The MacNamara Family

MacNamara family crest

(Crest No. 25. Plate 41.)

THE MacNamaras are descended from Milesius, King of Spain, through the line of his son Heber, and indirectly through the line of Heremon, by Cormac Cas, founder of the Dal Cais tribe. The latter was the son of Olliol Ollum, King of Munster, A. D. 177, and his consort, Sabia, daughter of Con Kead Caha, or Con of the Hundred Battles, King of Ireland, A. D. 148.

The MacNamaras took their name from one of their chiefs in the tenth century, named Cumara, Chief of Magnadhair, A. D. 1099, a descendant of Conall Echluath, or Conall of the Swift Steeds, who was King of Munster in the fourth century. The word Cumara makes in the genitive Conmara, and signifies “a Warrior of the Sea.”

The chiefs of the MacNamaras were styled Princes of Clan Cuilean, which territory is now the barony of Tullagh, in the County of Clare; it contained also a part of the barony of Dunrathy. The tribe name of the family was that of Clan Cullain, derived from Cuilean, one of their chiefs in the eighth century.

This ancient family held the high and honorable office of hereditary marshals of Thomond, where they had numerous castles. With the O’Connors, O’Loughlins, and the O’Briens, who exercised supreme authority over Thomond, or North Munster, they successfully resisted the Anglo-Norman intruders for centuries. Those of them who had secured a footing in Dunrathy and Clare were finally either extirpated or compelled to adopt the manners of the country and to acknowledge the authority of the native septs. It was not until 1565 that this territory was converted into shire ground and named after its original grantee, who had been unable to retain it.

Not far from Ennis are the ruins of a celebrated Franciscan Abbey founded by Con MacNamara in the fifteenth century. It is built of black marble and is of wonderful beauty, being, says Hall, worth a pilgrimage to see.

A well known scion of this old Munster family was Major MacNamara, who acted as second to Daniel O’Connell in his famous duel with D’Esterre. The Major was a large landed proprietor and a Protestant, some of the family having conformed to the State religion in order to retain possession of their estates. He was, however, an ardent friend of his Catholic countrymen, an excellent magistrate, and, what was more rare in those days, a “good landlord” and the defender of the poor and oppressed. He was one of the best duelists in Ireland, and was always ready to pistol a gentleman or charge a crowd with a shillelah. He bore a curious personal resemblance to George the Fourth, and dressed and wigged himself after the pattern of his royal double. The story is told that King George, referring to the personal resemblance between them, asked the Major on one occasion the rather insulting question: “Was your mother ever at Court?” To which the Major promptly responded: “No! your Majesty, but my father was!”

The Major had a stentorian voice, and it has been said that his terrible roar when giving the order to fire so disconcerted the would-be assassin, D’Esterre, that his bullet went wide of the mark. The Orange faction had designed to kill O’Connell in case he escaped D’Esterre’s pistol, and it was owing to the skillful management of the “affair” by Major MacNamara that their plot was frustrated and their champion killed.

The name is numerous in many parts of Ireland and the United States, where many of them occupy prominent and honorable positions in nearly every phase of life. Among them may be mentioned the Very Rev. P. J. McNamara, the learned and revered Vicar-General of the Diocese of Brooklyn, N. Y.