(With some additions/edits, July 9, and Sept. 22, 2013, please also see the “Comments” section.)
While it is impossible for anyone to trace their lineage genealogically with proof back to ancient Ireland, understanding the long reach of some clans’ ties to their homeland may help to put in context the rebellious feelings that many had toward the waves of newcomers who eventually displaced them, became their landlords, or had forced their ancestors to relocate to barren parts of the island or permanently flee to other countries. Those willing to do DNA testing and participate in a surname group are potentially able to find information where no paper documents survive to neatly sequence their ancestry. One friend, a Maher who pronounces his name with two syllables, has discovered that his DNA result led him directly to Spain! What initially seemed perplexing is actually more exciting than having been pointed to a particular place in Ireland. His markers point instead to a pure connection to the most ancient origins of the native Irish, including the surname which evolved to Meagher/Maher.
The arrival of Ireland’s first population is steeped in mysticism and lore, as much a part of the poetic tradition as the sacred spirit of the place. Any ancient stories that have survived to this day may have some germs of fact involved, and the story of the Milesians is one that continues to be considered. In the early seventeenth century Brother Michael O Cléirigh/O’Clery, a Franciscan monk from Donegal, with the help of other scribes who were laymen, sought to create a comprehensive history of Ireland from as many ancient manuscripts as could be gathered. The men were all from upper class families and were trained historians. Their great work, The Annals of Ireland by the Four Masters, includes a genealogy of King Mhileadth/Milesius of Spain, through whose sons, Heber, Heremon and Ir, all the major clans of Ireland evolved from at least 1700 B.C. or earlier. Heber and Heremon were the first two of 183 monarchs who ruled Ireland from 1699 B.C. until the submission of the Irish kings to King Henry II in 1171 A.D. While the time frames may not completely align with what is now known, and surnames as we know them did not exist until more modern times, the details in the Annals of the Four Masters form the basis of accepted ancient Irish history.
The Meachairs/Meaghers/Mahers were one of the original Irish clans, descended from petty kings of Leinster and Munster, later among the ruling lords of County Tipperary, chiefs of Ikerrin, and among the noble chieftain families of County Carlow. Among the many sources I have consulted over my years of research I have seen several Irish surname maps. The one I have found most useful, with its inclusion of references to the Annals and other texts and explanations of incoming waves of surnames beyond the original Irish ones, is Kanes’ Ancestral Map of Ireland. It’s designers noted that among one of the primary Irish genealogy scholars, “Professor Eoin MacNeill, of the National University of Ireland concluded in his work, Celtic Ireland, that the Irish genealogical traditions are credible in detail at approximately 300 A.D. but not earlier.”
What follows is my accumulated understanding of the ancient tracks to today’s Mahers. The Nemedians, Formorians and Fir Bolgs have been explained as the earliest known nomadic peoples who lived in Ireland, each with their own characteristics as a race. From the eastern Mediterranean area, the Tuatha de Danann were a druidic tribe who worshipped the goddess Danu. They were considered to be Celtic gods, worshipped by the earliest Irish. As settlers in America would do centuries later through the formation of Native American reservations to contain those who already inhabited the land, the de Danann conquered the Fir Bolgs, allowing them to live, but constricting their habitation to the Connaught area while they settled throughout the rest of Ireland. [With the English conquest of Ireland in the seventeenth century, relocation to Connaught again became a form of banishment within the country.]
King Mhileadth/Milesius of Spain lived contemporaneously with King Solomon. When his sons invaded Ireland, they conquered and merged with the de Dannans. Lore alternatively has it that the de Dannans chose to live in the underworld, leaving Ireland to the conquerors. John O’Hart includes in his Irish Pedigrees the entire Annals of the Four Masters genealogies, beginning with Adam! According to this, Milesius was the son of Bilé and had a brother named Ithe. Bilé was the son of Breoghan (Brigus), king of Galicia, Andalusia, Murcia, Castile and Portgual, over which Milesius ruled by succession. Consult O’Hart for the complete story of the races and populating of Ireland.
The Cinel (descendents) Meachair trace our earliest lineage from Fionnchada/Finnachta, son of Connla/Conla, son of Cian, who was killed in the Battle of Samhair in A.D. 241. Cian was one of three sons of King Oillioll Olum, King of the Provence of Munster in the third century and Munster’s first absolute King. Cian’s brothers were Eoghan More and Cormac Cos.
Oillioll Olum died in A.D. 234. His father was Eoghan Taighlech, also called Owen the Splendid and Magh Nuadhat. Taighlech was descended from Milesius’ son, Heber. Joseph Casimir O’Meagher (Some Historical Notices of the O’Meaghers of Ikerrin) noted that Eoghan Mor was called Mogh-Nuadadh and was killed by Conn of the 100 Battles. This was the same line as the O’Carrolls, overlords (princes) of what had once been a large stretch of area in northern Munster (Ely/Eile) that included the barony of Ikerrin, the original home of the O’Meaghers.
According to Kane’s Ancestral Map of Ireland, some ancient Mahers were also descendents of Cormac Mac Art and Conaire Mor, both descendents of Heremon. Cormac Mac Art was the son of King Art Eanfhear, Monarch of Ireland A.D. 227 to A.D. 266. [The chapel of Cormac Mac Art at the Rock of Cashel is presently being restored.] Eanfhear was the son of King Conn of the Hundred Battles, Monarch of Ireland A.D. 166 to A.D. 195 (or, from another source, A.D. 123 to A.D. 157). According to this map the Maher lineage of Conaire Mor appears to have died out. He had been “sixteenth in descent from Heremon” and his line included King Conaire the 2nd, Monarch of Ireland A.D. 157 – A.D. 166.
The common ancestor among the various pedigrees in Joseph Casimir O’Meagher’s compilation is Oilioll Oluim. These pedigrees had been created by different scribes for important occasions, and one was copied from the Psalter of Cashel. Saint Benignus (Beonna), the bishop of Armagh after Saint Patrick, was a descendent of Oilioll Oluim, as was Saint Cronan, Abbot of Roscrea, Tipperary, the largest town in the barony of Ikerrin.
In 1659 Sir William Petty’s census showed Meaghers in several neighboring areas of Ireland. In Kilkenny: Galmoy (23); Fassagh Deinin [Fassadinnen] (12); Kells (17); Cranagh (18); Callan (17). In Tipperary: Clanwilliam (14); Ikerrin and Eliogarty (190); Iff and Offa (21); Lower Ormond (12); Slievardagh (40). Five Meaghers each were in Idrone and St. Mollins counties in Carlow, near Kilkenny and in Middlethird. In Decies, Waterford, there were six. Of the 26,684 residents of Tipperary then, 24, 700 were Irish, with the remaining English. In 1841 fifteen per cent of the people living in Tipperary lived in Ikerrin. In that year six thousand lived in the excellent farmland of Roscrea. The townland of Tullow Mac James in Tipperary, near Templetouhy, was noted as “one of the oldest residences of Clan-Meagher, and furnished many distinguished representatives at home and abroad.”
I have compiled surnames with noble ancient Irish roots from the Kane map for the counties of Tipperary, Kilkenny and Queens (Leix, Laois) Counties:
Kings: Tipperary (Kings of Cashel) – MacCarthy, O’Brien, O’Callaghan.
Princes: Tipperary – O’Carroll, O’Donnegan, O’Donohoe, O’Brien; Kilkenny – O’Carroll, O’Donaghue; Queen’s County – MacGilpatrick (Fitzpatrick).
Ruling Lords: Tipperary – MacBrien, O’Cuirc (Quirk), O’Day (O’Dea), O’Dinan, O’Dwyer, O’Fogerty, O’Kennedy, O’Meagher (O’Maher), O’Sullivan; Kilkenny – O’Brennan (Fassadineen area), O’Brodar; Queen’s County – O’Dempsey, O’Dowling, O’Dunn, O’Moore.
Noble Chieftains: Tipperary – MacCormack, MacGilfoyle, O’Brien, O’Cahill, O’Carroll, O’Connelly, O’Cullenan, O’Hogan, O’Hurley, O’Kean, O’Lenahan, O’Lonegan (O’Lonergan), O’Meara, O’Mulcahy, O’Ryan, O’Shanahan (Shannon), O’Skelly (O’Scully), O’Spellman (O’Spillane); Kilkenny – O’Callan, O’Hely (O’Healy), O’Keeley, O’Ryan, O’Shea; Queen’s County – MacEvoy, MacGorman, ODuff, O’Kelly, O’Lawler, O’Regan
Wishing all my readers and followers well as we learn more about our ancestry!
©2013 Janet Maher / Sinéad Ní Mheachair
All Rights Reserved
Bhreathnach, Edel, and Cunningham, Bernadette, editors, Writing Irish History: the Four Masters and their World, Dublin, Ireland: Wordwell, Ltd., 2007.
Finnerty, William, Annals of Ireland by the Four Masters
Kane Ancestral Map of Ireland, Kane Strategic Marketing, Inc., P.O. Box 781, Harbor Springs, Michigan, 49740; Limerick, Ireland, 1993.
Maher, Janet, From the Old Sod to the Naugatuck Valley: Early Irish Catholics in New Haven County, Connecticut, Baltimore, MD: Apprentice House, 2012 [This book is 400 pages and includes 336 images. It may be obtained at: Mattatuck Museum, Waterbury, CT; Naugatuck Historical Society, Naugatuck, CT; and Quinnipiac University Bookstore, Mount Carmel Branch, Hamden, CT. In Baltimore it may be purchased from Loyola University Bookstore and The Ivy Bookshop. Online it may be purchased from Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Amazon UK, and from me via Paypal or by check (P.O. Box 40211, Baltimore, MD, 21212).]
McCaffrey, Carmel and Eaton, Leo, In Search of Ancient Ireland, The Origins of the Irish from Neolithic Times to the Coming of the English, Chicago, IL: New Amsterdam Books, 2002.
O’Hart, John, Irish Pedigrees: or, The Origin and Stem of The Irish Nation, Fifth Edition in Two Volumes, Dublin, Ireland: James Duffy and Co., Ltd., 1892. Online.
O’Meagher, Joseph Casimir, Some Historical Notices of the O’Meaghers of Ikerrin, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., American Edition: NY, 1890. Online.
Shaw, Antony, compiled by, Portable Ireland, A Visual Reference to All Things Irish, Philadelphia, PA: Running Press, 2002.
Traynor, Pat, Milesian Genealogies from the Annals of the Four Masters