First of all, this County Clare where all our Spellacy/Spellissy family branch is from is one wild and crazy place. Literally, I’m reading up on it in an old book online available through Google Books, “History of Clare and the Dalcassian Clans” by Rev. Patrick White ( the local parish priest at Kilrush) in 1893. What a eye opener. Shades of the Princess Bride and the Hobbit. There are the Cliffs of Moher, (actually the cliffs used in the Princes Bride as the “Cliffs of Despair’) and The Burrens, and a river that springs from the mountains then runs underground for miles only to reappear above ground “the Tuameens”, the Kilrush parish Priest who wote this in 1893 talks of a legend that states the land between the cliffs was sunken eons ago during an earthquake and locals say that you can sometime see the tops of old buildings down there through the water. I’ve been doing some research and re-reading old family letters to genealogist about the family. And things ( to paraphrase Alice in Wonderland), just get curiouser and curiouser.
Are we ( County Clare Spellacys,Spellissys) descended from an young man born in Spoleto, Italy (or at that time the duchy of Umbria) ? Working as a mercenary for the Spanish only to have his ship wrecked upon the coast of Clare (Spanish Point). It had been part of the Armada and wrecked on Ireland’s County Clare shores. Then he and a few others came ashore only to caught and and then hanged? What a life ? Can you imagine, being a young boy in Spoleto, Italy. Being a descendant of a tribe of “Umbri” who live in a area of northern Italy and are supposed to have survived the deluge (See Noah!) only to find yourself in 1588 working for the Spanish as a mercenary then to lose your vessel off the coast of Ireland. Well Family legend in the Clare/Ennis branch of the SpellissyFamily says that we of that group (of the dark hair, with hearing problems in our left ears among our men) are all descended from one of these soldiers…”A man who came in from the waters, a “John Spellissy”.
Here’s the heart of the letter from a man who may be a distant relative who is also a author and genealogist in Ireland in 1982…(I recently found it) trying to consolidate papers.
“The name “Spellissy” is of Thomond (North Munster) origin and rarely found outside of Clare or Limerick. More often on the Clare side than any other region. The genealogist I prefer to quote is the Rev. Patrick Woulfe who published “Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall” in 1923. He listed five different versions of the family name. Spellissy,Spilacy,Spillessy, O’Spealghusa and O’Spilgheasa. Curiously enough he omitted “Spellacy” which was used most frequently in his area i.e.Limerick. McLysaght’s Genealogies are less exact and I personally think a lot of his material is culled almost directly from Woulfe’s work. However they both agree that the name is derived from “Speal” “to scythe or scythe “Ghusa” energetically or with vigor thereby the name simply means, “The Strong Scythe-men”.
At this point the Geneaologist list a fellow Spellissy geneaologist who belives differently. This London Spellissy disagrees with this and claims that the name is derived from “Spoleto”, in the north of Italy, but he has no material to back up his claim. However family lore lends a certain plausibility to this story. The London Spellissy claims we are all descended from a John Spellissy who arrived in Ireland, via the north of Spain in 1540 and was subsequently hanged in Milton Malbay with 12 survivors of the Spanish Armada wrecked off Spanish Point in 1588. There is a record of this execution but no names are given. In the same year the widow and son of this Spellissy were given a grant of land in Tirmaclane, 5 miles southwest of Ennis. All Spellissy families from Ennis, Kilmaly and Ennistymon were derived from the Tirmaclane Spellissys, whose holdings passed from their possession a few years ago, in 1978. Old George Spellissy used to claim he was descended from “A Man who came in from the Water” and 1976 we had quite a conversation. We agreed that the Ennis Spellissys were decendants of the Tirmaclane Spellissys and George thought The London Spellissy’s story might have some basis in fact.
As a Family we have had no prominent personages and have kept a very low profile in Clare and other parts. “The History and Topography of County Clare” written by James Frost in 1893 and still the preimeir history book on the county. In “The Incuiquin Manuscripts” a compliation of family letters of the O’Brien dynasty, Lords of Thromond, decendants of B ian Boru a lot of Spellissy is mentioned in the letter 1581 as having been granted land on the “Corcasse of Clare” in the mid century and in letter 1468 Denis Spellissy is mentioned as “a gentleman” loyal to the Lords of Thomond in the mid eighteenth century.
Later in the letter, the author goes on to state “One characteristic of the male Spellissys is the fact that they are all dark haired with the exception of Turlough (Ennis 1928) The one trait running through the family, on the Ennis side is a slight tendancy to deafness in the left ear.”