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.
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.
My quest when I returned to Australia was to research these clues more thoroughly, hoping to find our connection!
From the wealth of information on the headstone, I was able to piece together Joe’s ancestry back to what I thoought were his great grand parents Cornelious MacNamara and Nancy Keeney. (Click on the link above to view the extended family tree at Wikitree.com).
Subsequent to this post it was discovered there were 3 Daniel MacNamara’s born around the same time and Joe’s grandparents were a different family. The Michael McNamara who appears on the headstone is actually buried in the USA and this is only a memorial, which confused matters. These lines have now been corrected on Wikitree. His correct family is shown below.
Ancestry of Lizzie McNamara 1897-1992 (Important: see 2023 addendum below)
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.
Links to MacNamara’s
- 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.
Links to McInerney’s
- 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.
Links to McMahons
- 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.
Links to Hehir’s
- 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
Connections with Lizzie MacNamara (Important: see 2023 addendum below)
This hypothesis suggests that my family is potentially linked to Lizzie McNamara on her maternal side.
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. It is unclear if Lizzie’s paternal line is connected to this same line or not. 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 have created 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. 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.
If you have tested your DNA and have ancestors from Moyriesk or Rathclooney in County Clare, please join our FTDNA Project.
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!
Featured Image: Green Tunnel, Spancelhill Moyriesk, 2017.
ADDENDUM – December 2021
Subsequent to this post it was discovered that the Michael McNamara mentioned on the grave of Daniel McNamara, stated to be brother of Thomas McNamara, is the Michael McNamara who died in the United States in 1916. Corrections have been made to appropriate family lines in Wikitree. This changed the original assumption that Lizzie McNamara may have been related on both her paternal and maternal sides. The connection on her maternal side to the Sweeney’s is still sound. The chart for Joe has been updated accordingly.
ADDENDUM – May 2023
They say never to let the facts get in the way of a good story, but in this case I need to. I was recently contacted by a relation of Lizzie and it seems that the Lizzie buried at Clooney is not the child of Michael and Honor (nee McMahon) McNamara, her parents are Patrick and Bridget (nee Mulconry) MacNamara. Both families have associations with Crusheen and both Eliza’s were born in 1896. There are so many MacNamara’s in Clare it will take some time to unravel it all, but they may be cousins of some sort, it appears the ‘real’ Lizzie (our possible Sweeney descendant) was one of 12 children . I still think my 4th great grandmother was a MacNamara, but I can’t include the Lizzie connection as evidence just yet!
Watch this space for my next blogpost to (hopefully) explain it all!