Donald McGrath was buried here in 1400, having died on March 17th in his seventieth year.” 

Abbeyside castle itself survived, albeit in a dilapidated state, until 1916.  The McGraths in Waterford suffered at the time of Cromwell, none more so than the McGraths of Sleady castle.

By the time of Griffiths Valuation in the mid 19th century, McGrath was prominent:
  • in Tipperary (with 17% of the numbers)
  • followed by Waterford (with 11%). 
The spelling was divided 75% McGrath and 25% Magrath, although the Magrath spelling share is much lower today.  McGraw was a spelling variant that was found in limited numbers in county Down in Ulster.

.  The spelling in America divides approximately 50/50 between McGrath and McGraw.  McGraw’s relative popularity may have come from the numbers in upstate New York who could have followed the spelling of Samuel McGraw who came to Cortlandville township from New Haven in 1803 and gave his name to the township of McGraw. 

Patrick McGrath came to upstate New York from Limerick and his family became McGraws.  Son James McGraw founded the famous book publishing company of McGraw-Hill in 1885 and successive McGraws have headed this company since that time.

The ancestry of Tim McGraw the country singer does trace itself back to county Down in Ulster.  His forebears left there for Kansas in the 1850’s.  The family had moved to California by 1900 which was where the baseball pitcher Tug McGraw was born and then his son Tim

The Magrath name came to America with John Magrath who had taken part in the 1798 Rising in Ireland, been captured, and then escaped.  He made it to South Carolina where he prospered as a merchant in Charleston.  His son Andrew became a prominent lawyer there and had the distinction of being the last Confederate Governor of South Carolina (from 1864 to 1865).

Canada.  McGraths from Waterford, along with a number of other Waterford families, emigrated to Newfoundland in the late 18th century.  McGrath descendants can still be found today fishing off Fogo island, one of the few Catholic Irish settlements on the northeast coast of Newfoundland.

A later arrival was Daniel McGrath of Lismore in Waterford (from the Clanaboy McGraths) who came to Montreal and died there in 1860 at the splendid age of 109.  His son Thomas was an alderman in Montreal.
Australia.  Some McGraths caught up in the 1798 Irish Uprising ended up as rebels shipped to Australia as political psrisoners.  Later came McGrath free settlers.  Many arrived from the Tipperary area.  Patrick McGrath came with his family from Tipperary to the Darling Downs region of Queensland in the 1860's.  They settled in the Laidley area.  McGrath Crossing was named after them. 

An earlier arrival had been Darby McGrath from Waterford who had come to Australia as a convict in 1834.  After his release he followed his brother John to Brisbane in the late 1840's.  Hw was described there as an "unscrupulous Irish land speculator."  He was able to hide his convict origins, was successful in his land dealings, and was later a horse breeder.

Select McGrath Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

Select McGrath Names

Miler McGrath was a 16th century Franciscan friar who converted to Protestantism and became the wealthy Archbishop of Cashel. 
James H. McGraw founded the McGraw-Hill publishing company in 1885 with his life savings.  
John McGraw
, known as “little Napoleon,” was famous in baseball circles as a player with the Baltimore Orioles and as the long-time manager of the New York Giants. 
Ali McGraw
was a well-known film actress of the 1970’s.

Glen McGrath was the premier fast bowler in the Australian cricket team in the early 2000's.

Select McGraths Today
  • 15,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 22,000 in America (most numerous in New York) 
  • 41,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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