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In Irish the name Brady is Mac Bradaigh so that it should correctly be MacBrady in the anglicised form; the prefix Mac, however, has seldom if ever been used in modern times; the modern use of the prefix O instead of Mac with this name is erroneous. The MacBradys were a powerful sept belonging to Breffny, their chief holding sway over a territory lying a few miles east of Cavan town, in the barony of Loughter Upper. The Four Masters record many illustrious chiefs of the name there. The historian Abbe MacGeoghegan says that the MacBradys are a branch of the O'Carrolls of Calry, Co. Leitrim, a statement which has been often repeated, but modern authorities refute this. In any case they have always been prominently associated with Co. Cavan; and it is in Co. Cavan and adjacent areas the Bradys are mostly found today. They are indeed very numerous in Ireland with an estimated population of nearly 10,000 persons so called. Brady is among the sixty most common names in Ireland, among the forty most common in Ulster, among the twenty most common in Monaghan and ranks third in Co. Cavan, the homeland of the sept. The 1890 census figures show the name in significant numbers in Dublin, Antrim, Meath and Longford.
A number of families of Brady are also to be found in the district around the village of Tuamgraney, Co. Clare. These are in fact not truly Bradys at all but O'Gradys, of the same family as O'Grady of Kilballyowen, Co. Limerick: from the time of Henry VIII onwards these O'Gradys identified themselves with the English cause: for that reason, perhaps, they adopted the form Brady instead of Grady. The first Protestant Bishop of Meath, for example, was Hugh Brady, a Clareman, son of Donough O'Grady. The Limerick branch, on the other hand, having been Brady for a generation or two, reverted to the correct form O'Grady.
All the Bradys who have distinguished themselves in the cultural and political history of Ireland were from Co. Cavan. The most notable of these are Fiachra MacBrady (fl. 1710), and Rev. Philip MacBrady (died 1719), both Gaelic poets, the latter of whom became a Protestant clergyman and was very popular with the people of Co. Cavan, perhaps because he satirised his colleagues. In this category we may also place Phelim Brady (fl. 1710), usually referred to as "bold Phelim Brady the bard of Armagh". Thomas Brady (1752-1827), a farmer's son from Cootehill, Co. Cavan, became a Field
Marshal in the Austrian service and Governor of Dalmatia; another who was prominent in military service outside Ireland was Michael Brady: he was executed for his part in the service of the "Young Pretender" in 1745. In the ecclesiastical sphere Gilbert MacBrady was Bishop of Ardagh from 1396 to 1400; and three MacBradys were bishops of Kilmore in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries: in 1580 John MacBrady was succeeded in the same see by Richard Brady a distinguished Franciscan. Andrew MacBrady in 1454 was the first bishop of Kilmore to provide a cathedral church for the diocese. The Cavan Crosier, staff of the early MacBrady bishops, is one of the few Irish crosiers to have survived the Reformation and is now in the National Museum in Dublin.
A Catholic descendant of Hugh Brady, first Protestant Bishop of Meath, Edwin James Brady (1869-1952), had an adventurous life in many lands and was the author of some fine sea ballads. He was born at Carcour, New South Wales.
Apart from the Gaelic poets the most important literary man of the name was William Maziere Brady (1825-1894), author of Episcopal Succession in England, Scotland and Ireland.
The Chief Herald of Ireland records the ancient sept arms of MacBrady
Sable, in the sinister base a dexter hand couped at the wrist proper pointing with the index finger at a sun in splendour in dexter chief or.
crest or motto is recorded, but in 1766, the arms of James Bernard
MacBrady, Count of the Holy Roman Empire were recorded as above with
the addition of a crest "a cherub proper the wings or" and
the motto "claritate dextra" (which roughly means, the
right hand is clear). This crest and motto appears in the arms of at
least four other Bradys - sufficiently numerous to be regarded as
traditional sept symbols along with the shield.