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History of the Aherns


Contents of this page
History of the Aherns
The Ahern Surname
Some Notable Aherns

History of the Aherns

Originally, Ó hEachthighearna meant "lord of the horse". The family were said to be descended from Echtigern who was a brother of the High King of Ireland, Brian Boru. They were of the Dalcassians, an important sept in the area between Sixmilebridge and Limerick in County Clare, east of the Owenogarney River which flows past Bunratty Castle.
In 1151, five chieftains of the Uí Echthigrirn family were killed in a bloody battle at Móin Mhór near Mourne Abbey. They were mostly driven out of the area by the MacNamaras in about 1318 and do not appear again in concentrated force until the 16th century in East Cork where they seem to have become professional soldiers in the service of the Norman lords, particularly Lord Roche and the Fitzgeralds of Desmond.
Despite often being on the losing side, the Aherns continued to offer their services as soldiers. Several of them were officers who fought for James II and the Jacobites against William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, and in the early 18th century several went to Spain and were officers in the Spanish army. And there was many an Irish lad who, for want of employment or an overindulgence in poteen, took the King's shilling and joined the British army. One such was Timothy Ahern of Co. Cork, who on a hot June day in 1775, found himself climbing up Breed's Hill in Charlestown, wearing a bright red coat with a heavy pack on his back. The climate was made even more unpleasant by the steady shower of hot lead which was falling at the time. On the opposite side in this conflict was another Timothy Ahern who was listed as a deserter from the Continental Army on 13 July 1780. In 1805 an Edward O'Ahern was a Captain of the 1st Battalion Irlandais in Napoleon's army.
Not all of the Aherns were bloodthirsty warriors. There were several who attained high clerical office in the 14th and 15th centuries, one Alan ÓHachierane having been Bishop of Kerry from 1336 to 1347, and in the 18th century there were several notable Irish poets of the name. In 1754 a Limerick man, Jon Aheron, was author and illustrator of the first book on Irish architecture to be printed in Ireland. In America, one Michael Ahern was the Chicago newspaper reporter who invented the tale of Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicking over the lantern that started the great Chicago fire of 1871, and another Chicagoan, Mike Ahern, was Al Capone's lawyer.
Aherns have also been involved in politics. One John Aherne was a United Irishman and close friend of the Irish revolutionary, Wolfe Tone. After the failed rising of 1798, he fled to France and became an officer in Napoleon's army. In January of 1922, a Thomas Ahern was one of 240 political prisoners who were unconditionally released from Dartmoor Prison in England after the signing of the Anglo Irish Treaty of December 6, 1921. And, of course, the most prominent Ahern in recent memory is Bertie Ahern, former Taoiseach of Ireland and leader of the Fianna Fail party.
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The Ahern Surname

The Irish Surname Expert
Ahearn, Aherne, Ahern, etc.
by Paul MacCotter
     Mr. John Bullivant from Britain queries the origins of this surname. It is, of course, a pure Gaelic Irish surname, being originally Ó hEachthigheirn. The Christian name here is a compound, consisting of each (horse) and tighern (lord), giving the meaning 'lord of steeds' or 'cavalry lord'. an ancient Celtic name, the second component occuring in such names as Vortigern, the name of a great celtic chieftan of pre-Roman Britain. Such names recall the heroic age of chariots and horseborn warriors at the dawn of recorded history. The Eachtighern from whom this sept descend is thought by Ó Murchadha, in his Family Names of County Cork, to have been one of the Dal Cais tribe, whose king was the famous Brian Boru, king of Ireland, who died in 1014. At least two Eachtigherns occur in the genealogies of the Dal Cais, one being king Brian's brother. The original territory of one of these septs lay between Bunratty and Limerick, in east County Clare.
     Woulfe believed the Ui Eachtigheirn were driven from their native territory by the McNamaras, later lords of Bunratty, after the battle of Dysert O'Dea in 1318. Whatever of this it is interesting to note that ecclesiastical members of the sept occur in Kerry and Limerick during the fourteenth century and in Cork the following century, suggesting a gradual movement southwards, which may explain why today, and since at least the sixteenth century, most Ahearns are found in Cork and Waterford. (The first mentions concern the priest, Eugene Ohachyerryn of Cloyne, of around 1490, and William Yhagheryn who witnessed a deed at Carrigtwohill in 1528). While we have no evidence of the actual dynamic behind such a move it seems likely that the entire sept migrated at some time, probably during the fourteenth or early fifteenth centuries to east Cork. While the sixteenth century distribution of the name centres on east Cork and neighbouring west Waterford, references from the period show an especial concentration in the baronies of Imokilly and Kinnatalloon, County Cork. It can hardly be coincidence that both areas lay in the lordship of the FitzGerald earls of Desmond, who acquired them during the first half of the fifteenth century. Did the O'Ahearn sept thus enter into some sort of corporate client relationship with the Desmonds at this time, migrating from outside in the process?
     In the late 1500s we find concentrations of O'Ahearns around FitzGerald castles of Mogeely and Conna in Kinnataloon and Ballymaloe — now a famous hotel — in Imokilly. The Ballymaloe family remained imprtant servitors to the Geraldine deans of Cloyne at Ballymaloe until the latter family were dispossessed under Cromwell in the 1650s. While several of the name fled abroad with the 'Wild Geese' after 1692 to serve in the Catholic armies of France and Austria, most Ahearns remained close to their native soil, as farmers and peasants in east Cork and West Waterford.
Irish Roots 2002, Number 2

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Some Notable Aherns

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