The Curtin Family

Curtin family crest

(Crest No. 68. Plate 33.)

THE Curtin family is descended from Milesius, King of Spain, through the line of his son Heber. The founder of the family was Cormac, King of Munster, A. D. 483. The chief of the tribe to which this family belonged was McCarthy McMore, Prince of Muskerry, King and Prince of Desmond, King of Cashel and Munster.

The ancient name was Carthann and signifies “Kindness.” The possessions of the sept were located in the present Counties of Cork, Limerick, and Clare.

Many members of this family were distinguished during the Middle Ages as historians and poets. They were ollavs of Thomond in history and music.

Hugh and Andrew MacCurtin, natives of Clare, were among the most distinguished Irish poets of the eighteenth century. The former wrote an Irish Grammar, an English-Irish Dictionary, and a learned essay in vindication of the antiquities of Ireland. In this treatise, published in 1717, he exposed the unfounded statements of Sir Richard Cox (the Williamite Lord Justice, so active in procuring the landed proscription of the Irish Catholics and in hanging the recruits engaged for the Irish Brigade in France) in his “Hibernia Anglicana,” in relation to the laws, manners, and customs of the Irish previous to the English invasion. For thus exposing his misrepresentations respecting the ancient Irish, Cox availed himself of his position to imprison illegally MacCurtin for a year in Newgate. His cousin, Andrew MacCurtin, is styled by Eugene O’Curry “one of the best Gaelic scholars then living.” The name is still numerous in the Counties of Cork, Clare, and Kerry, and in the United States and Canada.

The late Andrew G. Curtin, the War Governor of Pennsylvania and friend and adviser of President Lincoln, was a descendant of this family.

Jeremiah Curtin, a noted linguist and ethnologist, was born in Milwaukee, Wis., in 1835. He entered Harvard University in 1863, and soon developed a prodigious facility for the acquisition of languages, soon mastering Greek, Latin, Hebrew, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Roumanian, Bohemian, Finnish, Russian, Icelandic, Gothic, Persian, and Sanscrit. On the occasion of the visit of the Russian fleet, under Admiral Lissofsky, to New York in 1864, Mr. Curtin made the acquaintance of some of the officers and accompanied them to Russia, where he was engaged by the Government as translator of polyglot dispatches. Secretary Seward appointed him shortly afterward secretary of the United States Legation, which position he held until 1868. He traveled considerably in the East from 1868 to 1877, in the service of the Russian Government, where he learned to speak fluently the Polish, Lithuanian, Hungarian, Turkish, Lettish, Slavinian, Croatian, Servian, Bulgarian, Mingrelian, Abkaskian, Armenian, and other Oriental languages and dialects, more than fifty in all. He visited Ireland in the services of the New York “Sun,” and published in that journal a series of legends, tales, and folklore taken down from the lips of Irish-speaking story tellers. He is at present in the service of the Bureau of Ethnology, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, studying the languages and traditions of the Indians of North America.