Devas, Nicolette (née Macnamara ) (1911–87), artist and writer, was the second-born child and eldest daughter among three daughters and one son of Francis Macnamara (see below), of Ennistymon House, Doolin, Co. Clare, and Mary Yvonne Macnamara (née Majolier); her youngest sister Caitlin (see below) married the poet Dylan Thomas. Her father, Francis Macnamara (1884–1946), poet and landowner, was born 20 February 1884, the eldest of three sons and four daughters of Henry Valentine Macnamara (1861–1925), a landlord and high sheriff of Co. Clare (1885), and Edith Elizabeth Macnamara (née Cooper) of New South Wales, Australia. Educated at Harrow and at Magdalen college, Oxford, where he studied law, he became involved in an artistic circle that included the painter Augustus John (1878–1961), and abandoned his studies to devote himself to writing, helped with an allowance from his father. He married first (1907) Mary Yvonne Majolier, daughter of Edouard Majolier, a quaker landowner, of Congénies, near Nîmes (département Gard), France; they spent part of their honeymoon at Coole Park, Co. Galway, home of Lady Augusta Gregory (qv). They had one son and three daughters. The marriage ended in 1916 owing to Macnamara's affairs with other women. His second marriage (1927) to Edie McNeil, sister of John's companion Dorelia, also ended in divorce. He married thirdly (1937) Iris O'Callaghan (d. 1950), a friend of his daughter Nicolette, and youngest daughter of Col. George O'Callaghan-Westropp of Coolreagh, Bodyke, Co. Clare. Though he had no children by his second or third marriage, he fathered one natural daughter.
Macnamara's book of poetry, Marionettes (1909), includes five connected poems about Ennistymon, among them ‘To a river, where it runs dark and slow beneath a cascade’. In 1915 he entertained Augustus John in Doolin, and travelled to the Aran islands, where he learned Irish. His home was burned down by Black and Tans in 1920 because of his support of Sinn Féin. He edited and wrote articles (1921–3) for the Wessex Review under pseudonyms, such as ‘Marianna Camscarf’. In 1922 Herbert Hughes (qv) wrote music to accompany Macnamara's poem ‘Carol of Jesus child’. Macnamara edited Miscellaneous writings of Henry the eighth (1924), which included love letters from the monarch to Anne Boleyn, and he translated (1924) the second volume of The lives of gallant ladies, the spicy chronicle by Pierre de Bourdeilles (1540–1614), courtier and abbot of Brantôme. For his 1925 translation of Honoré de Balzac’s The physiology of marriage he wrote a forty-five-page introduction offering a bizarre philosophical critique to Balzac's theory, and advocating divorce. While living on a houseboat on the river Stour (Dorset) with John's son Romilly, to whom he taught poetry and philosophy, he was prominent in the Bournemouth poetry society, where Edith Sitwell often lectured. In 1936 he transformed Ennistymon House into the Falls Hotel, but the venture proved unsuccessful. He wrote book reviews for The Bell in 1941. A member of the Royal Irish Yacht Club, he sailed regularly, and converted a Galway hooker, the Mary Anne. He died 7 March 1946 at 8 Sorrento Terrace, Dalkey, Co. Dublin, after a prolonged illness, and was buried in Mt Jerome cemetery, Dublin. His unpublished manuscripts, comprising diaries, plays, poems, and essays on economics, are in TCD. A portrait of Macnamara by John is in the Robert Byng collection.
His eldest daughter, Nicolette Devas, was born 1 February 1911 at Hammersmith Terrace, London. Her early childhood summers were spent in Ennistymon House, where frequent visitors included Augustus John and the artist Joseph Hone (qv). After her parents' separation in 1916, she lived with her mother in the home of Nora and Gerald Summers, former art students at the Slade school. In 1917 they moved to John's family home, Alderney Manor, Dorset; there Nicolette grew up in a bohemian atmosphere. After visiting her maternal grandmother's home in Congénies in 1922, in the following year she moved with her family to New Inn House, Blashford, Hampshire. She did not attend school till at age 13 she went to live in Cannes, France, where she painted watercolours and studied at the Cours Maintenon school. Later she was sent to the Château de Boulogne finishing school at Boulogne-sur-Seine, Paris. While spending the summer of 1928 in Co. Clare, she visited Coole Park with her father, where W. B. Yeats (qv) wrote her the dedication ‘An amber joy is a pure joy’ in a copy of Lady Gregory's book The jester. She studied under Henry Tonks at the Slade School of Fine Art, London (1928–30); with a studio on Adelaide Rd, she met members of the Bloomsbury group, including Virginia Woolf and Roger Fry. She married (1931) Anthony Devas, a fellow student who later became a portrait artist; they had two sons and one daughter. She painted landscapes and birds in watercolour and oils; in 1931 she exhibited with Devas and Rupert Shephard at 64 Charlotte St. In a mixed exhibition at the Nicholson Gallery (1937) she showed works with John, and she had a one-woman show at the Storran Gallery in the same year. Her husband died in 1958, and she married Shephard in 1965.
Her first novel, Bonfire (1958), explored familial conflicts, echoing her own unconventional upbringing. Nightwatch (1961) was a novel about corrupt dealings in the London art world. She wrote articles, and broadcast on BBC radio in 1961. Her autobiography, Two flamboyant fathers (1966), described her difficult relationship with her father, along with vivid anecdotes of her life in the eccentric John household. Her interest in ornithology – she worked in the bird room of the Natural History Museum, London – inspired her third novel, Black eggs (1970), based on her bird-watching expeditions to St Kilda and Iceland. An historical work, Susannah's nightingales: a companion to Two flamboyant fathers (1978), traced the ancestry of her maternal family, the Majoliers, who helped establish the Society of Friends in France. Her last novel, Pegeen crybaby (1986), was a love story. Sixty-six of her watercolour paintings, including scenes of the New Forest, were exhibited at a show of Slade contemporaries at Sally Hunter Fine Art in 1987. She died on 10 May 1987 in London, and was buried in Hampshire. A portrait of her, entitled ‘The cameo necklace’, was painted by Anthony Devas in 1942.
Her youngest sister, Caitlin Thomas (née Macnamara ) (1913–94), writer, and wife of Dylan Thomas, was born in Hammersmith, London, on 8 December 1913. Nicolette later wrote of Caitlin's chocolate-box beauty and underlying savagery as a child, traits which persisted into adulthood. She received only two years schooling at Groveley Manor, Bournemouth, after which she moved to London, aged 16, to attend dancing school. At Christmas 1931 she appeared in the pantomime ‘Aladdin’ at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, and was then in the chorus line for a year. Her lack of application and discipline she later blamed on her bohemian upbringing. She spent the next two years on prolonged visits to her father, whom she disliked, in Ennistymon, where she swam and danced in cottages; this period represented a perfect rural idyll all her life. She took dance lessons in Dublin from Vera Gribben, an Austrian who taught freestyle barefoot dancing to classical music in the manner of Isadora Duncan. Caitlin performed with Gribben at the progressive Group Theatre in London, and worked in Paris for a time. On 12 April 1936 she met the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (1914–53) in a pub in Fitzrovia; he put his head in her lap and swore eternal love, and she never danced professionally again. On 11 July 1937 they married in Penzance, Cornwall, and in 1938 settled in Laugharne, Wales. Their relationship was passionate, destructive, and fuelled by alcohol. Both were promiscuous and spendthrift, but her behaviour was the more uncontrolled, possibly because she harboured literary ambitions but lacked his creative outlet. Their final meeting, like their first, was legendary: on 3 November 1953 she arrived drunk at the New York hospital where he was dying and tried to get into bed with him, broke a crucifix, and was eventually straitjacketed. Left widowed with three children (two sons and one daughter), in the years after his death she scandalised Wales with her wild, promiscuous behaviour. Her memoirs, Leftover life to kill (1957), fostered the myth of a fatalistic passion, what she called ‘the one, deadly, organic entanglement of a lifetime’ (Ferris, 164). Although Louis MacNeice (qv) in the New Statesman called the book highly personal and often deeply moving, The Times judged it a monument to egocentricity, and the Economist noted the ‘absence of reticence and decency – those who enjoyed Francis Bacon [qv] might be able to relish the exhibitionism of Caitlin Thomas’ (Ferris, 171). It was a bestseller. While most critics have detected Dylan's influence on the purple prose passages, George Tremlett has argued that Caitlin's free, uninhibited speech patterns probably found their way into Dylan's radio play Under Milk Wood (1954). From 1957 Caitlin lived in Italy, where she met Giuseppe Fazio, eleven years her junior, who became her companion for life; in 1963, aged 49, she gave birth to her fourth child. She wrote several other books, including Not quite posthumous letters to my daughter (1962) and Double drink story (1997, posthumously); these rehearsed the same themes as her first book, but were less striking. All her children and the unemployed Fazio were supported by the Dylan Thomas Trust, which was set up after the poet's death and became an increasingly lucrative source as his legend grew; the relationship between widow and trustees was bad. In 1969 she gave up alcohol, but does not seem to have found happiness in Rome or, after 1982, in Abruzzi, Sicily, where she died 1 August 1994. Her body was taken to Laugharne for burial beside Dylan. Paul Ferris performed a hatchet job in his 1993 biography, characterising her as uncontrolled, egocentric, attention-seeking, hard-nosed, humourless, calculating, and responsible for driving her husband to drink; he calls Thomas's love for her a fatal dependence. In Nashold's and Tremlett's The death of Dylan Thomas (1997) she is a magnificent virago, damaged, tragic, but always honest. An undated portrait of Caitlin in early womanhood, painted by John, is reproduced in Bill Read, The days of Dylan Thomas (NY: McGraw–Hill (1964), 86).