© Donal G. Burke 2013

There are few records relating to members of the Gleese family in east Galway. Edward MacLysaght in his book ‘the surnames of Ireland,’ simply states that ‘this name appears in east Galway as de Glys in the fifteenth century and is still there.’ The name, however, did not carry the prefix ‘de’ in the contemporary secular or ecclesiastical records.

Fr. Patrick K. Egan, commenting on fifteenth century records relating to the diocese of Clonfert, asserted that the name dated from the Anglo-Norman period in Ireland and was rare.[i] His claim is supported by the presence of one Thomas Glyse as one of the twelve jurors appointed to participate in the inquisition taken at Athenry in December 1333 into the extent of the property, services and dues previously owed to William de Burgh, the late Earl of Ulster, from the cantred of Owyl in Mayo.[ii]

The name does not occur, however, among the major landholders of the period and does not appear to have been prolific.

It is likely that Theobald McSeayn (ie. ‘son of John’) Glays, to whom John oge (ie. the young) Blake, burgess of the town of Galway, left three horses in his will of 1420, was of this family.[iii]

One Robert Glys, a cleric of the diocese of Clonfert who flourished in the mid to latter half of the fifteenth century also appears to have been of this family.

He was born about 1438 or 1445 and was a native of Loughrea. From an early age he followed a career in the Church in the diocese of Clonfert. He was still a scholar and not yet a clerk of the Church when he brought to the attention of the Papal authorities a dispute that had arisen between two clerics of the diocese, Thomas O Hannon, clerk and William O Fahy, priest, concerning a canonry of Clonfert and the prebendary called ‘Deochte’ in the diocese. Both clerics, Glys reported to the Papal authorities, had taken it upon themselves to divide the prebend between them and thereby each accrue a half of the financial benefits due from that position. The Papacy responded from Siena in 1459 and ordered the official of the diocese to summon both clerics and have Glys make his accusations before the official and the two men. If the accusations were found to be true, both O Hannon and O Fahy were to be deprived of the canonry and prebendary and both were to be assigned to Glys, ‘if found fit’ and only when he had become a clerk of the diocese.[iv]

Robert Glys had become a clerk by the following year but had still not acquired possession of his canonry or prebendary granted him the previous year and was in litigation concerning the same in Ireland.

Glys was further favoured by Rome by letters dated March 1460 in being assigned the perpetual vicarage of the parish church of Loughrea, his native town, following the death of William O Murray. Glys encountered difficulty in taking up the vicarage, however, as it had been held unlawfully by Thady O Hanrayn, (O Hanrahan) an Augustinian canon of the monastery of St. Mary de Portupuro at Clonfert. The canon had claimed to have control of the vicarage by reason of certain letters from the Pope, which, he held, stated that the vicarage could only be governed by canons of the monastery of Clonfert. When assigning the vicarage to Glys, Rome confirmed that O Hanrayn’s claims were unfounded and that for at least the previous forty years the vicarage was to have been held by secular clerics as opposed to monks.[v]

Glys claimed that because of opposition from his enemies it had not been safe for him to even meet with the same Thady O Hanrayn ‘in the city or diocese of Galway,’ and there appears to have been some contention as to how the vicarage became lawfully vacant, whether by the deaths of William O Murray or one Rory ‘Yeghi’ (O Heagney) or their resignations or that of one Malachy Yhutayn (O Horan), another canon of the Abbey at Clonfert. Notwithstanding the various claims and confusion, Rome directed that Glys be appointed, despite being underage for the vicarage at the age of about twenty-three years and issued him a dispensation at the same time to facilitate his taking up the position.[vi]

Although a number of letters were directed in 1463 and 1465 to Robert Glys as a canon of Clonfert, it would appear that he was not advanced to holy orders by 1464. He was still a clerk about that time and claimed to have been held back from promotion to holy orders for at least four years because of his dispute with Thady O Hanrayn. O Hanrayn still possessed the vicarage of Loughrea and derived an income from it in 1464. Glys complained that the income derived from his canonry and the prebendry of ‘Drochee’ was poor and insufficient to adequately maintain him and petitioned Rome to unite them for the duration of his life to the vicarage of Loughrea, that he may be better able to sustain himself. He had earlier made the same request, which he said was granted by the Pope but, because of a grave illness, he claimed he had been at that time unable to expedite the issue. Rome responded to his petition in 1465 and absolved Glys of any sentence previously imposed upon him and directed the local Irish Church authorities to ensure that he was assigned his canonry and prebendary and, if they saw sufficient reason to do so, to unite the vicarage for his lifetime as requested.[vii] If Glys were to resign his canonry and prebendary at any time, he was to be still allowed to retain the vicarage for life.

It is unclear if Glys was eventually successful in his efforts to hold on to the vicarage. The issue of whether the Augustinian Abbey of St. Mary’s de Portu Puro at Clonfert had the right to appoint their canons to govern the perpetual vicarage of Clonfert or whether it was the preserve of secular clerics proved contentious. The abbot and monastery at Clonfert claimed that their canons had the right to that office when it became void since it had been confirmed to them by Pope Boniface VIII and although they claimed they had up to then always done so, the Bishop of Clonfert and the dean, archdeacon and chapter of Clonfert, ‘in order to obviate any disputes which might arise,’ decreed that the vicarage belonged to the monastery and the Bishop granted to them the vicarage anew. (This declaration was said to have been provided in the time of ‘Bishop Cornelius’, who would appear to have been Cornelius O Cuinnlis, OFM, who resigned as Bishop in 1463 and therefore must have predated that resignation.)  The monks acknowledged that the vicarage had, on occasion, been held by secular clerks and they were concerned that their alleged rights to the vicarage may be infringed in the future. Rome ordered in February of 1567 that the dean, sacrist and the official of Clonfert summon the Bishop and chapter and, if they found the recent declaration lawful, they were to ensure that the abbot and monastery were not to be hampered in any way or obstructed from their rights to the vicarage.[viii]

The name does not occur among those holding offices in the dioceses of Clonfert or Kilmacduagh at the Visitation circa 1567 or of 1615.

The name occurs, but not frequently, about the Loughrea area and elsewhere in the nineteenth century. Writing in the mid twentieth century, Fr. Egan confirmed the presence of at least one family still using the name ‘Gleese’ ‘in the area’ and at the beginning of the twenty-first century a family named Gleese was resident about Kilchreest, near the town of Loughrea.[ix]


[i] Egan, P.K. and Costello, M.A., Obligationes pro Annatis Diocesis Clonfertensis, Archivium Hibernicum, Vol. 21, 1958, p. 62. 1466, 40. ‘Die xxx eiusdem (January), una bulla pro Roberto Glys, clerico Clonfertensis diocesis, super canonicatu et prebenda ecclesie Clonfertensis, quorum fructus sex marcharum sterlingorum communi extimacione, alias certis modis vacantibus; quibus canonicatui et prebende praedictis mandatur uniri perpetua vicaria parrochialis ecclesie Locheyach, dicte diocesis, valoris octo marcharum sterlingorum communi extimacione, ut patet per bullam, sub dat. Rome, decimonono Kal. Februarii, anno secundo. Restituta (sine obligatione), de mandato dominorum de Camera, domino Falcone refferente, quia infra taxam, et est pro Hibernico paupere.’

[ii] Knox, H.T., Occupation of Connaught by the Anglo-Normans after A.D. 1237 (Continued) J.R.S.A.I., Fifth Series, Vol. 33, No. 1, 1903, p. 58.

[iii] O Flaherty, R., Ogygia: or, A chronological account of Irish events: collected from very ancient documents, (translated by Rev. James Hely), Vol. II, Dublin, W. M’Kenzie, 1793, Part III, Chapter LXVI, pp. 198-201.

[iv] Twemlow, J.A. (ed.), Calendar of Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 12: 1458-1471, London, 1933, p. 5. While the editor of the Papal Registers, writing in the early twentieth century, suggested that the name Glys as it appear in the registers may have been a corruption of ‘Elys,’ the name occurs in several records as ‘Glys.’

[v] Twemlow, J.A. (ed.), Calendar of Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 12: 1458-1471, London, 1933, p. 123.

[vi] Twemlow, J.A. (ed.), Calendar of Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 12: 1458-1471, London, 1933, p. 123.

[vii] Twemlow, J.A. (ed.), Calendar of Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 12: 1458-1471, London, 1933, p. 240.

[viii] Twemlow, J.A. (ed.), Calendar of Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 12: 1458-1471, London, 1933, pp. 508-511.

[ix] Egan, P.K. and Costello, M.A., Obligationes pro Annatis Diocesis Clonfertensis, Archivium Hibernicum, Vol. 21, 1958, p. 62, footnote no. 3.