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McGinnis History
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The McGinnis name goes back almost to the beginning of Ireland. The name is recorded in the County Down seated from ancient times. There are many references with the surname recorded as McGuinness, Guinnessy, Magennis, Guiness, and Genis. In those days a name change from father to son was common and individuals often changed the spelling during their lifetime.

The Gaelic family of McGinnis descended from the Lords of Iveagh in the County Down. Thought to be connected to the Viking invasion wherein one of two Viking Kings vying to claim the country cut off his hand and tossed it ashore to be the first to touch it's land. The red hand on the McGinnis Coat of arms depicts the legend.

Origin of the McGinnis Name

The modern spelling of this name is usually MacGuinness or MacGenis but in the historical records in English they are as a rule Magennis, a form still to be found in some places today. In Irish the name is MagAonghusa, i.e. son of Angus. They are descended from Saran, chief of Dal Araidhe in St. Patrick's time and thence to Eochaidh Cobha of Iveagh, County Down. Like the chiefs of many of the great Irish septs Magennis took advantage of the English policy of "surrender and regrant" warily in the seventeenth century; earlier they were often at loggerheads with the ecclesiastical authorities and they showed a tendency to accept the tenets of the Reformation; conforming bishops included two Magennisses - one of the dioceses of Down, the other of Dromore. However, by 1598 the Magennis chief of the time, whose father was officially regarded as "the civilest of all the Irish in these parts," had joined Yrone (who was his brother-in-law) and thus "returned to the rudeness of the country." A generation later their loyalty to Ireland and the ancient faith was undoubted. The Franciscan Bishop of Down and Connor, Hugh Magennis (d. 1640), was closely related to Viscount Iveagh and many of the Gaelic nobility of Ulster. They were consistently on the Irish side during the resistance to English aggression in that century and after the disasters following the battle of Boyne they were finally dispossessed of their wide patrimony in Co. Down, much of which had been planted with English (not Scottish) settlers after the Cromwellian war. Many of them took service as Wild Geese. The best known of these was Brian Magennis, second Viscount Iveagh, who was colonel of Iveagh's Regiment in the Austrian Imperial Army and was killed in action in 1703. His brother Roger Magennis, third Viscount (d. 1709), served both France and Spain with distinction. The present Lord Iveagh (of the second creation), head of the largest brewery concern in the world - Guinness of Dublin - though not a direct descendant of the lords of Iveagh mentioned above, belongs to a cognate family of Co. Down, This family spent very large sums on improvement of housing and social conditions in the city of Dublin as well as on the upkeep of St. Patrick's Cathedral and its surroundings.

General John R. MacGuinness (b. 1840), the American soldier, was born in Dublin.

  • This section was taken from "Irish Families Their Names, Arms and Origins" by Edward MacLysaght, published by Hodges Figgis & Co., Ltd. 1957."


MacGuinness, together with its variants Guinness, Magennis, MacNeice, MacCreesh and others, comes from the Irish Mac Aonghusa, from the personal name Aonghus ("Angus"), made up of aon "one" and ghus "choice", which was borne by a famous eighth-century Pictish king of Scotland, said to be a son of the Irish god Daghda and Boann, the goddess who gave her name to the river Boyne. The surname originated in Iveagh, in what is now Co. Down; legend has it that Iveagh (Uí Eachaigh) took its name from one Eocha Cobha, a semi-mythical ancestor of Aonghus. The McGuinnesses displaced the O'Haugheys in the twelfth century, ruling over virtually all of Co. Down for the following four centuries, down to the end of the old order in 1690. Like many other families of the old Gaelic aristocracy, they had an elaborate inauguration ceremony for their leader, the chief of their name, with strong pre-Christian elements. The ceremony centered on the Coiseach Aonghuis, Aongus’s footstone, with the imprint of a foot in the rock; if a true McGuinness placed his foot in it, a "pleasant humming sound" would result. Needless to say, impostors, and their fraudulent feet, met unspeakable ends. The stone is still in existence outside Warrenpoint in Co. Down. Louis MacNeice (1907-63) was born in Belfast and educated in England. In the 1930s he was associated with the group of young poets which included Auden, Spender and Day-Lewis. The better-known Northern Irish poets of the 1970s and 1980s have claimed his mordant, witty and well-crafted poems as poetic forebears. The centre of the family power was at Rathfriland, ten miles from Newry. In the sixteenth century they accepted the Reformation and but joined in the later wars against the English, and were dispossessed of all their lands. The castle at Rathfriland was completely destroyed in 1641. The name is now common in Connacht and Leinster, as well as its original homeland of Ulster. A southern offshoot of the family adopted the variant MacCreesh, and in Monaghan, Fermanagh and south Down that name was used as an equivalent of McGuinness. North of the original homeland, in Co. Antrim, a similar process occurred, with MacNiece or MacNeice the variant adopted there. The arms illustrated are those of the ancient lords of Iveagh and reflect their rule in Ulster, incorporating both the red hand of the province and the principal heraldic symbol of royal power, the lion rampant. . The most famous instance of the surname is of course in the name of the black beer brewed at St. James’s Gate in Dublin. The founder of the brewery, Arthur Guinness, came from a family long settled in Celbridge in Co. Kildare, but with roots in Co. Down. Although Guinness is now a multi-national company, the descendants of the founder are still prominent in its management. The family awareness of the antiquity of its ancestral connections is reflected in the choice of title when Edward Cecil Guinness was created First Earl of Iveagh in 1909. This was in fact the second creation. The first Viscounts Iveagh were supporters of King James in the Williamite wars; after his defeat Brian Magennis, second Viscount Iveagh, fought and died with the Austrian Imperial Army as the head of Iveagh’s regiment, while his brother Roger, third Viscount Iveagh, fought in the armies of both France and Spain.

The Family of Magennis
(excerpts from the book by John F. Meginness, published 1891)

The family of Magennis is one of the oldest in Ireland. Those bearing the name in its various forms of spelling are very numerous in the United States today, the greatest number, perhaps, being found in Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, it seems, was the point to which the early immigrants directed their steps, and from there they gradually spread to the interior and western part of the state, as well as to other states.

Irish scholars inform us that the ancient beginnings of the name of Magennis is Mag Aenghusa. In olden times in Ireland, society consisted of an aggregation of tribes or clans, and family names, as we use them, were unknown until the eleventh century. Individual members of the tribe, therefore, were designated by a name indicative of some distinguishing personal characteristic. The word Aongus, or Aeneas, derived from aon, meaning excellent, and gus, meaning strength, and was Anglicized into various forms such as Aenus, Ennis, and Innis. The word mag or mac is Irish for son. The son of Ennis, therefore, became MagEnnis or MacEnnis. The name has been spelled many different ways over the years, even among our own ancestors, who used the spelling McGinness, McGinniss, Meginness, and Magennis, which is the most common spelling of the name in Ulster (Northern Ireland) today. There was but one original Magennis family in Ireland; therefore all who bear the name in any of it's modifications in Europe, America, Canada or Australia, undoubtedly derive their descent from the same parent stem.

In the year 322 A.D. a battle between warring clans in Ireland resulted in the Clanna Rory, the head of which was then King of Ulster, being driven back to the extreme northeastern part of Ulster to the counties of Down and Antrim, where they organized the new kingdom of Ulidia, sometimes called Dal-Aradia. The descent from King Rughruidhe, or Rory, is given in the following order: Rory to Conall Cearnach, the great warrior, to Tiprait Tireach, thirtieth King of Ulster, to Fiacha Araidhe, thirty-seventh King of Ulster, to Conall. The descent continues to Aenghusa, 12th in descent from Conall, and from this Aenghusa comes the family name of Magennis, in the manner before stated.

The descent continues through Saran, Chief of Sal Araidhe in St. Patrick's time to Eochaidh Cobha of Iveagh. The Magennises were the principal territorial lords of Iveagh, County Down and had been zealous foes of English aggression in Ireland, causing them to be dispossessed of their wide patrimony in County Down. Like the chief of many of the great Irish septs, Magennis took advantage of the English policy of "surrender and regrant" early in the seventeenth century, and the title of Viscount Iveagh was bestowed upon Sir Arthur Magennis in 1623 by King James I.

Through the years, Magennises have served in the House of Lords, House of Commons, and in ambassadorial positions. The present Lord Iveagh, is not directly descended from the Lords mentioned above, but is of a related family. He heads the largest brewery concern in the world, Guinness of Dublin.

Note: From Sir Arthur Magennis, our decadency is as follows: Hugh MacGennis (brother of Arthur), Hugh McGennis, Brian McGinnis, James McGinnis, Samuel McGinnis, James McGinnis, Benjamin McGinnis, and Mary Jane McGinnis. Mary Jane married George Laub, and their daughter, Sarah, married Ute Warren Perkins.

There are at least five castles still standing that belonged to the Magennis families, all in County Down in Northern Ireland. They are in Dundrum, Newcastle, Rathfryland, Warrenpoint and Kilkeel (Greencastle).


Copyright © 1998-2004 - My Family's Heart Genealogy All information contained within these pages are the personal property of Ruth Ann (nee McGinnis) Gauthier and Tonya Rena (nee Gauthier) Kellum. We kindly ask that you please not take anything from these pages without our written consent first. Much of this information was generously shared with us by other researches and has been so noted. That information is being used with their permission. Thank you kindly!!