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Magner Castle - Castlemagner, County Cork, Ireland 


Thomas F. Magner

Professor Emeritus, The Pennsylvania State University    
    I became interested in the origin of my surname or family name after having tried unsuccessfully over the years to assure friends that l really was of Irish rather than German descent. It was no problem for me while growing up in the Irish section of Buffalo, New York, but to the outside world Magner does sound like Wagner and is often assumed to be German. In my research effort l approached the matter not from the standpoint of genealogy (family origins) but rather from etymology (word origins) and onomastics (science of names).  And, of course, in any such investigation, history, in particular Irish history, plays a large role.

    But,  a word about genealogy. If you are a Magner and have purchased a copy of the "Magner coat of arms," treat it with a good deal of skepticism. As Dr. Edward MacLysaght, formerly Chief Herald of Ireland, has warned, American genealogists are prone to error when dealing with Irish families. If you are a Magner whose ancestors came from a European country, you face a difficult, perhaps insoluble, problem in probing back more than a few generations. If you are a Magner whose ancestors came from Ireland, your problem is much simpler, because all Irish Magners stem originally from County Cork;  travelling some 35 miles northwest from the city of Cork will bring you to the "Mecca" of Irish Magnerdom, the ruins of the Magner Castle in the hamlet still called Castlemagner.

    My research has been reasonably serious but spasmodic, carried on over a period of about 15 years in my spare time. My recent retirement and the need to do something about a file drawer full of notes and jottings on the "Magner" mystery have impelled me to summarize my findings. Over the years many people have been helpful, and l would like to express my gratitude to a few of them: Major General Jeremiah J. Magner of Dublin, Dr. Edward MacLysaght of Dublin, Mr. Edmond O'Donoghue of Castlemagner, and Mr. C. J. F. McCarthy of the city of Cork.

    As what follows is intended to be an informal essay and not a research paper, I shall be sparing of bibliographical detail. Should any reader wish to dig deeper, a letter or card to me (see address at back) will be duly answered.

The Magner Name in Europe

    It will come as a  surprise to one who assumes that Magner is a peculiarly Irish surname to discover that there are Magners in various European countries.   l have found the name in phone books for Stockholm, Paris,  Berlin  and  Vienna.   Friends have  reported a Magner in  Prague, Czechoslovakia, and one in Bjelovar, Yugoslavia.2   A Russian book published in the Soviet Union identifies the author as Leonid Mironovich Magner; he is, in fact, the author of three books on naval construction.  Access to  directories  and  phone  books  for  other  European  countries  would undoubtedly uncover more Magners.

    I have written, in the appropriate language, to all these Magners, inquiring about their family background and what they know about their name.   My letters of inquiry have resulted  in  replies only from two individuals  in  Stockholm  and  one  in  Paris.   Foreign inquiries about name and background may well  have seemed unimportant,  bizarre or even suspicious to the non-responding Magners.

    My Stockholm correspondent,  Bertil  Magner,  explained  his  surname as follows:   "My father, Olaf, and his two brothers, Edward and Nils, were born around 1900 with the family name Olsson.  This, as you know, is a very common name  in Sweden.   About 1910 the boys were asked in school to change their family name.   They considered many suggestions from the Svensk namnbok and chose their name from this list.  They wanted an internationally suited name and also the connection to the name Magnus. When they received the name,  it was also given  to a second family (by mistake I understand) but taken from the same list of suggestions.  Other families in Stockholm have the name Magnér but this is not in any way connected in origin or by family connections."   It may seem strange to an American to picture a schoolroom scene with the teacher and pupils seriously creating  new family names  but  it  is a fact that,  because of  the  plethora  of  -son  names(Eriksson,  Andersson,  Johansson  and  the like),  name-changing  has been encouraged  in  Sweden.    Professor Folke Hedblom of Uppsala informs me that he has found the name Magnerus in a Swedish  document  of   1336   but   he   considers   Magner  and   its variants(Magnert, Magnergård) to be "modern" Swedish surnames.

    Monsieur Jean Magner of  Paris  writes  as  follows  about  his  last name.   "My father didn't know his parents, not even the exact origin of their birthplace. He had chosen the French nationality, but his perfect knowledge of Dutch and German would suggest a Germanic-Flemish origin but with the greatest reservation.   I can nonetheless assure you that the Magners,  at  least  in  its present spelling,  are extremely rare in France."

Possible name origins

    Every Magner sooner or later comes across  the  Latin  adjective magnus, "great,"  and  is  charmed  by  the  possible  association;  after all, four out of six letters seems convincing.  And, as we have seen in the case of one Stockholm family, the creation of a name reminiscent of magnus was deliberate.

    It  is,  in  fact,  true  that   magnus became  a  personal  name  in imitation of  its  use  in  the  title  of Charlemagne (Carolus Magnus, "Charles  the  Great"),  King  of  the  Franks  and  Roman  Emperor (800-814 AD).   According to Gillian F.  Jensen,  "the  name  became  very  common in  Norway and  Iceland  after the  reign  of Magnus  the Good (d. 1047), who  was  named  after  the  Frankish  emperor  Charlemagne...   It  spread to the Danish and Swedish royal  houses and became very popular in East Scandinavia."  Given the Scandinavian  practice of using  patronymics (i.e., surname based on the father's first name), Magnus also became a surname, e.g., Magnus  Magnusson.   The Norwegian king,  Magnus Barelegs,  invaded Ireland in 1098 but did not leave his name in that form;  Jensen points out that "Macus is the form which Magnus took in Old Irish sources.."

    But even before Charlemagne there was a Frank with a Magner-like name:  Magnerich  or,  in  the  Latinized  form,  Magnericus,   the  first native-born  bishop  of  the  Franks.    Magnerich (canonized  as  Saint Magnericus; his feastday on the calendar of saints is July 25th) lived in the sixth century in Trèves (now Trier in West Germany).   His name is transparently Germanic:  magan/magne, "power, strength," plus –ric,  "rich in".   It is possible that the name Magnericus or a form thereof could have been adopted or bestowed out of admiration for the saint; the most common  surname  in  France today  is  Martin  reflecting  that country's devotion to Saint Martin, Bishop of Tours (about 315-399).

    There is another possible explanation for the appearance in Europe of the Magner name and that involves one of the most unusual episodes in  Irish (and  European)  history:  the  Flight of the Wild Geese in the 17th  and  18th  centuries.   The Wild Geese  were  those  Irish  patriots and soldiers who fled English oppression in Ireland and took up service in the armies of Europe.  Seumas MacManus in his The Story of the Irish Race  cites  figures  showing  that almost a  half a million  Irish died for France in a 75-year period!   That figure seems incredible but the numbers of Irish forced to flee were indeed large: in 1691 the Irish hero, Patrick Sarsfield, sailed from Limerick after its surrender with ten thousand troops.   We are concerned here with one possible result of this mass exodus to Europe: the planting of Irish names on European soil.  Many Irish names no doubt disappeared or adopted a local phonetic shape;  thus,  in  German  Nolan  and  O'Dowd became  Neulau  and  Ottowart respectively; in French O'Dwyer turned into Audoyer, while Shea became Chaix.   It may well be that the Yugoslav surnames Rejli and Rejlic´ (the j has the sound of a y) hide an earlier Reilly.  But many of the names remain  Irish-looking  to  this  day,  particularly  in  Spain where  there were  at  one  time  three  Irish  regiments.   And any student of French history will easily discern the Irish in the name of the Marshal and President  of  France (1873-1879),  Count  Marie  Edme  Patrice  Maurice MacMahon.

    During these two centuries the Wild Geese served and settled in almost every country of Europe.   Prague was the favorite city of the Irish in the Austrian service; the House of the Irish Franciscans was located in the "Street of the Irish" near the Powder Tower.   In Russia one could find Nugents,  O'Rourkes and de Lacys.   Count Peter de Lacy from Limerick rose in the service of Czar Peter the Great, became a Russian general  and later the governor of the Russian Baltic province of Livonia.   What  is  being  suggested here is the possibility of the Magner name  being  implanted on  foreign soil  along with the names of the MacMahons,  the O'Higgins and the Kavanaghs von Ballybrack.   Other changes may have to be assumed in particular cases since, for example, the few American Magners from Russia and, later, the Soviet Union are reported to be Jewish.

Irish surnames

    In  a  broad  sense  Irish  surnames  fall  into  three  categories: indigenous  Gaelic  names;  Anglo-Norman  names;  and  Anglo-Irish  names. The invasions of Ireland by the Vikings in the 9th and 10th centuries affected place names more than family names; Ireland itself is a Norse name.   Otherwise, up until  the Norman  invasion  of the  12th  century, the native name patterns prevailed.  Though not all native Irish names have the prefixes Mac-/Mc- or O' (Kavanagh is an example), still such prefixation is characteristic  of the early  Irish  surnames.   It is  a patronymic  system,  that  is,  Mac-/Mc-,  "son  of,"  or  0',  "grandson of, descendant of"  could  be added  to the  father's  first name.   Thus, a man with the name MacElroy would in the early centuries be the "son of  the  red-haired  man."   Later, as the need for stable surnames developed,  these  name  combinations  became  "frozen"   and  thus  a  name like  MacElroy would  simply  designate  a  son  or  daughter  of  another MacElroy.

    Every schoolchild knows about the Norman invasion of 1066 when William the Conqueror and his Norman army crossed over from Normandy and  conquered  England.   Few schoolchildren or adults know that about a century latter (1169-1172 AD) there was a Norman invasion of Ireland, at that time a land of feuding chiefs loosely called "kings."  The Normans who participated in this invasion were for the most part the descendants  of  William's  followers,  accompanied  by  smaller  numbers of Flemings (mercenaries from Flanders), some Welshmen, and some English.

    The  preeminent leader  of  this  invasion  was  Richard  FitzGilbert de Clare, Earl of Pembroke, but better known to his men and to history as  Strongbow.   Later (1171)  his  sovereign,  the English king Henry II, crossed over to regularize the division of land among himself and his chiefs.   The  Normans,  having  vanquished most of  Ireland,  established castles and  keeps  in  the conquered  territories (they were  in Cork by 1169)  and at a  rather rapid  rate began to blend in with the native Irish population, becoming more "Hibernian than the Hibernians."  Norman names  quickly  became  Irish  names  and  thus  most  Americans  will  be surprised to learn that some quintessentially Irish names were originally 12th century Norman names; thus, Burke (originally de Burgos), FitzGerald (Norman  French  fitz  =  French  fils,  "son";  thus,  "Son  of Gerald"), Lacy (de Lacy), Nagle (de Angulos), Roche (de la Roche), Tobin (St. d'Aubyn).   And it turns out that Magner (in the earlier form Magnel) was also a Norman name.

    Ireland was under the domination of England until the first part of the 20th century and during the centuries English names made their way into Ireland.  The integration of such English names into the Irish name stock was stimulated by oppressive  laws  which  encouraged (often compelled)  the  Irish  to  either adopt  English  names  or  to  translate their  Gaelic  surnames  into  English  equivalents.   The English  king, Edward  IV,  issued a decree  in  1465 that every Irishman  should  "take to him an English surname, of one town as Sutton, Chester, Trym, Skryne, Crok,  Kinsale;  or color  as whyte,  black,  brown;  or art of science, as smith or carpenter; of office, as cook, butler and that he and issue shall use this name."  Thus, a MacGowan ("son of a smith") might render his name into Smith, and indeed Smith is now a very common Irish surname. A Dennis Smith or a Maureen Smith in America is more likely to be of Irish descent than English.

Magnels and Magners in Cork

    The  Reverend  Patrick  Woulfe  has  this  entry  in  his  book,  Irish Names and Surnames: "  MAINGNEIR - Magnel, Magnell, Mangner, Magner, Magnier, etc.;  probably  'son of Magnel'  (Nor. diminuitive of Magnus).  Castlemagner, Co. Cork, was formerly known as Magnelstown, from William Magnel.   The family is an old one in Co. Cork; now numerous also in Co.  Limerick."   Though Woulfe is noncommittal  about  the change from Magnel  to  Magner  other  than  suggesting  that  it  was  a  type  of patronymic (i.e.,  Magner,  "son  of  Magnel"),  he  seems  confident  about the origin of Magnel  as a Norman diminutive of Magnus, thus returning for  our  consideration  the  European  Magnus.   Woulfe's reasoning can be gleaned from statements in another part of his work on names.   He notes that the  "Anglo-Normans  had  several  diminutive  suffixes,  viz.,  -el, -et, -ot.   These were generally added to the  shortened or 'pet'  form of the name,  as:  Martel,  dim.  of Martin;  Benet, dim.  of Benedict;  Adamot,  dim.  of Adam,  ..."   Thus,  the  change  from Magnus to Magnel would be analogous to that of Martin to Martel. Though there is no evidence of another change from –us to –el, his positing of a change from Magnus to Magnel  is quite reasonable.   But where did the Normans get Magnus?

    Actually, the  Normans  had  a  rather  diverse  name  stock.   Woulfe writes:  "The names borne by the Normans and by them introduced into Ireland were of three  kinds:  (1)  names  of Scandinavian  origin which their ancestors had carried with them to Normandy; (2) names of Germanic origin which the Frankish conquerors had brought across the Rhine and which had ousted the old Celtic and Latin names from France; and (3) Biblical  names and Latin and Greek names of saints, which the Normans began to adopt about the beginning of the eleventh century.   Together with these a few Celtic names came in from Brittany, some Danish and Norse names from England, and one or two British or Welsh names."  The name Magnus then could have traveled west with the Franks or south with invaders from Scandinavia to Normandy or to Britain.   As far as we can tell, the name, whether derived from Magnus or not, was Magnel when it was brought into Ireland by the Norman invaders.

    Dr. Edward MacLysaght has more historical detail in his Supplement to Irish Families:  "MAGNER.   This was originally Magnel.  Castlemagner in Co. Cork was originally Magnelstown.  Many Magnels were in Co. Cork in the thirteenth century,  as we know from the Justiciary Rolls and similar records; and it is with that county families of the name have been  associated  ever  since.   It had become Magner by  the  sixteenth century and is numerous in the Tudor Fiants.   In the next century we find it listed in the  'census'  of 1659 as a principal  Irish name in the  Co.  Cork barony of  Kilmore and  Orrery;  and  three years earlier two of the name were transplanted as Papists from Co. Cork to Connacht."

    Major General Magner of  Dublin (his  wife's  maiden  name was  also Magner;  both were born  in Cork)  sought out MacLysaght for additional information.   In  his  letter  to me  General  Magner wrote:  "During  an interview  with  Dr.  MacLysaght  he  considered  that  the  Magnel  family were Cambrian [from Wales – TFM]  Normans who had arrived in Waterford/Youghal about 1170 plus 100 years and migrated up the Blackwater river to County Cork.  He considered it  to be a  'quirk'  of the  Irish pronunciation of  MAGNEL  and  so  the  name  became  MAINGNEIR  in  Irish,  later  to  be anglicized to the present name MAGNER." 3  An incidental note: on  page 5 Woulfe  is quoted  to the effect that Magnelstown was named for William Magnel; the name William (Irish Liam)  had  been  brought  into England  by William the Conqueror and a century  later  into  Ireland  by  other  Normans.   Thus, William Magnel was  a  Norman  name  in  both  its  constituents.

From Magnel to Magner

    My correspondent in Cork, C.J.F.  MacCarthy,  reports  an  early instance of a name similar to Magnel  in the Register of the Abbey of St. Thomas: "one  document called  Carta Reimundi Mangunel  records the gift of a church to the abbey.   The church was on Spike island, in Cork Harbor, and remained in monastic hands until the Reformation (it drew its tithes in oysters!).  A number of other charters in the Register is  witnessed  by  Reimundus  Mangunel;  the  period  was  circa  1180 AD."  MacCarthy also  informs me  that  "according  to  a  Justiciary  Roll  for 1295 AD suit of peace was granted for Fyngola Ynynethe (Finola O'Hea), wife  of  Nicholas  Magnel,  in  the  sum of twenty shillings."   He adds that "the O'Heas were of the most ancient local stock and were hereditary chiefs of West Cork until 1200 AD."

    The Pipe Roll of Cloyne (Rotus Pipae Clonensis) is a roll of skins about  18  feet  long  and  7  inches  wide  in which are  registered  land holdings in the diocese of Cloyne (a city a few miles east of the city of  Cork).   The  roll,  which  was  begun  in  the  year  1363,  has  this entry (translated  from  Latin)  for  January  10,  1481: " David  Magnel acknowledges that he holds of the lordship in Soboltre,  and Clonmyn, 5 carucates of land,  of the  lord of Clonmyn,  by service of homage, fealty,  and  suit of court at the castle of  Kylmaclenyn  and also by the service of two marks at the usual terms, and he did homage to the lord and acknowledged  the aforesaid  services."  At various places in the  roll  other Magnel  names  appear,  those  of  Jacob,  John,  Matthew, Philip, Robert, Thomas and Walter.

    On  September  9,  1588  in  an  inquisition  held  at  Shandon  Castle in  Cork fifty-seven men were  found  "to be concerned  in  the Earl  of Desmond's  rebellion  and were attainted  by Act of Parliament."  Among those convicted was "Richard Magner, of Castle-Magner."  Thereafter the Magner name appears frequently in the records of the times.   In 1591 Edmund Magner is listed as the vicar of the church in Castlemagner.   In 1599 a grant of pardon is issued for Philip and Thomas Magner.   A fiant (decree)  of  1600  records  the pardon  of James and Philip Magner.   In 1618 there is recorded a grant "from the King to William Magner, of Castle Magner, Co. Cork, gent, the castle, town and lands of Castle Magner, otherwise Magner's Castle.  ... The premises are created the manor of Castlemagner, with 200 acres, country measure in demense;  power to create  tenures;  to hold courts leet and baron, and to enjoy all  waifs and strays."   In 1653 Anthony Magner's cattle were seized by a band of Tories.  According to the Book of Survey and Distribution for  1654-66  Robert  Magner,  junior,  forfeited  772  acres of Castlemagner to Roger Bretridge.   In  1665 a Thomas Magner marries Catherine Hall.   In  1694 the church of St.  Bridgets  at Castlemagner was repaired after the late war (1690-91)  And in 1695 Queen Mary, wife of  James  II,  writes  to the Bishop of Treguier,  recommending  to his charity Miss Magner, neice of Colonel Lacy,  ... who is in the Convent of Ursulines at Morlaix (France).

    It is obvious from the fiants, rolls and other early records that the Magnels and the Magners were members of the same family since they held the same position (i.e.,  local  gentry) and the same lands from the 13th century on.   What would be interesting (and time-consuming) would be a close study of documents of the 15th and 16th centuries in order to determine when exactly the Magnel name disappeared and was replaced by Magner.


    I use the term Castlemagner to designate the settlement and Castle Magner or Magner Castle  for  the  castle  itself.   In  various  sources the terms are sometimes used indiscriminately; a variant Castle-Magner has also been  used.   Here follows a description by Charles Smith in his  1749 work, The Ancient and Present State of the County and City of Cork (reprinted  Cork,  1893):   "Castle  Magner.   About two miles  to the north of Clonmene is Castle Magner, which, though in the circuit of this barony, is reckoned to be in Orrery.   In the rebellion of 1641 this castle belonged to Richard Magner, agent for the Irish inhabitants of Orrery and Kilmore.   When Cromwell  was at Clonmel  he went to pay his court to him, but being represented as a very troublesome person, and one who had been very active in the rebellion, Cromwell  sent him with a letter to Colonel  Phaire, then governor of Cork, in which was an order to execute the bearer.   Magner, who suspected foul play, had scarce left Clonmel when he opened the letter, read the contents, and sealing it up, instead of proceeding toward Cork, turned off at Mallow, and delivered it to the officer who commanded there, telling him Cromwell had ordered him to carry it to Colonel Phaire.  This officer had often preyed upon Magner's lands, for which he was resolved to be revenged. The officer, suspecting no deceit, went with the letter, which greatly amazed  the governor of Cork,  who knew him to be an honest man, and immediately  sent  an  express  to  Cromwell  for  further  instructions. Cromwell,  being extremely chagrined  to be  so  served,  sent orders  to let the officer have  his  liberty, and to apprehend Magner, who took care to get out of his reach.   This castle and lands were granted to the family of Bretridge for forty-nine arrears; it is now the estate of Sir Standish Hartstonge."

    Actually,  the  Magner whom  Smith  was  describing was  Robert,  not Richard, as land records of the time show.  This story of Magner tricking Oliver Cromwell, "the most odious Englishman of all," has been enlarged in  the telling and one will  find  the following  bit of Irish verbal embroidery in  later sources:   "When Cromwell  and Magner were walking through the churchyard of Castlemagner, Cromwell  asked Magner who was buried there.  'My father, grandfather and grand-uncles,' replied Magner. Cromwell,  moralizing,  said,  'I  suppose  they were great men  in  their day but now l am able to walk over them.'   Magner,  taking  it as an insult, replied, 'It is easy for a living dog to walk over dead lions.'"

    Here is a description of Castlemagner, as reported in Samuel Lewis'  A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (2nd ed.,  London, 1849): "Castle-Magner, a parish, in the union of Kanturk, partly in the barony of Orrery and Kilmore, but chiefly in that of Duhallow, county of Cork, and province of Munster,  3½ miles (E.  by N.)  from Canturk;  containing 3007 inhabitants.   It derives its name from the family of Magner, to whom  this  part  of  the country formerly belonged,  and who erected a castle here, which was forfeited during the protectorate.  This castle and lands were granted to the family of Bretridge, from whom they passed to the Hartstonges; the remains now form part of a farmer's residence." In the  1840's one Michael  Pyne describes the castle in this fashion: "Castle Magner, 4 miles to the east of Kanturk, which was the property of Richard Magner, an agent to the Irish inhabitants of Kilmore.  The castle is 56 feet high, flanked with one round tower, with a battery, and a dwelling house built on a rock over a stream of water.  Magner lost his estate in the wars of 1650; he was the only man who tricked Cromwell."

    My wife Irma and l visited Castlemagner in 1976.  By my reckoning it is located some 35 miles northwest of the city of Cork, 12 miles west of Mallow and 6 miles east of Kanturk.   It is a hamlet with a few stores, a church and, of course, the ruins of the castle.   In one store, The  Castle  Bar (a  bar with groceries),  we met with Mr.  Edmond O'Donoghue,  the  "publican"  of  the  establishment  and  the  unofficial historian of Castlemagner.   Mr. O'Donoghue  kindly gave  us  a  tour of the castle and its surroundings.   The castle is boarded up and in a rather dilapidated  condition,  though  the tower,  seemingly the oldest part of the structure, is still impressive.   In its "heyday" the Magner Castle was not as large and ornate as Blarney Castle or Cashel; a more appropriate term for it would have been a keep or a fortified structure. Today  it  belongs  to  a  local  farmer,  Timothy  Barry (another  Norman surname!).  The only sign of life is provided by cows grazing placidly around  the  Norman  tower.   Today  there  are  no  Magners  either  in Castlemagner or the surrounding area.


    It seems to be beyond dispute that the surname under discussion was Magnel and that it was brought into Ireland during the 12th century Norman invasion or at sometime during the century following.   Its first bearer or bearers could have been Norman,  Flemish, Welsh,  English or a combination thereof; most likely the bearer was Norman French.   We cannot even be certain that Magnel was the form in which the name first appeared  on  Irish  soil,  though  it was definitely the form in which it was first recorded in Cork.   One can speculate about the precursor of Magnel (was it Magnus?) but there is not much hope for establishing a convincing etymology.

    The name was, as MacLysaght pointed out, Magner in the 16th century. How can we explain the change from Magnel  to Magner,  from final  -el to final  -er?  Such  changes occur though  it  seems  not to be common in  Irish  Gaelic.   The  place  name,  Ballysakeery  in  County Mayo,  was originally Ballysakeely,  indicating  an  -l-  to –r- change, though not in  final  position.   A  major  problem  here  is  that  the  languages involved (Norman  French,  English,  Irish  Gaelic,  Latin [the  language  of record])  were not at that time standardized in the modern sense; we are dealing with local  dialects of the three spoken languages and our knowledge of their characteristics for the l2th-l6th centuries is scanty indeed.

    There  is  always  the  possibility of  transcription  error.   In  an age when  literacy was  limited mostly to clerks,  simple transcription errors  could  take  on  a  life of their own.   Such slapdash recording of Irish names has produced a Mucklebreed for MacGiollaBride and Gerty for MagOireachtaigh.   In Centre County,  Pennsylvania,  the very German name of Schanzenbach moved through 19th century church and local records to  become  the  English-appearing  Johnsonbaugh;  and  that  change  took place in about fifty years.

    And so a few puzzles remain in the story of the Magnel/Magner surname, but for  their solution we shall have to await the efforts of someone from the next generation of Magners.  In any case a bearer of the Magner surname can be assured that the name has a fascinating history: somewhat mysterious for the Magners of European descent, rather  exciting for the Magners of Irish descent.  For the latter the Magner Castle in the Cork countryside stands today as a monument to their adventurous Norman and Irish forebears.

     1.   This essay was published in 1985 in a small number of copies for interested Magners.  It was republished by the
       Mallow Field Club Journal (No. 14, pp. 83-92) in 1996.  The current version differs only in minor details from the original.

     2.   Now Prague, the Czech Republic, and Bjelovar, Croatia.

     3.  Rather it would seem that the process was from Magnel to Magner and then the Irish variants appeared.  Irish is an        Indo-European language related to English, French, Russian, etc., (e.g., do, "two"; deich "ten"; Fear {Latin vir}, "man"), but changes in the language over the centuries obscure that relationship. The name Magner also includes the variants:  Magnier, Magnir, Magnor, Magnar, Maingneir, Mangner, Magnel, etc.




In this addendum I propose to treat a few subjects relating to the Magner surname, subjects which have surfaced in mail to the Magner web site or which have been raised with me by e-mail correspondents. But first I would like to report some relevant data provided by Philippa Garnsey of Morside, New South Wales (Philippa's husband, John Garnsey, is a descendant of James Magner and Sarah Casey who arrived in Australia from Ireland in the 1830s). Philippa's data comes from Griffith's Valuation Survey that lists the names of all Irish landholders or leaseholders in the period 1848-1864. During that period there were 126 Magners, 4 Magniers and 2 Magnors, 94 of them in County Cork; no Magnel was listed. However, landless farm-workers were not listed nor were members of the landholders' or leaseholders' families; if they had been counted, the number of Magners/Magniers/Magnors would have been significantly higher and the landless farmers would probably have included some Magnels.

When I first published my essay, The Origin of the Magner Surname, in 1985, I assumed that Magner was an uncommon Irish name though I knew that it also appeared in several European countries. With the growth of the Internet and especially the appearance on it of the Magner Family Genealogy site, I now realize that the name is not uncommon in Ireland and the lands of its Irish diaspora - England, Canada, United States, Australia - but would be better thought of as "infrequent"; Irish fecundity has spread the Magner surname and Magner descendants (including those with other surnames) far and wide. But the real surprise produced by messages to the Internet site was that Magner is not an isolated name in Europe.

Consider Gerd Magner who owns a car dealership in Wuppertal, a city of about 400,000 in west-central Germany. Gerd can trace his ancestors back to 1780 when they lived in Rogasen, a city in West Prussia, Germany, a territory now part of Poland. Members of his family moved to Germany in the 1920s and also to various parts of the United States. Gerd has an interesting web site at where you can view his antique cars, other early mechanical devices and even his turn-of-the century pictures of Wuppertal.

Another European, Michael Magner, writes: " I am presently studying sociology at Laval University while my wife is studying Quebec literature (we are both in Ph.D. programs). There are surely many Magners throughout Europe - I contacted some of them by Internet. Within present Polish frontiers we Magners live only in Silesia - it was a highly industrialized part of Germany before 1945 - and only a few migrated to other parts of Poland. Many members of my family were persecuted by the Poles (they treated us as Germans because they associate the Magner name with that of Wagner) and emigrated to Germany after 1945. In Silesia there are also a few Magners who do not stay in touch with my family - they are probably still considered to be Germans because of their names (Rudolf, Gerard and so on - names which Poles do not choose in Silesia because of their German origin). Some members of my family declared Polish nationality, others consider themselves German and some others (including me) Silesian (the latter designation is officially approved in the Czech Republic and strictly forbidden in Poland - we are curious as to what will happen if both countries join the European Union). Because it is obligatory to declare nationality when applying to a university, I am of Czech nationality (it sounds better in French - la nationalité tchèque d'expression silésienne) but am still hoping for a day when it will be normal to declare any nationality you want.

My father's name is Marian and he has two brothers - Francis (called Franciszek in Polish and Franz in German) and Benedict. My father teaches blind children in Laski (near Warsaw) and now lives in Warsaw. His father's and my grandfather's name was Reinhold (changed by Poles to Antoni [!]. The Poles also tried to change his family name but happily Stalin died …). Antoni/Reinhold worked as a postman in Kochlowitz. He was a Wehrmacht soldier (as a German he was automatically enlisted) while his brother Waldemar married a Polish girl before the war and became a Polish soldier. Waldemar emigrated after 1945 to Germany while my grandfather stayed in Silesia. My great-grandfather Arthur (Reinhold's father) was a German soldier as well and worked as a miner in the Kochlowitz coal mine. His father Rudolf (my great-great-grandfather) was killed during the 1870 war, probably in France - but I am unable to verify it. In my family people spoke about two soldiers of Napoleon (I think that they meant Hieronimus Bonaparte whose army was stationed in Silesia in 1808) who married Silesian girls and stayed there - one of them was Italian and the other one French - the latter was named Magner. Another Magner is Zygmunt Magner who is a vice-rector of the Warsaw Academy of Arts. He is from Silesia - all his family emigrated to Germany in 1945 but he stayed in Poland with his mother."

Eugene Magnier, a Research Assistant Professor of Astronomy at the University of Washington, makes a strong case that Magnier is not simply a variant of Magner. He writes: "My grandfather emigrated from Calais at the age of 18 and, as far as I know, considered his family French. My father and grandfather had a falling out when my father was young, and only saw him once before he died in the early 1960s. As a result, my immediate family and I know very little about my grandfather's family and have never had any contacts with the family back in Calais. Out of curiosity, while passing through Calais, I once looked in the phone book and found several pages filled with Magniers. I have also looked in the Paris phone book and found many Magniers, though not as many as in Calais. Given the smaller population base in Calais, it follows that the name is fractionally more important in the north. I even, while biking through France, came across a small town in the east, somewhat south of Luxembourg, near the border, called Magnieres, i.e., the plural of Magnier. At the time, these discoveries confirmed my family's belief that the name was a northern French name.

So, having read your article on the Magner name, I wonder how you would fit these facts in the story. Is it possible that the name in Northern France is also a derivative of the same Magnus/Magnel source that you suggest for the Irish Magner? Or, is it possible that the French name Magnier is the Norman source of the Irish Magnel/Magner? In any case, I am particularly amused to find that the name Magnier is common in the area of Cork: although my name comes from my French father's father, my mother's mother just happened to come from Cork!"

In my 1985 essay I had speculated that the origin of the Magner surname could have been derived from the Latin adjective magnus, "large, great," or the Germanic magan-/magne-, "power, strength." The latter forms contribute to the formation of Magnier, according to the French etymologist Marie-Thérèse Morlet in her Dictionnaire étymologique des noms de famille (Paris, 1991). Her explanation is that Magnier or Magniez derives from Maginhari meaning "mighty army," that is magin (Old High German magan, "power") plus -hari, "army." Curiously, a hypocoristic (pet name) form of Magnier is Magneron; the latter form could, with loss of the final syllable, be Magner. Morlet also records the surnames Magnus and its variant Magne; the latter name is recorded as early as the sixth century. Magnus, originally a royal or priestly name, has evolved into a surname still in use today. Though similar in appearance, Latin magnus and Germanic magan-/magne- derive from two distinct Indo-European roots; once embedded in names, however, there is always the possibility of reciprocal influence, should they both be used in the same milieu.

Heintze-Cascorbi's Die Deutschen Familiennamen (Berlin, 1933) cites the name Magener as one of several derivatives of the Germanic prototype Maganhar (see Maginhari above). It has been my experience that sometimes, when asked my surname and I respond Magner, the questioner might then ask: Magener?

Merrick Sims of Australia has suggested the name Magnol as a possible source of Magnel but Morlet, the etymologist, sees Magnol as a variation of Magnou, both having the Germanic origin Maginwulf, "strong/fierce wolf." Our word magnolia is based on the name of the French botanist Pierre Magnol (1638-1715).

There is a small town in Norway named Magnor, noted for its fine glassware. According to the Norwegian Encyclopedia (Aschehoug og Gyldendals store norske leksikon, Oslo, 1980) the name Magnor derives from Norse Magnorar which itself consists of the base Magn, "strength, power," and a suffix -orar of uncertain meaning.

Summation. Compared to the fluid use of names, surnames, nicknames and the like at the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066, our naming practices seem very rigid. Of course, in our time names can be changed legally but still we start out with definite first names, possible middle names and fixed surnames. E. G. Withycombe points out in his book, The Oxford Dictionary of Christian Names (Oxford, 1977), that "Surnames had been in use to some extent among the Norman nobility since the Conquest, though even by them they were not used consistently and were often not real hereditary names…. The compulsory keeping of parish registers (from 1538) probably completed the [fixed names] process in England." Given the free interchange of names in the early centuries, the coexistence of Magner and its derivative Magnel is quite understandable. As the Rev. Patrick Woulfe pointed out [quoted in my previous essay] Magnel could be derived from Magner by way of the Anglo-Norman diminutive suffix -el, similar to the derivation of Martel from Martin. But Woulfe's hypothesis that Magner in turn derived from the Norse personal name Magnus (ultimately from Latin) is possible but speculative; Nordic Magnus did enter Irish Gaelic but as Manus as in the surname MacManus, "son of Manus." There may have been a class difference in Ireland among users of the name Magner and those using Magnel; Jerry E. Magner of Middletown, CA, relates a family story about one ancestor who married in the Church of England and then felt compelled to change his name from Magnel to Magner.

The other (stronger) possibility is one that I mentioned in my earlier essay, namely, that Magneric (or Saint Magnericus), a sixth-century Christian and the first native-born Bishop of the Franks, provides the model for Germanic names which have the Germanic formants: magan-/magne-/ magin-/magn-, "power, strength," plus -ric (Magnerich), -hari (Magnier, Magnerot; Magener), -wulf (Magnol), -orar (Magnor). So Magner, Magener, Magnier, Magnol, Magnor share a common linguistic root magn- with different secondary formants, four of which devolved into the noun agent suffix -er/-or. Magnor on Irish soil could also result from a simple hearing mistake; the Irish brothers, Michael and Thomas Magner, were recorded by a court clerk as Magnors at their 1822 trial for Insurrection (see Irish Sent to Australia on this web site). To appreciate the Germanic origin of many names in France, one must remember that, from the 6th century AD through the 9th century, the territory of present-day France and Belgium was ruled by the Franks, a west Germanic people.

I conclude with a most unusual Magner invention: the rolling hitch, a rope knot widely used by seamen. In Clifford W. Ashley's authoritative book, The Ashley Book of Knots (Garden City, NY, 1944), there are a dozen or so references to the Magner or Magnus hitch; both names are used to describe it. One wonders about this double name: was Magnus a result of the fashionable Latinizing of names in the early centuries when a Leech would change his name to Medicus and a Horn to Latin Cornutus? According to Ashley, "The Rolling Hitch was formerly called Magnus Hitch and Magner's Hitch. If the latter is correct, Mr. Magner is the only rival that Matthew Walker has. Of the latter, it has been said that he is 'the only man to have a knot named after him'." The knot was identified as early as 1794 as the Magnus hitch (see below) and could very well serve today as the emblem of the worldwide Magner community. Thomas F. Magner,, February 1999.


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