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Geoghan, Geoghagan, Geogeghan, Geohegan, Geohagan, Geogan, Gegan,
Gagin, Gagon, Geaghan, Geagan, Geygan, Gahagan, Gahaghan,Gehegan,
Gohagan, Gohegan, Cohagan, Cohegan, Gavagan, Gavigan, Gaffigan,
Gargan, Gavaghan, Gheen, Mageoghegan
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 (appro00ximately). 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.
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.
We must mention John Geoghegan (Jack the Buck), son of Kedagh Geoghegan and his wife Anne Brown. John may well be the most famous Geoghegan of all - he is certainly the most colourful. He never married, preferring a gentleman bachelor life of enjoyment and adventure. His nickname (the Buck) equates to "the toff", "the gent" or "the dandy" and on a portrait of him, he is referred to as "John - Lord of Moycashel". Though he was catholic, he and his brother, Kedagh, often dined with the grand jurors at the time of the Assizes in Mullingar. It was usual for the Geoghegans to drive into town in a grand coach and four and John regarded himself as no man's inferior. So it happened at the Summer Assizes of 1768, one of the jurors, a certain George Stepney of Durrow, offered John £20 for his four fine horses. Under the penal statutes of the time, any "Irish Papist" was considered unfit to own a horse and if he was fortunate enough to have one was obliged to sell it to any member of the established church for £5. So the offer was in line with the law even though the beasts would have been worth considerably more than that sum. Geoghegan excused himself and retired to the inn stables where the horses were housed. Drawing his pistols, he shot the four of them dead, then returning to Stepney, informed him that he could have them for nothing. Thereafter, it is said, whenever Geoghegan came to town, his coach was drawn by the four finest oxen in Ireland.
Another story tells of Jack the Buck's arrival at an Inn where a Jack St. Ledger, a friend of Stepney's, was drinking with his comrades (possibly including Stepney). In an attempt to vex Geoghegan, St. Ledger gave a shilling to the piper and told him to play some tune in praise of the King. The piper, aware of Jack the Buck's reputation was hesitant and the tension mounted. Jack then tossed the piper a guinea and said "we'll have Geoghegan's Vagary" and the piper complied. (Incidentally, the tune mentioned is unknown to me. If any reader has the music for it I would be delighted to get a copy). St. Ledger was so incensed that he challenged Geoghegan to a duel. The duel was fought with pistols on the steps of Stepney's house in Durrow, by candlelight. St. Ledger badly underestimated his opponent, as Jack the Buck was accomplished with both pistol and sword. As the candles flickered in the darkness, Geoghegan's aim was straight and true and he hit his man in the heart. There was continued bad blood between Stepney and Geoghegan and it wasn't long before Jack found an excuse to engage him in another duel. One account tells that the duel took place on the bridge of Lismoyney and that Stepney was badly, though not fatally, wounded. A second account states that Stepney never showed up for the duel, presumably because he feared Geoghegan's prowess which he had witnessed first hand.
Another story relates how Jack, while playing cards in Bath, in England, noticed that one of the players, Du Barry, was cheating. The Buck bided his time, but at an appropriate moment, picked up a serving fork and transfixed Du Barry's hand to the table. While Du Barry, his hand impaled to the table and unable to move, was writhing in pain, Geoghegan announced "Sir, if that is not the Ace of Clubs under your hand, I'll be begging your pardon".
Many more adventures are attributed to John - Jack the Buck - Geoghegan. The final one took place in London and involved Jack, a Frenchman and an actress to whom both men were paying attention. Jack, never one to shirk a fight, and the Frenchman agreed to a duel in order to sort out the issue of which of them was the better man to court the actress. The duel was fought with swords and although Geoghegan was an excellent swordsman, his weapon broke and he was run though. His injuries were not fatal at the time, but Jack the Buck never fully recovered and died soon afterwards in 1776.
(Mac)Geoghegan Clan Website