Clare County Library
Clare History
Home | Library Catalogue | Forums | Foto | Maps | Archaeology | Folklore | Genealogy | Museum | Search this Website | Copyright Notice | Visitors' Book | What's New

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

McEnerhinys of Ballysallagh: A micro-study

A micro-study of the McEnerhiny sept of sixteenth century Ballysallagh is useful in determining the specifics of social organisation at the local level. Significant local variation existed amongst sixteenth century Gaelic lordships,[28] and to this end a microstudy can more accurately reflect specifics of the social order. With careful application of sparse historical sources it is possible to reconstruct — albeit haphazardly and with a degree of retrospectivity—the landholding arrangements and role of vassal-septs in the Mac Conmara lordship. Greater engagement with historical sources can provide comment on freeholders as a reading of the Inchiquin Manuscripts and Petworth House Archive material reveals.

In the sixteenth century the McEnerhiny ranked amongst the most important landholding sept-lineage in the Mac Conmara lordship of West Clann Chuilein. Despite not being a professional learned family the McEnerhinys can be classified as a leading vassal-sept of the Mac Conmara with a sept-estate second to the McClancy brehon clan in terms of size.[29] Sources described the McEnerhiny as a ‘noble’ or aristocratic septlineage, indicating their status as a landholding lineage with kinship ties to the ruling Mac Conmara lineage.[30]

According to the Gaelic genealogies the McEnerhinys (Mac an Oirchinnigh) were originally an erenagh sept, though it is uncertain which termon lands in east Clare they were attached to. The origins of the McEnerhinys have been discussed elsewhere[31] however it is worth recounting their reputed progenitor, Donnchadh Mac Conmara, featured in RIA Ms 23 L.37 whose original exemplar dates from c.1380.[32]

RIA Ms 23 L.37 Genealogical tract: McEnerhiny descent from the Mac Conmara lineage[33]RIA Ms 23 L.37 Genealogical tract
[Domhnall Eachtgha Mac Conmhara mic Domhnall mhic Meanman mhic Aodha Adhair. Bhádar tri mic lais a nDomhnall sin .i. Cu mara a quo Clann Mheigh Conmhara. Donnchadh Oirchinneach a quo Clann Mhic an Oirchinnicch. Maolseachluin Mainech a quo Gabhul Mhaoilseachluinn Mhainicc.

McEnerhiny genealogy: c.1588[39]
(Click image to enlarge)

This genealogy connects Donnchadh to the ruling lineage of the Mac Conmara; that is, Donnchadh was the brother of Cúmhara Mac Conmara, king of Uí Chaisín (d.1151). Donnchadh also appears in the Book of Lecan (c.1418) under the Mac Conmara genealogy.[34] Other genealogies[35] including the c.1588 genealogical text RIA Ms 23.H.22 sets down a full pedigree of the family and claims that Donnchadh served as an erenagh.[36] By calculating generation timespans a twelfth century date for Donnchadh is plausible, placing him in a period of intense ecclesiastical activity in Thomond. This timescale is also corroborated with the annalistic obituary for Cúmhara Mac Conmara, reputed brother of Donnchadh, killed in 1151 at the battle of Móin Mór.[37] Other medieval references to McEnerhinys occur in the 1309 battle of Kilgorey in the saga-text Caithréim Thoirdhealbhaigh.[38] The description of the sept in the text suggests an established lineage at that time.

Several observations can be made from these genealogical texts. First, they set down in lineal form the main segment of the McEnerhiny lineage. The names given are presumably a succession of sept-heads, (ceannfine) but there is no indication as to what form of succession was in operation. Second, the forenames in the genealogy can be crossed-referenced to other sources. Tomás, who was the common grandfather of the rival branches of the McEnerhiny sept and featured in the c.1588 genealogical text (RIA Ms 23.H.22) flourished in c.1460. According to an eighteenth century list of castle builders Tomás mac Sheaán Mhic an Oirchinnigh is credited with erecting Dromoland and Ballyconeely tower-houses.[40] A Tomás Mac an Oirchine is also mentioned in a folkstory scribed in English and Irish by Conor Ryan in 1825 regarding the McEnerhiny lands at Trinahow townland and Cowlclogher field in the vicinity of Shepperton House in Ballysallagh West.[41] The forename Tomás does not occur in the fifteenth century Mac Conmara or Mac Fhlannchadh (McClancy) genealogies so its inclusion in the McEnerhiny genealogy and appearance in other sources confer a degree of credibility on these references. Taken together these references pin-point an individual McEnerhiny, and for the most part can be considered historically plausible; genealogies are especially valuable when they can be corroborated against the historical record. Tomás, however, is not mentioned in surviving annals. But his descendants, who clashed over the proprietorship of the sept-estate can be identified in the sixteenth century inquisition material and their agnatic relationship is accurately recorded in the c.1588 genealogical tract by Maoilín Óg Mac Bruaideadha.[42]

The location of the McEnerhiny patrimonial lands has caused confusion amongst authorities. The Rev. Patrick Woulfe and Edward MacLysaght incorrectly identified the sept-estate at the “parish of Ballysally” (sic) and at “Ballycally”, respectively.[43] Historical sources indicate the sept-estate comprised Ballysallagh East, Carrigoran, Corkanaknockaun and Clonconnell[44] which are clustered together on the western side of Kilnasoolagh parish. Further lands belonged to the sept in Clonloghan parish with a cluster of McEnerhiny freeholders recorded at Lisconor and Caherteige in 1641.[45] Other lands identified in 1641 include Ardbraghan in Kilmaleery parish,[46] Ballykilty in Quin parish,[47] Derrie and Maghery in Templemaley parish[48] and Kilnahon (part of Knocklatter [sic] Knockslattery) in Doora parish.[49]

The morphology of landholding among freeholding septs was an important factor in the relationship between hereditary sept-lands, territorial hierarchies and ruling families. In central-east Clare, the freeholding septs yielded a tribute to the Mac Conmara Fionn at Dangan (Daingean Uí Bhigín) as their overlords and specific rent was paid out of certain quarters to the Uí Bhriain kings, later Earls of Thomond.[50] Freeholding septestates were not homogenous and populated exclusively by related-kin, rather they comprised sub-tenants and labourers known in sixteenth century English sources as ‘churls’ and whose aggregated families are first encountered in the 1659 ‘census’ (ie 1660 Poll Tax).[51] It was also not unusual that sept-lands had a mix of economic activity such as cropping, pasture, transhumance grazing (‘booleying’) and, in the case of the McEnerhiny lands at Ballykilty and Lecaroneighter, water-mills.[52]

The McEnerhiny sept-estate was located in the Mac Conmara lordship of West Clann Chuiléin, or the Barony of Dangan-i-viggin as it was known in sixteenth century English sources. Documentary evidence suggests that the McEnerhiny sept-estate in the second half of the sixteenth century comprised three tiers of landholding. First, the ‘core’ lands that were held in common by the leading segment of the lineage (deirbhfhine) situated at Ballysallagh East, Carrigoran and Ballykilty. It is possible to distill from contemporary sources that these lands transferred between generations by partible inheritance. Shared occupation of the lands amongst McEnerhiny deirbhfhine kinsmen characterized settlement on these lands.

The frequency of re-distribution of the lands remains unclear, but evidence suggests that local inheritance practices favoured seniority in landholding and redistribution may have occurred on the death of a coheir. In addition to the ‘core lands’ small parcels of lands situated nearby can be classified as comprising constituent parts of the core estate lands. Corkanaknockaun adjacent to Ballysallagh East, Clonconnell next to Kilnasoolagh and Lecaroneighter to the south of Ballykilty, fall into this category. In aggregate these lands—totaling 1,551 statute acres[53] — must have comprised the demesne lands of the McEnerhiny sept. It is likely that an element of stability existed around the core lands of the sept-estate from the fifteenth century and that the landholding matrix did not undergo significant change until the seventeenth century.[54]

The second tier of landholding is more complex to identify but can be classified as individually inherited land and generally under the proprietorship of an individual freeholder. This land is of sixteenth century origin and probably did not have any patrimonial connection; its status, therefore, is difficult to deduce. This included lands mortgaged to McEnerhiny freeholders at Bohir Roger and Bradagh and at Dromoland in c.1603, a grant of land in the same year at Rathfolanmore,[55] as well as a parcel of land at Shanaghcloyne in Ballynacragga.[56] Knockslattery in Doora parish also passed into the inheritance of the McEnerhinys by way of dowry inheritance.[57]

The final tier of landholding that characterised the McEnerhiny sept-estate is more difficult to identify. Ecclesiastical or ‘termon land’ attached to the bishopric of Killaloe were farmed by hereditary tenants settled on church lands under the stewardship of an erenagh. From a surviving inquisition of 1586 we know that Carrigoran, part of the ‘core’ sept-lands of the McEnerhinys, was regarded as belonging to the bishopric of Killaloe, along with Kilnasoolagh townland. Evidence suggests that a McEnerhiny freeholder occupied the church land at Kilnasoolagh in 1617, a point that we will return to later. The implication is that the McEnerhinys may have retained their historic function as an erenagh sept on these ecclesiastical lands, even though an examination of the Papal Registers does not indicate an obvious hereditary ‘erenaghy’ in the parishes of Kilnasoolagh and Kilmaleery.[58]

Kilnasoolagh parish showing lands occupied by principal lineages in 1641[59]

[NB: shaded area indicates core sept-lands of McEnerhiny and McClanchy lineages.
Spellings as per 1641 Books of Survey and Distribution].

1. Ballygirreen
2. Ballynacragga
3. Ballysallagh East
4. Ballysallagh West (Castlekeale)
5. Ballyconnelly
6. Carrigoran
7. Corkanaknockaun
8. Dromoland
9. Ing East
10. Ing West
11. Kilkieran
12. Knockmurragha
13. Knocksaggart
14. Latoon North
15. Latoon South
16. Lisduff
17. Kilnasoolagh
18. Rathfolan
19. Trennahow

Dromoland: Castle builder — Tomás mac Sheaán Mhic an Oirchinnigh. Occupied by ‘Donogh mac moregh O bryene’ (1570); ‘Donogh mcMurrogh O brien’ (1574); William Starkey (1626).

Ballyconnelly: Castle builder — Tomás mac Sheaán Mhic an Oirchinnigh. Occupied by N/R (1570); ‘Tege mcMurrogh’ [O’Brien] (1574); N/R (1626).

Ballynacragga: Castle builder — Seaán mac Thaidhg ruaidh [Seaán mac Conchabhair Mhic Chon]. Occupied by N/R (1570); ‘Macneryheny’ (1574 – no forename); Richard Keatinge (1626).

Ballysallagh West/Castlekeale: Castle builder — Conchabhar mac Sheaán [Mac Fhlannchadha]. Occupied by ‘Conoghor oig mac Clanchie, a brehon’ (1570); N/A (1574); N/A (1626). Evidence suggests this site was a fortified ‘hall-house’.

Carrigoran: Castle builder — Domhnail mac Finghin [surname unknown]

Rathfolan: Castle builder — Lochlainn mac Shíoda. Occupied by ‘Teig mac nemara’ (1570); ‘Donogh O’Brien’ (1574); N/A (1626).

Kilnasoolagh church: — Pre-Norman origins. First recorded in 1256 and united to the rural rectory of ‘Tradry’ [ie Bunratty].

Circumstantial evidence suggests that the sept has been based in the vicinity of Ballysallagh since c.1400. Land transactions among McEnerhinys there occur up until 1655.[60] The historical record vindicates that the cluster of lands around Ballysallagh and Ballykilty were the principal lands that constituted the patrimonial inheritance of the McEnerhiny sept. It is not known when these lands were granted to them, but the conventional historical view is that the Mac Conmara re-settled Tradraighe with allied septs in the wake of the collapse of De Clare’s Norman colony in 1318.[61] It is reasonable to assume that both the McEnerhinys and McClancys, as offshoot septs of the Mac Conmara ruling lineage, were settled in Tradraighe during the fourteenth century. Interestingly, the McClancy maintained links from at least c.1400 to 1623— which included landholding and petitioning for church benefices—with their kin-branch at Killilagh parish in Corcomroe who served as hereditary brehons to the O’Briens.[62]

As the chief abode of the McEnerhinys, Ballysallagh is divided into east and west, with the latter division being occupied by the McClancy brehon sept. Ballysallagh has Norman connections as the townland was held by feudal tenure by the free tenants Nicholas de Interberg and Henry White in 1287.[63] By 1586 Ballysallagh East was locally known as “Ballysallagh McEnerhine” presumably to differentiate it from the western part of the townland.[64] Ballysallagh West comprised the McClancy estate and fortified residence of Castlekeale. The McClancy’s principal residence was located nearby at Urlanmor tower-house.[65] Nomenclature evidence from sixteenth century Sligo points to stability amongst landholding septs in lordships, often over the course of centuries.[66] Similar nomenclature evidence is found in Thomond and the division “Ballysallagh McEnerhine” is a case in point.

Other chief centres of importance for the McEnerhiny include Ballykilty where two water mills were located and also Ballynacragga where a tower-house was in the possession by an unnamed member of the sept in 1574.[67] In terms of permanent structures little is known but at Ballykilty and Carrigoran it is possible that fortified structures existed prior to 1600.[68] Petty’s map of the barony of Bunratty dated 1656-58 shows that substantial structures existed in both of these townlands, and that the two water mills located at Ballykilty since at least 1573 can be identified in the sketch. The sketch also depicts tower-houses at Ballynacragga, Ballysallagh West (Castlekeale)[69] and Urlanmore:

Ballykilty with watermills
Ballynacragga, Ballysallagh & Carrigoran
Ballykilty with watermills
Ballynacragga, Ballysallagh & Carrigoran

The 1586 inquisition into the lands of Seán Mac Conmara, Lord of West Clann Chuiléin, records Ballysallagh West owing 7s 10d, while “Ballysallagh McEnerhine” owed 6s 8d.[70] With the Composition Agreement in 1585 the Mac Conmara’s lordship charges were replaced by a levy of five shillings on each land quarter, payable to the Earl of Thomond.[71] Much information can be gleaned from surviving materials at Petworth House and the 1624 inquisition post mortem of Donough O’Brien, fourth Earl
of Thomond, mentions those quarters that comprised the sept-land of the McEnerhinys:

De et quarter terr in Rathmolanbegg quaique solid de et quatuor quarter terr in Ballysallaghes vigint solid & ex quarter terr in Carrigouran quinque soli....[72]
(the quarter of land in Rathmolanbegg [pays] five shillings and four quarters of
land in Ballysallaghes [ie. east and west Ballysallagh] [pays] 20 shillings…and
the quarter of land in Carrigouran [pays] five shillings).

The foregoing recalls the Composition charge of five shillings and that the lordship over these lands was taken by the Earl of Thomond, being one of the reasons which prompted Seán Mac Conmara to complain that the Earl has usurped his right of lordship over lands in the barony of Bunratty.[73]

Territorial magnates and heads of powerful Gaelic lineages as well as New-English settlers were rewarded in the 1585 Composition Agreement with lands free from composition charges. While not appearing in the final Composition Agreement signed by the main representatives of the Gaelic aristocracy on 14 August 1585 (excepting John McNamara Fionn), the McEnerhiny appear in an ancillary schedule to the final agreement. A note on “the names of all the macks and oes” of Connacht and Thomond and now part of the Carew Manuscripts lists the second-order lineages in apparent hierarchical order. The below is an excerpt of that document:



List of the
‘Mackes’ and ‘Oes’ of
Connacht and Thomond,





The list begins with “Macke William Eighter” followed by “Mc Nemarra ffynne” (Mac Conmara Fionn) scribed above the following sept-lineages: “Mc Nemarra Reoughe”, (Mac Conmara Riabhach) “McGillereaughe”, (Mac Giolla Riabhaigh) “McClaneghee” (Mac Fhlannchadha) and “McEnerhin” (Mac an Oirchinn). The tripartiate indenture component of the Composition Agreement cajoled the leading Gaelic gentry to be fully enmeshed in feudal land tenure. That the McEnerhiny featured in a background document associated with the Composition serves as an acknowledgement of their relative importance in the landholding hierarchy.

Ecclesiastical Connection
The fifteenth century Papal Letters (1396-1521) and petitions known as Regesta Supplicationum record McEnerhiny clerics being appointed the vicarages of Kilnasoolagh, Kilmaleery, Kilfintanan, Clonloghan and Bunratty and the rectories of Quin, Bunratty, Drumline and Tymorlogyg.[75] McEnerhiny clerics are first recorded in the published Papal Registers in 1411 when Matthew Macmeyrcheyn (Mathghamhain Mac an Oirchinn) was recorded as holding the rectories of Quin and Bunratty and petitioned to be assigned the vicarage of Kilmaleery.[76] A petition from 1419 indicated that he held the simple rectories of Tymorlogyg and Drumline and that he sought to hold Kilnasoolagh vicarage.[77] Matthew was described as the ‘offspring of a noble lineage’ (de nobili genere procreatus existit) as are other McEnerhiny clerics recorded in the Papal Letters in the vicinity of Kilnasoolagh and Kilmaleery parishes.[78] The original petition from Killaloe to the Roman Curia scribed his name on parchment in 1419 thus:

Matheus Macnemayrkyny cl[er]icus
Matheus Macnemayrkyny cl[er]icus[79]

An even earlier petition is recorded amongst the Papal Letters of Clement VII of Avignon during the uncertain time of the Great Schism. The petition, one of two published for Killaloe diocese, stated that ‘Dermicius Macenkargyd’ (Diarmaid Mac an Oirchinnigh) held the perpetual vicarage of ‘Kylomsulach’ (Kilnasoolagh) and rectory of Uí Cormaic (parishes of Drumcliff and Kilmaley) in 1382, but was to yield the latter to a Mac Craith who was probably connected to the Mac Craith hereditary church family of lareabbey.[80]

The Papal Letters reveal that the McEnerhiny sept supplied a steady stream of clerics to local benefices; this is not surprising considering that the McEnerhinys were an established landholding sept. However, it is unclear whether the benefices at Kilnasoolagh and Kilmaleery were in the possession of either a coarb or erenagh sept. Whether the ancient coarb and erenagh system—once a component of the Gaelic ecclesiastical economy—was still extant after the settlement and collapse of the Norman colony cannot be distilled from the Papal Letters. The presence of church lands at Carrigoran and Kilnasoolagh[81] and those recorded as ‘in ecclesiastical fee’ in Clonloghan which belonged to the Bishop of Killaloe, suggests the occupancy of episcopal tenants, possibly under the stewardship of an erenagh.

Carrigoran formed the ‘core’ sept-lands of the McEnerhiny lineage in the sixteenth century. Its inclusion in the 1586 inquisition as belonging to the bishopric of Killaloe links the McEnerhinys to termon lands. By piecing together references in the historical record we can identify James McEnerhiny whose father was a cleric and himself a literate man constituting a link between the McEnerhiny lineage and termon lands of Kilnasoolagh parish.[82] Documentation from Petworth House Archives identifies James
in the service of the fourth and fifth Earls of Thomond and active on local inquisitions.[83] In 1617 James is recorded as ‘detaining’ the church lands at Kilnasoolagh from Bishop Rider. The survey of church lands in the 1661 Bishop Worth’s Account Book notes:

1 Quarter Arable Pasture 43 [acres], the Civil Survey agrees. This Quarter was released to the Bishop of Killaloe by James mac Enernie 6 Jan: 1617, N[ew] S[tandard]. And I cannot find any lease made thereof since to the said James or any other, yet it was enjoyed by your[self] at the rent of £3 yearly. But 6 Feb. 1636 Bishop Lewis Jones sealed a lease thereof to William Price who 11 Feb. 1636 entered the dwelling house of the said James mac Enerinagh & demanded possession thereof but being refused by the said James[,] Connor Malloine yeoman took a clod of earth & delivered it to the lessee as possession of the said land.[84] [spelling modernized and contractions expanded]

This reference confirms James’ possession of Kilnasoolagh termon lands where he gave his residence at a 1611 inquisition.[85] It also suggests that James was alive in 1636, a point that is confirmed in his lodged suits at the Chancery Court.[86] James’ possession of this land, coupled with the fact that his father was a cleric, infers a historical link between the McEnerhiny sept and the termon lands of Kilnasoolagh parish. Other Petworth House sources points to James holding, as his partible inheritance, parts of Knockslattery and Ballykilty in c.1619 identifying him closely with the leading McEnerhiny branch.[87] Corroborating evidence pointing to the McEnerhiny sept-lineage exercising the role of hereditary erenaghs in the sixteenth century is, however, absent.[88] Circumstantial evidence may be found in the bardic poem Créd fá seachnaim síol Aodha? compiled possibly in c.1571. The poem recounts the ecclesiastical origin of the McEnerhiny sept, referring to their descent from Donnchadh (“deighshíol Donchadha meic Domhnaill”) and their role as an erenagh lineage (“síol ádhbhor an oirchinnigh”).[89]

The termon lands of Kilnasoolagh were still extant in 1767 and recorded in Thomas Hewitt’s map of Newmarket as “Bishopsland”.[90] Despite the uncertainties surrounding the role of the McEnerhiny sept at the termon lands of Carrigoran and Kilnasoolagh any vestige of a Gaelic ecclesiastical economy, including the presence of erenaghs, would have been removed by the Protestant Bishop Rider in the early 1600s.

Back Arrow
Assessment of Sources

Forward Arrow
McEnerhiny land dispute: