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

McEnerhiny land dispute: 1565-1632

New information has provided useful detail concerning a dispute over the core McEnerhiny sept-lands. The dispute culminated in violence in 1573. The dispute was between two branches of the sept who shared a common grandfather. The centrality of land proprietorship to personal security and wealth meant that the stakes were high when landholding was disputed amongst sept members. The survival of inquisitions post mortem and a Chancery Court bill provides further context to events and adds to our understanding of how inheritance operated amongst landholding sept-lineages in the sixteenth century lordship of West Clann Chuiléin.

The ultimate function of the inquisition post mortem system was to determine what revenues, if any, escheated to the crown on the death of a landed freeholder. Under this system, the re-granting of a freeholder’s lands to his heirs acted as a powerful means of extending social control and political patronage. On the 16 May 1579 the first of three inquisitions post mortem were taken regarding the death of sept-head John McEnerhiny (Seán Mac an Oirchinnigh). The death of John McEnerhiny at Dromoland on 5 November 1565 sparked a land dispute amongst two factions of the McEnerhiny deirbhfhine who shared a common grandfather, Tomás. Tomás and his descendants are scribed in a genealogy compiled in c.1588 probably for the purpose of supporting the land claims of the senior branch of the lineage as the genealogy records both rival branches, but gives prominence to the senior branch.[91]

Pedigree of the McEnerhiny deirbhfhine cited in the 1579, 1606 & 1632 inquisitions[92]
Pedigree of the McEnerhiny deirbhfhine cited in the 1579, 1606 & 1632 inquisitions

According to the c.1588 genealogy the two sons of Tomás—Con Mara and Mahon— were progenitors of rival branches of the sept that claimed the lands of Ballysallagh and Ballykilty on the death of John in 1565. Circumstantial evidence in the 1579 inquisition points to the family of John as the incumbent lineage on the sept-lands at that time, a position they probably held along with the position of sept-head in recognition of their status as “the true owner[s]” of the lands according to the 1606 inquisition. [93]

New evidence from a recently found document from the Court of Chancery provides rare detail on the capacity for violent conflict between competing branches of the sept. While the background to the McEnerhiny land dispute has been noted elsewhere,[94] the inquisition material recorded in abstract form by James Frost is recounted here:

Inquisitions post mortem, taken at Ennis, on the 16th of May, 21st year of Elizabeth [1579], 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.[95]

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.[96]

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.[97]

Following the death of John in 1565 his son Mahon was sidelined by his cousins who appropriated the lands. It may have been the intention that prior to the death of John he placed his estate in trust to senior kinsmen of the junior branch of the family in the expectation that proprietorship would return to his under-aged son Mahon. Mahon was displaced from Ballysallagh by his cousins after 1565 and in the intervening period to 1573 he probably resided on his mother’s dowry land at Knockslattery in Doora parish.[98]

Probably using Knockslattery as a safe homestead, Mahon returned in February 1573 at the age of 25 to reassert his position as heir to John and sept-head. On 12 November 1572 the eldest representative of the junior McEnerhiny branch, Mahon son of Loghlen, died at Ballykilty and was then the owner of the core sept-lands of Ballysallagh, Ballykilty with its water-mill, and Carrigoran leaving a son Loughlen as his heir.[99] In a quick succession of events the deposed Mahon returned to Ballysallagh along with a galloglass mercenary Molmorry McEdmond, his brother-in-law, and killed Loughlen, the new incumbent on the sept-lands on 1 February 1573 (recte 1574).

The inquisitions transcribed by James Frost do not record this event. The 1606 inquisition incorrectly states that Loughlin died at Carrigoran on 14 November 1576, leaving a son Donough. Inconsistencies with the dates could be due to editing by Frost or by difficulty in reading the original document. Donough pursued his claim to the septland by initiating a suit in the Court of Chancery—under the law of equity—as he could not get redress under common law due to Mahon’s alliance with the jurors on local inquisitions.[100] Donough’s Court of Chancery (undated) bill recounts the events in full:

To the right hon. the lord Chancellor.
In most humble wise showeth to your good honour your daily orator Donnough McInerinyhein of Carrgauran gent., how Laughlin McInery father to your petitioner, was quietly seised in his demesne as of fee of and in Ballikillie, Ballisallaghbegg, Leaghkearrowegteragh containing four quarters of land and two mills with the appurtenances situate, lying and being in the County of Clare and in the barony of Bunratty and during his lifetime did peaceably and quietly proceave[?], receive and enjoy the issues, perquisites and profits of the same and every part and parcel of the premises without the lawful let, trouble or molestation of any whatsoever, for and until such time as your orator’s said father was murdered by Mahowne McInerry of Knockslatterie and Malmorry McEdmonde galliglass and brother in law to the said Mahowne upon the first of February AD 1573 [recte 1574] your orator being then of age five years or thereabouts after whose death the said lands and other the premises descended and came to your supplicant as son and heir to his father Laughlin and that Mahowne McInnerryny did abate upon your supplicant’s possession and ever sithence [since] hath unjustly withheld the same to your orator’s damages of £1000, with whom at the common law your orator cannot try [ie. trial] by reason of his alliance among common Jurors. The premises considered may it please your lordship to award his majesty’s most gracious writ of subpoena to the said Mahown McInerryny who is now in town to answer the premises presently and to order according to equity due he shall pray.[101] [modernized spelling]

Original Court of Chancery Bill, c.1590-c1606
Original Court of Chancery Bill, c.1590-c1606[102]

From the Chancery bill we can see that Loghlen, as the representative of the junior branch, held the lands of “Ballikillie, Ballisallaghbegg, Leaghkearrowegteragh containing four quarters of land and two mills in the county of Clare” in 1573 (recte 1574). The involvement of Molmorry McEdmond,[103] who was described in the Chancery bill as a “galliglass” mercenary was probably of the McSweeny galloglass sept who settled in Co Cork on the MacCarthy demesne lands in the fifteenth century. Mahon’s relationship with this McSweeny galloglass is uncertain, though Mahon’s pardon for rebellion in 1577 points to a possible connection to rebellious activity with the Earl of Clancare (Mac Cárthaigh Mór) and his McSweeny galloglass retainers.[104] The employment of an armed mercenary by Mahon points to the retention of Gaelic military service septs in Thomond prior to their abolition under an agreement with the Earl of Thomond concluded at Windsor Castle in 1577.[105]

On the killing of his rival Loghlen, Mahon seised the sept-lands of Ballysallagh and Ballykilty, displacing the junior branch of the family.[106] As Mahon had effective possession of the core sept-lands from 1573, it is reasonable to link him with the c.1588 pedigree written by hereditary chronicler and genealogist, Maoilín Óg Mac Bruaideadha, which descends to “Mathgamain [Mahon] Mac an Oirchinnigh”. This pedigree served as a contemporary confirmation of his position as senior representative of Clann Mhic an Oirchinnigh.[107]

In 1577 Mahon was recorded as at Ballykilty[108] and in 1589 at Ballysallagh,[109] indicating that he remained in full possession of the McEnerhiny sept-estate. Mahon’s recording in the 1586 inquisition into the land holding of John McNamara Fionn, Lord of West Clann Chuiléin, points to him as the ceannfine of the McEnerhiny sept and a principal freeholder of the lordship as he is listed second on the list of jurors.[110] Interchangeable references of another leading freeholder, James McEnerhiny,[111] to Ballysallagh East points to the townland serving as a principal abode for sept members in Kilnasoolagh parish, despite the occupation of Ballynacragga tower-house in 1574.[112] Ballysallagh East adjoined the lands of Castlekeale in West Ballysallagh which was a McClancy long-house residence and a nucleated settlement described as a “town” in the early seventeenth century.[113]

Further references are found to Mahon as a juror at a 1598 inquisition[114] and also in a document dated 22 October 1636, which stated that in 1616 Mahon McEnerhiny of Ballykilty had two horses stolen from him by Daniel Annierie McNemara of Drumquin in Kilraghtis parish who was later jailed in Ennis and his land forfeited to the Earl of Thomond.[115] Mahon retained possession of the sept-lands until his death in 1617 when a pedigree was lodged in Dublin showing his heir-at-law John.

Genealogical Office Pedigree of Mahowne McEnerhyny and heir John, 1617
Genealogical Office Pedigree of Mahowne McEnerhyny and heir John, 1617[116]

It is possible to construct a pedigree of Mahon’s family based on surviving documentation and his family’s connection to local notables such as Máire Rua:

Pedigree of Mahon McEnerhiny
Pedigree of Mahon McEnerhiny

[Footnotes: 117, 118, 119, 120, 121, 122.]

From at least 1616 Mahon’s residence was Ballykilty and it was there that he died in 1617.[123] Presumably, Knockslattery also descended to Mahon’s heir John which, in turn, may have been passed to his son (?) Loughlin sometime before 1641.[124] Circumstantial evidence points to Mahon having several other sons who were settled on various other parcels of land, including Mahon and Edmond at Ballysallagh East who appear in land transactions of the 1620s with Dutch settler James Martin.[125]

Inheritance in Sixteenth Century Kilnasoolagh
The ubiquitous question of how land inheritance operated in Gaelic lordships can only be answered by reference to local practices and acknowledging that inheritance customs evolved depending on the balance of local law and pragmatism. This section will attempt to distil key points and examples that can be unearthed amongst contemporary documents. Given the limitation of primary documents we can only deduce general details from two Chancery Court bills.

Under the Irish system of jurisprudence (brehon law) during the sixteenth century the ceannfine had the right to divide lands and allocate them amongst deirbhfhine kinsmen based on seniority, while assigning to himself, or his preferred heir, the largest share of the lands. Depending on prevailing customs this division took place on the death of a coheir (but annual redistribution of sept-lands was still practiced)[126] and was a mixed arrangement incorporating elements of Irish ‘gavelkind’ or partible inheritance, and primogeniture that sought to retain common ownership of sept-lands among men of the ruling lineage.[127] This course was practiced in Thomond and in Connacht and in Offaly.[128]

In Gaelic Thomond the redistribution of lands amongst deirbhfhine kinsmen gave way to a recognition of a form of ‘primogeniture’ which gave males of a deceased elder brother preference in partitions over their senior but cadet uncles.[129] This method of primogeniture was provided for in early Irish law—rannaid ósar, do goa sinnser (‘the junior divides, the senior chooses’)[130]—but is confused due to the difficulty in distinguishing theory from practice.[131] The early Irish law texts were by the sixteenth century anachronistic, while the study of Roman (civil) law was a better guide to the actual practice of law by the brehon class. Seniority did count when it came to land redistribution in Thomond and operated alongside other arrangements including redemption of mortgaged lands. In general the re-allocation of sept-land occurred on the death of a coheir, but this is by no means definite as evidence also points to annual divisions happening each Mayday.[132]

The practical operation of inheritance rested on several factors, including the internal hierarchy of the sept-lineage and historic divisions of sept-land; genealogical position of agnatic deirbhfhine kinsmen to the ruling lineage of the sept; presence of any minors on the death of a senior coheir; and the role of common law. Whilst a diversity of customs can be adduced from surviving documents for Thomond, two Court of Chancery bills from c.1623 relate specifically to Kilnasoolagh parish and detail the inheritance of the McClancy brehon lineage.

The parties in this suit belonged to the leading McClancy lineage of Tradraighe who occupied the tower-houses of Castlekeale, Urlanmore and Urlan Beg and Clonloghan in 1570.[133] Partial illegibility of the bills limits making detailed conclusions, but the form of inheritance operating on the McClancy sept-estate appears to be division based on seniority of brothers on the death of a coheir as members were “seised thereof by division, according to the custom of the country”.[134] The bills infer that the division of the sept-estate favored the eldest brother and that mortgaging of lands were subject to the power of redemption.[135] The peculiar Gaelic practice of redemption allowed the possibility that land could be reincorporated into the stock of land of the sept, upholding the principle of common land proprietorship. We do not have a complete picture of specific arrangements and whether they underwent revision after the introduction of common law in 1577.[136] These surviving bills may, however, reflect local arrangements in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century.

Using the above as a template it is possible to make some observations regarding the dispute over the McEnerhiny sept-estate. On the death of John in 1565 his son Mahon, then aged 17, was locked in a tussle over possession of the sept-estate with his older cousin Mahon son of Loughlen. The 1579 inquisition indicates that Mahon, the 17-year-old heir of John, was ousted immediately from the lands. This opportunistic act on behalf of the junior branch of the deirbhfhine illustrates the precarious position of a minor heir. Alternatively, the dispute may have arisen due to the customary division of constituent subdivisions of sept-land reallocated on the death of John. Under this scenario eligibility, as in the case of the neighbouring McClancy sept at Ballysallagh West, was based on seniority and Mahon, a minor heir with marginal backing and power, was passed over in favour of his senior kinsmen.

Mahon son of Loughlen died in 1572 and was then in possession of the three disputed townlands. Mahon son of Loughlen was of fourth generation descent from Tomás—the common ancestor of the rival McEnerhiny branches—and this fact placed his heirs on the margins of eligibility under Irish law. This may have been the catalyst behind the preemptive seizure of the sept-lands on the death of John given the need to secure the sept-lands as Mahon son of Loughlen’s claim to the lands was increasingly fraught under the four generation requirement. Conversely, the dispossessed Mahon who argued at the 1606 inquisition that his father John was the “true owner”[137] may have claimed his title to the land under primogenitor inheritance. In 1617 Mahon’s eldest son John was confirmed as his heir-at-law as a pedigree lodged in Dublin confirmed Mahon’s death in 1617 and John’s inheritance of Ballykilty.[138] This is a prime example of a Gaelic freeholder conscious of his position and anxious to obtain confirmation of title and lands.

The dispute over the McEnerhiny sept-land shows the capacity for conflict amongst the kinfolk of Gaelic lineages. As the Court of Chancery bill makes clear the stakes were high, given the economic potential of the sept-estate (£1000) and Mahon’s willingness to use a galloglass to enforce his claim. It is difficult to ascertain land inheritance customs that operated in Kilnasoolagh, but surviving documentation suggests a division of sept-land on the death of a coheir and the importance of seniority in determining constituent divisions of sept-land.[139] The system of partible inheritance was essentially one of joint proprietorship by a landholding lineage group whose rights were corporate and vested in the ruling segment of the sept.

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McEnerhinys of Ballysallagh:
A micro-study

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Concluding Remarks