© Donal G. Burke 2014
The Killilea family are of Gaelic origin and were established in what would later be County Galway from an early period. Edward MacLysaght in his ‘Irish Family Names’ gives the name as ‘always associated with County Galway and adjacent areas.’ He gives Killilea as the Anglicised form of the Irish name Mac Giolla Léith, which is taken to translate from the Irish as ‘son of the grey-haired person’ or ‘grey-haired youth.’ By the late medieval period, the family maintained a minor presence in the extensive territory of Clanricarde, over which the Gaelicized Burke chieftains and their descendants, the Earls of Clanricarde, ruled.
Throughout the 1570s and early 1580s, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Clanricarde experienced political and economic instability as a result of the opposition of Richard, 2nd Earl of Clanricarde to the growing power of the Queen’s administration in Connacht and the rivalry of the Earl’s two eldest sons for the succession to the earldom. The Earl died in August of 1582 and, about one month later, pardons were issued by the Crown to a large number of individuals from the newly formed County Galway, including several individuals of the name Killilea. All were of the territory of Clanricarde, which occupied much of what would constitute the central and South Eastern part of the modern County of Galway. Within that territory at that time two of the most prominent of the name were William McGilla Ley of Kilcuayn and Connor carrogh (ie. Connor ‘the rough’ or ‘the rugged’) McGilla Ley of the same. Both men were pardoned on the same day, as were the other individuals of the name; Teig, Rory, Thomas meol (ie. Thomas the bald) and Donogh McGilla Leigh.[i]
Kilcuayn (and its variant form of Killcowan) is the modern townland of Kilquain in the barony of Dunkellin in the south west of County Galway and the lands associated with the only significant landholders of the family in the late medieval and early modern period lay about that townland in the parish of Killora and the adjacent parish of Killogilleen. Geographically, these lands lay to the west of the town of Loughrea, between the modern villages of Craughwell and Kilchreest.
William and Connor McGilla Ley or McKillelea both appear to have been alive into the early decades of the following century when two men of that name and address still occupied property in that parish. In each case both held their lands separately from one another but jointly with another of the family.
About 1619 John McGilleley and Connor carragh McGilleley, gentlemen, both of Killcowan, were confirmed as joint owners of three fifths of the quarter of Killcowan in the parish of Killora and two thirds of a half quarter of Syner and joint owners also of a half cartron of Carinasplanky in the parish of Killogilleen, all in the barony of Dunkellin.[ii]
At that same time William and Morogh McGilleley of Killcowan, gentlemen, were given as joint owners of one cartron of Caernan-Thomas in the parish of Killora, adjacent to Kilquain and of a half quarter of Ballymannagh, again immediately adjacent to Kilquain and one third of a half quarter of Emlagh, both in the parish of Killogilleen and one cartron of an unidentified denomination called Cahirduff. The same State records contemporaneously describe William and Morogh as ‘of Emlagh’ and give ‘McKillalea’ as a variant spelling of the surname of all four landed proprietors.[iii]
About 1641 the quarter of Killcuane (ie. Kilquain) composed of 142 Irish acres, was held in its entirety by John mcWilliam mcConnor McKillilea (ie. John son of Connor son of William McKillilea).[iv] He appears to have been the senior-most member of the family at that time, also holding the half quarter of Shanner (ie. Syner) in the parish of Killogilleen.
Only two other members of the name were landed proprietors about 1641 in either Counties Galway or Roscommon, both holding lands in the parish of Killogilleen. Teige mcWilliam mcTeige McGillelea (ie. Teige son of William son of Teige Mc Killilea) held the half quarter of Ballymannagh in its entirety while Morrogh McKillilea (although given in the contemporary record as ‘McGillykelly’) was joint owner of one third of the half quarter of Emlagh. It is likely that he was the same Morrogh as held that same portion in 1619 but on this occasion he was given as joint owner not with William McKillilea of Kilquain but with one Fferdoragh Burke.[v]
The cartron of Carnanthomas was held in its entirety by 1641 by one Conly Tully, who, with his wife Mary, held other lands about the parish of Ardrahan, while no Killilea was proprietor of lands in the townland of Carinasplanky, that denomination then held primarily by various Burkes.[vi]
The Killileas lost ownership of all of their lands about the parishes of Killora and Killogilleen 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 townland of Kilquain, formerly the property of John mcWilliam mcConnor McKillilea, was confirmed in the possession of one Charles Morgan while John’s lands in Shanner were confirmed on Andrew Blake and the Duke of York. [vii]
The lands of Teige mcWilliam mcTeige McKillilea were confirmed in the possession under the Act of Settlement upon the Duke of York, Richard Power and Oliver Martin and others. Morrogh McKillilea’s property in Emlagh, together with the rest of that townland, was taken and confirmed upon Richard Power and Miles Burke as the new proprietors.[viii]
No individual of the name Killilea was recorded as transplanted by the Cromwellian authorities nor were any lands recorded elsewhere as confirmed in the ownership of any individual of the name under the Act of Settlement.
[i] Fiants Elizabeth I, p. 194, nos. 4080, 4081, dated 19th September 1582.
[ii] Cal. Patent Rolls, 17 James I, pp. 438-9. Dated 27th March 17th year.
[iii] Cal. Patent Rolls, 17 James I, pp. 438-9. Dated 27th March 17th year.
[iv] MacGiolla Choille, B. (ed.), Books of Survey and Distribution, Vol. III, County of Galway, Dublin, Stationary Office for the I.M.C., 1962, pp. 234-235, 246.
[v] MacGiolla Choille, B. (ed.), Books of Survey and Distribution, Vol. III, County of Galway, Dublin, Stationary Office for the I.M.C., 1962, pp. 234-235, 246.
[vi] MacGiolla Choille, B. (ed.), Books of Survey and Distribution, Vol. III, County of Galway, Dublin, Stationary Office for the I.M.C., 1962, pp. 234-235, 246, 252.
[vii] MacGiolla Choille, B. (ed.), Books of Survey and Distribution, Vol. III, County of Galway, Dublin, Stationary Office for the I.M.C., 1962, pp. 234-235, 246.
[viii] MacGiolla Choille, B. (ed.), Books of Survey and Distribution, Vol. III, County of Galway, Dublin, Stationary Office for the I.M.C., 1962, pp. 234-235, 246.