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MacMahon, MacMathúna

MacMahon Family Crest

Argent three lions passant reguardant in pale gules armed
and langued azure.
Crest: A dexter arm in armour embowed proper garnished or holding in the hand a sword both
proper pommel and hilt or.

This is one of the most numerous surnames in County Clare and said to be derived from the Irish word "mathganham", meaning "son of a bearlike man." Holders of this name may claim descent from Mahon, son of Murtagh Mór Ó Briain, King of Munster who was interred in St. Flannan's Cathedral, Killaloe, early in the 12th century. The richly carved Romanesque doorway within the Cathedral is said to mark the entrance to his tomb.

Two ruling branches of the clan became firmly established in Corcabaskin, West Clare, where their once strongholds, Carrigaholt Castle and Clonderlaw Castle, are prominent landmarks and a source of local interest today.

Several MacMahons took prominent roles during the course of history in Thomond, Teige Caech MacMahon rose in rebellion against the English authorities and was the only local chieftain to lend support to Red Hugh Ó Donnell and participate in the last great battle of Kinsale for the survival of the Gaelic chieftains. Many other MacMahons were later to distinguish themselves in far-flung fields of battle.

Art McMahon appears in King James Army List as Colonel-in-Charge of an Infantry Regiment and played a notable part in several engagements. Subsequently, many Irish officers were to achieve further honours for the Irish Brigades in the service of France.

Another member of the clan, John MacMahon (1715-1780), was created the Marquis d'Eguilly but it was his grandson Patrick Maurice MacMahon who achieved the highest distinction, being chosen to act as President of the French Republic from 1873 to 1879. Following his victory at the Battle of Magenta he was named the Duke of Magenta and later on decreed a Marshall of France. This dynasty gave four Bishops to the See of Killaloe; Dabhaidh (David) Mac Mathghamhna who died in 1317, Terence MacMahon who ruled the Diocese from 1724 to 1728, Michael Peter MacMahon O.P. from 1765 to 1807 and Patrick MacMahon from 1819 to 1836.

The most celebrated lady of the name must be Maire Ruadh MacMahon who has become the best-remembered folk figure of County Clare. Maire Ruadh was born in 1615, the daughter of Torlach Rua MacMahon of Clonderlaw and she has left a strong impression on the folk memory of the people. She lived happily for some years in Dysart Castle with her first husband Daniel Neylon and following his death married again within a year to Conor O'Brien of Leamanagh. There they built a fine new residence adjoining the old tower-house with well laid-out gardens, a fishpond and a deer park. Research by Marie MacNeill, the noted folklorist, has shown that the mistress of Leamanagh was far from being the inhuman figure we were led to believe.

The Entombment. Panel on MacMahon Tomb, Ennis Friary
The Entombment. Panel on MacMahon Tomb, Ennis Friary
The magnificent tomb erected in the chancel of the old Friary in Ennis is a another reminder of the family's high standing in times past. One of the most creative panels on their tomb depicts the figure of a graceful lady wearing a medieval head dress and holding a book and is said to represent Lady Moira MacMahon, "who caused this tomb to be erected in 1470."

Further Reading:
Mac Néill, Máire, "Máire Rua, Lady of Leamaneh". Whitegate, 1990.
Markham, Paul, "Clonderlaw Castle and its neighbourhood".

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Learned Families of Thomond