Over the centuries many variations of its name have been used with the earliest possibly being ‘An Giolcagh’ and following on with Gileagh, Gilkagh, Gillkagh and even Kilkough and Kilkeagh with the most common current forms being Guilka or Guilkagh though the official recognised name remains as Gilkagh as defined in statute in 1832. These are Anglicised variations of the old Gaelic name of ‘An Giolcagh’ which translates as ‘reeds’ in the English language which are further defined as ‘a tall, slender-leaved plant of the grass family, which grows in water or on marshy ground’.
Gilkagh, a townland in the civil parish of Moylough and the Barony of Tiaquin, shares borders to its north with the townlands of Cloonkeen, Windfield Demesne and Windfield Upper, to its east with Derryglassaun, to its south with Skehanagh and to its west, across the Abbert River, with Abbert Demesne with the latter being in the civil parish of Abbeyknockmoy.
Landscape and features.
The townland in total covers an area of 553 acres, 3 roods and 5 perches and gets its name from its terrain. This terrain evolves from a low lying marshy or marginal base to the west (hence its townland name), on the banks of the Abbert River, with a gradual sloping upwards to a high point of the extremities of a local esker at its eastern border with Derryglassaun.
The Abbert River, which flows by the western border of Gilkagh, measures 17.5 kilometres, or eleven miles, in length before it joins the River Clare at Anbally in Cummer which in turn flows into Lough Corrib. At its eastern extremity the townland landscape is defined by an esker – a remnant of the glacial history of our past which has served to shape a huge portion the Gilkagh and its adjoining townlands. As an aside the nearby townland of Esker gets its name from this same ice age deposit.
Internal land boundaries for the most part are by way of ditches, drains, hedging and wire fencing while the absence of limestone walls as distinct from many of its neighbouring townlands. The once marginal areas of the townland have seen very significant developments for agricultural purposes over the recent decades. These areas now consist of lush green pastures, for the most part, and are almost unrecognisable from the latter part of even the 20th century. If this progress continues future generations may well wonder how this area got the name of Gilkagh!
Early ruling families.
By 1641, immediately before the Cromwellian invasion of the late 1640s, the townland was owned by a Catholic landholder, Hugh O’Manning. Hugh O’Manning, himself, does not appear to have been a very significant land ruler though other branches of the O’ Mainnín Clan had heretofore ruled vast swathes of land in the general locality and furthermore this was considered to have been their main stronghold. A nearby castle recorded as ‘Cloyncoryn’ (now Clooncurreen) in a survey of castles and their owners in late Tudor Connacht carried out in 1574, notes the ‘gentleman’ in possession of the castle at the time was ‘Dermot Omanyn’. A further entry in the Annals of Loch Cé under the year 1581 informs us that a Diarmuid Ó Mainnín, in all likelihood the aforementioned ‘Dermot’, was killed in a bitter quarrel involving rival segments of the neighbouring O’Kelly clan. Shortly afterwards, Diarmuid’s sons Tadhg and Seán were named as parties to a Brehon law agreement between two branches of the Ó Mainnín clan, drawn up in May 1584 by a MacEgan lawyer at the ceremonial hilltop site of Ramore in the nearby townland of Mullaghmore West.
Through sale, mortgage, and forfeiture in the wake of the Nine Years War, many of the branches of the Ó Mainnín clan gradually lost the greater part of their possessions in the immediate area.
When Hugh O’Manning was displaced the lands of Gilkagh were granted to Baron Trimlestown, of Trimlestown in the County of Meath, which is a title in the Peerage of Ireland. It was created in 1461 for Sir Robert Barnewall, brother of Nicholas Barnewall, Chief Justice of the Irish Common Pleas, and younger son of Sir Christopher Barnewall, Chief Justice of the King’s Bench in Ireland.
The Barnewalls arrived in Meath from County Dublin around 1349 when Sir Wolfram Barnewall received the manor of Crickstown and lands at Kilbrew. However, it was not until the fifteenth century that the Barnewalls began to add to their landed wealth, mainly as a result of the marriages of the sons of Sir Christopher Barnewall. The most advantageous marriage was made by his second son, Robert, who married the heiress of Sir John Brune sometime before 1442. This brought Robert a share in the lordship of Athboy including the important manor of Tremblestown (or Trimleston).
The Barnewalls were themselves a Catholic family and were displaced in County Meath and were forced across the Shannon River as part of Cromwell’s ‘To hell or to Connaught’ plan. Naturally they were least pleased about their uprooting and were reluctant arrivals to these western parts. The most emphatic proof of this, if it were needed, is an inscription on the tombstone of Mathyas Barnewall, the 12th Baron, who was the first of that family to control the lands of Gilkagh. He is buried in Kilconnell Abbey beneath these words:
“Here lyeth the body of Mathyas Barnewall the 12th Barron of Trimestowne whoe beinge transplanted into Conaght with others by orders of the usurper Cromwell dyed at Moinivae the 17 of September 1667 for whome this monument was made by his sonne Robert Barnewall the 13 lord of Trimestowne. Here lyeth alsoe his uncle Richard Barnewall, James Barnewall who died at Cregan the 2 of October 1672 and James Barnewall of Aughrim. God have mercy on their soules”.
The Barnewall family actually resided in a Woodlawn House, though not on the site of the present Woodlawn House as we know it, while they also held dominion over the townlands of Ballinrooaun, Gorteendrishagh and Carrowferrikeen as well as some others on the Galway-Clare border. Again they married into well-established Galway tribes such as the Kirwans and Martins before the 15th Baron eventually returned to their original seat in Co. Meath in c.1740.
Control of the townland from this period belongs to the Kenney family. The Kenneys, originally from Somerset, England, settled in county Wexford in the late 16th century. In the 18th century James Kenney of Wexford married Catherine O’Kelly and bought the estate of Kilclogher from Lord Trimblestown. Kilclogher had been forfeited by the O’Kellys in the 17th century after their defeat of the Ó’Mainnín. The family became Fitzgerald-Kenney in the late 18th century, through marriage, and were recorded as non- resident proprietors in County Galway in 1824. By the mid-19th century the Kilclogher estate included lands in the parishes of Moylough and Monivea, barony of Tiaquin and in the parish of Ballynakill, barony of Ballymoe, County Galway. Some of the land in the barony of Ballymoe was sold in 1855 to Allan Pollok.
In 1870 James C. Fitzgerald-Kenney married Helena, daughter and co-heir of Major Patrick Crean-Lynch, and their children inherited both the Kilclogher estate of the Kenneys and the Clogher estate in county Mayo of the Crean-Lynchs. They were the parents of James FitzGerald Kenney, Cumann na nGaedheal T.D. for south Mayo 1927-1944 and Minister for Justice 1927-1932. In the 1870s the county Galway estate of the Fitzgerald-Kenneys amounted to 3,540 acres and the County Mayo estate to 855 acres. A younger son, Thomas Henry Kenney of Ballyforan House (Claremont), County Roscommon and France, who died in 1864, had over 2,300 acres of land in four counties, including counties Galway and Roscommon.
The building of Skehana Church, as we know it today (having replaced a previous structure on the same site), was financed by the Fitzgerald-Kenneys and it bears their family crests, carved in limestone, on its east facing wall. A burial plot containing the remains of some of its family members is situated adjacent to its northern wall. Another connection to that period is that Fr. Thomas Crean-Lynch, of the aforementioned family, served as curate in Skehana Church for two periods 1903-6 and 1910-11. His remains lie in the grounds of Lackagh Church where he served later.
In July 1874 his Irish lands were offered for sale in the Landed Estates Court by his two daughters, Sophia A. Kenney and Adele Schaffers. The Irish Times reported that some lots were sold by private contract and others to Mr. William Fry, solicitor, in trust.