MacNamara – hounds of the sea

History of the Irish name MacNamara. Image copyright Ireland Calling

MacNamara is an ancient Irish name that means ‘son of the hound of the sea’. It is likely that the family would have descended from Vikings.

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The name comes from the old Irish name ‘MacConmara’. The ‘Mac’ prefix means ‘son of’ while ‘Conmara’ ‘cu’, which means ‘hound’ and ‘na mara’ which meant ‘of the sea’.

Many MacNamaras left Ireland for Scotland where the name became McNamara.

The MacNamaras originated in Co Clare. They are descended from Cas who was a fifth century king of Thomond and the first Chieftain of the Dalcassians.

Family split into two septs

Over the years the MacNamara clan split into two distinct septs, or branches. Firstly there was the ManNamara Fion. Fion meant ‘fair’, and would have referred to the hair colour of the clan. The MacNamara Fion held the Chiefdom of Clancullen West.

The other sept were known as MacNamara Reagh. Reagh meant ‘swarthy’ or ‘dark’ and would have referred to a dark colour hair, in contrast to the MacNamara Fion. The MacNamara Reagh ruled the East.

Several MacNamara castles still standing

The MacNamaras were ranked second only to the O’Briens among the Dalcassians of Thomond. They also acted as marshals to the O’Briens.

The MacNamaras built dozens of castles, abbeys and forts in Co Clare. Many of their buildings are still standing including Bunratty Castle, which was built in 1425, Knappogue Castle (built 1467) and Quin Abbey, (built 1433).

The MacNamaras ruled their territories until the 17th century when Oliver Cromwell’s men overpowered them. They lost their power and their titles and many fled Ireland and settled in France.

They later spread further afield to America, Canada and Australia. MacNamara is a popular name in these countries.

Notable MacNamaras

Robert McNamara
Robert McNamara

Count MacNamara lived up to his name as a ‘son of the hound of the sea’ when he became a commodore of the French fleet. He was assassinated in the late 18th century due to his support of the Royalists during the French Revolution.

Francis MacNamara was an eccentric Irish poet. His daughter Caitlin married the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.

American Robert MacNamara was president of the World Bank from 1968-1981.

Modern day MacNamaras

Brothers Danny and Richard McNamara are musicians and songwriters from Halifax, England. They are members of the rock band Embrace who have released several critically acclaimed albums and sold millions of records.

They also wrote the official song for the England soccer team for the 2006 World Cup.

Maggie McNamara was an American actress. She appeared in several films in the 1950s and 60s and was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in the film The Moon is Blue. She died aged 48 after overdosing on sleeping pills.

William McNamara is an American actor. He has appeared in films such as The Bleeding, Stella, Sweet Jane and Copycat.

Video histories of popular Irish names

Irish names and their meanings

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