Nelan History


The Nelan clan were originally a branch of the O’Neil’ls of Ulster, the ruling family in Ireland up to 1607. The Nelan’s were official “lais” or doctors from the O’Neil family.  They lived in the Kingdom of Oriel which comprised part of Lenth and Armagh (which was called U.C. Niallan) the Kingdom of Nelan’s.

After the defeat of the O’Neil clan at Kinsale and their subsequent flight into exile (called the flight of the Earls), the Nelan’s moved across the Shannan into Connaught and settled down as small farmers or tenants under English ascendancy.  There are a number of Nelan (Niland) families in Roscommon, Galway and Sligo, but the largest number are to be found in Clare under the name of Neylon, Nealon, Niland, Neilan, Nelan.

According to family history, the Kerry branch of the Nelan’s are descended from three brothers James, Patrick, and John who landed in Meenogahane sometime in the middle of the 1700's.  They were smugglers of brandy and tobacco and were fleeing from Clare because of vigilance of the custom officers.  The brothers settled in Causeway in Ballinascreena (near Meenogahane where they first landed).  They acquired land in Ballyduff, Causeway and at Fastmilliam (in Abbeydomay).

One of their descendents, another John Nelan, acquired a lot of land in Causeway and built a great house at Sandford near Causeway village.  When his son who was married in Sandford died, leaving a widow and a big family, another son ( John Jr.) evicted the widow and her children, (which led to a big court case) which was tried in Dublin.  Sandford House eventually passed on to John Jr.’s son, Father Nicholas Nelan, who was the Parish Priest in Causeway.

However, one of the widow woman’s sons, Sea’n Ba’n Nelan joined the White Boys and tried to regain Sandford House.  He tried to assassinate his cousin, Father Nicholas Nelan, by taking a pot shot at him while he sat in the sitting room window in Sandford house.  A book was shot from the priest’s hand but he himself escaped injury.  Sea’n Ba’n Nelan was arrested for attempted murder and for being member of the White Boys (they were lads who dressed in white shirts and went out at night evicting people who had grabbed their neighbors property with the landlord’s permission). 

When Sea’n Ba’n Nelan was being brought to Causeway to be tried, the British soldiers who were guarding him on his way through Kilmoyley, gave him a chance to escape.  They said they didn’t mind if he shot every priest in Ireland, especially as it was a family feud.  Sea’n Ba’n Nelan declined their offer with the words, “if ye let me go now, I’ll shoot him dead in the morning”.

The English magistrate who tried the prisoner was also inclined to be lenient but Father Nelan insisted by his rights as a magistrate to see justice done.  Sea’n Ba’n Nelan was condemned to death on Father Nelan’s orders and was hanged from the shafts of a cart in the Fair Field in Causeway.

Father Nicholas Nelan then retired from his position as the Parish Priest of Causeway.  He lived in Sandford House and acted as a magistrate for the Crosby family in their fight against the White Boys.

The reason that a Catholic Priest of the time was so friendly with the landlords was that Father Nelan’s grandmother was one of the Crosby’s (Landlords) who had married a Rev. James O’Connor, a curate in Ardfest. There are lots of letters in the Department of Justice’s archives in Dublin signed by Nicholas Nelan (magistrate) giving reports on the activitities of the White Boys in Causeway district. 

Father Nelan continued to say Mass in Sandford and his vestments, chalice, etc., are still to be seen there.  The Sandford House is now owned by the Leahy family whose mother was an O’Connor, a cousin of Father Nelan’s from his mother’s side of the family.  Father Nelan left most of his property to his mother’s side of the family (O’Conner’s) and disowned the Nelan’s except for a few parcels of land which our branch of family got in Ballinglanna.


Christie Nelan