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.

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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.

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Featured Image: Green Tunnel, Spancelhill Moyriesk, 2017.

Establishing the origins of my Sweeney family: John Sweeney of Rathclooney.

My emigrant ancestor to Australia on the Sweeney line was my maternal 2nd great grandmother Mary Sweeney, our Cassidy matriarch, who I’ve previously written about here. Mary and her brother Terence emigrated to Australia as Bounty Immigrants from County Clare aboard the Roxborough Castle in 1839, aged 20 and 23 respectively. Their parents were stated as John Sweeney, farmer and his wife Johanna. Mary states she was a native of County Clare and Terence a native of Clones, County Clare.

The two led me a merry chase for many years about exactly where in Clare they came from. To complicate matters even more Terence’s certification was undertaken in Cork, why was this so? A visit to the grave of Mary Cassidy (nee Sweeney) at Glen Innes in 1987 had revealed the inscription ‘A native of Ennis, County Clare.’ Again, not much help, Ennis being the capital city of Clare, with so many Sweeney’s to choose from!

My Uncle Laurie was a great family historian and had researched the family back in the 1950’s. I inherited his papers when he died in 2006. Laurie had purchased all the possible birth, deaths and marriage of the extended Cassidy family in Australia. The breakthrough came when I found on the birth certificate of Mary’s daughter Margaret in 1859 a reference to her birthplace as Moresk, Clare, Ireland. It took some time to identify this as probably referring to Moyriesk Townland, a townland of just over a square mile in size, most of it located in Doora civil parish and about 77 acres in Clooney civil parish. Could Terence’s native place actually be Clooney, not Clones?

Moyriesk had been the home of the MacNamaras from the 17th Century. By 1837 it had been purchased by the family of Lord Fitzgerald and Vesey. Lord Fitzgerald was ‘in fee’ at the time of Griffith’s Valuation c1857, with tenants in Clooney by the names of Samson and Scanlan and in Doora, Hasset, Molony, Hartigan, Duffy and Symth. No Sweeneys to be seen. On researching Moyreisk I discovered a small county town in Victoria, Australia of the same name. This of course meant an impromptu excursion in 2016 hoping for new speculative research ideas! Funnily enough it turned out that ancestors on my paternal side were one of the earliest landowners in the district, but more on that later. Further research established that the town had been named after Moyriesk Station, a station of 43,200 acres established by John Fitzgerald Leslie Foster (Colonial Secretary of Victoria 1853-1854 and descendant of the Fitzgerald-Veseys), presumably named after the family estate in Ireland. This brought about renewed speculation whether other close family of our Sweeneys may have emigrated to Victoria and worked on the station.

When Irish Catholic parish records finally came online, it was Mary’s baptismal record that revealed the location of her fathers family as the townland of Rathclooney. How lucky we were, records for County Clare only commenced from 1st January 1816 and Mary was baptised on 21st May 1816. Her parents were named as John Sweeney and Joan Enright, with the priest indicating that the family resided in Rathclooney in the parish of Clooney. Catherine McNamara was her sponsor. There were no other baptisms for any other children for John and Joan (or Johanna), but they may have been born before 1816. According to the shipping records, Terence was said to be about 3 years older than Mary, so it is quite conceivable that there may have been more older children.

When we visited in 2017 we found the old church at Clooney was now a ruin. However the baptismal font from which John and Johanna would have had their children baptised had been preserved and is now located in the new Clooney church nearby.

 

There were no Sweeney’s recorded in the List of Freeholders >40 shillings of 1821, but John does appear in the Tithe records for Rathclooney in 1825. The landholding was quite significant totalling 61 acres, made up of 20 acres of 1st quality land, 20 acres of 2nd quality land and 21 acres of 3rd quality land. John was shown as sharing this with John Moloney, Patrick McNamara, John Doloughty, Daniel Hehir, Connor McNamara, Francis McNamara and James McNamara.  The tithes payable on the holding amounted to £2 15 shillings ¼ pence. 

There were 125 Sweeney families in County Clare in the 19th century and in 1815 there were at least 15 Sweeney families in the Quin-Clooney parish alone. With so many families of the same surname it has been difficult to piece the rest of the family together. I had established that there was a Daniel Sweeney living in Rathclooney at the time of Griffiths Valuation in 1855 but remained unsure whether he was a relation. Other tenants residing with him at the time had similar names to those recorded in the 1825 Tithe – MacNamara, Hehir, Moloney. It seemed likely, but we lacked paper evidence to prove the connection.

My DNA surprise

On our visit to Clare in 2017 I had arranged to meet up with Antoinette from the Clare Heritage Genealogy Centre. When we arrived she initially expressed some disappointment that she may not have found out anything new for me about my Sweeney family. However she went on to say there was a Sweeney family that might be the same one but she couldn’t be sure. John Sweeney of Rathclooney, had married Honor Murphy of Newgrove, Tulla on the 30th April, 1820. The witnesses at the marriage were Matthew Murphy, James Sweeney and Mary Hennessy.  Could Johanna have died soon after Mary’s birth and John married again? John and Norahs eldest son Daniel was the tenant who had been listed in Griffiths Valuation at Rathclooney.

As soon as she mentioned the name Honora Murphy, I squealed with delight. The name was very familiar to me having researched the descendants of their son John Michael and his family in Victoria, Australia. My family had a number of DNA matches to theirs but we had not been able to tie them together through the paper records. Excitedly, we compared notes about the various descendants we each knew about. I also benefited from a conversation between Antoinette and Joe McNamara (the former occupant of the Sweeney land) about 20 years earlier who told her what had happened to various family members. We soon pieced together the known family of John Sweeney.

John and Johanna (Enright or Hanrahan)

John and Honor Murphy

By the time of Griffiths Valuation in 1855, John’s eldest son Daniel was holding the property at Rathclooney and leasing the property from Stafford O’Brien (Lot 15). The property consisted of a house, office (shed) and land. The land area was in 2 lots comprising 9 acres 32 perches which was valued at £4 12 shillings. His house, situated on this lot was valued at 8 shillings which brought the total valuation to £5. The 2nd lot amounted to 5 acres 3 roods.  Daniel was shown sharing this with John McNamara, Daniel Hehir, Michael McNamara, Anne McNamara, Michael Moloney and Margaret McNamara. His share of this land was valued at 5 shillings. 

Armed with my map from Griffiths we set out to find the old Sweeney land. Looking to clarify our exact location, I approached a neighbour John Daffy. John provided me the final steps to find the cottage and some wonderful information about the Sweeney’s and MacNamara’s that later lived there. John told me the land had been split up into smaller parcels since the Sweeney’s time and that ‘the Sweeney’s ran an old country shop from the homestead, selling cigarettes. A Sweeney from America came about 20 years ago, but there are no Sweeney’s here now.‘ We found the homestead quite easily. Whilst the homestead and shop would have been from a much later time than when my John Sweeney was living here, it was a wonderful feeling to be standing on the same land my ancestors had farmed nearly 200 years ago.

I was also very pleased to be referred by John Daffy to the Kilaghitis Cemetery near Spancihill, where he knew John’s son Daniel, his wife Bridget and several other family members were buried.

Ancestors and family of John Sweeney

It was through the examination of the baptism and sponsor records of the children of John and Honor and the information from John Daffy about the MacNamaras, that I was able to continue to piece the various members of the family together. I concluded that my John Sweeney was probably the son of another Daniel Sweeney. Daniel Sweeney (senior) was listed in the 1821 Freeholders List for Rathclooney. Daniel and his wife (who is probably a MacNamara) appear to have had at least 3 children, it’s highly likely there were more.

Daniel’s father is believed to be Roe Swyney of Moyriesk. Roe would be my fifth great grandfather, he had at least three daughters and one son. The Irish tended to have large families so there still may be a number of children yet to be identified.

Based on the wedding notice of his daughter Margaret, Roe was reasonably well off and likely a gentleman.

Ennis Chronicle, Monday, November 29, 1790: 

Married last Thursday, Mr. John O’Donnell of Dunmore to Miss Margaret Swieny, daughter of Mr. Roe Swieny of Moriesk, an amiable and accomplished young lady, with a handsome fortune.

Burke’s Peerage also described his daughter (Martha) as the ‘possible heiress of Roe Swieny’ when she married Maurice O’Connell in 1791.

Moyriesk House, former home of the MacNamaras. Courtesy: Clare Library

Family anecdotes had always suggested a family connection to the famous ‘Liberator of Ireland’ Daniel O’Connell. After many years of research and with many thanks to my 6th cousin Liam (who has collaborated with me on this family since 2012) the connection was finally found. Roe’s daughter Martha married Maurice O’Connell in 1791. Maurice was a third cousin to Daniel O’Connell but an even closer relation to Daniels wife Mary O’Connell, she was his 1st cousin once removed. Whilst somewhat distant and only by marriage, I expect that the family connection would have been a very proud one for most Irishmen at that time!

Daniel O’Connell. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Autosomal DNA Connections

Autosomal testing has already confirmed a number of branches of John’s family, including connections with descendants of both wives, Johanna Enright Hanrahan and Honor (Norah) Murphy. Matches beyond third cousin relationships who only have their results at AncestryDNA have been marked as ‘DNA Tentative’ as they cannot be confirmed through ‘segment triangulation’ as AncestryDNA does not provide segment data. We have not yet been able to get back to the next generation so are looking for descendants of Roe Sweeney c1745, Daniel Sweeney c1770 and other children of John Sweeney to be able to compare DNA. The following chart shows the descendant lines that have been confirmed to date. Click here to view a larger image.

DNA Confirmed – Descendants of John Sweeney (not a complete tree)

Autosomal analysis has confirmed DNA through the following children of John.

As to the remaining children, this is what we know of them. Can you add to this list, do you know of other potential siblings? Are you a descendant who has had their DNA tested?

Y-DNA – The male Sweeney line

Our best chance of being able to verify the patrilineal line of the Sweeneys is through Y-DNA. My fourth cousin Torin from the United States kindly tested for me back in 2016. Unfortunately to date, we have only had two matches. Both matches indicate their oldest patrilineal ancestors were from Ireland but neither carry the Sweeney surname.

Whilst we have confirmed autosomal DNA on this line up to the ancestral couple of John Sweeney and his wife Johanna Hanrahan, we would love to be able to have supporting evidence achieved through Y-DNA testing. If you are descended from Roe Sweeney c1745, Daniel Sweeney c1770 or John Sweeney c1795 can you help us compare Y-DNA? Please contact me if you are male, carry the Sweeney surname, can trace your descent to one of these three men and are willing to test.

More DNA evidence

The ongoing examination of the family groups associated with my Sweeney family has allowed me to connect more of our MacNamara family. This combined with ongoing genetic clues from my DNA research has led to more discoveries which will be the subject of a future post. Watch this space!

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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 or are willing to take the Y-DNA test) 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.