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Land and Lineage: The McEnerhinys of Ballysallagh in the Sixteenth Century[1]
By Luke McInerney

Introduction; Assessment of Sources

The McEnerhiny sept of Kilnasoolagh parish in the ancient territorial division of Tradraighe in Thomond were an important landholding lineage in the sixteenth century. As a second-order sept in the Mac Conmara lordship of West Clann Chuiléin the lineage – known in Irish as Clann an Oirchinnigh[2]– held extensive lands in that parish and the adjacent parishes of Quin, Kilmaleery and Clonloghan. The principal abode of the sept, however, centered on Ballysallagh in Kilnasoolagh parish and their patrimonial lands situated there since at least c.1400. Evidence to this end is found amongst references to clerics of the ‘noble’ or landholding branch of the McEnerhinys in ecclesiastical documents.

In the sixteenth century the McEnerhinys were recorded in official documents of the New-English administration. Employing official sources—including the fortuitous survival of a Court of Chancery bill and inquisition material—we can construct a convincing picture of the McEnerhiny lineage at Ballysallagh. The recording of a land dispute between two branches of the sept for the period 1565-1632 is of particular interest as it spans the turbulent period when customary Irish law was replaced by English common law and when landholding arrangements and social organization changed markedly. It is thereby possible to provide a ‘micro-study’ of the McEnerhiny sept in the sixteenth century and extrapolate information that can be used to understand other sept-lineages of similar status.

The paper explores the possibility of utilizing surviving documentation to cast light on an under-explored topic: landholding and conflict in the sixteenth century lordship of West Clann Chuiléin. It is hoped that the micro-study attempted in this article can provide a template for similar research into sept lineages in other Gaelic lordships, as well as present an assessment of sept organisation at the local level.

Assessment of Sources
It is well known that research into sixteenth century Gaelic Ireland is fraught with difficulty. The loss of official records on account of neglect, fire and deliberate targeting of Gaelic manuscripts by English soldiers have all taken their toll.[3] Careful application of diverse sources can throw new light on sept-lineages in Gaelic lordships at a time of transition and anglicisation. Much has been published on the ruling lineages of the Uí Bhriain and Mac Conmara[4] and recent research has also focused on the dynamics of the clan system in Thomond, although this line of enquiry is still at its early stages.[5] The application of historical sources—Irish genealogies, administrative records and maps—present an array of collective minutiae that can augment our understanding of sept-lineages.

Fortunately for the historian of sixteenth century Thomond an assortment of historical sources survive and are accessible in public institutions. With prudent assessment we can reconstruct the matrix of settlement and landholding that prevailed amongst the lesser sept-lineages.

This paper relies chiefly on administrative sources which have limitations in their accuracy and intent, but taken as a whole present a compelling window on McEnerhiny freeholders at Ballysallagh. The State Papers of Ireland[6] provide a backdrop to events occurring locally, while the Irish Fiants[7] provide a glimpse into ownership arrangements of sept-lands and reads almost like a census distinguishing between gentlemen, yeomen, husbandmen, labourers and kern and provides evidence on kinship bonds.[8] Petworth House Archives are the repository of rent ledgers and correspondence of the Earls of Thomond—later Earls of Egremont—and hold valuable sixteenth and early seventeenth century estate records including the 1619 inquisition into lands held by Donough O’Brien, fourth Earl of Thomond, (PHA B.26.T.16) and the 4 January, 1624 inquisition post mortem of Donough O’Brien (PHA Ms 1141).

The inquisition material transcribed by James Frost[9] remains a touchstone for research into Thomond. The recording, in abstract form, of 218 inquisitions post mortem prior to their destruction in 1922, furnishes the historian with a powerful tool for historical analysis. The usefulness of this source comes caveated with the point that inconsistencies and editing by Frost limits the utility of the inquisition material. Despite this, the material does not loose its chief utility and can be regarded as credible.[10] Less known is the transcribing, in full, of an inquisition of the Court of Exchequer held at Galway in 1586 by the antiquarian R.W. Twigge.[11] This inquisition has recently been the subject of analysis and remains the most important surviving document concerning the Mac Conmara lordship of West Clann Chuiléin.[12]

The published 1570 and 1574 ‘castle lists’[13] are a unique source to the historian and provide commentary about the owners of tower-houses which can be corroborated against other long-standing sources for historical scholarship such as the 1585 Compossicion Booke of Conought,[14] and the highly valuable compilation, the Inchiquin Manuscripts.[15] The latter source is particularly useful in determining land transactions and pinpointing specific individuals.

This article focuses on a Court of Chancery bill that was salvaged from the 1922 fire in the Public Records Office. This bill provides a detailed backdrop to the series of the inquisitions into the landholding arrangements of McEnerhiny freeholders at Ballysallagh. The Court of Chancery in Ireland was important in determining arbitrated outcomes concerning land disputes and was a popular avenue for Gaelic freeholders who sought redress under the law of equity. It was Dutch settler Matthew de Renzi who noted the tenaciousness that the freeholders who pursued legal cases showed—not a surprising point given the high stakes involved in alienating sept-land and the possibility of violent conflict never too far from a litigant’s mind.[16] Court of Chancery documents expose detail concerning land transactions and hereditaments, making them a useful primary source for delving into the world of litigation amongst freeholders, and the application of English law in previously self-governing Gaelic lordships.

Research into Gaelic sept-lineages is greatly assisted by the publication of the Papal Letters relating to Ireland,[17] especially for the period 1396-1521. This valuable compilation of ecclesiastical correspondence, along with the lesser known Regestum Supplicationum[18] which records petitions for Irish benefices, offer amassed information concerning ecclesiastical administration in Gaelic dioceses. These sources underpin evidence concerning the status and geographic locus of the McEnerhiny sept from c.1400 and provide useful clues regarding the sept’s ecclesiastical connections. Later ecclesiastical sources such as Bishop Worth’s Account Book of 1661[19] are valuable in determining tenurial arrangements on termon lands in Killaloe diocese in the early 1600s.

Gaelic manuscripts are an under-utilized source for the local historian.[20] A careful study of Gaelic material can aid research into sept origins. The arcane world of genealogies, many copied from an original exemplar of medieval antiquity, are valuable in so far as recording the landholding segment of a sept-lineage. In the words of one historian the genealogies are akin to an “obsolete telephone directory from some small, remote capital”.[21] The accuracy of the Gaelic genealogies has been addressed elsewhere[22] however difficulties of language, script and other idiosyncrasies confer an element of complexity on this source.

The principal Gaelic sources used in this paper include the saga-text Caithréim Thoirdhealbhaigh[23] produced by a member of the hereditary learned Mac Craith family in the mid-fourteenth century. While not recording contemporary events but rather events prior to 1318 and written as a highly stylized propaganda piece for the ruling Uí Bhriain kings, references to sept-lineages are likely to be accurate. The genealogical text RIA Ms 23.H.22 which sets out the division of the McEnerhiny into senior and junior branches is reputed to have been transcribed in the nineteenth century from the roll compiled by the professional poet-historian Maoilín Óg Mac Bruaideadha in c.1588.[24] This manuscript was also transcribed in the eighteenth century by Seán Ua Catháin and the practice of presenting the McEnerhiny sept as two divided lineages is repeated, presumably as this was set down in the original exemplar.[25]

The recording of the two branches of the McEnerhiny sept is unique as it allows us to date the compilation of the pedigree to the late sixteenth century while cross-referencing with inquisition material the accuracy of the genealogy. In this manner, the genealogical tract can be concluded to be credible and was probably compiled to legitimise the seizure of the sept-lands by the ‘senior’ branch of the McEnerhiny sept. The Mac Conmara genealogy known as RIA Ms 23 L.37 and containing material from c.1380 was copied by a succession of scribes from the lost Leabhar Oiris compiled by the poetic-chronicler Uí Mhaoilchonaire family.[26] This genealogy is useful in identifying the historic origins of various Mac Conmara collateral sept-lineages, including the McEnerhiny. Similarly, the Book of Lecan[27] compiled in c.1418 by Gilla Ísu Mac Fir Bhisigha, a hereditary historian, pinpoints the Mac Conmara lineage and notes Donnchadh, the McEnerhiny progenitor.

The usage of bardic poetry can also provide evidence on the status of sept-lineages in a Gaelic lordship, though the patronage of bardic poems were the domain of the lordly families with the purpose of legitimising their suzerainty over subordinate vassal-septs. In particular, the poem Créd fá seachnaim síol Aodha? compiled by Domhnall Ó Maoilchonaire for his patron Seán Mac Conmara, Lord of West Clann Chuiléin, (RIA Ms 784) provides a different perspective on the role of kinship amongst the landholding sept-lineages.

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McEnerhinys of Ballysallagh:
A micro-study