Maher is an ancient Irish surname that originated in Co Tipperary. They were related to the O’Carroll clan.
There are several variations including Mahir, Marr, Meagar, Meagher, O’Maher and O’Meagher.
In Ireland it is usually pronounced ‘Mar’ which is why in some cases the name evolved into ‘Marr’. However, there are other origins to the name ‘Marr’ in England and Scotland. It is thought to have originated in Yorkshire and was taken by people who came from marshy lands.
Generous and hospitable
In Ireland, Maher is derived from the old Gaelic name O’Meachair. The ‘O’ prefix to the name means ‘grandson of’ or descendent of’ while the name Meachair means kind, generous or hospitable.
Irish families used to take their surname from the leader of their clan. So the Mahers would be descendants of a kind, hospitable chief.
They were part of the Éile which was a small kingdom in Munster in medieval times. Éile took in areas of Tipperary and Kilkenny. They belonged to the barony of Ikerrin, one of 12 baronies in Co Tipperary. The Mahers’ territory was the town of Roscrea, by the Devil’s Bit Mountain.
Many clans lost their land following the Norman invasions of 1169-71. The Mahers were an exception and managed to maintain their land although they had to share power with the Norman de Buitleir family.
The name develops
In the mid-17th century, Ireland was invaded by Oliver Cromwell’s forces. After four years of fighting, the English established control over Ireland. At this time Irish surnames began to develop into the names we know today. It was very hard for people with Irish names to find work under English rule so the names became anglicised.
This meant dropping the Irish prefixes and switching to a more English friendly spelling. O’Meachair became Maher at this time. There are a number of variations of Maher, and a lot of other Irish names, as different families would have slightly different interpretations of how to anglicise the name.
Many families reinstated the Irish prefixes to their names following the 1798 Rebellion which saw a huge rise in Irish patriotism. However, since most people now spoke English they maintained the English spelling.
Non Irish or British origins
The name could also have origins from the other side of the world. It could come from the Arabic name ‘Mahir’ which means ‘skilful’.
In India it could come from the Maher caste. The Maher caste was also known as Mers or the Nandvanshis and came from the Gujarat Province in Western India. They are said to have descended from King Nand of Vrindavan
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