American Mahers, Early Irish History, From the Old Sod to the Naugatuck Valley, Irish Catholic History, Irish in Connecticut, Joseph Casimir O'Meagher, Meagher, Milesian Genealogy, New Haven County Mahers
Although my initial research was primarily about the Meaghers/Mahers, when it came time to edit information to include in my book (From the Old Sod to the Naugatuck Valley: Early Irish Catholics in New Haven County, Connecticut) I chose to keep the content more generally broad. Maher details are sprinkled throughout the history of Ireland and early Connecticut chapters, however, leading to a focus on the nineteenth century in America.
I find myself repeatedly refering to Joseph Casimir O’Meagher’s 1890 text, Some Historical Notices of the O’Meaghers of Ikerrin, which I consider essential for beginning research about the Mahers. It provided most of the earliest Maher details in my book, and I included several instances of historic Mahers from his book in a previous post here (August 20, 2012), Some Notable Meaghers/Mahers and other spellings, cited SHN.
Excerpts from O’Meagher’s text occur verbatum in many different places, and are, unfortunately, usually not attributed to him. I have been singing his praises online since at least 2006 and am happy to see that a Google search on him now brings up many hits, including his full text. Although not perfectly scanned, an inexpensive reprint of Some Historical Notices is also available from Amazon.
A member of the Royal Irish Academy and Fellow of the Royal Historical and Archaeological Association of Ireland, O’Meagher was able to cite his lineage directly from John O’Meagher, who with his mother, Anne, had been among those ordered to transplant to Connaught after the conquest of Oliver Cromwell. John O’Hart’s pedigree of O’Meagher drew Joseph Casimir’s Heber line out from Fionnachta, second son of Conla, “No. 88 on the O’Carroll (Ely) pedigree.” As noted in my previous post, (Our Mileasian Origins) Conla was son of Cian, who was a son of King Olliol Olum. O’Hart considered the O’Meagher pedigree in his book as the ancestral line of O’Meachair, chiefs of Ikerrin. From Fionnachta (No. 88) O’Hart listed Joseph Casimir O’Meagher, born 1831, living in Dublin in 1887, as the son of John T. O’Meagher (No. 127). The line then extended to Joseph’s children: Joseph Dermod (1864), John Kevin (1866), Donn Casimir (1872), Malachy Marie (1873), Fergal Thaddeus (1876) and Mary Nuala (no date given). Joseph Casimir O’Meagher himself, however, cited additional pedigrees that extended Meaghers from other points in the Cian branch, including Teige or Thaddeus (No. 38) and John (No. 39).
O’Meagher provided immense background that led to my further research about such pivotal events in Ireland as: the development of ancient Irish Catholicism and communities of ecclesiastical families, the arrival of the Vikings and Normans, the interest of the English monarchy in Irish lands and sequences of sanctions and acts of “land grabbing” over the centuries, the change in the official religion of England from Catholic to Protestant with Henry VIII, the Penal Laws, continual rebellion on the part of the native Irish and those aligned with Catholic subjects of England who became equally disenfranchised due to adherence to their religion, the Statutes of Kilkenny, the Flight of the Earls, Civil War, arrival of Oliver Cromwell, the Act of Settlement, Oath of Allegiance, Act of Union, Wild Geese, Catholic Relief Acts, Rebellion of 1798, various uprising groups and key figures among them, the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829, Tithe Defaulters, Catholic middleman landlords, and mass emigrations before, during and after the Great Famine. Here, long before the Irish War of Independence and the formation of the Irish Free State in 1922, my story in From the Old Sod to the Naugatuck Valley shifts to the arrival of the first Irish Catholic settlers in particular sections of New Haven County, Connecticut.
O’Meagher explained that Ikerrin (Ui Cairin) “was anciently one of the eight tuathas in Ely, which got its name from Eile, one of its kings in the fifth century.” Ger Dunphy and Christy O’Shea, in their work, Ballinakill, A Journey Through Time, explained the formation of King and Queen’s Counties, carved from Ely O’Carroll, which was primarily the area known then as Offaly. Quoting from my own book: “Throughout the centuries clan jurisdictions changed many times as the ownership of the land was continually disputed and compromised. In 1556 Queen Mary I renamed Offaly as King’s County, and named Leix (Laoighois/Laois), which had been part of Offaly, as Queen’s County. These were the first of the Irish counties to be intentionally planted with Protestant English residents. In this region the plantation was an attempt to make it difficult for the major Irish clan of the area, the O’Moores, to easily connect with their nearby allies.”
“According to Irish authors Ger Dunphy and Christy O’Shea, the extensive area of Ballenekyll in Queen’s County was awarded in 1570 to the English couple Alexander Cosby and Dorcas Sydney and was incorporated by King James I in 1613…the royal charter tightened the Irish recusancy laws that fined anyone who did not attend mass at the Anglican church, the official Church of England and Ireland.”
In O’Meagher’s explanation, eventually Ely O’Carroll was comprised of the baronies Ballybritt and Clonlisk, which became King’s County. Ikerrin and Eliogarty were part of Tipperary. He wrote, “for many centuries Ely O’Carroll is confined to that portion of it now in the Kings County, and at the time Ely O’Carroll was reduced to shire ground, the barony of Ikerrin was not considered part of it.”
For those of us who know that our families were among the many who had already dispersed from the ancient homeland before they emigrated it is interesting to note that even O’Meagher’s group, with several of his sons attending university in Dublin, were no longer based in the Roscrea (Ikerrin) area of Tipperary by the late 1800s. In 1659 Sir William Petty’s census had already showed Meaghers in several neighboring areas of Ireland (Our Mileasian Origins).
We do well to read the very helpful 1993 article by William J. Hayes, O Meagher, Meagher and Maher – and their dispersal in Tipperary, which can be purchased from the Tipperary Historical Society. He explained the tendency for many of the Meaghers to have aligned with the powerful Normans, particularly the Butlers who remained Catholic, and thus retain much of their property over centuries of struggle, at least into the seventeenth century. After Cromwell, however, all bets were off. Excerpts from this article are archived on RootsWeb. O’Meagher also chronicled the dispersion from northeast Tipperary through his accumulation of data, including details of many eighteenth and nineteenth century Meaghers/Mahers who left to join foreign military units or settle in America.
If we find that our relatives had traveled over the Slieve Bloom Mountains into Laois or Offaly, scattered throughout the rest of Tipperary or crossed the borders into Kilkenny and Carlow, we wonder what led them there and how many generations had roots in those places. Did they choose to leave as so many of us change locations throughout our own lives? Was survival through farming too difficult to maintain in their family? Did the inheritance laws make it impossible for most of the children to remain within their original neighborhoods? Did they marry someone from another county? Anciently, were at least some of them among those who had once taken to the hills to hide out and to fight? O’Meagher accounted multiple occurrances of Meagher/Maher rebel action and the need for pardons of one kind or another. He noted the caveat in King Henry VIII’s issuing of pardons, “Provided that if any of those persons be of the Nation or Sept of the O’Meaghers, who were proclaimed traitors and rebels, the pardons to be of no effect in favour of such.”
So many Irish came to America as outlaws, slaves, or indentured servants and worked in obscurity, likely experiencing life in conditions worse than those which they left. Before the Famine, however, some were affluent enough to choose to make the trip across the sea and begin anew on equal footing in the Protestant communities of America, long populated by those still aligned to British sentiments about the Irish, in general, and about Catholics in particular. Had these Catholic immigrants been middlemen or related to one in Ireland? Had they married into families that had somehow retained a semblance of wealth or at least maintained some financial stability? Had their families been merchants, one trade allowed to Catholics? Had those from Kilkenny worked in the Ormond factory? What must it have been like to try to blend into a new world and assimilate as quickly as possible and still manage to help bring others over and begin the forbidden first Catholic churches?
When we wish to play the record of Irish history and locate our families amid it, where we drop the needle matters. We need to consider every fact in light of what else was going on at that point in time in Ireland and in the location into which they would emigrate. Much of that, sadly, revolves around religion, in ways similar to the major struggles between countries that exist today. Then, as today, there were open minds seeking peace on both sides of each conflict, and the fundamentalists on either side began quickly to resemble each other. We must study what we find, however, in its own context. With the Meaghers, history seems to center around land and religion.
Catastrophic events make significant changes from one century to the next, but the seemingly small details in the decades surrounding someone’s departure from Ireland may help to shed the most light. Having thoroughly scoured the “ground zero” of the place to which my ancestors relocated and their presence within it, I hope to still learn more about the events surrounding the time and area that they left in the Old Sod.
©2013 Janet Maher / Sinéad Ní Mheachair
All Rights Reserved
Dunphy, Ger and Christy O’Shea, Ballinakill, A Journey Through Time, Freshford, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland: Barnaville Print and Graphics, 2002.
Hayes, William J., “O Meagher, Meagher and Maher – and their dispersal in Tipperary,” Tipperary Historical Journal, Thurles, Co. Tipperary, Ireland: Leinster Leader, Ltd., 1993. Excerpts online.
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).]
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.