Roots: The Mighty Meaghers
By Katie McFadden, Editorial Assistant
June / July 2011
A Look at the Meaghers and Mahers
The Meagher name stems from the medieval Gaelic O’ Meachair, derived from meachar, meaning hospitable or kind, but the kindness of the Meaghers certainly hasn’t taken away from their strength and power.
The name, also recorded as O’Meagher, Maher, Meagar, O’Maher, Mahar and Mahir, still holds prominence in Ireland. Over fifty percent of those bearing variations on the name come from County Tipperary, where the clan originated. The O’Meachair clan kept control over Ikerrin near the modern town of Roscrea, at the foot of the famous Devil’s Bit Mountain in northern Tipperary. During the Norman invasion in the 10th century, the O’Meachairs refused to be ousted from their territory, unlike some other Gaelic clans, and held onto their traditional lands up to the Cromwellian period.
Certain Meaghers have made their mark in history. American Civil War hero Thomas Francis Meagher (1823-1867) was one of the founders of the revolutionary ‘Young Ireland’ movement. This Irish nationalist, also known as “Meagher of the Sword,” was a leader during the Rebellion of 1848, which led to his arrest and exile. Upon being transported to Australia, he managed to escape to the United States where he joined the Civil War and became Brigadier-General of the Irish Brigade of the Union Army.
Another recognized military Meagher was John W. Meagher (1917-1996), a U.S. Army technical sergeant who received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Battle of Okinawa in World War II. He received the award for protecting the tank he rode and destroying two enemy positions.
Other Meaghers made their name in the sports world. Irish-American Mary T. Meagher is an Olympic champion and former world-record-holding swimmer. She held records in the 100m and 200m butterfly events for nearly 20 years. They are considered among the greatest sports performances ever and she won the title of World Swimmer of the Year in both 1981 and 1985. Lorenzo Ignatius Meagher (1899-1973), better known as Lory, is regarded as one of the greatest hurlers in the history of the game. He played for his local club, Tullaroan, and was a Kilkenny senior inter-county team member from 1924 until 1937. In 2008, the Gaelic Athletic Association created the Lory Meagher Cup for Division 4 hurling teams, in his honor.
Canadian diplomat Blanche Margaret Meagher (1911-1999) was Canada’s first woman ambassador in 1958. She served as ambassador to Israel, Austria and Sweden. She also governed and chaired the International Atomic Energy Agency. In 1974, she was awarded the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian honor.
Founded in 1976 by Shane de Blacam and John Meagher, De Blacam & Meagher is an Irish architecture firm known for using natural materials. The two are known as the godfathers of contemporary Irish architecture, and their award-winning projects include The Chapel of Reconciliation at the Catholic shrine at Knock, Ireland, and the Beckett Theatre at Trinity College, Dublin. At the 2010 Venice Biennale, De Blacam & Meagher were the principal exhibitors in the Irish Pavilion.
Many other outstanding Meaghers go by the derivation Maher. One of these is stand-up comedian, talk show host, and political commentator Bill Maher, known for his political satire and controversial commentary on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher. Prior to this, he hosted Politically Incorrect, which was cancelled in 2002 after a nine-year run. Maher holds the 38th spot in Comedy Central’s 100 greatest stand-ups of all time and he holds the record for the most Emmy nominations (22) without a win. He was given a Hollywood Walk of Fame star in 2010.
Peter Maher was one of the most well known athletes at the end of the 19th century. The Irish American won many big matches including the 1888 Middleweight Championship of Ireland, the 1890 Heavyweight Championship of Ireland and the 1895 Heavyweight Championship of the World after moving to the United States.
The Meagher coat of arms captures the strength of this family. It contains the blazon of a blue shield charged with two gold lions in rampant combat or supporting a silver sword. The family motto ‘In periculis audax’ means ‘bold in danger,’ a phrase that the Meaghers have proven to stand for throughout history.