In the earliest legendary period this country was within the kingdom of Irrusdomnonn, and was inhabited by a Clann Umoir tribe called Tuath Resent Umoir. The Partraighe in the western part and in Ross were of that race.
Afterwards the great tribes called Conmaicne and Ciarraighe and Corcamogha grew up, whom I take to be descendants of a Fergus of the Fir Craibe race, who has been confused with Fergus MacRoigh of Ulster. They settled over the old tribes as the Ui Briuin and Silmurray settled on other ‘ tribes, and were the mainstay of the Ui Briuin kings of Connaught, being in fact the royal tribes, as the Silmurray were in later times.
Their settlement was at the expense of the kingdom of Irrusdomnonn, and marks the decay of the Gamanraighe power before that of Fir Craibe and of the Tuatha Taidhen, as shown in the list of kings of Connaught. The Ui Briuin having gained ascendency in Connaught were able to settle themselves upon weaker neighbours in Roscommon, and Mayo, and Galway.
The following genealogy from the Book of Fenagh,. though it cannot be taken as accurate, may be taken to express the tribal relationships of the Conmaicne families of Mayo and Galway :
Lineage of the Conmaicne Cuil Tolad
Cairid and a daughter of Enna, son of Brugad, are said to have been contemporaries of St. Patrick.
Conmaicne Cuil Toladh
The Conmaicne of Cuil Toladh occupied the baronies of Ross and Kilmaine, except the parts north of the Robe, and a tract in the east of Kilmaine occupied by the Muinter Crechain The other clans seem to have been under the Cinel Dubbain, called also ” of Dunmore.” The Cinel Erma seem to have been on the southern slope of Slieve Dart.* (* Healy, – Life and Writings of St. Patrick,” 211)
The chief of the Cuil Toladh Clan bore the name of O’Talcharain. These tribes make little show in the annals and legends. The great cairns and other monuments in the country between Ballinchalla and Cross show it to have been the seat of a great reigning family in prehistoric times. Cuil Toladh (Corner of Piercing), seems to have been applied to the country of Cong, where the waters sink and rise among the rocks.
The country about Kilmaine is distinguished by important forts, which mark it as the residence of the local chiefs, if not of principal kings. Lisnatreanduff in Ballymartin is a singular fort. It has three deep ditches, whose sides were once faced with stone. A strong .stone wall surrounded the space inside the inner ditch. Similar walls were on the top of the inner sides of the other ditches, and a smaller wall was on the outer edge of the outer ditch. Four entrances, dividing the defences into quadrants, gave access by ground of the natural level. It was probably the greatest fort in Mayo of the earth and stone type, and must have been an impressive building in its time.
Rausakeera (Rath Essa Caerach), near Kilmaine, where the Blind Abbot and Theobald Bourke were inaugurated MacWilliam, is a common earthen fort with a slight ditch and a souterrain inside. This use suggests that it was the inauguration place of former chieftains, adopted by the Bourkes.
As noted before, the whole cantred came into the hands of Maurice FitzGerald. When Sir Maurice FitzMaurice died in 1288, it was divided between his daughters Amabill and Juliana. The Earl of Kildare’s Red Book notes many deeds conveying Amabill’s share to John FitzThomas, which give a glimpse of territorial subdivision. Of her share the western part seems to have been known as Lough Mask, and the rest to have been known as Dannocharne, Athecarta, Moyenry, Kollnegassill, Molesuarne. The first and last I take to be meant for Domnach Uarain and Maol Lios Uarain, the divisions of a large denomination known as Uaran, the Fountain. Petty’s map places the former near Fountain Hill and Kilmainebeg. Maol Lis survives in Mweelis, near Roundfort. In modern dress these five would be Donaghoran or Church Fountain, Carras, the Heath, Cloonagashell, Mweelis-Oran or Roundfort Fountain.( R S.A.I, xxxi. 32)
As John FitzThomas gave the manors of Lough Mask and Donaghoran to the earl as compensation, it is probable that the whole of his share was organised in those two manors. After this transfer it seems to have passed into the hands of Sir William de Burgo or of his sons, as tenants under the earl. But he may have been in possession already as tenant of considerable portions, inherited from his father, as we find the descendants of his brothers John and Philip in possession of large freehold estates. From Juliana the northern half passed to her De Clare descendants. Of their connection with it we know only that Margaret de Badelesmere, as co-heiress of her brother Thomas, killed in 1318, held a messuage and a garden and half of a weir in Ballinrobe, which was then a small town. It is most likely that the castle of Ballinrobe and most of her lands were let to Sir William or one of his sons. At the first occupation of the country Maurice FitzGerald must have given the western part, forming the bulk of the barony of Ross, to a Joy. This is the only family of the original colonists which survived to the sixteenth century.
By unrecorded means the whole came into possession of MacWilliam. Much land must have been held by small freeholders and on burgage tenure, but all disappeared with the English law save the great freeholders of Clan Jonyn, Clan Meyler, and Sleight vie Tibbot. The remainder, exclusive of the ecclesiastical lands and those reserved as demesnes of the castles belonging to the title of MacWiliiam, were assigned in freehold to branches of MacWilliam’s family or to MacDonnells in payment for military service, all subject to MacWilliam’s customary exactions or rights of service. The great partition began at the death of Sir Thomas Bourke, when his song were provided with hereditary estates, as is shown in the notes on the Historia et Genealogia Familiae de Burgo.
When baronies were formed it was intended that Kilmaine should consist of the lands of MacWilliam, Sleight Walter, Clan Jonyn, Clan Meyler, and Sleight vic Tibbot. Muinter Crechain was thrown into Carra because the Bourkes of Bellanaloob were chieftains over it. The list of townlands of Muinter Crechain shows the position of their territory, but not the original extent of land held by that tribe, which may have been more. The whole Bellanaloob estate bore the name. Later it was found more convenient to bring the estate into Kilmaine because the Muinter Crechain part was not conveniently situated to form a part of Carra. The whole estate was put at 32 quarters in the composition, but it was much larger, being nineteen towns according to the Hist. et Gen. This agrees with inquisitions of 4th April 1609 and 11th January 1610, which recite that David Bourke of Bellanaloob had a head rent of 3s. 4d. from each quarter of the 80 quarters of Muinter Crechain. This must have come to him by the distribution of the head rents granted in the composition to MacWilliam. Thus the part lying north of the Robe came into the barony. According to D. MacFirbis, in his Great Book of Genealogies, the estates of Sir Thomas Bourke were divided between five sons, who were thus settled: Walter in Conmaicne Chuile, Edmond na Fesoige in Clann Ohuain, Richard of Turlach in Tuath Truim, John in Muinter Chreacbain, and Thomas Og in Pobal Ghearr. The descendants of Walter and Edmond and Richard are found in those lands. John is probably the son who died of the plague in 1384. The important family of Bellanaloob, who cannot be connected with the Bourkes of Carra and Kilmaine, may be assumed to have been John’s descendants. Thomas Og is called also-Thomas of Moyne. The Pobal Ghearr must be the same as Eraght Thomas. Lord Clanricard’s claim in 1566 and 1571, and an inquisition of 4th April 1609, show that Moyne was part of Eraght Thomas. It must be included within one of the Ballys in Hist. et Gen. It is recited that Eraght Thomas consisted of eighteen towns divided between five brothers, of whom two conveyed their shares to the first Earl of Clanricard, who entered into the castle of Moyne and all the territory except a mill and four acres at Moyne. In the end the earl got Moyne and four quarters and two quarters in Ballymartin. The dispute of 1566 was with MacWilliam, that of 1571 was with Walter FitzJohn Bourke, a man of considerable importance whom I cannot connect with the Sliocht Walter, and whom I suspect in the circumstances to have claimed as one of the hereditary owners of Eraght Thomas. The family of Thomas Og seems to have been extinct by the end of the century. Their extinction would result in the division of the inheritance, or of as much as was left, between the descendants of Walter, whose descendants we find to have become owners of parts of this territory. The rest of the barony of Kilmaine, exclusive of the ecclesiastical lands, was held in demesne by MacWilliam and by the great clans mentioned. At the close of the century only two or three Gaelic families, besides the newly imported MacDonnells, were owners of freehold land, and they held very little. Bellanaloob and the part of the estate lying north of the river Robe were no part of Muinter Crechain, though that name came to cover the whole estate. Sliocht Walter likewise held a part of ancient Carra. These three estates were minor chiefries carved out of the cantred of Conmaicnecuile and part of Carra, and each probably originally included a quantity of freeholders’ lands which paid only fixed rents. The arrangements must have been much modified in this respect in course of time since the first assignment, which should have been made by Sir Thomas or after his death. The Sliocht Walter estate was further subdivided. William of Shrule, head of the sept in 1585, had 80 quarters with his freeholders. Edmond of Cong and his freeholders had 48 quarters. The Bourkes of Cloonagashel, grandsons of Richard III., had a large estate, the extent not exactly stated. These latter estates seem to have been minor chiefries. Other Bourkes had minor estates, such as those of Monycrower. It is impossible to make out any system of assignment of hereditary estates of any particular amount to junior branches of these clans. So far as the evidence goes, we may say that a certain amount in Kilmaine was allotted for maintenance of the dignity of MacWilliam, namely, the castles of Ballinrobe, Lough Mask, and Kinlough, with their demesne lands. The rest was divided, and each sept in turn subdivided its inheritance. MacWilliam had rights as chieftain over all. The only thing that comes out clearly is that there was no system of redistribution at intervals, as has sometimes been alleged. These remarks apply equally to all the families of colonists. But our evidence is slight, and the later tenures were no doubt considerably affected by the earlier English tenures.
The Macseonins were the next family of importance. They owned a considerable estate lying mainly from Kilmaine eastwards, but as we have not records of their tenures until the seventeenth century inquisitions, when many changes had taken place, their original estates cannot be exactly defined. They were a very large family, and occupied many castles and lands as tenants of the Archbishop of Tuam and ‘of the Bourkes. This name is now rendered Jennings. MacTibbot of the Crich was the head of the family called the Sliocht Mhic Teboid na Criche. His castle of the Crich was in the townland of the Creevagh in the parish of Kilmolara. The sept owned lands thereabouts, and Rahard, and Cuslough, and near Annies on the shore of Loch Carra. ” Every MacWilliam has a penny and thirteen ounces in the country of MacTibbot’s sept in Cos Locha.” To the family of MacTibbot may be attributed the thirteenth or fourteenth century manor house called the castle of Cuslough, and formerly the castle of Ballyneglonty, Town of the Cloons-i.e. Cloonliffen, Cloonenagh, and other cloons near it. The family did not increase. There were but few members of it in the sixteenth century. The MacMeylers of the Neale held an estate about the Neale, adjoining that of the MacTibbots. MacMeyler was a juror of one of the inquisitions taken for the preparation of the indenture of composition. They did not increase; were a small family like the MacTibbots. The greater part of their estate was sold by them to Mr. John Browne, but some of them retained their shares in the castle and lands of the Neale into the seventeenth century.
The Clandonnell Gallowglass spread all over Mayo, found in- every barony except Ross, and Murrisk, and Erris. In many cases they were ordinary tenants under the Bourkes and other lords, but they held much land as bonaught, fees for military service, which they held of the Crown after Sir Henry Sidney’s arrangement with Sir John Bourke in 1586. In this barony they were settled in the castles and lands of Aghalahard, Ballykine, Mocorha, Moylla or Hollymount, Togher, and Liskillen. Their appearance in Ireland was a consequence of the settlement in Antrim of John Mor MacDonnell, son of John of Islay, upon his marriage with Margery Bisset, heiress of the Glens, about 1399. The wars of the Kings of Scotland with the Clandonnells caused much dispersal, to which we may ascribe the appearance of so many MacDonnells in Ireland about that time as constables of Gallowglasses.
Sir Henry Sidney mentions seven lineages, or families, as coming from Mayo. Their relationships cannot be made out, but they held together very much as a clan, having a ‘° MacDonnell” as chief, whereby they bad great influence in the country. At the close of the sixteenth century they were only country gentlemen, no longer the leaders of drilled mercenary soldiers. Their principal settlements were in Kilmaine, Carra, Burrishoole, and Tirawley, under the Bourkes, those in Clanmorris, Costello, and Gallen being insignificant.
From The History of Mayo to 1608 by H.T. Knox
The History of Mayo to the Close of the Sixteenth Century
Hubert Thomas Knox M.R.I.A , F.R.S.A.I.
ISBN 0 946130 32 9
First published in 1908 :