© Donal G. Burke 2014
Anglicized as Scahill or Skehill, the earliest specific reference to this family in a Gaelic manuscript gives the name in the Irish language as MacSgaithghil and as chieftain of Corca Mogha or Corcamoe, an area that comprised the parish of Kilkerrin and the eastern part of the parish of Clonbern in the North East of what would later be County Galway.[i] (The parish of Kilkerrin was known locally as the parish of Corcamoe into the nineteenth century.)[ii]
The origin of the Corca Mogha people, who gave their name to this region, is unknown with any certainty. They were given as one of three tribes each reputed to descend from one of three sons of Fergus Mac Roig, mythical King of Ulster, said in the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology to have been exiled by Connor MacNessa, the other two tribes being the Conmaicne and Ciarraighe.[iii] In the Irish language the noun Corca refers to a kin group of people sharing a common ancestor. The tribal name Corca Mogha is said to derive from a druid of Munster named Mogh Ruith or from Tighernach son of Fergus, who was fostered by the same druid and who came to be known also as Mogh Ruith.[iv] The origin of these three tribes from Fergus Mac Roig, however, has been widely regarded as a later invention in the modern period.[v]
Despite his rejection of the descent from Fergus Mac Roig, the historian H. T. Knox was of the opinion that the tradition of a close connection between the Corca Mogha, the Conmaicne and the Ciarraighe should not be discounted and that these may have been branches of the dynasty that preceded the rise of the Uí Bhriuin tribes in Connacht in the seventh and eight centuries. He was similarly of the view that they were of a different origin to the Uí Maine who came to dominate East Galway by about the end of the fifth century or were ‘at least not so closely related to them as to the other tribes.’[vi] As such Knox took the Corca Mogha to be one of the older tribal groups of the region who at one time held an extensive territory but whose position came to be restricted as the Uí Maine rose to dominance. Such was their eclipse in their ancestral lands that Knox would write that ‘this tribe was so insignificant in later times that very few notices exist about it.’[vii]
Within the Gaelic territory of Uí Maine or Hy Many at its largest extent, following that tribe’s expansion, the Corca Mogha appear to have been relegated to the position of one of the unfree tribes. The Gaelic tract known as the ‘Customs of Hy Many’, compiled in the early fifteenth century ‘Book of Lecan,’ describes the ‘Corco Moncho’ (apparently the Corca Mogha) as one of the ‘daer-thuatha O Maine,’ translated as the ‘enslaved’ or ‘unfree tribes of Uí Maine.’ Included among the other enslaved tribes were the Dealbhna Nuadhat, whose lands lay between the Rivers Suck and Shannon in the south of the present County Roscommon, the Cathraighe of the Suck, whose lands lay on either side of that river, near the present town of Ballinasloe and ‘the men of Sen-Chineoil,’ an early tribe believed to have populated an area in the east of what would later be County Galway. According to the Gaelic tract, the chieftain of the O Kellys, the dominant family of the Uí Maine, was entitled to increase the rents on these tribes at will.
According to the nineteenth century antiquary John O Donovan ‘no pedigree nor genealogical history of the MacScahills nor ancient Annals of Corco Moe have been found in any of the historical books of Ireland.’ [viii]
The earliest specific reference to the family name Scahill appears in John O Dugan’s Topographical Poem, dating from the mid to late fourteenth century, in which the following occurs; ‘Mac Sgaithghil sgiamhach a squir / Ar Corca Mogha a mhuirir.’ O Donovan translates the same as ‘Mac Sgaithghil of beautiful studs / Is over Corco Mogha of affection.’[ix] The poem is believed to relate to a period prior to the late twelfth century as it refers to O Mulally or Lally and O Naughton as lords of the territory of Maenmagh about Loughrea, from which they were dislodged, possibly in the time of Conchobar maenmhaighe O Conchobhair or O Connor, who died in 1189.[x]
The MacScahills or Scahills were no longer chieftains of Corca Mogha by the fourteenth century, at which time the O Concannons of the Uí Diarmada tribe were the principal family and chieftains over Corca Mogha or Corcamoe. O Donovan was of the opinion that the MacScahills were dispossessed by the O Concannons soon after the Anglo-Norman conquest of Connacht, suggesting a date in the mid to late thirteenth century.[xi] The O Concannons were clearly in a leadership role in the immediate district by the late fourteenth century when the head of that family pursued raiders who despoiled Corca Mogha in 1382.
The MacScahills or Scahills maintained their presence locally but were reduced in status locally to the extent that the only landed proprietor of the name given in the mid seventeenth century Books of Survey and Distribution was one Rose Skahell, with landed interests immediately to the north of the parish of Kilkerrin. Rose Skahell, however, was widow of Oghye McKeoghye and it was as a widow that she and her son John Keoghye were allocated lands by the Cromwellians in the parish of Ballinakill, north of Kilkerrin. Their original address was not given but as they were classified as local transplanters, it would appear that they were at least from County Galway.
It is unclear what lands the principal family of the name held in County Galway prior to the Cromwellian confiscations and transplantations of the mid seventeenth century but it would appear likely that their lands were confiscated in whole or in part. 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 Rose Skahell was confirmed in possession of two parcels of land in the parish of Ballinakill in the half barony of Ballymoe in the North East of County Galway.[xii] Both parcels amounted to thirty profitable Irish acres in the townland of Gortnedew, situated on the border of the parish of Ballinakill in the half barony of Ballymoe with their ancestral parish of Kilkerrin in the barony of Tiaquin.
The seventeenth century denomination of Gortnedew would appear to equate with the modern townlands of Gortnadeeve West and East in the parish of Ballinakill, east of the village of Glennamaddy. It is noteworthy that immediately adjacent to Gortnadeeve West and in the same parish is situated the modern townland of Knockmascahill. It is evident that this placename derives its name from the Irish ‘cnoc Mhic Sgaithghil’ or ‘the hill of MacSgaithghil.’ Given as ‘Knockmc Skehell’ in the mid seventeenth century, the placename predates the Cromwellian transplantations and suggests the presence of members of that family about that location prior to that date.[xiii] The Books of Survey and Distribution, however, do not detail the proprietors of any of the townlands of the parish of Ballinakill prior to the confiscations and transplantations.
In 1761 one Darby Skahill of Balliovy or Ballyovy, in the diocese of Tuam, converted to Protestantism.[xiv] The social status or rank of Darby Skahill is not given in the ‘Convert Rolls’ but O Donovan does not appear to have been aware of a senior branch of the family of significant social standing in Ireland. Of the MacScahills he wrote in 1838 that ‘they are still numerous enough in the neighbourhood of their ancient patrimony but have all dwindled into farmers or cottiers.’[xv]
Of those of the name Scahill or Skehill resident in Ireland in 1901, those bearing the name Scahill appear for the most part in the counties of Galway and Mayo. Those bearing the variant spelling of Skehill, although appearing less frequently, were confined only to the county of Galway.
[i] O Donovan, J. and others, Letters containing information relative to the Antiquities of the County of Galway. Collected during the progress of the Ordnance Survey in 1839. Vol. 2, pp.102-3. O Donovan was of the opinion that Corca Mogha may have covered a more extensive area about Kilkerrin and Clonbern at an early period.
[ii] O Donovan, J. (ed.), The Topographical Poems of John O Dubhagain and Giolla na Naomh O hUidhrin, Dublin, Alexander Thom, 1862, p. xxxv.
[iii] Knox, H.T., The Early Tribes of Connaught: Part I, J.R.S.A.I., Fifth Series, Vol. 10, No. 4, 1900, pp. 343-345.
[iv] Knox, H.T., The Early Tribes of Connaught: Part I, J.R.S.A.I., Fifth Series, Vol. 10, No. 4, 1900, pp. 343-345.
[v] Knox, H.T., The Early Tribes of Connaught: Part I, J.R.S.A.I., Fifth Series, Vol. 10, No. 4, 1900, pp. 343-345.
[vi] Knox, H.T., The Early Tribes of Connaught: Part I, J.R.S.A.I., Fifth Series, Vol. 10, No. 4, 1900, pp. 343-345.
[vii] Knox, H.T., The Early Tribes of Connaught: Part I, J.R.S.A.I., Fifth Series, Vol. 10, No. 4, 1900, pp. 343-345.
[viii] O Donovan, J. and others, Letters containing information relative to the Antiquities of the County of Galway. Collected during the progress of the Ordnance Survey in 1839. Vol. 2, pp.102-3.
[ix] O Donovan, J. (ed.), The Topographical Poems of John O Dubhagain and Giolla na Naomh O hUidhrin, Dublin, Alexander Thom, 1862, pp. 64-5.
[x] O Donovan, J. (ed.), Tribes and Customs of Hy Many, commonly called O Kelly’s Country, Irish Archaeological Society, Dublin, 1843, pp. 70-71. Footnotes a, b.
[xi] O Donovan, J. (ed.), The Topographical Poems of John O Dubhagain and Giolla na Naomh O hUidhrin, Dublin, Alexander Thom, 1862, p. xli.
[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. 166-7.
[xiii] MacGiolla Choille, B. (ed.), Books of Survey and Distribution, Vol. III, County of Galway, Dublin, Stationary Office for the I.M.C., 1962, pp. 166-7.
[xiv] Byrne, E. and Chamney, A. (ed.), The Convert Rolls, the Calendar of the Convert Rolls, 1703-1838 with Fr. Wallace Clare’s annotated list of converts, 1703-78, Dublin, IMC, 2005, p. 237.
[xv] O Donovan, J. and others, Letters containing information relative to the Antiquities of the County of Galway. Collected during the progress of the Ordnance Survey in 1839. Vol. 2, pp.102-3.