Donough MacCarthy, 4th Earl of Clancarty

Donough [Donagh] MacCarthy, 4th Earl of Clancarty (1668 – 1 October 1734) was an Irish supporter of James II, banished after the victory of William of Orange; His peerage was attained in 1691. MacCarthy lived out his life in exile in Blankenese, Germany and on the island of Rottumeroog, Netherlands. He was part of the MacCarthy of Muskerry dynasty.

Born in Blarney, he was the son of Callaghan MacCarthy, 3rd Earl of Clancarty. His mother was Lady Elizabeth FitzGerald, daughter of George FitzGerald, 16th Earl of Kildare and Lady Joan Boyle; she subsequently remarried Sir William Davys, the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland.

As the heir of his father's massive Irish estates at Cork and Kerry (inherited 1676, age 8) MacCarthy's upbringing was a matter of high policy. His mother, described as "a fierce Protestant isolated in a Catholic family"[1] brought him to England for a Protestant education and he was placed under the tutelage of John Fell, Bishop of Oxford, but neither his mother nor the Bishop could match the influence of his uncle Justin McCarthy, Viscount Mountcashel, who was one of the closest advisers of the Duke of York, soon to become James II. With Justin's connivance, Donough married Elizabeth Spencer (1671–1704), daughter of Robert Spencer, 2nd Earl of Sunderland, in 1684, then the principal Secretary of State in England:[1] the couple were sixteen and thirteen respectively. The marriage was a legal construct, and went unconsummated for many years. Kenyon remarks that Sunderland comprehensively ruined the lives of his daughter and son-in-law, without gaining any of the hoped for advantages.[1]

Imprisoned in the Tower of London for his part in the Jacobite resistance in Ireland, MacCarthy escaped in 1694 to James II's court on the continent. He returned to England in the new year 1698, to finally begin his married life, only to be turned in by his brother in law, Lord Spencer. The case raised a furore and William III, who did not take the matter seriously, said that he had never been bothered so much over anything so trivial as the matter of "that little spark Clancarty". Months later, MacCarthy was permitted to flee to exile on the Continent, with his wife.[2] Most of his estates were appropriated by the king's main adviser, the Dutchman Hans Willem Bentinck, 1st Earl of Portland.

The couple settled down in Hamburg-Altona and Lübeck. In 1702 they were living in the 'Irish house' close to the Altona sawmill. The following year MacCarthy bought a small tavern near the fishing village of Blankenese on the shores of the Elbe River, and in 1706 the island and seigneurie of Rottumeroog, where he lived with his libertine household until they were washed away by the Christmas flood of 1717. From then on, he spent the winters elsewhere, but returned to the island each summer time until he sold it in 1731. In 1723 he acquired a tiny country house in Oudwoude in Friesland. The assertion that he bought the house from Archibald Campbell, 10th Earl of Argyll is not supported by contemporary documents. In 1729 the anti-Orangist statesman Evert Joost Lewe allowed him to live on Elmersma, a manor in the village of Hoogkerk near Groningen, without paying rent.

MacCarthy was a typical adventurer, crossing the Wadden Sea on his yacht and making a living by collecting shipwrecks and washed-up merchandise. The authorities disapproved his methods and suspected him of supporting the Jacobite cause. He was commonly known as 'the crazy earl'. In 1721 he visited London and was restored to his former titles, without getting back his estates.

A carefully orchestrated story of his successful enterprises was published in 1732. It prompted the myth told to his former countrymen that he owned a large manor near Hamburg. Actually, he died in 1734 in Prahlenhof near Hamburg-St. Pauli, leaving severe debts leading to a bankruptcy sale.[3]

MacCarthy and his wife, who died in 1704, had two sons, Robert MacCarty, Viscount Muskerry and Justin MacCarty, who served as an officer in the Neapolitan army, as well as one daughter, Charlotte, who married John West, 1st Earl De La Warr.

He died in Hamburg-St. Pauli, Germany, in 1734.


  1. 1 2 3 Kenyon, 102
  2. Kenyon, 302–305
  3. Richard Ehrenberg, Aus der Vorzeit von Blankenese und den benachbarten Ortschaften Wedel, Dockenhuden, Nienstedten und Flottbek, Hamburg 1897, p. 86-89.

Secondary sources

Peerage of Ireland
Preceded by
Callaghan MacCarty
Earl of Clancarty
1st creation
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