The name MacMahon derives from the ancient Irish surname MacMahuna. There are several variations of the name including McMahon, Mahon, MacMann, MacMahan, Maughan, Maghan and Mann.
There are so many versions because the name was passed down through the generations without been written down. It was only when the government started keeping tax records that people needed to decide how names should be spelt.
Different regional pronunciations, inevitably led to different spellings, which often resulted in seemingly unrelated names deriving from the same line.
Other names that sound unrelated such as Mahoney and Vaughn are also derived from MacMahon, although a totally different family named Vaughan also originated independently in Wales. There are variations of these names including O’Mahoney, Mahony, and Mohan.
There were two distinct clans that used the name MacMahon. One clan were from Thomond and were chieftains in Corcabaskin, Co Clare. Another separate clan lived in the area now known as Lough and Monaghan, on the border of Ulster and Leinster.
Both were prestigious clans in Ireland and originated independently of each other.
The ‘Mac’ prefix means ‘son of’ and ‘Mahuna’ which meant ‘bear’. So McMahon means ‘son of the bear’.
This would indicate that the family derive from a fearsome ancestor. Indeed, one of the MacMahon clans are descendants of one of Ireland’s most famous kings, Brian Boru, and are distant relatives of the noble O’Brien clan.
They came from Thomond, an area in North Munster now known as Co Clare. Mahon O’Brien was the grandson of Boru and the forefather of the Co Clare MacMahons.
The last chief of the Thomond McMahons was Teige of Corcabaskin. He died in the battle of Kinsale in 1602.
The motto on the Thomond sept’s coat of arms is ‘Sic Nos Sic Sacra Tuemur’ which means ‘Thus We Defend Our Sacred Rights’.
The MacMahons in Lough and Monaghan were Lords of Oriel. They were chieftains of their territory for over 400 years.
Hugh Oge was the last chief of the Oriel McMahons. The family lost their power when he was beheaded by the English in 1641. Hugh’s cousin was Heber MacMahon. Heber was highly educated and was both a bishop and a General in the Ulster army.
He commanded his men in the Battle of Scarrifholis against Oliver Cromwell in 1650. MacMahon was defeated and taken prisoner by Cromwell’s men. He was executed later that year.
After losing power in Co Clare, many MacMahons left Ireland and joined the Irish brigade in the French army.
Edmonde Patrice was a descendent of the MacMahons who had left Ireland for France with the ‘Wild Geese’. He had an outstanding career as a soldier before becoming President of France.
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