The McGinn Family

McGinn family crest

(Crest No. 293. Plate 18.)

THIS family, whose name is variously spelled McGinn, Maginn, McGin, McGuinn, and McGunn, is descended from Milesius, King of Spain, through the line of Heremon, eighth son of that monarch. The founder of the family was Muiredach, or Mulrooney Mullethan, King of Connaught in the seventh century and ancestor of that branch of the Hy Brune tribe named after him. The ancient name was O’Connor, which signifies “Grandson of Helper.” The possessions of the sept were located in the present County of Galway.

Dr. William Maginn was the most famous representative of the name in modern days. He will hold an enduring place in the literature of this country. He was born in Cork in 1794 and was manager at the age of twenty of a school establishment. When Blackwood’s Magazine was started in 1817, Maginn became a contributor to it and helped largely to establish its reputation. “He wrote,” says a biographer, “without labor and without limit. His thoughts gushed forth in exuberant abundance, clothed in rich and varied phraseology. He was the first Irishman who disclaimed the low, disgusting caricatures which had been written and published in London as the songs of Ireland. He repudiated the paternity of the ‘Murtagh Delany’ and ‘Larry McFig’ school of ballads, which were at one time so popular on the English stage, but which are now regarded as Irish songs only by the vulgar and illiterate. Irishmen were then introduced to English society as the drunken helots and gladiators of old were introduced to disgust and amuse their masters; and much of English dislike and many of its prejudices may be traced to this source.” So highly were his abilities esteemed that Murray, the publisher, placed in his hands the letters and papers of Byron for a biography of the poet, a work subsequently transferred to the still more worthy hand of Thomas Moore.

In 1830 Maginn founded Frazer’s Magazine, of which he was a long time editor. His essays and poetical contributions rank with the best of his generation.

Most Rev. Dr. McGinn, Bishop of Derry in the early half of the present century and one of the greatest of modern Irish churchmen, was another illustrious descendant of this family. He was one of the ablest and most active men of his time and possessed unbounded influence with his people. He did much to break the power of Orange ascendancy in Ulster and he was as stanch a defender of his country as of his religion. After the collapse of the Forty-eight Insurrection, he concealed in his own house some of the “rebels” that were sought by the British authorities, and effected the escape of D’Arcy McGee by dressing him in the clerical garb of one of his priests, and passing him on board ship through the unsuspecting police and spies as “a missionary for America.” After the death of this eminent prelate in 1859, McGee wrote his biography—a most interesting volume.