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MacNamara, MacConmara

MacNamara Family Crest
Gules a lion rampant argent,
in chief two spearheads or.

The MacConmara were one of the most influential clans of Thomond and for a long time placed second in importance to that of the Royal O'Briain. They were once styled Lords of Clancullen and the extensive territory over which they ruled comprised much of the present day Baronies of Bunratty and both Upper and Lower Tulla. The name is derived from "cu" meaning a hound and "na mara" of the sea, an example whereby the image of a legendary figure is incorporated into that of a surname. This important sept could trace their origin to Cas, the Celtic chief who settled here as leader of a group of people known as Dal Cais, thereby giving their name to the land of the Dalcassians.

Several references to the sept appear in both "The Annals of the Four Masters" and the "Annals of Inisfallen". They participated in several early warlike engagements relating to Inis Cealtra and Inis Cathaig which led to the defeat of the Norse; perhaps their most notable exploit was, at a later time, the successful storming of Quin Castle, then a formidable bastion of the Normans. Much credit therefore goes to Sioda Cam MacNamara for having years later converted the ruined shell of this castle into a great house of worship, with chapels, a sacristy and conventual buildings. So it was with pride and a sense of security that the Franciscans accepted the invitation to occupy this newly transformed building and where for the next two hundred years they were to live out their lives in prayer and austerity while ministering as well to the spiritual needs of the people in the best tradition of the Order. In 1433 Eugenius IV issued a testimony in praise of Maccon, son of Sioda Cam MacNamara "for his devotion to the Order of St. Francis and for his pius purpose in maintaining a house in the town of Quin in the Diocese of Killaloe with church, belfry and other necessary buildings for the use and dwelling place of Friars Minor who shall there serve God under regular observance."

Quin Abbey
Quin Abbey
Tombs bearing the family arms were erected within the chancel of Quin Abbey which became the last resting place of several prominent members of the Clan. Beneath the stone canopy of one tomb there is a Latin inscription which translated reads "Here lies Hugh who was the son of Laurence, who was the son of Matthew MacNamara and Covleen MacNamara, his wife who caused me to be made." This tomb was built in 1450. Among their other achievements were the large number of castles or tower-houses built by them during the 14th and 15th centuries. In all, nearly 50 tower-houses are listed, which they either built, acquired or repaired, a number in excess of those built by O'Briens themselves, among them being the well-known Bunratty and Knappogue Castles as well as Ballymarkham, Balyhannon, Danganbrack and Rosroe. The MacNamaras also held the hereditary position of chief functionary to the O'Briain, one of their most prestigious duties was to preside at Magh Adhair near Quin during the inauguration ceremony of the Kings of Thomond.

The coming of Cromwell to Ireland and the subsequent wholesale confiscations of land dealt a fatal blow to their position and high standing and it has been calculated that of 293 families of the name, living on their lands in 1654 only six were allowed to retain part of their estates. Many fled the country mainly to France, a few retired to accept what was offered to them in Connacht, others departed to seek a new life even as far away as the West Indies. Many MacNamaras did, however, find a place in history. Donnchad Ruadh is among the best known of the Gaelic poets while John "Fireball" MacNamara and Francis MacNamara of Ennistymon House were colourful figures.

Further Reading:
MacNamara, Nottidge C. The story of an Irish sept: their character and struggle to maintain their lands in Clare. London, Dent, 1896.
Reprinted by Martin Breen, 1999

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Learned Families of Thomond