Finally, I think I’m a MacNamara!

For many years I have been researching my Irish roots attempting to bridge the gap in paper records through the power of DNA analysis. I recently wrote about my Sweeney family who came from the townlands of Rathclooney and Moyriesk in County Clare. You can read about them here.

From DNA matching, I have long felt that the MacNamaras, McInerney’s and McMahons must have had close associations with our family. I’ve been told that every second person in Clare was named MacNamara so perhaps it’s not that surprising. However our trip to Ireland in 2017 was to reveal more close associations to the family.

We had known from Mary Sweeney’s baptism record in 1816 (my maternal second great grandmother) that her sponsor was Catherine MacNamara. Who was Catherine and how was she related? Sponsors were usually close family members.

1816 Baptism of Mary Sweeney

It was in my discussions with Antoinette from the Clare Heritage Genealogy Centre in 2017, that she told me of a conversation she had more than 20 years ago with Joseph MacNamara who had acquired the landholding at Rathclooney. He had told her that after the death of Thomas Sweeney in 1960, the Rathclooney property had been transferred to Lizzie MacNamara and subsequently to himself. Who were these MacNamaras and how were they connected to the Sweeney’s?

Later that same day, we had a chance discussion with neighbour John Daffy who said he ‘barely remembered Thomas Sweeney when he lived at Rathclooney’. However he was able to tell me that Lizzie and Joe MacNamara had lived there together, he didn’t think they were related as Joe wasn’t ‘entitled’ but recalled that Lizzie may have been a niece of the Sweeney’s. Lizzie had lots of brothers and was the housekeeper for Thomas Sweeney who had never married. John thought Lizzie might have come from Drunmore but had lived most of her life in the Barefield-Ruan area. The final interesting piece of information, was that Lizzie and Joe were buried together in the nearby Clooney cemetery.

The headstone at Clooney describes a number of family members, most of whom seem to be connected to Joe. The entries for Lizzie and Joe’s brother John looked like they had been added long after their actual deaths, probably at the time the inscription was made for Joe in 2002. Joe’s parents were named but not Lizzies.

Clooney Cemetery, 2017

My quest when I returned to Australia was to research these clues more thoroughly, hoping to find our connection!

Ancestry of Joe McNamara 1914-2002

From the wealth of information on the headstone, I was able to piece together Joe’s ancestry back to his great grand parents Cornelious MacNamara and Nancy Keeney. (Click on the link above to view the extended family tree at Wikitree.com).

Ancestry of Lizzie McNamara 1897-1992

Identifying Lizzies ancestry was more challenging but eventually it was discovered that Lizzie was actually Joe’s paternal first cousin, sharing grandparents Daniel MacNamara and Johannah ‘Ann’ McKeogh! However no Sweeney’s were identified – how could she be a niece of Thomas Sweeney 1881–1960? Was the connection on her maternal side via the McMahon or Quinn families? (Click on the link above to view the extended family tree at Wikitree.com).

Gathering DNA clues

My first big clue came back in 2019 when I discovered a large match of 47cMs with several siblings of the Worthington family. I soon discovered we also triangulated with their second cousin, which suggested our connection was coming from their shared ancestors William Clayton or his wife Bridget Helena McNamara. This McNamara line extended back to Jeremiah McNamara and his wife Margaret Haiskins, of Clooney, County Clare, it was definately looking promising, but I was unaware of any of these names in our family tree. Utilising the Visual Phasing technique with my mother and her 3 siblings DNA kits, it did suggest the match was on our Cassidy-Sweeney line, but where and how?

My maternal uncle and his first cousin also had a small 13cMs triangulated ‘X’ match with the female sibling. Tracing the X inheritance path on both sides suggested that it could have been inherited from John Sweeney or Johanna (Enright) Hanrahan on our side and Clayton, Haiskins or O’Sullivan on their side. Being such a small match it could well be a long way back, further than any of the known ancestors we have identified so far. This ‘X’ chromosome match was also part of a small triangulated group. Another cousin in the group has ancestors from County Clare with names in contention that included Walsh, McInerney, McMahon, Clarke plus of course potential unknown females! Where did this leave us?

The information was very tantalising! My mother always used to say we had McInerney relations back in Ireland, but no one in the family knew exactly how they were connected. We also had more DNA matches leading back to the McNamara, McMahon and McInerney families in County Clare. One particular group of matches all went back to a McMahon-McInerney couple. Could these be more clues?

Combining genealogical and genetic research

By pouring over the parish records and other genealogical research of my Sweeney family I looked for our possible connections to the MacNamara, McInerney and McMahon families.

  • 1816 – Catherine MacNamara sponsor of Mary Sweeney, daughter of John and Johanna Sweeeny.
  • 1821 – Freeholders list of Clare, Canny’s and McMahons leasing from MacNamara’s at Moyriesk.
  • 1821 – Martin and Bridget McNamara sponsors at baptism of Ellen Sweeney.
  • 1824 – Michael McNamara, sponsor at baptism of Joan Sweeney, daughter of John Sweeney and Honor Murphy.
  • 1825 – Tithe record, John Sweeney residing at Rathclooney sharing 61 acres with McNamara’s.
  • 1830 – About this time, Michael McNamara married Mary Hanrahan.
  • 1830 – Tom McNamara – sponsor at baptism of John Enright, child of Patrick Enright and Mary Sweeney.
  • 1839 – Michael McNamara and Bridget Doloughty sponsor of John Sweeney, son of John Sweeney and Honor Murphy.
  • 1846 – Bridget Sweeney sponsor of Thomas MacNamara, daughter of John and Norah Sweeney.
  • 1846 – Thomas McNamara baptism, sponsors John Hays? and Bridget Sweeney.
  • 1860 – Cornelious Sweeney and Bridget Hogan, sponsors at baptism of Michael MacNamara, father of Lizzie.
  • 1860 – Patrick McNamara, witness at wedding of Daniel Sweeney.
  • 1871 – Honor McMahon m Michael McNamara. Lizzie McNamara’s parents.
  • 1874 – Bridget McNamara m William Clayton – Shared ancestors of McNamara/Clayton DNA Group, Chromosome 18.
  • 1896 – Lizzie McNamara born, believed to be niece of Thomas Sweeney. Sponsors Margaret McNamara and Peter McMahon.

  • 1811 – Hannah McInerney (spouse Michael McMahon). Ancestors of DNA match with triangulated X segment, also matches on chromosome 11.
  • 1818 – Michael McInerney holding property at Rathclooney, ‘life’ on the lease John McInerney.
  • 1849 – Eliza McInerney marries James Ryan at Tulla. Witness Tom McInerney probably a brother. Ancestors of an AncestryDNA match who appear in a potential Sweeney cluster.
  • 1855 – Margaret McInerney acted as sponsor with Daniel Sweeney to a child also named Margaret McInerney.
  • 1885 – Bridget McInerney marries John McMahon (date estimated). Ancestor of an AncestryDNA match who appears in the Worthington AncestryDNA cluster.
  • 1901 – Denis McInerney residing at the home of Daniel Sweeney, described as a cousin. Son of John McInerney and Eliza O’Grady who had 10 children. From their baptismal records it appears John may have had at least two other siblings named Margaret and Mary.

  • 1792 – Miss McMahon married John McNamara at Dronmore (where Lizzie reputedly lived), her father Terence McMahon.
  • 1811 – Michael McMahon (spouse Hannah McInerney). Ancestors of DNA match with triangulated X segment, also matches on chromosome 11.
  • 1817 – Patrick McMahon held a lease dated 15 Oct 1817, the ‘life’ on the lease was Daniel Sweeney.
  • 1838 – John McMahon (spouse Mary Canny). Ancestor of an AncestryDNA match who appears in a cluster with the McNamara/Clayton siblings.
  • 1838 – Michael McMahon (spouse Margaret Quinn). Lizzie McNamara’s grandparents.
  • 1850 – John McMahon marries Honor Hanrahan (date estimated).
  • 1871 – Honor McMahon m Michael McNamara. Lizzie McNamara’s parents.
  • 1875 – Bridget McMahon sponsor at the baptism of James Sweeney.
  • 1885 – John McMahon marries Bridget McInerney (date estimated). Ancestor of an AncestryDNA match who appears in the same McNamara/Clayton AncestryDNA cluster.

Other research yet to be completed suggests additional Sweeney links via the Mahon family and connections to Clonroad Beg near Ennis, County Clare.

  • 1800 – Circa this date, a daughter of Roe Sweeney married an Hehir 
  • 1817 – Daniel Hehir held a lease dated 15 Oct 1817, the ‘life’ on the lease was Daniel Sweeney.

So where does this all leave us?

Piecing together the MacNamara family

Based on consolidating all the clues mentioned above, the following pedigree image seeks to outline my probable links to the MacNamara family. The current hypothesis (after following the land transfers and associated BDM sponsors etc) is that Daniel Sweeney’s wife was a MacNamara (52Ancestors #11). Daniel and she would be my maternal 4th great grandparents. The MacNamaras are associated with the townlands of both Rathclooney and Moyriesk and her father was probably born in the mid to late 1700’s. Whilst we are unclear of her name, it is believed she may have been an older child in the family, one of at least 8 siblings including:-

  • Catherine MacNamara bef 1795
  • Martin MacNamara bef 1800, married Bridget
  • Jeremiah MacNamara bef 1800, married Margaret Haiskins
  • Cornelious MacNamara bef 1800, married Nancy Keeley
  • Francis MacNamara bef 1800
  • James MacNamara bef 1800
  • Michael MacNamara bef 1803, married Mary Hanrahan

Limited tree – only includes 31 DNA tester lines (as at Nov 2021). See Wikitree descendants list for more information (up to 5 generations).

Connections with Lizzie MacNamara

This hypothesis suggests that my family is potentially linked to Lizzie McNamara on both her paternal and maternal sides.

Based on what I have been able to establish on her maternal side, it would appear Lizzie’s maternal grandfather Michael McMahons mother was a Sweeney. If correct, Lizzie was a second cousin once removed to Thomas Sweeney rather than his niece. It also suggests Lizzie would be my third cousin twice removed.

On the MacNamara side, if the hypothesis is correct the wife of Daniel Sweeney was Cornelious McNamara’s sister. Cornelious was Lizzie’s paternal great grandfather. Whilst I have not yet identified any DNA segment matches down this line, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist!

DNA matching is providing clues on relatedness, however the close marrying of these families means that it is essential to undertake chromosome analysis to be able to determine how segments have been inherited by DNA testers. Extreme care needs to be taken when assigning these segments to ancestors, as they could have been inherited from multiple common ancestors. Many of our clustered matches who currently only have their results on AncestryDNA need to upload to a chromosome site to be able to contribute to further research.

The MacNamaras of Moyriesk

The MacNamara name is a common one in County Clare, however there is a well documented MacNamara family associated with Moyriesk. These MacNamaras were resident from the 17th century and can trace their lineage back to Maccon MacNamara Fionn – the Chief of Clann Kullen in 1379.

Could we also be part of this prodigious family? Only time (and a lot of work) will tell!

Very interesting that John MacNamara’s 2nd wife was a MacMahon from Clenagh!

Where to next?

It’s taken a lot of work just to be able to add Miss McNamara to my tree as my potential 4th great grandmother, but it’s all about one step at a time. Whilst the DNA evidence is not conclusive, it has certainly helped to be able to point us in the right direction and piece together these fragmented families.

I will be continuing my search through DNA matching to assist in confirming or refuting (hopefully not!) my hypotheses. I plan to create a Family Finder project at FamilyTreeDNA for ‘Rathclooney and Moyriesk, County Clare’ in the hope of attracting more DNA testers with documented ancestry to these townlands to connect more of the family. I will update this post when those details when available. As always, I am keen to find suitable Y-DNA testers for both the MacNamara and Sweeney lines. Please contact me if you are male, descend from either of the Sweeney or MacNamara families mentioned in this post and are willing to take a Y-DNA test.

***************

In closing, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Elsie Ritchie for encouraging me to get a wriggle on with my Sweeney and MacNamara research and for helping to put some of the final pieces of the puzzle together.

Do you know more about the families mentioned in this post? If you are connected to any of them (particularly if you have DNA tested) I would love to hear from you. It’s the power of DNA that can help us breakthrough those brick walls in Ireland!

As always, please do not hesitate to contact me via this blog or by private message via Ancestry, Wikitree or Facebook.

***************

Featured Image: Green Tunnel, Spancelhill Moyriesk, 2017.

The Cassidy Matriarch – Mary Sweeney

The prompt for 52 Ancestors challenge for Week 3 2018 is ‘Longevity’. I struggled to think which ancestor I could choose, after trawling through my tree of over 6000 people I could not find anyone who lived to be 100 or even 90. I have chosen to tell the story of my 2nd great grandmother Mary Sweeney, also known as Mary Cassidy, who lived just short of 80 years, a woman who had a tough life from start to finish, a strong woman who outlived all but three of her 12 children (52Ancestors #5).

Mary Sweeney, photo restored by M. Dann 2015

Arrival in Australia

On 22 January 1839 Mary emigrated to Australia aboard the Roxburgh Castle with brother Terence as a bounty immigrant. Mary was brought out by a Mr Marshall, her occupation listed as a housemaid or children’s maid, age 20.  Her character certified as very good, by persons in County Clare.  Bodily health, strength and probable usefulness also stated as good.  Roman Catholic and able to read.  C O’Gorman, curate of County Clare, has certified her baptism indicating the year as 1817.  Mary and Terence arrived in Sydney on 26th May 1839.

Roxburgh Castle

It took some time to determine the exact place of origin for Mary and Terence, but some clues were left throughout her life.  Both arrival records state their parents names as John and Johanna Sweeney from County Clare.

Screenshot 2018-01-15 07.28.18

Whilst Mary’s record states she is a native of Clare, Terence’s record indicates he is from Clones, County Clare.  This is not a valid place name for Clare and was suspected to perhaps be Clooney, a townland and civil parish in Clare.  Family stories suggest Mary used to proudly proclaim she was a native of Ennis, County Clare.

Screenshot 2018-01-15 07.41.14

It was the birth certificate of her daughter Margaret in 1859 that provided more information.  In this record Mary states her place of birth as Moresk, Co Clare, Ireland and that she was married in 1840 at Prospect.   It is believed that this is Moyriesk, a townland in County Clare.  Moyreisk townland is just over a square mile in size, and nearly all of it is located in Doora civil parish, with 77 acres in Clooney civil parish which aligns with the stated native place of Terence.  Mary gave this information herself so is more likely to be accurate.

Screenshot 2018-01-15 08.35.53

Irish Records

With some help from the Clare Heritage Organisation and the newly released Roman Catholic registers it appears that Mary was born in about 1816 and baptised on 21st May 1816 at Clooney, Clare, Ireland.  The daughter of John Sweeney of Rathclooney and Joan Enright.  Her sponsor at the time of baptism was noted as Catherine McNamara.

Screenshot 2018-01-14 18.37.02.jpg

Mary’s mother may have died shortly after her birth, as her father remarried on 30 April 1820.  A woman by the name of Honor MURPHY, the marriage registered at Tulla, Clare, Ireland.  Mary would have only been about four years of age at this time.  Parish baptism registers only started in Clooney in about 1816 and there are no other baptisms registered to John and Johanna (Joan), but there may well have been other siblings born before 1816. This would explain why no baptism record can be found for her brother Terence.  Being approximately 3 years older, it is presumed he was a full brother. 

Prior to her emigration to Australia conditions in Ireland were tough, with widespread hunger throughout the country in 1838.  Her father John and his new wife Honor went on to have at least another 8 children by 1839, half siblings to Mary and Terence.  No doubt a difficult time for all the family and not surprising that Terence and Mary who were by then aged 23 and 20 decided to take advantage of the colonial bounty system and emigrate to Australia.

Spouse and Family

Soon after arriving in the colony of New South Wales in 1839 Mary must have taken up with Thomas CASSIDY, a convict from Fermanagh Ireland who had been transported for life, but by that time had obtained his ticket of leave after serving as an overseer and constable.  The couple had their first child together in April 1841, John was given a private baptism at St Patricks Church Parramatta, he is listed as illegitimate and the record states his name as John CASSIDY or John SWEENEY probably to reflect that the couple were not married at this time.  We know that when Thomas was transported in 1830 that he had a wife and two children still living in Ireland so it is presumed he was still not free to marry.

Was the marriage date in the birth record of Margaret in 1859 just stated to account for having their first child in 1841, or was there really a marriage?  My uncle, Laurie Roberts, tried unsuccessfully to find a marriage as long ago as 1955.

Media0387

Mary and Thomas went on to have twelve children together.  The family bible gives more information about their children.  It is not known who completed this page and some of the information may have been recorded by different people. One child is not listed, the female twin of Patrick Thomas who died at birth in 1843.

Screenshot 2018-01-15 10.03.18

The family lived at Prospect, near Parramatta and the couple worked as farmers.  In a book written by Fr Peter Klein (about their grandson Phillip Cassidy) Mary is described as a ‘strongly built woman with fairer and wavy hair’.

Mary and Thomas had three children who died as infants, the female twin of Patrick Thomas in 1843, Austin at 7 days old in 1850 and Edward at 4 days old in 1851.  Her husband Thomas later died in 1862, aged about 62, after a long and painful illness.  He is buried in St Patricks Cathedral.  Mary was left a widow with 8 children to care for, although her eldest John was by this time about 21 and probably a great help to his mother.

It must have been heartbreaking when her son Phillip William died just 2 years later in 1864 at the young age of nine years.  His older sister Anna Maria following soon after in 1866, aged only 19.  Both are buried in St Patricks with their father.

Mary Cassidy – Farmer and Grazier

In 1871 Mary applied for and was granted a freehold lease of 140 acres of land in Glenn Innes, County of Gough, Parish of Beardy Plains. 

Screenshot 2018-01-23 06.46.35

The Glenn Innes area is rich in Celtic History, the original settlers were Scots, but many people of Irish descent followed.  Like many other Celtic families she made the trek north, close to 600 kilometres – quite an effort in those days. The rent was set at 13s 2d per annum. The property was known as Shannonvale.  

Glenn Innes, circa 1900

Having lost her husband in 1862 it was no doubt a tough move at age 54 to take up farming on her own. However, six of Marys seven surviving children also made the move later marrying there or in nearby towns.  Patrick Thomas was the only exception, he married in Liverpool but did later move to Glen Innes to be near his family.  Mary and her family worked hard and had success, continuing to acquire more property.  It appears she never married and remained independent throughout her life.

Glen Innes Examiner and General Advertiser (NSW : 1874 – 1908), Wednesday 28 April 1875, page 2

Free Selection. — The following selections were made at the local Land Office, on Thursday — Donald M’Master, 100 acres, county of Gough, parish of “Waterloo, adjoining former conditional purchase of 100 acres. Mary Cassidy (widow), 160 acres, county of Gough, parish of Beardy Plains, adjoining former conditional purchase of 100 acres.

Mary had to endure tough times as well.  It was not that long after the move north that she lost her son Patrick in 1879 aged 34.  Some time later in 1887 daughter Mary Clancy aged 39, eldest son John in 1888 aged 47 and youngest daughter Margaret Collopy in 1893 aged only 33.  All have elaborate headstones in Glenn Innes Cemetery, with the exception of Margaret who is buried in Rookwood Cemetery.  All headstones are annotated that they have been erected by their ‘affectionate mother’ suggesting Mary may have been reasonably affluent by that time, probably due to her successful farming endeavours.  

On 11 Mar 1896 Mary died aged about 80 years from anasarca (an accumulation of fluid in the body due to heart failure) and gastritis.  She is buried in the Cassidy family plot at Glen Innes with her children.  Her death certificate lists her occupation as ‘Farmer’, a comment that wasn’t lost on the various feminists in our family who were very proud of the fact that she had her own occupation and was so independent.

Mary was survived by only three of her children, Eliza BICKLEY who died in 1919, Terence who died in 1930 and lastly my great grandmother Rebecca MURPHY who died in 1931.

In 1987, 90 years after her death, I visited Mary’s grave at Glenn Innes with my son and Aunt and Uncle, Margaret and Lionel GILBERT.  The hair was quite wild in those days!

4 generations, including Mary

NSW probate papers indicate that at the time of her death in 1896 Mary’s estate was valued at 951 pounds, consisting of 940 pounds of real estate and 10 head of cattle, described as a ‘farmer and grazier’.  The real estate by this time consisted of 510 acres of freehold land valued at 780 pounds as well as lands and a cottage situated in Hunter Street, Glenn Innes valued at 160 pounds.  Much more significant holdings than when she first made the move in 1871.

Extract from will

In 2016 my husband and I visited the area known as Shannon Vale, the conditions today probably quite different than they were in Mary’s time, but no doubt it has always been rich and beautiful grazing land.  We discovered what appeared to be the Shannon Vale property but it is a much larger station today (over 3000 acres). 

DNA Analysis

It wouldn’t be fitting if I didn’t mention what we have found through DNA analysis in this post.  As I have mentioned in previous posts we now have a number of Mary’s descendants DNA tested.

Autosomal DNA Testing

It was wonderful back in 2016 to connect with my fourth cousin Torin who lives in the United States.  He is a descendant of Mary’s brother Terence, his great great grandson.  It was though our DNA matches that we were able to confirm we were all descended from a common ancestor using a technique called triangulation.  There are two segment areas on chromosome 12 where Torin currently shares DNA with multiple descendants of Mary.  This suggests these segments have been inherited from the same shared ancestor, in this case from one of their parents John Sweeney or Johanna Enright.  At this point we don’t know which, or it could be a combination of both.  It has also been confirmed that all testers all match each other in these same segment areas, which is the key test to prove a triangulated segment.

Screenshot 2018-01-23 07.31.05

mtDNA Testing

Mary is on my direct maternal line, so from the full sequence mitochondrial DNA test I took at Family Tree DNA we know that Marys mtdna is most likely Haplogroup J.  People bearing haplogroup J settled in Europe from the Near East during the late Paleolithic and Meliolithic periods.  Our sub clade J1c5 is aged between 8,300 and 13,000 years.  Screenshot 2018-01-23 09.15.59

So far all I only have nine full sequence matches.  All of them are at a genetic distance of 3, which is not considered close enough to be of genealogical significance, our connection could be up to 1000 years ago!  They all lead to Ireland though, so that is promising.  Hopefully 2018 will bring closer matches to help further expand the line.

Descendants of Mary who inherited her mtdna should also belong to the J1c5 haplogroup.  You can see other known descendants (who are on Wikitree) in the DNA Descendants View at Wikitree by clicking here.

Y DNA testing

Mary being female doesn’t carry the Y chromosome but our match with Torin was doubly pleasing as he carries the Sweeney Y DNA, being in the direct paternal line.  We hope that in the future we will be able to make more discoveries regarding Mary and Terences father John Sweeney, but that will be the subject of a later post.

Screenshot 2018-01-23 09.31.18

***********

As always, if you can help me further expand my research please do not hesitate to contact me via this blog, or by private message via Wikitree.