Geoghegan, usually nowadays without the prefix Mac, is a name which no non-Irish person will attempt to pronounce at sight; it has many synonyms, including Gehegan and Gagan which approximate the most common pronounciations of the name. It is usually pronounced gay-gan or ge-heg-an. In Irish it is Mac (or Mag) Eochagáin, from Eochaidh, i.e. the now almost obsolete, but once common, Christian name Oghy. It will be observed that the initial "G" of Geoghegan comes from the prefix Mag, a variant of Mac and the anglicised form Mageoghegan was formerly much used. The sept of the MacGeoghegans is of the southern Uí Neill and of the stock of the famous King Niall of the Nine Hostages. Niall was High King of Ireland from 377 to 404 AD (approximately). His father was Eochaidh Muigh-Medon, of the Celtic line of Erimhon, one of the sons of Esbain who took Ireland from the Tuatha de Danann. Niall's mother was Carthann Cas Dubh, daughter of the king of Britain. Niall's first wife was Inné, mother of his son Fiacha, from who the Geoghegans are descended. He also had seven other sons with his second wife, Roighnech. Niall's ancestry can be traced back to Miledh of Esbain, King of Spain, whose wife was the daughter of the Egyptian Pharaoh Nectonibus. From there the line goes back fifteen generations to Niul (from whom the river Nile got its name) who was married to the daughter of Pharaoh Cingris (who drowned in the Red Sea when Moses rejoined the parted waters after the Israelites had made good their escape).
As High King of Ireland, Niall reigned from the ancient Irish royal seat at Tara, in modern Co. Meath. During his reign he conquered all of Ireland and Scotland and much of Britain and Wales. He took a royal hostage from each of the nine kingdoms he subjugated, hence his famous nickname. He gave each of his sons a territory to govern. Fiacha was given a large area in the midlands. His descendants were known as Cenel Fiachaigh, anglicised at Kenaleagh and their territory was known by that name until Elizabethan times when it became the present barony of Moycashel, Co. Westmeath.
Niall is also famous for bringing St. Patrick to Ireland as a slave. Patrick eventually escaped but returned to bring Christianity to the land of his captivity. It is said that when the saint was preaching the gospel in the Westmeath area, he was so badly received by Fiacha (his soldiers attacked Patrick's followers) that Patrick placed a curse on him to the effect that none of his descendants would ever be kings of Ireland. It is also said that Fiacha refused baptism from the good saint himself at Carn, near CastletownGeoghegan. The old name for this place was Carn Fhiachaigh, or Fiacha's burial mound.
On the other hand, there is an ancient book called the Leabhar Breach, in which it is claimed that the Geoghegans are descended, not from Fiacha, son of Niall, but from a plebeian, Fiacha son of Aedh. This claim so enraged the descendants of Fiacha, that they killed the author of the passage, even though he was under the protection of Suanach, the abbot of the monastery of Rahin (and rightly so!).
The MacGeoghegan's, descendants of Fiacha, were of considerable importance up to the time of Cromwell when they suffered severely through war and confiscation. Fifteen MacGeoghegans, chiefs of Cenel Fiachaigh or Kinaleagh, sometimes called lords thereof, are mentioned in the "Annals of the Four Masters" between 1291 and 1450, besides many others of the name, the last of these being Richard MacGeoghegan, who, after fighting with great gallantry, was killed at the siege of Dunboy in 1602. The military tradition was long maintained. Five of the sons of Charles MacGeoghegan of Sinan, Co. Westmeath, were killed during the Jacobite War in Ireland; and in the eighteenth century MacGeoghegans appear as soldiers on the continent, mostly in the service of France. The MacGeoghegan estates in Co. Westmeath were very extensive and were held by a number of different branches of the chiefly family. The most important of these properties was at Castletown, now called Castletown-Geoghegan. By the end of the seventeenth century the bulk of these vast estates had been confiscated or their owners, who ranked among the leading gentry of the county, outlawed.
There have been many other distinguished MacGeoghegans - notably Ross, alias Roch, MacGeoghegan (1580-1644), the much persecuted Dominican, "saintly and enterprising" Bishop of Kildare; Conal MacGeoghegan, Chief of the Sept, translator of the "Annals of Clonmacnois" into English in 1627; another well-known historian, the Abbe James MacGeoghegan (1702-1764); and Anthony Geoghegan (1810-1889), poet; there were also three lesser poets of the name. St. Hugh of Rahue between Tullamore and Tyrrell's Pass in Co. Westmeath) was of the family which became MacGeoghegan when surnames were adopted. The saint's crozier was in the possession of the MacGeoghegan family for many centuries - it passed from them to the Nagles of Jamestown House, Co, Westmeath, a family now extinct. A branch of the MacGeoghegan sept settled in Bunowen, Co. Galway, and the name is found in that county as well as in their original territory. In the West it has been often shortened to Geoghan and even Gegan. In 1807, John Geoghegan of Bunowen Castle, Co. Galway assumed by royal licence the surname of O'Neill in lieu of Geoghegan and so his descendants - all O'Neills - are really Geoghegans by ancestry. The brothers Lawrence and Sebastian Gahagan, who were sculptors of note in London between 1760 and 1820 were Irishmen called Geoghegan at home.
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