O Meagher, Meagher and Maher - and their dispersal
By William J. Hayes
Published in the 1993 Tipperary Historical Journal.
Note: This is only a portion of the original article. Parts of this article are not printed here including the complete sections titles "18th - 19th Century Records" and "Meagher of the Sword". To obtain the complete article can be ordered from the County Tipperary Historical Society
The good relationship which the O Meaghers, the Ui Meachair, established and maintained with the Earls of Ormond and other major Butler houses contributed to their ability to retain and control much of their ancestral tuath of Ui Cairin in the north-east of Tipperary right up to the Cromwellian period. Ui Cairin, which emerged as the barony of Ikerrin in the Anglo-Norman period, was a division of the ancient kingdom of Éile, which stretched over southern Offaly and most of north Tipperary, and which was ruled over by the O Carrolls, the traditional overloads of the O Meaghers.
The Civil Survey records that in some of the parts of
Ikerrin which they owned the O Meaghers continues to practise the ancestral
Gaelic form of land tenure, that is, holding land in common without partition.
In the formal parish of Killea in the southern part of Ikerrin, for instance,
no less than fourteen O Meaghers shared in the ownership of the whole parish,
the exception of the townland of Killmocuddy, the proprietor of which was
Colly McSweeney. These fourteen O Meaghers are described in the Survey
as "being all descended out of the house of O Meager whose title they
clayme by fee from their ancestors."
One of the fourteen was John O Meagher, who occupied the tower house of Clonakenny, the principal O Meagher stronghold in Ikerrin. Besides his share of the lands in Killea, he individually owned some 3,500 acres, mainly in the former parish of Bourney. He also owned the lands and tower house of Rathnaveorge, and held the lands of Knockballymeagher "motively" with the Earl of Ormond. He was one of the largest Gaelic landowners in Tipperary.
Only two O Meagher landowners in Co. Tipperary outside of Ikerrin are recorded in the Civil Survey. They were William Meagher of Higginstown in the former parish of Peppardstown, now in the Fethard parish, and Teig Meagher of Ballindrummenn in Clonoulty parish.
The O Meagher relationship with Ikerrin was to change profoundly through the Cromwellian settlement. John O Meagher lost his Clonakenny stronghold and all its lands, as did the other O Meagher landholders their bastions and hearthlands in Bawnmadrum, Boolabawn, Cloneen (or Clonan), and Killea.
The O Meaghers had finally yielded their landowning status to a new elite of planted stock. However, beneath the landowning layer of the old society, the O Meagher clan not only substantially survived in its old tuath, but remained by far the most common surname in Ikerrin, which at that period had a population of something between 800 and 1,000 adults.
The dispersal of the population which the Cromwellian
settlement caused affected the landowning Gaelic and Anglo-Irish catholic
stock, while the middle and lower levels of the old society survived and
endured in their old localities, maintaining a continuity which is still
ongoing. This is very well exemplified in Ikerrin. The O Meagher landholders
of 1640 were dispossessed, but the clan remained strong in its old tuath.
The Civil Survey of 1659, embarked on with a view to the Cromwellian confiscations and settlement, had among its aims the standardising into current English not only of the Irish townland names but the family names as well. The name Meagher is rendered as Magher in the Survey, which was obviously the closet phonetic rendering of the Gaelic name which the particular .scribe came up with. The 1659 Census, however records the name as Meagher, without the O prefix.
The quant phrase that the Civil Survey uses about the
O Meaghers of Killea "being descended out of the house of O Meagher"
has a ring of family and clan pride about it. The effort of the Civil Survey
scribe to anglicise the original Irish form of the name, Ui Meachair,
i.e. descendant of Meachair (cineal Meachair), probably gave rise
to the English version Meagher, the only version of the name that remained
in vogue up to at least the beginning of the 18th century. The
simpler version of the name Maher was to emerge around the 18th
According to MacLysaght (in his Irish Families, their Names, Arms and Origins) , Meachair is derived from the Irish word meaning hospitable. This word is now obsolete, leaving one to wonder if it came from the root word maith, good. The 1659 Census, which records the already wide dispersal of the clan by that date, also bears out that Meagher was the form of the name in general use. This is supported by the Hearth Money Records of 1667-69.
The Census records that while the Meaghers were still the most numerous surname in Ikerrin, the home barony, there was a dispersal of the clan not only into different parts of Tipperary, but also into Offaly, Laois, Clare, Waterford and Carlow. As far as Tipperary is concerned, the main dispersal from Ikerrin was southwards into the baronies of Eliogarty, Slieveardagh and Middlethird. (See Figure 1.)
After Ikerrin the largest concentration of the Meaghers
(all non-landholding) was in the barony of Middlethird, which had Cashel
and Fethard as its principal centres of population. By 1659/60 there were
72 adults named Meagher living in that heavily colonised and densely populated
barony. At that date Meagher was the next numerous family name after Ryan
The next largest concentration of the Meaghers by 1659/60 was in the Barony of Slieveardagh, where the Census enumerates 46 adults of the name. The main centres of population in that barony are Killenaule and Mullinahone. The barony of Iffa and Offa, which has Clonmel, Chair and Clogheen as its centres, had 26 adults names Meagher, while Clanwilliam, which has Tipperary town and Emly as its centres, had 14.
Outside of Tipperary the biggest drift of the Meaghers
was into the barony of Clonlisk in the south Offaly, which borders the
barony of Ikerrin. There were 26 Meagher adults settled there by 1659/60.
The dispersal of the Meaghers recorded by the Census of 1659 is probably
linked mainly to the dispossession and disappearance of the old landowning
and prominent members of the clan from Ikerrin through the Cromwellian