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McGrath, MacCraith

McGrath Family Crest

Quarterly: 1st, Argent three lions
passant gules; 2nd Or, a dexter
hand lying fessways couped at
the wrist proper holding a cross
formee fitchee azure; 3rd, Gules
a dexter hand lying fessways
couped at the wrist proper holding
a battle-axe or; 4th, Argent an
antelope trippant sable attired or.

This name originated from the Gaelic form Mac Raith, a traditional figure meaning "son of grace." Two distinct septs evolved, one settling at Termon McGrath on the shores of Lough Erne near the Donegal border, the other in Dal gCais where they began a long association with the O'Briain, Princes of Thomond.

The MacCraith have also gained attention for having held important ecclesiastical positions in medieval times and also by their involvement in cultural affairs as poets, brehons and historians. The Four Masters record four members of the MacCraith as the hereditary poets of Thomond between the years 1240 and 1580. Eoghan, son of Donagh Mhaoil 1240; MacCraith an Tarthoir (the Protector) 1395; Owen McCraith 1450; and Sean Ruaidhri MacCraith 1580. Sean Ruadhri is best remembered for his colourful and graphic accounts as revealed in "The Wars of Turlough"; a conflict waged by two branches of the O'Briain for the supremacy of Thomond.

Their poetic tradition may be said to have been continued by that lively and entertaining figure Aindreas MacCraith (1723-1790) who became known as An Mangaire Sugach (The Jolly Merchant). Here are some line from "The Boatmans Hymn" which is attributed to him:

Bark that bore me through foam and squall,
You and the storm are my castle wall,
Though the sea shall redden from bottom to top,
From tiller to mast she takes no drop.
(Translated from the Irish by Samuel Ferguson)

Four members of the family also appear in the MSS. List of the Bishops of Killaloe: Mathghamoin MacCraigh c. 1399; Dunchoidh MacCraith c. 1417; Tadhg MacCraith 1423, and Dearmoid MacCraith 1463.

Miller MacGraith, quite a famous but rather wordly figure, is now looked on as the most notorious bearer of the name. He was born in 1523, and first joined the Franciscans. Later, in 1567, he was chosen by the Pope to be Bishop of Down and Connor. In 1569 however, he conformed to the Church of Ireland and was rewarded with the Bishopric of his native Clougher. Next he had himself promoted, despite Papal censure, to the Archbishopric of Cashel and was not above acquiring several other benefices as well. Archbishop MacGrath's elaborate tomb may still be seen in the choir of the cathedral which stands on the Rock of Cashel. A kinsman of the same name also joined the Franciscan Order but remained true to his vows for which he is known to have suffered martydom in 1650.

Several other members of the MacGraths gained distinction in foreign fields and rose to high office, for example, John McGrath forced to flee after the 1798 Rising settled in Carolina where his son Condon MacGrath became Governor of the State and a prominent figure in the American Civil War.

Mac Craith, Seán, "Caithréim Thoirdhealbhaigh". Dublin, Irish Texts Society, 1929.

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Learned Families of Thomond