The surname of MAHAN was derived from the Gaelic Mac Mathghamma, meaning 'bear'. The name of two septs. both of great importance. That of Thomond, descends from Mahon O'Brien, grandson of Brian Boru. MacMahon is now the most numerous name in County Clare. One of those who claimed descent from Brian, King of Munster, was County Daniel O'Mahony (died. 1714) a Jacobite who left Ireland in 1692, and entered the service of Spain and France. He was knighted by the pretender James III. and ennobled by Louis X1V. of France. His son Demetrius (Dermot) was Spanish ambassador to Austria. Ireland is one of the earliest sources of the development of patronymic names in northern Europe. Irish Clan or bynames can be traced back to the 4th century B.C. and Mac (son of) and O (grandson or ancestor of) evolved from this base, the original literal meaning of which has been lost due to the absence of written records and linguistic ambivalences which subtly but inexorably became adopted through usage. Genealogists and lexographers accept that the patronymic base does not refer to a location, quite the contrary. The use of the prefix 'Bally' (town of) attaching to the base name, identifying the location. The base root was also adopted by people residing in the demographic area without a common ancestor. These groups called 'Septs' were specially prevalent in Ireland. The first Normans arrived in Ireland in the 12th and 13th centuries to form an alliance with the King of Leinster. Under Elizabeth I in the 16th century, settlers from England established themselves around Dublin, then under English control and Presbyterian Scots emigrated to Ulster, introducing English and Scottish roots. The best known of this family was Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840-1914) the naval historian whose grandfather emigrated to the United States from Ireland in 1802. His father, Denis Hart Mahan was notable both as a soldier and an educator in America. Ireland was one of the first countries to evolve a system of hereditary surnames. They came into being fairly generally in the 11th century, and indeed a few were formed before the year 1000.
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