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

Concluding Remarks


The 1586 inquisition is important on a number of levels, not least because this is the first time that it has been the subject of inquiry. As this article demonstrates the inquisition is useful in determining the social hierarchy that existed in the West Clann Chuiléin lordship prior to its demise on the death of John McNamara Fionn in 1602. The list of jurors is akin to a ‘roll call’ of the most important freeholders in the lordship and reads exactly as one would expect in a society where social relations were shaped
by kinship (real or imagined).

From the inquisition we learn that the high-status brehon clan of McClancy were regarded as the principal freeholding sept in the lordship. They head the list of jurors and arbitrated the determination of rents on lands. The McEnerhiny sept of Kilnasoolagh parish were regarded as a leading landholding sept in the lordship with three representatives cited as jurors (Mahowne, Shane and Thomas) and a land division named after them (‘Ballysallagh mcEnerhine’). The McEnerhiny also feature as arbitrators determining rents on land. The O’Mulqueenys had high standing as an important freeholding sept with a genealogical connection to the McNamara lineage, and the steward-marshal sept of O’Roddan played an important role in collecting tribute in the lordship. The hereditary chroniclers, the O’Mulconry, are noted in the list of jurors and expectedly cite their residence as Ardkyle, the home of their famous school of history and poetry.

In these respects the inquisition does not offer any surprises. What the inquisition does offer is information on the breakdown of landholding within the lordship. We now have a rough idea of the location of lands that yielded tribute and also the existence of at least three tiers of landholding in the lordship. The presence of land associated with the freeholding septs confirms that the politically important vassal-septs of the lordships had a measure of independence and were obliged to pay a fixed tribute. This arrangement suggests defined tribute payments that had probably evolved over the later
medieval period. That these rents were defined in monetary terms is strong evidence of a partly monetised economy in a Gaelic lordship which must have existed parallel to traditional barter and compulsion-force methods that operated in hybrid-feudal lordships.

The identification of three tiers of landholding in the lordship: freeholding sept lands, demesne lands and mensal lands were characteristic of differentiated land tenure arrangements. These also found expression in the different rents (monetary and foodstuffs) owed to the chiefly McNamara Fionn, as well as exactions such as cuid oidhche and the billeting of troops on mensal lands and right to the tolls and trade monopolies of local markets. The inquisition hints at a complex patchwork of different obligations that underpinned the lordship’s political-economy and which encompassed both secular and ecclesiastical lands.

From this information we can conclude that the lordship was a structured polity with a clear administrative centre at the castle of Dangan-i-viggin. Moreover, the lordship displayed feudal characteristics such as defined rents for vassal-septs, the obligation to billet troops on freeholder’s lands, and a tribute-collecting apparatus administered by steward-bailiffs. Also existed were different tenurial conditions for professional and literati families that served the administrative and status needs of the ruling McNamara Fionn and who transmitted their highly valued (and guarded) knowledge by hereditary means. This rested on a system of tribute and obligation to the ruling lineage, but the role of kinship as an ordering principle was important and was reflected in the naming conventions of land denominations. The inquisition is a rich source of rare information; no other surviving inquisition for sixteenth century Clare is so vivid in its detail. The chance recording of the inquisition by R.W. Twigge is testimony to his value as an antiquary and offers the local historian a unique ‘window’ on the sixteenth century Gaelic lordship of West Clann Chuiléin.

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Nomenclature Evidence
from the 1586 Inquisition
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Acknowledgements