Today McNAMARA is the second commonest name in its ancient homeland, County Clare, where the Mac Conmara sept was next in importance only to the ruling O'Briens to whom they were marshals. A Mac Conmara also officiated at the inauguration of the O'Brien chief who ruled over Thomond. One branch of the sept held sway in Bunratty barony with its stronghold at Bunratty Castle, and the other in Upper and Lower Tulla baronies. The surnames in Ireland originally signified membership of a clan, but with the passage of time, the clan system became less distinct, and surnames came to identify membership of what is called a 'sept'; a group of people all living in the same locality, all bearing the same surname, but not necessarily descended from a common ancestor. Adoption of the name by people who did not otherwise have a surname and by dependents was not uncommon. Just over one hundred years after the Norman Conquest of England, the first Normans arrived in Ireland. Richard de Clare, Second Earl of Pembroke (died 1176), was known as Strongbow. He was invited to Ireland by Dermot MacMurrough, King of Leinster, whose daughter he married, to help him in his wars with his neighbours. He was accompanied by several retainers whose name, like his own, have become well established as surnames in Ireland. The Normans established themselves in Leinster and paid homage to Henry II of England. Some of the Norman settlers acquired surnames derived from the Irish. It has long been a matter of doubt when the bearing of coats of arms first became hereditary and it was not until the Crusades that Heraldry came into general use. Men went into battle heavily armed and were difficult to recognise. It became the custom for them to adorn their helmets with distinctive crests, and to paint their shields with animals and the like. Coats of arms accompanied the development of surnames, becoming hereditary in the same way. The associated arms are recorded in Sir Bernard Burkes General Armory. Ulster King of Arms in 1884. The lion depicted in the arms is the noblest of all wild beasts which is made to be the emblem of strength and valour, and is on that account the most frequently borne in Coat-Armour.
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