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The MacCaffreys are a branch of the MacGuires or Maguires of Fermanagh. The townland of Ballyrnacaffrey near Fivemiletown on the Tyrone border marks their homeland. The great majority of persons of the name today belong to families located in Fermanagh and Tyrone: a little further south in Cavan and north Meath there are a considerable number of Caffreys, i.e. the same surname but with the prefix Mac dropped.
In Irish it is Mac Gafraidh (son of Godfrey). At one time this was anglicised MacGoffrey by some families which migrated from Fermanagh to Roscommon; and that of course is phonetically more correct than MacCaffrey. The name is derived from Gafraidh son of Donn Carrach, first Prince of Maguire (1264-1303). From Gafraidh's brothers continue the line of Maguire and also the families of MacGrath and MacAuley of Ulster.
By the close of the twelfth century, the Maguires were rulers of County Fermanagh in Ulster. The Mag Uidhir (uidhir meaning pale), had their fortress strategically placed at the gateway to Ulster, Upper and Lower Lough Erne. It has since passed through many centuries well preserved. The Maguires have been prominent in Fermanagh since at least AD 956 and are closely connected with the O'Neill kings of Ulster and with the O'Donnells. Although the princely Maguires have long since vanished, the summit of Cuilceagh Mountain, near Swanlinbar, and the hill of Cornashee, near Lisnaskea, are still associated with the ceremonial inaugurations which were held there for their chieftains.
Towards the close of the thirteenth century, with the installation of Donn Maguire (whose son, Gafraidh was progenitor of the Caffreys), the family began to feature in the records. Cathal MacManus Maguire (1439-98), a chief of the MacManus sept of the Maguires, was both a learned historian and a bishop. He was born on an island in Lough Erne, and, according to the Four Masters, he compiled the Invaluable Annals of Munster which preceded their own great work.
Following the devastations by the armies of Cromwell and William of Orange, the Irish landed aristocracy, including the majority of the Maguires and their clansmen, MacCaffrey, MacManus, etc. fled, in 1691, with the "Wild Geese" to France and Austria. A regiment of infantry in James II's army had been commanded by a Maguire, Baron of Enniskillen. James II also paid £2,190 a year "for our secret service" to Dominick Maguire.
The best known of the Caffreys was Rev. James MacCaffrey (died 1875), the ecclesiastical historian, who was born in Co. Tyrone.
One hundred years ago the Caffrey name remained most populous in the counties Fermanagh and Tyrone. Two centuries earlier MacCaffrey had remained a principal name of Co. Fermanagh. The name here, on its traditional lands has retained the Mac prefix for the most part. The name is found as Caffrey however, in Dublin, Meath and Cavan in the 1890 index.
Several are found among the fighting men of Corcorans Irish Legion and Meaghers Irish Brigade of civil war fame in the U.S.A.
The Mayo name MacCafferky called MacCafforty, has occasionally been corrupted to MacCaffrey. This is MacEachmharcaigh in Irish, formed from the words "each" a steed and "marcach" a rider.
Mac Cafferty, also from the old spelling of Mac Eachmharcaigh, has also kept its 'Mac' prefix, except in Co. Cavan where Cafferty is numerous. This also has been corrupted to MacCaffrey and Caffrey.
The Caffreys bore the arms of Maguire which are,
1. Vert a white horse fully caparisoned thereon a knight in complete armour on his helmet a plume of ostrich feathers his right hand brandishing a sword all proper.
In addition a coat of arms is recorded for "MacCaffrey, Austria originally Ireland"
Azure a chevron Gules between three horses courant Argent.