This noble and distinguished Irish surname recorded in the spellings of MacMahon, McMahon, Mahon and Mahan, is an Anglicized form of the Old Gaelic "Mac Mathghamha", meaning "son of the Bear". Traditionally, Irish family names are taken from the heads of tribes, or from some illustrious warrior, and are usually pre-fixed by "O", grandson, male descendant of, or "Mac", denoting "son of". Two distinct septs of this name exist in Ireland. The first belong to County Clare, and are descended from Mahon, son of Murtagh Mor O'Brien, King of Ireland (deceased 1119). Their territory was Corcabaskin in West Clare where the name is still most numerous. The last inaugurated Chief of the Name fell at the Battle of Kinsale in 1602. The second great sept of M(a)cMahon became lords of Oriel in the 13th Century, Oriel being an ancient territory comprising Counties Armagh, Monaghan and parts of South Down, Louth and Fermanagh. Today, M(a)cMahon holds third place on the list of most popular County Monaghan surnames. Many namebearers, including Bernard MacMahon (1680 - 1747), were Archbishops of Armagh, having previously been bishops of their native Clogher. The most outstanding MacMahon was Edmond Patrice, Compte de MacMahon (1808 - 1893), Marshal of France, and President of the Third Republic for six years. The family Coat of Arms is a silver shield with three red lions passant reguardant in pale, armed and langued azure. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of MacMahon (the name adopted by Reginald FitzUrse when he fled to Ireland following the murder of Thomas a Beckett), which was dated 1170, in the "Early Medieval Records of Ireland", during the reign of Rory O'Connor, Last native High King of Ireland, 1166 - 1175. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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