Left: The McMahon Coat of Arms That They Sell At Milwaukee's Irishfest
Right: The McMahon Coat of Arms That They Sell In Ireland
Bear with me, this gets good. DNA testing and everything . . .
Several years ago I went to Irishfest in Milwaukee and noticed the McMahon Coat of Arms that you see on the left. You could buy it on all manner of objects, from T-shirts to sweaters to jewelry to coffee cups to coasters and on and on. I'm not big on this kind of stuff -- after all, if we McMahons really had been all that royal, would we have ever left Ireland? But still, I was happy that my family had such a neat-looking Coat of Arms with the three griffiths (or is it griffins?). Pretty sharp.
Well, as fate would so have it, Aer Lingus was offering a $349 round trip fare at Irishfest, which I took advantage of by going off to see my dear cousin Patty in Ireland a few months later. She was quite grand about showing me all the sights and sites, but one thing I noticed was the the McMahon Coat of Arms was portayed differently over there. Instead of the three neat griffiths (griffins?) you have just one ostrich-like bird pulling a worm out of the ground or something. If that was the real McMahon Coat of Arms, then no wonder we all left Ireland.
So for all this time I just thought the souvenir vendors at Irishfest were all just fooling all us cheeseheads. But then I saw this from Jeff McMahon's website:
Two distinct families arose in Ireland with the surname McMahon, one in the Kingdom of Oriel in the province of Ulster, around modern County Monaghan; the second in Thomond, in the province of Munster, in modern County Clare. Both descend from Irish rulers who took versions of the title Mathghamhna, which means cub of the Divine Bear. The name McMahon is a modern English spelling of Mac Mathghamhna, son of the cub of the Divine Bear. The details of history regarding each sept will be left to the sites listed, which are devoted to each sept. The purpose of this page is to raise awareness of the important difference between them. To which sept do you belong? Each McMahon must find the answer to that question within her or his own lineage.
Aha! So there were really two completely different families (septs) named McMahon, just like the Lee "family" has both Bruce Lee and Robert E. Lee as historical figures with that surname. And the vendors were just selling the prettier McMahon Coat of Arms. Mystery solved.
And the DNA? If your last name is McMahon, you can take part in the McMahon Surname DNA Study to see which of the two families you are descended from.