© Donal G. Burke 2013
The Brehony family, who appear to be of Gaelic origin, were based about the small townland of Ballyknock within the parish of Kilteskill, wherein they maintained a minor presence and a small ancestral estate in the late medieval and early modern period.
Ballyknock is situated at the base of hilly ground thereabout and immediately south of Loughrea town, between its lake and the Slieve Aughty mountains in County Galway. To it’s south lay a large expanse of less productive lands. The Brehony’s lands lay principally in the half barony of Loughrea but straddling the border of that barony with that of the half barony of Leitrim. A small part of Ballyknock also lay within the large parish of Killeenadeema adjacent to Kilteskill. In the late medieval period the Brehony’s lands lay within the wider territory of the Burkes of Clanricarde, descendants of the Anglo-Norman rulers of Connacht.
The common ancestor of those of the name appears to have been an individual versed in the law of Gaelic Ireland, holding the position of brehon. The name derives from the Irish noun ‘breitheamh,’ a lawyer or judge, anglicised as ‘brehon’ as evidenced by the description of one of the family in the seventeenth century as ‘MacEnbrehuna.’[i] This appears to have been an attempt at writing the Irish surname ‘Mac an Bhreithiúna’ or ‘son of the brehon.’
Like many of the families of Gaelic and Anglo-Norman origin of the territory, the Brehonys, down the centuries, provided ecclesiasts to the diocese of Clonfert and surrounding dioceses.
It was common in the medieval and late medieval period for parishes often to have had their priests or clerics appointed from those families whose ancestral lands lay within that parish, individuals from the family group thereby deriving the income from the benefices of that office. At the time of the Visitation of the Diocese of Clonfert in the late 1560s, the vicarage of Kilteskill was held by Johannes (or ‘John’) McBreuna, while one Odo (or ‘Hugh’) MacBreuna held the rectory of ‘Lochryac’ (‘Loughrea’) at the same time.[ii] This Odo may also have been the same individual who held the prebendary of ‘Croscornayn’ and the vicarage of Kyllcolgan (Kilcolgan) in the then adjacent Diocese of Kilmacduagh.[iii] It was not uncommon for the same family names to occur again in other centuries as ecclesiasts of those same parishes.
Malachy Brehuna, also given as ‘Brehund’ and ‘Brehuan’, was listed as the incumbant of the Archdeaconry of Kilmacduagh at the time of the Royal Visitation of the dioceses of Clonfert and Kilmacduagh in 1615. Leased to Robert Blake for sixty years, the archdeaconry had no house. The same Malachy held the Treasurership of Kilmacduagh, again with no house and again leased for sixty years to Robert Blake and also held the prebendary of Croskornain at that same time.[iv] He was given as ‘Malachias (otherwise Malaghlin) MacEnbrehuna’, Archdeacon of Kilmacduagh in a deed of 1607 involving the same Robert Blake fitz Walter fitz Andrew of Galway.[v]
At that same time, in the diocese of Clonfert, Thomas Brehowne was ‘for his education’ deriving an income from the prebendary of Kilteskill and held the vicarage of the same and one John Brehonn was, again, ‘for his education’ Prebend of the Church of Clonfert. The latter failed to appear before the Protestant officials of the Royal Visitation of the diocese in 1615 and was deprived of his position.[vi]
In May 1603 Mellaghlin McAwreahonny of Kilteskill was among the many landholders and individuals of County Galway issued a general pardon by the Crown in the first year of the reign of King James I.[vii] This would appear to be the same man as Laughlin McBrehowne of Ballynaknock, gent. who held a half cartron of Ballinderry in 1619.[viii] This would also appear to be one Melaghlin oge McChosney O Brehony (recte: ‘Mc’ Brehony) or his father as the principal landholder of the name in the late 1630s was Mellaghlin oge Mc Chosney McBrehoone, proprietor of one and a half cartrons of the quarter of Ballenegnockan (the same Ballyknock) in the parish of Killteskill.[ix] The remainder of the lands in that denomination were held at that time by the Viscount Clanmorris (a kinsman of the Earl of Clanricarde) and by two of the McCooge (or McHugo) sept.[x] In that part of the parish of Kilteskill in the adjacent half barony of Leitrim one Meloughlin McBreun, in all likelihood the same person, held a parcel of arable land in the quarter of Knockanecarrogh and held the combined quarter of Sracurrine and Leamcon.[xi]
The Brehonys appear to have lost possession of their lands in this area as a result of the Cromwellian confiscations and transplantations in the mid seventeenth century. Following the turmoil of that period and the restoration of the monarchy in the person of King Charles II in 1660, an Act of Settlement was passed in Parliament, in an attempt to address the complaints of those whose lands had been taken or divided by the Cromwellians and to placate those who had acquired lands at that time. Under the Act of Settlement the lands of Ballyknock were allocated to both the Earl of Clanricarde and Sir Henry Waddington.[xii] Those in that part of the parish in the half barony of Leitrim were confirmed under the Act in the possession of Anthony French and David Power.[xiii]
At least two Brehonys were among the many Roman Catholic Irishmen who found employment in the French army in the years after the defeat of the Jacobite army of King James II in Ireland in the late seventeenth century. Their exact original address was not recorded other than their origin in County Galway, but their positions as cavalry troopers may suggest a background of at least moderate gentility. Both Hugh Brahenny and Patrick Braheny served in Patrick Nugent’s cavalry troop in the Irish Brigade in 1737. The latter enlisted in April of 1732 for six years and was discharged in 1739 while the former enlisted in January of 1737 for a six-year period.[xiv]
The modern townland of Ballyknock was thinly populated in the mid nineteenth century, given over mostly to agricultural land, with only a small irregular cluster of houses or cabins in its south western corner with a graveyard nearby. The cluster made use of shelter provided by a low hillock to its southwest and it is likely that this settlement may have represented much older settlement in that denomination. The townland’s name itself; ‘Ballyknock,’ in the Irish language ‘baile an chnoic,’ translating as ‘the settlement or township of the hill,’ would suggest an association between local settlement and the low undulating hill or hillock going back some time. This entire settlement had disappeared by the end of the nineteenth century and a new narrow public road was constructed across the townland, altering the earlier field patterns.
[i] Blake, M. J., Blake Family Records 1600-1700, Second series, London, Elliot Stock, 1905, p. 5.
[ii] McNicholls, K.W., Visitations of the Dioceses of Clonfert, Tuam and Kilmacduagh, c. 1565-67, Analecta Hibernica, No. 26, 1970, pp. 144-157.
[iii] McNicholls, K.W., Visitations of the Dioceses of Clonfert, Tuam and Kilmacduagh, c. 1565-67, Analecta Hibernica, No. 26, 1970, pp. 144-157.
[iv] Egan, P.K., The Royal Visitation of Clonfert and Kilmacduagh, 1615, J.G.A.H.S., Vol. 35, No. 1976, p. 72.
[v] Blake, M. J., Blake Family Records 1600-1700, Second series, London, Elliot Stock, 1905, p. 5.
[vi] Egan, P.K., The Royal Visitation of Clonfert and Kilmacduagh, 1615, J.G.A.H.S., Vol. 35, No. 1976, p.68, 69.
[vii] Calendar Patent Rolls, 1 James I, p. 18.
[viii] Calendar Patent Rolls, 17 James I, p. 439.
[ix] MacGiolla Choille, B. (ed.), Books of Survey and Distribution, Vol. III, County of Galway, Dublin, Stationary Office for the I.M.C., 1962, pp.336-339.
[x] MacGiolla Choille, B. (ed.), Books of Survey and Distribution, Vol. III, County of Galway, Dublin, Stationary Office for the I.M.C., 1962, pp.336-339.
[xi] MacGiolla Choille, B. (ed.), Books of Survey and Distribution, Vol. III, County of Galway, Dublin, Stationary Office for the I.M.C., 1962, p. 211.
[xii] MacGiolla Choille, B. (ed.), Books of Survey and Distribution, Vol. III, County of Galway, Dublin, Stationary Office for the I.M.C., 1962, pp.336-339.
[xiii] MacGiolla Choille, B. (ed.), Books of Survey and Distribution, Vol. III, County of Galway, Dublin, Stationary Office for the I.M.C., 1962, p. 211.
[xiv] Ó hAnnracháin, E., Two score Galway Troopers in France, J.G.A.H.S., Vol. LV, 2003, pp. 64-71.