Tuesday, 2 June 2009

The Surname 'Maharg'

My last blog was a response to a query about DNA and the McHarg surname. I have had a query today from a lady in Tennessee, USA, about the possible link between McIlhagga and the surname Maharg. My answer had to be similar to that about McHarg. I have no evidence, either etymological or genetic, that there is any link. However, I have to say that E. MacLysacht, in The Surnames of Ireland, Dublin 1969, quotes P. MacGiollaDomnaigh giving Maharg as a variant of MacIlhagga. In a supplement to MacLysacht's book, entitled Supplement to Irish Families, he writes under the heading MacIlhagga, Maharg: 'At first sight these two names would not appear to be variants, but when we remember that MacIlhagga is also found as MacIlharga, MacElhargy and McIlharg and that in Ulster Mac is frequently abbreviated to Ma the transition becomes intelligible... Maharg is also written Meharg'. First, we have to say that we do not know of any instances where M(a)cIlhagga is also found as MacIlharga, MacElhargy or McIlharg. Second, Padraig MacGiollaDomnaigh, in Some Anglicised Surnames in Ireland, Dublin, Gael Co-operative Society Ltd., 1923, in fact writes under Meharg, Maharg: 'These two names are the shortened anglicised form of McIlhargy. Other forms are McIlharg and McElhargy.' MacLysacht appears to follow MacGiollaDomnaigh uncritically, adding his own reference to McIlhagga. He in turn is followed uncritically by a number of Irish Internet sites like . Even if MacGiollaDomnaigh is historically correct, there is no evidence known to me to posit the theory that M(a)cIlhagga can be identified with the name McIlhargy, so the whole theory falls down. 

Robert Bell, in The Book of Ulster Surnames, under his article Graham, continues the 'myth', saying: 'Maharg is a variant of the Scottish MacIlhagga'. However, like most other authors today, he discounts the theory that some Grahams reversed their name to Maharg to conceal their identity. The story had probably persisted from the time of the Anglo-Scottish Border Reivers. A simplistic account is perpetuated on the Rootsweb Internet site: 'It seems that there was a Graham Clan in Scotland who were considered outlaws by the ruling British because they committed many unlawful acts, such as stealing horses, &c. When caught, they were either hanged or sent to the penal colonies in Australia. These Graham clan members tried to evade capture by reversing the spelling of their name. Many fled to Ulster Province in Ireland to raise their families. Thus the beginning of the Maharg, McHarg, Meharg surname'. We don't know if there is even a grain of truth in this story. There were certainly both Grahams and McHargs in Dumfriesshire and Ayrshire in adjacent villages in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Maybe someone spotted the 'reversal' possibility and used it to get out of trouble, and started a 'story' running. Probably not! I think we can safely put the story in the category of Border Reiver mythology.   

1 comment:

  1. Hello, I'm the person who contacted you two or three years ago about the McHarg/McIlhagga name and the DNA project. The DNA won't solve the question of the meaning of the name but it will solve relationships as you have stated. We now have 19 members with 18 tests completed. Two of the men, in the Mac Harg project, of variant names don't match anyone in the project or each other. But the other sixteen do. So sixteen men of four variations of the name Mac Harg, have DNA proof that they come from the same ancestor - one of the Ui Neills, by the way. Another use for the results is to determine lines within the family as the McHargues are doing.