Ireland Travel and Culture

Ireland's Mythical History: MacNamaras Through the Centuries

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Though the MacNamara clan can trace its physical beginnings back to the second century, the name MacNamara came into being in the tenth century with a chieftain of the royal Dalcassian family named Cu Mara. Through the centuries, the MacNamara name has been associated with many interesting characters and events. And as with all things Irish, folklore mixes with their past.

Tradition has it that the MacNamaras are not completely human. (Of course, what true blooded Irishman or Irishwoman is?) The legend goes that the Macs are part Selkie. Selkies are a type of water fairy that, in the water, looks like a seal with beautiful glistening fur. On land, they can shed their seal skin to reveal a beautiful human form, either male or female. If a human finds the Selkie's skin, the Selkie must marry the human. Marriage to a Selkie is happy, for this part human water fairy will be completely devoted to its spouse. But the human must be ever cautious of the Selkie finding its skin again. Should that happen, the Selkie will return to the water and leave the human to die alone. Many children have been born of human-Selkie unions (Just watch "The Secret of Roan Inish" if you don't believe me) so it's not hard to guess how the MacNamaras got that Selkie mix in their blood. And according to one Australian Mac from whose web page I got this information, there is a moral to this story. "Don't be hunting seals. You might be hunting some long lost relative." *

Maybe it's the touch of fairy blood that produced such heroic people. At the battle of Clontarf, believed to have taken place somewhere near Dublin, the MacNamaras along with the O'Briens and McMahons fought off the Vikings, banishing them once and for all from Ireland. The MacNamaras were very important in Irish society at that time, (second only to the O'Briens who were the family of the Thomond kings the most famous of which was Brian Boru, Ard Ri [high king] of Ireland at the time of the battle of Clontarf) and continued to play an important role in Irish history. Fighting along side the O'Briens and other clans of the Dalcassians, the MacNamaras fought off other invaders through the centuries, until 1504. At this time, the Irish were defeated, basically massacred in the Battle of Knocktoe. The MacNamaras were striped of their titles and lands until the early 1900s. But proudly they can claim to being one of the last clans to fall to English rule.

Though defeated in battle, the spirit of the MacNamaras never died. Included in the line of this great clan through the centuries are a wide variety of characters; a wild Gaelic poet, an admiral, a count, and even a character in "The Man from Snowy River."

Captain James MacNamara, an officer in the Royal Navy during the late 1700's to early 1800's fought a duel once over his friend and loyal dog, Lion. Captain MacNamara, though wounded in the duel, won, killing his opponent. He was arrested and tried, but acquitted by the British court.

Scattered throughout the area that is now County Clare are some fifty castles built by the Macs. Bunratty, spotlighted in a previous article, is one such structure. Knappogue Castle, in the same area, was built by Sean MacNamara in 1467, and later served as MacNamara "headquarters" for many years until it was taken over by Cromwell.
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