Ancient Ireland, Cormac Mac Art, Early Irish History, Gaelic Ireland, Ikerrin, Irish Meaghers, Maher, Milesian Genealogy
(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
Walsh, Dennis, Ireland’s History in Maps, History + Geography + Genealogy With a Special Focus on Ancient and Medieval Irish Tribes and Septs, ©2003.
Walsh, Dennis, Old Irish-Gaelic Surnames, A Supplement to Ireland’s History in Maps
Wow, very informative. I was only reading about a DNA link yesterday which proved the story of the Milesian invasion. So it looks like we all came from Spain, or the Basque region to be precise. I always wondered how similar the Basque people are to the Irish, great post, thanks for sharing :-).
Thank you, Ed. (I love your photography!) Where did you read about the Milesian invasion? I’d be interested in reading that too. – Janet
Thanks Janet, I taught that I posted a link on my facebook page, but I cant see it there. I shall try to find it and send it on to you 🙂
Thank you for an email from Patrick, which led me to this article by Marie McKeown –
http://marie-mckeown.hubpages.com/hub/Irish-Blood-Genetic-Identity – “Blood of the Irish: DNA Proves Ancestry of the People of Ireland.” Marie Mckeown’s site is full of Irish historical information – terrific! (http://marie-mckeown.hubpages.com/)
Laurie M. Lewis said:
Wow—-Spain all around! Andrew Healey’s clan came from Waterford.He was known in Wtby. as “Black Andy” XX00
Laurie, I’ve been spending a lot of time with John O’Hart’s “Irish Pedigrees” and his “Irish Landed Gentry.” In his section on The Irish Chiefs and Clans of Tipperary and Waterford (or Ormond and Desies) he notes after the first 4 chiefs and clans of Waterford:
” 5. The McGraths were old and respectable families of Waterford; as were also those of O’Shee, O’Ronayne, O’Hely, O’Callaghan, O’Coghlan, O’Meara, etc.” (Why did he put “etc.,” as if we would know who else he’s leaving out???)
Two snp’s which many Irish men carry(79%) are DF23 and M222. They carry one, or both. Some refer to the M222 snp as the O’Neil gene as in, “Naill of the Nine Hostages”. There is some dispute about that now since that revelation was first published by Trinity College.
Here is a link to the facebook group R1b-L21. The chart at the top of the page shows a quick breakdown of L21. L21 wasn’t discovered until 2005 as was set aside until more labs found it. By 2008 a paper was published on it. What’s my point? Everything you see below L21 has been discovered since then!
DF49 is the ‘father of’ DF23, etc.
I am tested positive for snp DF49. I’m negative or null for DF23 or M222 !
Fascinating, frustrating and exciting, all at the same time.
William J Maher said:
Hello, I just returned from a Templemore visit to Philadelphia area. I had my genetic test done by National geographic a few years ago. It shows a direct arrow from Spain area to Ireland. What service do you use for further detailed testing. I would like to sink my tests with other Mahers. Thanks, Bill Maher
I’ve been researching a lot about the early Celts and their travels across Europe, eventually arriving in Ireland. It does sound like Spain was an original location for some Celtic strains. King Milesius and family did come from there. – Janet
Laurie, I took out the Kane map to look up Healeys and consequently made some additional updates on the post. While Andy, in contemporary times, came from Waterford, on this map that traces the primary original locations of the surnames, O’Healy/O’Hely was here associated with southeast Limerick, and eastern Kerry, where they were trustees and managers of ecclesiastical properties, and in north western Kilkenny (near the Meaghers) and south central Cork, where they were Noble Chieftain families. The line in Kilkenny descended from Cian, son of Ollioll Olum. The map authors then refer to John O’Hart’s “Irish Pedigrees” (V2) for more information. The other lines descended from the “Children of Rory,” who descended from the Ir line of Milesius. Their ancestors included Fergus Mac Roy (Fergus Mor), king of Ulster in the 1st century, and Conal Cearnach, also 1st century, “one of the most noted heroes of Ireland’s famous Red Branch Knights.” Then we are also referred to O’Hart. His “Irish pedigrees, or The origin and stem of the Irish nation” (1892) is online here: http://archive.org/details/irishpedigreesor_01ohar
Thanks for the nudge that made me look farther!
so would appear to be true…
‘Mahers’ are decendended from Moorish settlers in Ireland.
– which explains the St Patrick christian campaign of ireland.
If you look carefully you will even see the crescent moon depicted in the Carrol & Maher coats of arms.
Our skin complexions aside,
– some notable 20th century Egyptians – with Maher surnames even resemble my familys facial features:
Don’t forget that Maher is purely an Anglicization of O’Meachair. O’Meachair in turn is derived from ‘meach’ meaning: hospitality. Egyptians and Syrians bearing the name Maher are in no way connected to Ikerrin O’Meachair. Neither are we related to the O’Carroll Clan, as was previously thought. We descend from the 2nd Century AD which makes us most definately not descended from King Ailill Ollamh son of Mug Nuadat, as was previously assumed to be the case. Some evidence is emerging, from bearers of the name who are genetically three-quarter Maher, of a strong Hebrew connection. Seán
Janet Maher said:
Hello Sean, Thank you. Where have you found this new evidence?
Appreciate that Sean,
– though I wouldn’t discount Maher and Mor connections based upon spelling alone.
The ‘hospitable’ meaning could have been a later meaning
grafted onto the Meachair / Meagher name based upon a notable noble obligation / trait.
Phonetically ‘Meachair’ could possibly be refering to
– a hereditary cadet title/duty equivallent to ‘Marquis’ (german Margrave) and army Majors (traditionally the younger ‘noble’ siblings posted to manage the defence of frontier-lands as reigning ‘War Lord’s).
See millitary campaigns initiated in spring – from which the month of March takes it”s name.
Accross languages and cultures the ‘Mar’ and ‘Meag’ sounds relate to ‘greatness’ / ‘prophets’, ‘wisdom’ and ‘majesty’.
Uralic people ‘Magyer’
Margiana (location on the Caspian Sea relates to Margin / border-settlement)
Zooastrian Magi (Magicians)
and within Ireland ‘Moher’
Our Heber lineage records political alliances via marrage with female Castillian nobility. The Iberian penisula has been colonised continuosly by people crossing from NorthbAfrica and accross the Meditteranean.
I expect Malik (and subsequent Iberian caliphate settlers) could have passed on their genes and customs along the way – via slave dealing / sex trafficking.
If you acknowledge we descend as much from our foremothers as we do from our forefathers.l – it is impossible to conclude that we in no way are related to non-ikerin Mahers.
I believe the Ui Meachair / O’Meagher gene pool has been scattered far and wide.
The O’Carrol clan may not have started as direct blood relatives, but it is almost certain that they are our cousins many times over since.
The Moroccan / Berber culture and DNA admixture no doubt lives on alongside the Celtic, Phonecian, Norse and every other culture we have met along the way 🙂