Roots: The Mighty Mahers

O Meagher coat of arms
O Meagher coat of arms

By Tara Dougherty, Editorial Assistant
October / November 2008

The Irish surname Maher, appearing also as O’Meagher, Meagher, O’Maher and Mahir, originated in County Tipperary. The name stems from the surname O’Meachair, a derivation of the word “meachar” meaning hospitable.

Over fifty percent of Mahers can trace their family history back to County Tipperary, where the ancient clan held control of the territory near Roscrea at the foot of Devil’s Bit Mountain for centuries. Ui Cairin, modernized as Ikerrin, was a barony in the north of Tipperary and was a division of the ancient kingdom of Ely. The Mahers held control of Ikerrin, even against Norman invaders in the 10th century. It was not until the Cromwellian period that many Mahers would disperse from north Tipperary to southern baronies and further afield to France and Spain with the Irish Brigades.

Among the most famous of this clan was Thomas Francis Meagher (1823-1867). This Irish nationalist was a prominent leader in the Young Ireland Party. His speech advocating the use of force to liberate Ireland from British occupation earned him the nickname “Meagher of the Sword.”  He was part of the Young Ireland Rebellion of 1848 and was arrested and sentenced to life in prison. Meagher escaped and eventually made his way to America, where he would later become an American Civil War general as leader of the Irish Brigade in the Federal Army. A gravestone was unveiled In Meagher’s honor at a ceremony held at the Green-Wood cemetery in Brooklyn this April.

Another clan member who is a rebel in his own right is subject of this issue’s cover story, Bill Maher, who has become a household name due to his work in television. The native New Yorker began working as a stand-up comic while attending Cornell University. He became a regular on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, which ignited his television career. Maher later developed his own round-table current affairs talk show called Politically Incorrect, for which he received 11 Emmy nominations. He now hosts Real Time with Bill Maher, a similar discussion program on HBO.

Australian actor Ray Meagher secured a place in the Guinness Book of Records for being one of the longest-serving actors on an Australian drama. He is best known for his role as Alf Stewart on long-running Australian soap opera Home and Away. In 1987, he was selected by his peers as the recipient of a Penguin Award for Best Lead Actor in a Drama for his performance in the tele-movie Male Order Bride. During his 25 years working in show business, Meagher has been featured in over 60 television productions, 29 films and 20 theatre productions.

Sharing in his kinsmen’s love of the stage, Joseph Maher (1933-1998) was a Broadway character actor best known for his work in Joe Orton’s plays often as absurd, off-beat characters. Maher was nominated three times for a Tony Award for the Best Actor in a Featured Role. He did not limit himself to stage work, however, crossing over into both film and television, guest starring on Seinfeld and playing memorable film roles in Heaven Can Wait and Sister Act. Born in Westport, County Mayo, Maher became a naturalized American citizen before he succumbed to a brain tumor in 1998.

The Maher family name is recognized in the world of horse breeding thanks to JJ Maher’s contribution around the turn of the 20th century. His family of thoroughbred mares from Ireland would produce two Grand National winners.

Among the most well known athletes in America at the end of the 19th century was Irish-American Peter Maher, who won Heavyweight Championship of the World in 1895 when he beat Steve O’Donnell. The world champion was born in Galway and raised in Dublin where he began boxing. His biography, The Irish Champion Peter Maher, written by Matt Donnellon, chronicles his career and looks into his high-society social circle, which included the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, William McKinley and Wyatt Earp.

Continuing the Maher legacy in sport, Kevin Maher is a London-born Irish soccer player. He began his career with the Tottenham Hotspurs, training with the team for nearly three years. After he was released from Spurs, he was club captain of Southend United for six years before joining Oldham Athletic in the summer of 2008.

In the world of music, Brent Maher is among the most acclaimed country music producers and songwriters in Nashville. Maher discovered the talents of Naomi and Wynonna Judd and has produced all of the duo’s records, and co-wrote many of their hits including “Why Not Me.” Now that the Judds have retired from music, the Grammy award-winning producer has founded his own independent production company called Moraine Music Group. Moraine Music has worked with Garth Brooks, Dixie Chicks, Tim McGraw and countless other country music names.

43 Responses to “Roots: The Mighty Mahers”

  1. Tony Maher says:

    Our Maher family in Australia is descended from William John Maher (1877-1969) and we believe we have a connection with Thomas Francis Maher (1823-1867). We don’t have any info on the preceding generation.


    Tony Maher

  2. Kieran White says:

    My great uncle John Francis Meagher (still living) and our family claim relation to Tomas Meagher of the sword.

  3. Kieran White says:

    My great uncle John Francis Meagher (still living) and my fathers side of the family claim to be related to Tomas Meagher of the sword. Hopeing to work on a family tree.

  4. Evie Maher says:

    Hi all. Looking for any information on John Henry Maher born 1888 somewhere in Ireland. Anything would be a great help. Cheers all

  5. Lindie Chandler says:

    Have some information on my family line having gone to Adelaide, Australia and later to Melbourne. While in Adelaide, he was known as James Maher (married Catherine Carthy) and later changed this surname to COUNTY. Do you have an records of Maher/County’s?

  6. Philip Brendan maher says:

    All my family hail from borrisoleigh co Tipperary

  7. Yvonne Kallunki says:

    I am a Maher,many this was really cool learn about my heritage

  8. fritz maher says:

    I am looking for my irish roots. Thomas Maher, born in Ireland, came to the USA sometime around 1840. I would like to know his roots in Ireland. Please tell me how to find out. Aren’t there parish books that someone who would leave would have written something down? He ended up in Indiana, USA.

    • Mandy Maher says:

      What part of Indiana? My ancestors came from Ireland about that time and settled in Indiana (Terre Haute and St. Mary of the Woods area). I don’t know the man’s name or specific date he was born. His wife was named Mary and she was born in Ireland in 1795.
      I also would like to know more about my Irish roots and having a hard time finding information.

      • Sheelagh Dunne says:

        Try parish records from Tipperary as that is where most Mahers come from or also Irish census of population

        • Fritz Maher says:

          May I suggest that all Maher’s get DNA tested. I got mine at 23andMe. If we get these all collected, we can start to see who is related.

          I get some possible relations from Australia. That is most interesting.

          But in Indiana, I get some possibiilities from north of Indianapolis. But most I get is from the city of Washington in Daviess County. They had a farm and it got flooded. Thomas and son William died soon after that.

          I am starting to understand that that came from Callen, Ireland. Of course, I’m not sure. I just think I am getting closer.

          The Ann as a wife is Ann Dant. She is from the USA, not from Ireland.

          Let me know.


  9. Karen Maher says:

    We have a family history that says my great grandfather Matthew Jerome Maher was born in 1861 in Tipperary. His father’s name was Thomas and his mother was named Elizabeth Carroll. Supposedly his parents and 5 siblings died of TB and he was brought to NYC at an early age by family friends. The people who brought him over died, too and her was raised in an orphanage. I have found nothing to back up any of this story.

    • Karen Maher says:

      Correction here. Found Matthew Jerome Maher’s parents death certificates (bad photocopies) in some family records. They both died in Brooklyn NY.

      Thomas Francis Maher was born in Ireland about 1821, died in NY in 1874, came to US about 1853 with his wife Elizabeth Carroll Maher. She was born in Ireland about 1824 and died in NY in 1897.

      Regardless, Matthew married a society girl who was then disowned by her family. I’ve put the info on familysearch for those of you who want to look up those Mahers.

  10. Lukas Maher says:

    My grandfather James Joseph Maher was a chemical engineer who developed the epoxy resin that that now use on space shuttles and rockets. I was wondering if you have any information on him.

  11. Sheelagh Dunne says:

    My great grandfather was a brother of Peter Maher (boxer) his name was Patrick would love to make contact with Peters decendents they had another brother James(Jem) who also went to America and we have already made contact with them

    • Nancy Mulford says:

      Dear Sheelagh:
      It was quite by chance that I ran across your entry. My Husband, Edward Phillip Mulford, Jr’s great grandfather was Peter Maher (boxer). We live in Dover, Delaware. The boxer Peter, had a son named Peter who was a professional photographer. He married Lillian Estelle Draper from Baltimore, MD. They had two children, Peter Maher and Winifred Estelle Maher (my husband’s mother). Winifred married Edward Phillip Mulford, Sr. They had 4 children, Edward, Jr., Patricia Ann Mulford FIsher, James Leroy Mulford (who is a Roman Catholic Priest currently in Cancun, Mexico), and Timothy Joseph Mulford(Jim and TIm are fraternal twins). Edward and I have 2 daughters, Amy Lyn Mulford Logsdon, and Ali Marie Mulford Doucette Rank. Amy has no biological children. Ali has two daughters: Jada Elaine Lehman, and Marissa Amy Doucette. Patricia married Stephen Fisher. They formerly lived in Baltimore, Md, and now live in Wesley Chapel, Florida. They have no children. James spent many years in Italy before his priestly duties recently took him to Mexico. Timothy has two sons; Timothy Michael and Patrick Joseph Mulford. Both reside in Maryland. Patrick has a son named Logan James Mulford. I hope this will help to add some information to your family tree. We would love any other information that you are able to gather, and would also be interested in contacting the descendants of James Maher.

      • Thank you so much Nancy Mulford for the reply you posted on the mighty mahers . I am so excited to learn so much on Peter Mahers family I will be so excited to be able to add all these new found relations to my family site. I had the pleasure a few years ago to meet one of James (Gems) great great granddaughters on a visit to Chicago her name is Kimberly Wolfort and now lives in Iowa her father and fathers sister live in North Carolina and Kim’s sister Kathleen in savanah . I am now in touch with them through face book and e- mails which is lovely . If you or your husband would be interested in joining our family site to suss out the huge extended family he has here in Ireland please feel free to email me privately and I can add you as a member to my site my e-mail address is
        I am married to Maurice Dunne we have four children and 11 grandchildren lovely to hear from you and many many thanks for helping us solve the mystery of what happened to Peters family
        Thanks again your new found Dublin cousin
        Sheelagh x

      • Lori Quinley says:

        Hi Nancy,
        My father is Michael Maher, son of Peter Leroy Maher (b. 1931, d. 1994) and Margaret Ann Maher, and grandson of Peter J. Maher (b. 1902, d. 1960). He would be Winifred Maher’s nephew and your husband’s first cousin. I would love to learn more about Peter (boxer), James, and Patrick – especially whether or not Peter had any other children. Could I contact you through FaceBook? or do you have any e-mail address you can share with me?

        • Sheelagh Dunne says:

          Hi Lori
          If you wish to contact me with regard to your husbands Irish family you can contact me by email or face book my name is sheelagh Dunne and am great granddaughter of Patrick Maher (Peter Mahers brother) I am living in Dublin Ireland and have done a lot of work on my family site . Would love to hear from you and help in your research on Maher family history

    • fritz maher says:

      Hi, did you know where Patrick lived?

      • Fritz I’m not sure which Patrick Maher you are referring to but my great grandfather Patrick was born in Tuam Galway and moved to Dublin Ireland. Two of his brothers went to USA

        • Fritz Maher says:

          would your Patrick have a brother Thomas? And what year are we talking? Thomas came the the USA in about 1840.
          Thank you for your helkp.

  12. Richard Maher says:

    My grandfathers family originated in Tipperary. I’m not sure when they came to the US. My grandfather, born on 1900
    Was nick named, James, and carried the nickname, Tamber. He had two brothers Tobin and John. He may have had a sister
    Also. The family settled in Yonkers where John was a City official for a number of years. Family legend has it that the brothers worked for Dutch Shultz during prohibition. They operated a brewery in Yonkers or nearby which transported beer to Westchester Co.and pumped beer to some speakeasys in the Bronx…. My grandmother and my aunt told this tale, but my grandfather never talked of it . He went his own way after the death of Spoke of it. An old timer that picked me up back in the 60’s told me he knew my GF as one of the toughest kids in Yonkers and GFwas known to box in the smokers. I’m making a trip to Ireland in July and starting to research whatever possible in a short time. My GF married Catherine Oconnor, a daughter of Andrew Oconnor. They arrived at Ellis Ireland in the the late 1890s.

  13. Kelly George Maher says:

    I’m interested to know why some of us pronounce our last name as “MAR” and other as “Ma-Her”. I think it would be interesting to see how this happened. I do know that if I meet a person saying “MAR” they’re family is most likely from the east coast and someone saying “Ma-Her is most likely Midwest, any ideas?

    • fritz maher says:

      About the pronunciation of names, I think some could be the spelling Meagher, which would be pronounced Ma-Her, versus the Maher, pronounced MAR. Same line and all. Someone in Dublin told me the Meagher’s had money and the Maher’s didn’t.

  14. Mark Gilbert says:

    Can someone help me get in touch with John Francis Meagher in Leyland UK?

    We are a NZ branch of the family descended from Mick Meagher (b 1763 in Ballinlassa) & Mary Bohan (b 1771 in Killea)

    John sent me a card recently but his email address does not go through and he did not include his full address.


  15. Erin Maher says:

    Hi, My Maher family (on my Dads side) dud an amazing history of my Great, Great, Great Grandfather who came to the US in 1845. Martin Maher came not to New York but New Orleans which was the 2nd biggest port in the US at that time. Some how or why he made his way to Michigan and became a farmer. Ill go get the book and add more soon

  16. Tom Maher says:

    James and Catherine (Fannan) Maher (Catherine’s father was named Patrick Fannan) from County Tipperary, purportedly landed in New Orleans around 1849 and moved to Springfield OH in 1850. From there they moved to Greenville OH in 1864 where my great grandfather, William Maher was born. William moved to Dayton OH and had a son, my grandfather, Charles Sylvester Maher. My father, Thomas Edward Maher Sr. was born in Dayton in 1917. Anyone know anything about any of these folks?

    • Fritz Maher says:

      we could be getting close to ancestors. I had a Thomas Maher land sometime in the world, and ended up in Indiana in the 1840’s. One of his children was William Maher. He married a woman named Tessa Higdon. She was from Kentucky.

  17. Kandi Wyatt says:

    Hi, my dad’s family is Maher. My great-aunt did some research, but she stopped on the Maher line and moved to the Houghton side. I’ve done a bit of research and can trace back to Patrick Maher (1791-1863) of Westerlo, NY. He married Pheobe TenEyck (1800-1844). I’d love any further info. I know he had 8 kids, including Alexander (my great-great-grandfather) who married Lucia Houghton.

  18. kerrie hansen says:

    I am from the Maher family that was originally in Midwood, Brooklyn, New York. Thomas F. Maher (1874-1940) born in New York who was married to Lillian Irene Mack (possibly Mcilureith) (1878-1950) born in New Jersey.

    I understand Thomas F. Maher’s parents are John Maher and Maragret O’Neill.

    I am having such problems getting any further back. If anyone is working on this branch of the family tree please contact me.

    • Kandi Wyatt says:

      Hi, Kerrie, It looks like we’re tracing the same branch. I believe I’m looking for John’s father, Patrick who came over from Ireland. My dad’s family traces back to Alexander from Westerlo, NY. I can’t seem to find my info that tracked Thomas, but it sounds familiar. Here’s where I found out about John. It may or may not be the exact one, but it may be a starting point.

      • Can’t make a connection between your Mahers and ours but I live in Dublin Ireland and you might find it helpful to look up Irish census of population or there is another site called Ireland .net which has a huge list with photos of graves from all over the country ,hope this helps also if you knew what county they came from you could try Irish parish records. Most mahers came from Tipperary but ours came from Galway.

        • Kandi Wyatt says:

          Thanks, Sheelagh. I’ll take a look. Unfortunately, all I have to go on is an 1850’s or so census in the US that gave me Alexander’s dad’s name as Patrick from Ireland. To make matters worse, Patrick is a very common name. I know he was born 1791 and by 1825 had moved to Westerlo, NY and had a son, my grandpa’s great-grandpa, Alexander.

          • There is one entry on census 1821 which might be of interest it is a Patrick Maher born 1791 living in Roscomroe Kings county Ireland age 30 relation ship to householder son occupation labourer

          • Kandi Wyatt says:

            Wow! Thanks. I’ll have to look into it. I wasn’t finding the I’ll see what I can find when I look up that specific census. Thank you so very much. I understand why my great-aunt who created the family genealogy didn’t go past Ira Maher–her dad. She has a mention of Alexander and that Patrick is Alexander’s dad. If this is this difficult now, I can’t imagine what it would have been like in the 60’s!

          • It’s not easy but it is addictive best of luck with your continued search

          • Kandi Wyatt says:

            It is addictive. Thanks again.

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