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The West Clann Chuiléin Lordship in 1586: Evidence from a Forgotten Inquisition
By Luke McInerney

Inquisition transcribed by R.W. Twigge

A remarkable inquisition of the Court of the Exchequer held at Galway and dated 27 January 1585 (recte1586) has come down to us in transcribed form by the early twentieth century antiquarian Robert William (R.W.) Twigge[1] and is collated amongst various documents in his unfinished work, Materials for a History of Clann-Cuilein.[2] R.W Twigge was one of several antiquaries whose interest centered on County Clare and who published articles of historical and genealogical interest.[3] His contemporaries included George Unthank Macnamara who collaborated with R.W Twigge in his unpublished work Materials for a History of Clann-Cuilein[4] and the prolific antiquary, George Thomas Westropp.

R.W. Twigge transcribed this inquisition because of its relevance to the McNamara (Mac Conmara) family and its connection with the history of Clann Chuiléin. The majority of inquisition material that has survived for sixteenth and seventeenth century County Clare is due to the efforts of James Frost who published, in abstract form, 218 inquisition post mortem cases in his 1893 A History and Topography of the County of Clare, before they were destroyed in 1922.[5] James Frost did not copy the 1586 inquisition document and so its unlikely survival can be credited to R.W. Twigge. The inquisition has remained unpublished[6] and the only known copy is amongst the collection of documents in Twigge’s Materials for a History of Clann-Cuilein, the hardcopy of which is to be found in the British Library.

Serious historical research into the late medieval period in Clare is complex and fraught with difficulty. While this is not necessarily different from research concerning other Gaelic lordships, scholarly knowledge of the inner-workings of late medieval Gaelic lordships in Clare is limited. Detailed local studies are few and so researchers have to draw conclusions based on studies of analogous Gaelic lordships or try to infer from the historical record. The unearthing of this ‘forgotten’ inquisition allows researchers better engagement with a crucial period in the lordship of West Clann Chuiléin as it underwent dramatic change from a Gaelic-feudal polity to a shired county subject to English administration. The value of the inquisition in shedding light on Gaelic society in the immediate aftermath of the 1585 composition of Connacht is useful as the document crystallizes a snapshot of the inheritance of chieftain and territorial magnate, John McNamara Fionn, in January 1586.

This article proposes to investigate three aspects that can be distilled from the inquisition document. It will first give an overview of the structure of Gaelic lordship in the sixteenth century. This section draws on primary sources and research and relates them to three broad types of landholding – sept-lands, demesne lands and mensal lands – that can be distilled from the inquisition. The second part analyses the 1586 inquisition of John McNamara and details what information can be gleaned from it. This section investigates the make-up of the lordship in terms of tributary lands. The last section draws on place-name evidence in the inquisition document to identify naming conventions and hitherto unknown land denominations to contextualize the lordship. To this end, the inquisition provides a valuable snapshot of a Gaelic lordship still traditional in its governance and social structure. It is hoped that this article will provoke inquiry into the structure and workings of a little-studied area of Clare history, the Gaelic lordship of West Clann Chuiléin.

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Political Economy of Lordship:
Origins & Structure