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Survey of the McInerney Sept of Thomond by Luke McInerney, M.A.
The End of Gaelic Thomond: 1550-1640

The Composition of Connacht

From the records of the Elizabethan and Stuart administrators we can obtain details about the lands held by the leading McInerneys in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This section will look at the land dispute between two branches of the family as well as what information we have on the lands and tower-houses that leading McInerney kinsmen held. What is known is that the replacement of Gaelic political institutions with English-style administration resulted in upheaval and the down-grading in status for most land-holding McInerneys.

We know that the rich pastoral land of Ballykilty probably served as the demesne of the McInerney ceannfine as it was sometimes pledged as collateral in land deeds[59], had two-water mills[60], and possibly a fortified house that was built in the seventeenth century or earlier on the site of the current Ballykilty house.[61] Ballykilty was also the principal residence of the leading faction of the McInerney deirbhfhine who emerged successful after a challenge from a junior branch of the family over the inheritance of the bulk of the McInerney lands. It would seem likely, therefore, that Ballykilty served as the sept’s demesne and their most important landholding. This is supported by the fact that it was exclusively a McInerney possession until the 1650s.[62]

The land dispute between senior and junior branches of the McInerney clann was connected to the changes in land inheritance in sixteenth century Thomond. The growing influence of the office of President of Connacht was backed by the Crown’s desire to assert sovereignty over taxation and law in the lordships of Clanricard and Thomond.[63] The 1585 ‘Composition of Connacht’ sought to replace charges and military exactions that Irish lords and English garrisons imposed on the provinces by converting them into a normalised rent-charge levied on land.[64] This process was part of a wider push of spreading English law and authority that sought to erode the Gaelic magnates’ authority and encourage local sept-heads to pursue freeholder status and break the patron-client dependence that they had with their overlords.[65]

Although many of the Thomond septs and leading families signed the final ‘Composition Agreement’ in 1585, the leading chief of west Clann Chuiléin – John McNamara Fionn – refused to sign.[66] Nonetheless, his name was recorded among the chief families of the “Macks and Oes who surrendered their Irish names and customs of inheritance and received their castles and lands by patent, to them and their heirs, in English succession”.[67] McNamara Fionn was scribed above the minor septs of “McGilly Reoghe”, (anglice McGillereagh, Gallery) “McGlaneghee” (anglice McClancy) and “McEnerhin”. McEnerhin could be a contracted form of ‘McEneryheny’, the popular spelling of McInerney in Elizabethan times.[68] If this was the case the McInerney sept was important enough to be independently represented among the chief land-holding septs of Thomond. The 1585 Composition paved the way for English-style land ownership and the repudiation of Brehon law. As these changes were being felt and the English Inquisitions Post Mortem system was established to settle inheritance disputes, Irish landholders were making the transition from their Gaelic positions of taoisigh and tánaistí to gentleman and yeoman. It would appear that these changes in land ownership were behind the land dispute that saw the senior and junior branches of the McInerneys claim control of the clann lands. Ultimately it was the senior branch of the McInerneys that prevailed, ousting the junior faction from the lands of Ballykilty, Ballysallagh and Carrigoran.

McInerney Land Dispute: 1565-1632

The McInerney land dispute began with the death of John (Seain) McInerney at Dromoland in November 1565. His death appears to have sparked a long-running dispute between two factions of the McInerney deirbhfhine who shared a common grandfather, Tomais, who probably lived in the mid-fifteenth century. It is possible that Tomais was the “Thomas mac Seain” who erected the tower-houses of Dromoland and Ballyconeely if we allow a margin of error in William O’Lionain’s castle builders list, because the genealogies record him not as the son of Seain but the son of Mathgamain (see Appendix II).[69] It would appear that on the death of John McInerney in 1565 he, as the ceannfine or sept-head, held the key McInerney lands of Ballykilty, Ballysallagh and Carrigoran. Perhaps instead of the prevailing custom of dividing the estate among the eligible deirbhfhine who would have occupied parts of the estate as freemen, John sought that his son Mathgamain would continue his office, even without the support of the deirbhfhine.

In Irish inheritance custom, the division of deirbhfhine land (excepting the demesne of the sept-head which was attached to his office) could lead to a number of partible sharings among the deirbhfhine and collateral family branches.[70] This land sharing often became permanent and led to disagreements between the incumbent lineage and claimants who hoped to benefit from redistribution.[71] In Thomond in the sixteenth century, redistribution seemed to favour senior family members over junior ones, a method that was provided for in early Irish law: rannaid ósar, do goa sinnser (‘the junior divides, the senior chooses’).[72] It is likely that on the death of John McInerney some of the deirbhfhine supported, under Brehon law, a successor candidate over John’s seventeen year old son Mathgamain.

Land which the sept held in common—and which was liable to periodic redistribution—was meant to support kinsmen descended from a common four generation male ancestor. When the junior branch of the McInerneys (as represented by Mathgamain mac Lochlainn d.1572) claimed the lands after the death of John McInerney in 1565 they may have done so because otherwise they were facing downward social pressure. The junior branch may have had problems maintaining their status as deirbhfhine on clann land that was liable for periodic redistribution and was not attached to any demesne lands. Therefore, whether Mathgamain mac Lochlainn was entrusted with the lands before the death of John or not, it would seem that his grab of the lands may have been preemptive as his claim to the lands (and to the leadership of the sept) was increasingly fraught under the four generation requirement.[73] The real cause of the land dispute, however, is difficult to know for certain and we can only speculate from inferences in the historical record and what hints we may distill from our limited knowledge of Gaelic land tenure.[74]

It is probable that because of the relatively junior age of Mathgamain, and the possibility that John may have assigned some of his lands to his kinsmen to hold in trust for Mathgamain, that the deirbhfhine on the death of John supported another candidate and seized the lands held in trust. This successor candidate, Mathgamain mac Lochlainn and his heirs may have initially controlled the lands (though possibly not the demesne of Ballykilty as Mathgamain mac Sean occupied it in 1577) from 1566 to 1579, but it seems likely that Mathgamain mac Sean managed to oust Donough the grandson of Mathgamain mac Lochlainn in 1576 when Donough’s father (also Lochlainn) died. At the age of six Donough mac Lochlainn’s claim to the lands that his grandfather seized in 1565 would have been untenable and it was possible that during this period Donough and other freeman of the junior McInerney deirbhfhine were permanently ousted from Ballykilty, Ballysallagh and Carrigoran. It would appear that at least some of them took up possession of Cahirteige in Clonloghan parish, including Donough and his heirs. In 1610 Donough was recorded as re-edifying Mohane Castle nearby Dromoland.[75] Mathgamain mac Sean, the main representative of the senior McInerney lineage, held on to Ballykilty until his death in 1617.

This did not prevent the disgruntled junior branch of the family and those supported under Brehon law to pursue legal redress. This drama was played out through a series of Inquisitions Post Mortems in 1579, 1606 and 1632. According to the Inquisitions Post Mortem record of 1579:

Inquisitions post mortem, taken at Ennis, on the 16th of May, 21st year of Elizabeth, before John Crofton, finds that John MacInerney, late of Ballykilty, died on the 5th of November, 1565, seized in fee of Ballysallagh and Ballykilty; that Mahone MacInerney, aged 17, at his father’s death, is the son and heir of said John; finds that Mahone, son of Loghlen, and Mahone’s son, Loghlen the younger, both relations of John, had laid claim to his lands and appropriated them to their own use for thirteen years past.[76]

The Inquisitions Post Mortems of 1606 and 1632, in the reign of James I, record:

Inquisitions post mortem, taken at the Windmill, on the 13th of March, 1606, by Humphrey Wynch, finds that Mahone, son of Loghlen MacInerney, died at Ballysallagh, on the 12th of November, 1572, being then owner in fee of Ballysallagh, Ballykilty with its water-mill, and of Carrigoran, and leaving his son Loghlen his heir-at-law. This son died at Carrigoran on the 14th of November, 1576, leaving his son Donogh, then aged six years, but now of full age, as his heir; finds that Mahone, son of John MacInerney, disputes the right of his cousin to the ownership of these lands, alleging that his father John, who was the true owner, had died at Dromoland, on the 5th of November, in the 7th year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, leaving him, the said Mahone, his son and heir.[77]

A subsequent Inquisition post mortem, taken in 1632, finds that Mahone had been in possession, and that he died about the year 1617, leaving a son John to succeed him, a man then of full age.[78]

The policies that were adopted in Thomond such as the ‘Surrender and Regrant’ and ‘Composition’ meant the exclusion of the deirbhfhine – especially the younger cadet family branches – in favor of primogeniture.[79] Also, the pattern of land ownership changed. As can be seen by the McInerneys the redistribution of freehold ‘clann lands’ of Ballykilty, Ballysallagh and Carrigoran on the death of the sept-head was no longer in place. Instead, John McInerney’s line claimed the lands under the principle of primogeniture while the other deirbhfhine members exercised their prerogative under Brehon Law. The resulting outcome was often conflict between different family branches. The deirbhfhine freemen who elected a new sept-head on the death of the incumbent, held lands that were taxed and liable to periodic redistribution.[80]

After the introduction of English common law the deirbhfhine freemen – who in English eyes were tenants-at-will – were often sidelined in favour of primogeniture inheritance. The shiring of County Clare in 1570 and the introduction of administrative machinery such as the Inquisitions Post Mortem, enforced new land ownership arrangements that favoured large freeholders and senior branches of families at the expense of their dependents and lesser clansmen. As can be imagined, the Inquisitions Post Mortem were a powerful means of extending political patronage and re-granting lands in accordance with the principle of primogeniture. The outcome of this process for the McInerney family was that the senior line of the family, headed by Mathgamain mac Sean, was successful in holding onto the clann lands and, in particular, the demesne at Ballykilty.

The extent and nature of the land eligible for redistribution was divided amongst individuals according to their status within the deirbhfhine.[81] It would appear that the losing McInerney faction were displaced from Ballysallagh and Carrigoran and ended up occupying smaller holdings in Caherteige in the parish of Clonloghan by 1641.[82] The dispute seemed to have been negated by the lodgment of a pedigree in Dublin that confirmed the succession of Mathgamain mac Sean’s lineage. It read: “Mahowne MacEnerhyny of Balikiltie in Co Clare, died 1617”, his heir “John McEnerhyne.”[83]

McInerneys in Rebellion

McInerneys are variously recorded in the Elizabethan Fiants as receiving pardons for rebellion during turbulent period of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. It can be surmised that much of the ‘rebellious activity’ was driven by the change in land ownership and the Crown’s encroachment on the feudal rents that were paid by the lesser landowners to their traditional overlords. The Fiants record a “Mahowne McShane McInErrihine of Ballykilly [sic Ballykilty] Co Clare, gent”, as obtaining a pardon in 1577 for rebellious activities.[84] This was Mathgamain mac Sean who must have been living at the Ballykilty demnese at this time and was probably in the process of displacing Donough, the six year old son of Lochlainn, from the rest of the McInerney lands after Lochlainn’s death at Carrigoran in 1576. Mathgamain mac Sean must have regained Ballysallagh from the junior branch of the family by 1589 because in that year he was recorded as “Maghowne McInerinn of Ballesolloghe, gent” and received a pardoned for rebellion.[85] In 1602 a “Mahowne ne Teige McInyrrymy of Ballsallagh”,[86] and a “John Sellenger McEnerie of Ballisallagh gent”[87] also received pardons. It is interesting to note that these last two references appeared in the aftermath of the Nine Years War. In 1611 a pardon was granted to “Laughlin McInerheny, yeoman” in Co Clare. It is possible that he was attached to the other McInerney branch – the displaced deirbhfhine kinsmen of Clonloghan.[88]
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