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Cormac Cas was King of Thomond around the fifth century and he spawned a tribal grouping known as the Dál gCais or Dalcassians which dominated Munster until the final suppression of the old Gaelic order in the seventeenth century. Twenty-three generations later and in direct descent from Cas we find Cumara, Chief of Maghadhair in county Clare. Cumara is a contracted form of Conmara - hound of the sea. His son, Domhnall, who died in 1099, adopted the surname Mac Conmara, or son of Cumara, thus becoming the very first MacNamara. The name has survived relatively unmodified as MacConmara in Irish and Mac (or Mc) Namara in English, to this day.
In Co. Clare, the homeland of the MacNamaras, the name is very numerous. In fact in everyday speech it is usually abbreviated to the simple form of "Mac". This is interesting, because another Mac name, MacMahon, comes first in the numerical list of Co. Clare names, considerably ahead of MacNamara, which has second place, yet the abbreviation is never applied to MacMahon.
The sept of MacNamara was, after the O'Briens, the most important and powerful of the Dalcassians of Thomond. They were hereditary marshals to the O'Briens and had the privilege of inaugurating their chief who was, of course, often a king. There was frequent intermarriage between these two strong families. The sept was originally confined to a small territory, but by the end of the eleventh century they had become lords of Clancullen (which comprises a great part of East Clare) and they are so described by the Four Masters many times at various dates between 1099 and 1600. The sept in due course became two - the chief of West Clancullen (barony of Bunratty) being MacNamara Fyne (i.e. fionn, fair), and the chief of East Clancullen (baronies of Upper and Lower Tulla) MacNamara Reagh (i.e. riabhach, swarthy or grizzled). They earned a reputation as builders and are recorded as having built forty-two castles, fifteen fortresses and several friaries. Macmiccon MacNamara Fionn received a papal bull authorising him to install Friars Minor in Quin Abbey, near Ennis, which he built in 1402. Many of the family lie buried in the shadow of the now roofless abbey.
Like their ancient fortresses, the MacNamara seats are all in County Clare. From the woods around Cratloe Castle, built in 1610, came the oaks for London's old Westminster Hall and the royal palace in Amsterdam. They were to a great extent dispossessed in the Cromwellian debacle, but one family, resident until quite lately at Ennistymon, became Protestants and were extensive landlords up till the Land Act of 1903.
The history of Clare is full of the name MacNamara. Half a century before America was discovered, John Macmiccon H MacNamara, Lord of Clancullen and High Chieftain of the Dalcassians, completed the building of Bunratty Castle begun by his father, Sioda, and planned his dream castle at Knappogue. These two splendid County Clare castles have survived the depredations of war and poverty over the past five centuries. Today visitors from home and abroad flock to the medieval banquets and entertainments that are held regularly in these magnificent relics of the past. Shannon airport is nearby.
In the seventeenth century, having lost most of their power and possessions to the Cromwellian confiscations, many MacNamaras dispersed to Europe and, in later years, to America, Canada and Australia, where their name still features, often prominently. Given the meaning of their name, it is not surprising that the MacNamara men usually opted for a naval rather than a military career and that they boast many admirals.
At the outbreak of the French Revolution there was a Count MacNamara who was commodore of the French fleet in the Far East; previously he had played a useful role there as a diplomat. In September 1790, he put into the Indian port of Ile de France, but was assassinated by colonisers and soldiers of the French garrison who had heard of his hostility to the principles of the revolution.
James MacNamara (1768 - 1826) from County Clare was in the British navy where he saw much service up to the Peace of Amiens. In a duel provoked by a fight between two dogs, he killed his opponent and, in 1803, was tried for murder. At his trial, Nelson, Hood and other distinguished officers testified to his character and service, so that he was acquitted. In 1814 he was appointed an admiral.
As recently as the Second World War there was a Rear Admiral Sir Patrick MacNamara (1886 - 1957).
Genealogical papers relating to the MacNamara family are widespread. Some are in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. In the British Museum there is a letter in French from Queen Mary II to the Abbess of Ronchery at Angers in France, thanking her for helping a Miss MacNamara whose father had served as a major in the King's Troop.
Donnchadha Ruadh Mac Conmara, who was born in East Clare in about 1715, was educated in Rome for the priesthood. His character was not in accord with that discipline and he was expelled, whereupon he turned to writing poetry. He was a competitor at the Court of Poetry held by Piaras MacGearailt in Cork in 1743. Donnchadha earned his living for a while as a schoolmaster in Waterford and it is possible that he emigrated to Newfoundland from there. Whether he did or not is uncertain, yet he wrote a poem, "The Adventures of a Luckless Fellow", which, as an account of an emigrant's voyage, would seem to be authentic, especially as there was constant traffic between Waterford and Newfoundland at that time. Whether he made it to Newfoundland or not he must have returned, for there are accounts of his career in Ireland as a schoolteacher and of his dismissal for being drunk. To qualify for various other jobs that might be available to him, he converted from Catholic to Protestant and back again. He seems to have travelled in Europe, which may have given him the inspiration for that famous poem of rich nostalgia, "Ban Chnoic Éireann Oigh", (The Fair Hills of Ireland), which sounds infinitely more mellifluous in Irish. His "Song of Repentance", written towards the close of his days, is considered to be far superior to the sentimental poetry of the eighteenth century. He lived to be 95 and died in his native Waterford.
"Fireball" MacNamara brought no honour to the name. He shot his way around France and, returning to his native County Clare, continued his aggressive ways, robbing and killing. Despite all this he was a popular villain. In 1836, he ended on the scaffold and is buried beside one of his victims in the abbey at Quin built by his ancestor.
Francis MacNamara (died 1945), once of Doolin and of Ennistymon House (now the Falls Hotel), was a poet and an eccentric. He is best known as the father of two daughters, Caitlin, who married the great Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, and Nicolette Devas, later Shepard, artist and author of Two Flamboyant Fathers. The second of Francis's three wives, Edie McNeill, was a sister of Augustus John's wife, Dorelia, and brought Francis and his daughters into the commune presided over by this robust painter.
The popular ballad with the rousing tune, MacNamara the Leader of the Band, was written at the beginning of this century by Patrick MacNamara from Limerick.
Michael MacNamara was the regimental sergeant major of the Munster Fusiliers in the First World War, while Thomas MacNamara, who also served with the British army, was the man who, in 1920, helped to smuggle Eamon de Valera to the United States.
In the US, Robert MacNamara was president of the World Bank from 1968 to 1981. Born in San Francisco, he lists among his many appointments general manager of the Ford Motor Company and US Secretary of Defense, from 1961 to 1968.
In Canada, Arthur James MacNamara (1885 - 1962) was Deputy Minister for Labour. In Australia, Francis MacNamara (1894 - 1961) of Melbourne was air vice-marshal of the Australian Flying Corps.
In Burke's Irish Family Records, published in 1976, there is a comprehensive account of the MacNamara pedigrees.
The following additional information on McNamaras in Australia was given to me by Lance McNamara.
The drover "Clancy of the Overflow", considered a legend in Australia and made a houshold name by Banjo Patterson (One of our finest poets) was in reality Thomas Micheal McNamara. Clancy was a drover and legendary horseman living in the Overflow Ditrict of Northern Queensland in the 1800's. He was renowned for his exploites on horesback and as a pioneering Australian. He is most popularly remembered from the "Man from Snowy River" poem also by Patterson. Clancy's legend came to represent what life was like for pioneering Australians and in turn became part of the folk lore of the nation. His descendants live in Queensland to this day.
Dame Jean McNamara was considered a saviour to the Australian rural economy. during the earlier part of the 20th century Australia was gripped by rabbit plagues. The Australian climate is well suited to the rabbit. Dame Jean managed to find a virus known as Miximitosis that would affect and control rabbits without causing harm to other native wildlife. The virus was very succseful and as a result brought many rural communities back from the brink of economic disaster. Miximitosis became a houshold name and was the basis of more than a few jokes.
There is also a famous airman who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his courage and ingenuity during the first world war. Frank McNamara was a pilot with the Royal Australian Air Core and when flying over the the deserts of Africa spotted the wreckage of a fellow airmen. On trying to land he was shot down himself. Frank managed to land the plane rescue the wounded pilot fix his aircraft and get back into the air all before the enemy got him. He made it home alive apparently. He is included at the Australian National War Memorial.
The ancient sept arms of MacNamara are recorded by the Chief Herald of Ireland and in Burke's, "The General Armory of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales" as "Gules a lion rampant argent in chief two spear heads or". In plain English this describes a red shield, thereon a white lion in attacking posture with a gold or yellow spear head in either top corner. Further records show other MacNamaras bearing the same shield with the addition of a crest and motto.
MacNamara of Doolin and Ennistymon, County Clare. Arms: Gules a lion rampant argent in chief two spear heads or. Crest: A naked arm embowed grasping a scymitar all proper. Motto: virtute et valore (virtue and valour).
MacNamara of Ayle and Banna Castle, County Clare and County Dublin. Arms: Gules a lion rampant argent in chief two spear heads or, a crescent for difference. Crest: Issuing from a ducal coronet or, a naked arm embowed grasping a scymitar all proper. Motto: Firmitas in coelo (strength in heaven).
MacNamara of Kilgurtin, County Clare and France. Arms: Gules a lion rampant argent in chief two spear heads or. Crest: A naked arm embowed grasping a scymitar all proper. Motto: Firmitas in coelo (strength in heaven).
The Mac Namaras; A Sept of the Dal gCas - by Donal E. J. Mac Namara
Mac Namara is the contemporary surname of an ancient and powerful clan descended from Cormac Cas who ruled the kingdom of Thomond some 1500 years ago in the time of St. Patrick, and from whom are descended such notable clans as the O'Briens, Mac Mahons, O'Kennedys, O'Gradys, O'Deas, Mac Inerneys, Mac Clancys and a score of others, some now almost extinct. The name itself is somewhat a misnomer being literally translated as 'son of the sea' although there is little evidence in clan history of any major interest in piracy, sea-roving or even ocean fishing. The clan territories, largely in East Clare, are far from the Atlantic sea coast. In later years however, several MacNamaras attained the rank of admiral, four in the Royal Navy, and one, Comte. Henri Pantaleon MacNamara in the navy of Bourbon France (a militant monarchist, he was murdered by the sailors of his fleet during the French Revolution).
One apostate branch of the clan came into extensive coastal lands in West Clare (Doolin, Liscannor and Ennistymon) in the 18th and 19th centuries. They produced such notables as Henry Valentine MacNamara, High Sheriff of Clare, and his grand-daughter, Caitlin Mac Namara, spouse of the Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, and herself the author of several interesting autobiographical volumes.
Actually the family was earliest known as Clann Caisin - and later as Clann Cuilean, ('clan of the holly tree', in remembrance of its assimilation of the remnants of the Fir Bolgs who held the holly in the same awe as did the Druids the oak.) It was not until the 12th century that the evolution to MacNamara began - first as MacCumara (son of the hound of the sea), then as Mac Conmara and Mac con na Mara ('con' being the genitive of 'cu'), and finally, at least among the chiefs and tanists, as Mac Namara. The area of Galway known as Connemara has no relationship to the clan as it designates the lands of those descendants of Conor who settled by the sea as opposed to the progeny of Queen Maeve and those who occupied lands in what is now eastern Galway. As late as the 19th century however, some members of the clan, notably the Gaelic poet Donnchadh Ruadh, adopted the Mac Conmara style as do a handful of Celtic revivalists to this day.
Variant spellings of the name are legion - I have identified more than a score with of course, Mc Namara, being the most prevalent accounting for perhaps 75% of those listed in Ireland, England, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. The same is true of nearly 90% of those listed (some 10,000) in the United States.
The Mac Namaras attained early fame as warriors (they are described by an early historian as "princely chiefs of well-fought battles"), and castle-builders. They held some 56 castles in Clare, many in ruins today (e.g. Cratloe), but at least two restored to their early glory and much visited by tourists (Bunratty and Knoppogue). As warriors, Mac Namaras engaged in continual internecine warfare with rival Dalcassions, driving the O'Gradys and O'Kennedys among others out of Clare, allying themselves with the O'Brien dynasty and as hereditary Marshalls of Thomond, defending the legitimate inheritors of the thrones of Thomond and Munster over pretenders (losing in these encounters hundreds of chieftains and their sons), and finally, in the 1640's joining in the battles against Cromwell's armies and in the hapless campaign against William of Orange waged by James II.
As a consequence of these 17th century adventures, the Mac Namaras lost virtually all of their lands, which under the Acts of Settlement were then distributed among followers of Cromwell and William, apostate members of the O'Brien and other Dalcassion clans (among them a few Mac Namaras), and to 'innocent Papists', Catholics dispossessed from their lands in the Pale but rewarded for their loyalty to the crown with the confiscated lands of the rebel clans.
As late as 1800, Francis Mac Namara, an apostate member of the Irish Parliament, was bribed by Castlereagh with land titles and pensions to vote for the Act of Union.
The Mac Namaras played an important role in Ireland's early history: the Index Nominum of the Annals of Ireland by the Four Masters lists forty-five notable members of the clan; and six additional references to the clan itself between the latter years of the 12th century and the early 17th century. Sioda Mac Namara, for example is referred to as "the chief protector of the men of Ireland and renowned in his hospitality". Father White in his 'History of Clare and the Dalcassion Clans' carries their story well into the 19th century. From the mid-19th century to the present day however, members of the Mac Namara clan in the Diaspora have achieved greater fame (and in some cases notoriety) than those who have remained in the homeland. I have compiled some 150 short biographies of Mac Namaras at home and abroad who have in one field of human activities or another impacted the history of their times. A sampling from my book (hopefully soon to be published) 'Mac Namara: A Notable Dalcassion Clan" includes:
Fireball Mac Namara (1764-1836) - scion of Moyriesk Mac Namaras, extensive landholders in East Clare - noted duellist (56 known encounters, many fatal to his opponents)- adventurer, served in several European armies - wounded fighting with the 1798 rebels in the Battle of Vinegar Hill - dissipated much of the family holdings in riotous living.
Donnchadh Ruadh Mac Namara (1715-1810)- mostly used the Mac Conmara form of the name - spoiled priest, school-master and noted Gaelic poet - some of his verses had alternate lines in English and Irish - best known for his Aeneid-like "The Adventures of a Luckless Fellow" and "As I Was Walking One Evening Fair" - violently anti-English, his verses in Irish (e.g. in the "Fair Hills of Eire, O") scathingly denounce King George III and everyone and everything English.
Patrick Mc Namara (1894-1966) U. S. Senator from Michigan- Chairman, U.S. Senate Public Works Committee (1955-1966). Robert Strange Mc Namara (1916- ) Secretary of Defense in the cabinets of President John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson; President of the World Bank; President of the Ford Motor Company. Author of IN RETROSPECT: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam (1995).
Kevin Mc Namara (1926 - 1987) Archbishop of Dublin; previously Bishop of Kerry and prior to that Professor of Theology at St. Patrick's Seminary, Maynooth. Archbishop Mc Namara was considered papabile, i.e. a potential Pope, at the time of his death.
Kevin Mc Namara, M.P. (1934- ) Labour's shadow Minister for Northern Ireland; previously Parliamentary Secretary to the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs.
Brinsley Mac Namara (1890 - 1963) nom de plume of John Weldon - noted novelist and playwright - his Valley of the Squinting Windows gained him international acclaim.
James Mac Namara (1768-1826) Admiral of the Royal Navy, his court martial and acquittal on the charge of murdering Col. Robert Montgomery of the British Army in a duel growing out of a dog-fight made him immensely popular in the Naval Service; one of the most highly decorated officers of Lord Nelson.
Joseph D. Mc Namara (1934 - ) police executive, criminologist, author - first police officer to gain a doctorate from Harvard University; Director of Planning and Research, NYC Police Dept.; Chief of Police, Kansas City, Missouri, and San Jose, California; Research Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University. Author of: The First Detective; Fatal Command; and The Blue Mirage.
Among the scores of Mac Namaras who over the years have brought fame or shame to our name we well might add: Francis Mac Namara, the 'Convict Poet', who during his fifteen years of penal servitude in Australia wrote some seventy poems including "A Convicts Lament" from which the well known ballad "Moreton Bay" is derived; the four Mac Namara brothers from Limerick who formed Mac Namaras Band; Mathilda Mac Namara 'Mother of Australian Labour', John McNamara who allegedly defrauded General Motors of half-a-billion dollars; Fr. Eugene Mac Namara who arranged a vast grant of California lands from the Mexican government to resettle some 40,000 Irish refugees but was thwarted by the American government; Father Thomas Mac Namara founder of Castleknock College and long-time Rector of the Irish College in Paris; Drs. Rawdon Mac Namara, Sr. and Jr., both presidents of the Royal College of Surgeons; Angela Mac Namara, Ireland's 'Dear Abby' and 'Ann Landers', John Mac Namara, founding member of the United Irishmen, hanged at Newgate in 1803; The Mc Namara brothers, labour martyrs, imprisoned for dynamiting the viciously anti-labour Los Angeles Times in 1910; Admirals Burton and Patrick Mac Namara of the Royal Navy and Admiral Henri Mac Namara of the French Navy; and my predecessor Mac Namara historian, Nottidge Charles Mac Namara, Surgeon-General of the Indian Army, and author of "The Story of an Irish Sept".
Clan McNamara of Australia
McNamaras in New England