This surname with its variant O'Meara, is one of those names which have mainly lost the prefix 'O', so that Meara and Mara are more numerous than they were in the last century. The sept from which they descend, O'Meadhra, was located in the north of County Tipperary, where they gave their name to Toomyvara (in Irish Tuaim ui Mheadhra) in Upper Ormond barony. Ireland was one of the earliest countries to evolve a system of hereditary surnames. A notable member of the name was Barry Edward O'Meara (1786-1836) the Irish physician. He served as a surgeon in the army, but was dismissed for taking part in a duel. He was on the 'Bellerophon' when Napoleon came on board, and accompanied him as a private physician to St. Helena. His published 'Napoleon in Exile' published in 1822, made a great sensation. They came into being fairly generally in the 11th century, and indeed a few were formed before the year 1000. The Irish prefixes of Mac (son of) and O (grandson or descendant of) gave rise at an early date, to a set of fixed hereditary names in which the literal patronymic meaning was lost or obscured. These surnames originally signified membership of a clan, but with the passage of time, the clan system became less distinct, and surnames came to identify membership of what is called a 'sept' of people all living in the same locality, all bearing the same surname, but not necessarily descended from a common ancestor. Adoption of the name by people who did not otherwise have a surname and by their dependents was not uncommon. Later, nicknames were in some cases to supersede the original clan names. It has long been a matter of doubt when the bearing of coats of arms first became hereditary and it was not until the Crusades that Heraldry came into general use. Men went into battle heavily armed and were difficult to recognise. It became the custom for them to adorn their helmets with distinctive crests, and to paint their shields with animals and the like. Coats of arms accompanied the development of surnames, becoming hereditary in the same way.
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