MacMahon/Vaughan/Mahoney – rulers of ancient Ireland

History of the Irish name MacMahon. Image copyright Ireland Calling

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.

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There are so many versions because the name was passed down through the generations without being 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.

Two separate clans emerged

The ‘Mac’ prefix means ‘son of’ and ‘Mahuna’ which means ‘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’.

Lords of Oriel

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.

Famous modern MacMahons, Vaughns and Mahoneys

Vince Vaughn. Photo copyright Gage Skidmore CC3
Vince Vaughn

Vince Vaughn is an American actor. He has starred in some of the most famous comedy movies of his era. Some of his movies include Old School, Dodge Ball, Wedding Crashers, Starsky and Hutch and Mr and Mrs Smith.

John Mahoney is an American actor. He is famous to millions as Marty Crane in the hit comedy series Frasier. He has also appeared in several films such as Barton Fink, Dan in Real Life, Antz and Sh’s the One.

Vince McMahon is the Chairman of the hugely popular WWE. He has run the organisation since the 1980s. He revolutionised wrestling entertainment and it became one of the world’s most popular watched sports entertainment shows.

Vince’s wife Linda McMahon and children Shane and Stephanie McMahon all played active roles in the WWE both behind the scenes and in front of the camera.

Julian McMahon is an Australian actor. He has appeared in several TV series such as Charmed and Nip/Tuck. He has also appeared in many films including the Fantastic Four franchise.

Video histories of popular Irish names

Irish names and their meanings