The McGillycuddy of the Reeks is an active member of the Standing Council of Irish Chiefs and Chieftains and has presided over two McGillycuddy Clan Gatherings held in 1991 and 1992. He is domiciled in Ireland.
The McGillycuddys, otherwise McGillicuddys, are a cadet line of the O'Sullivan Mórs and are accordingly an Eóghanacht sept ultimately descended from the Royal line of Munster. The surname is derived from the Gaelic Mac Giolla Mochuda, or "son of the devotee of Saint Mochuda." The Saint in question, a native of County Kerry, is believed to have founded the famous monastery and university at Lismore, County Waterford, in the seventh century. During the thirteenth century his cult became increasingly popular among the O'Sullivans who often adopted the Christian name Giolla Mochuda in the Saint's honour. However, it is only from the early sixteenth century that we can date the evolution of that Christian name into the distinctive appellation or sept of MacGiolla Mochuda or McGillycuddy. For this reason, the surname does not occur in the Annals of Inisfallen, MacCarthaigh's Book, or any of the other pre-Tudor histories of Gaelic Munster.
The earliest reference to a Chief of this sept would appear to date from 1563 when one Conor McGillycuddy slew his kinsman Donal O'Sullivan Beare. Presumably this Conor was the father of the Cornelius (an anglicisation of Conor) McGillycuddy born in 1580 who was the patriarch of the Chiefly House.
Although the territorial designation "of the Reeks" is an eighteenth-century adoption, the Chiefs of the McGillycuddys had long possessed territories in that district of County Kerry. Their original title would appear to have been Lord of Doonebo, a lordship composed of three distinct and vast estates. The first of these ran from the River Laune to the summit of the Reeks and was bordered on the north by the Laune, on the east by Dunloe, and on the west by Killorglin. The second portion lay along the Kenmare river from Sneem harbour to Caherdaniel, bounded inland by the mountain range which separates Dunkerron from Iveragh. The final district lay in the parish of Cahirogirane. The McGillycuddy Chiefs held this great feudal lordship from the MacCarthy Mór Kings of Desmond. In a report dated 1588 from Sir Warham St. Leger, the English Lord President of Munster, to the English Privy Council, the McGillycuddys are described as vassals of King Donal IX MacCarthy Mór:
"The eighth (lordship) is the country of MacGelecudde. It containeth 46 ploughlands. He [MacCarthy Mór] claimeth there Rising Out [i.e. military service], the Giving of the Rod [the investiture of feudal lords], the finding of 30 Gallowglasses, and to the value of £30 a year in spending."
Not only were the McGillycuddys one of the last Clans to emerge in Gaelic Desmond, but their Chiefly House is the only one known to have obtained a grant of arms from Ulster's Office. In 1688 Donough McGillycuddy of Carnbeg Castle, County Kerry, obtained a grant of arms from Sir Richard Carney, Ulster King of Arms. Accordingly in this one case it is beyond dispute that the undifferenced arms of McGillycuddy belong solely as a legal right and ideal property to Donough's direct male line descendant, the present McGillycuddy of the Reeks.
Having conformed to the Established Church, the McGillycuddys retained influence, power, and their estates in Kerry long after the collapse of the Gaelic aristocracy as a whole. It is only within the last decade or so that the family was obliged to sell its Kerry estate.
It is certainly worth mentioning that the present Chief's grandfather, Lt. Col. Ross Kinloch McGillycuddy, The McGillycuddy of the Reeks, Chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur (1882-1950) was a member of the Senate of the Irish Free State from 1928 to 1943. This is a remarkable example of the continuity of power and influence which this ancient and noble family has exercised both locally and nationally over several centuries.
The chief seats of the McGillycuddys of the Reeks were The Reeks and Carnbeg Castle, both of which are in County Kerry. There is an active McGillycuddy Clan Association which publishes a Clan Journal and holds Clan Gatherings.