Scully, James (1737–1816), grazier, banker, and diarist, was born 9 November 1737, a son in the family of two daughters and seven surviving sons of Roger Scully (1713–83) of Ballysheehan and later Dualla, townlands near Cashel, Co. Tipperary (to which district the Scullys had moved from the midlands in the mid-1660s), and his wife, Mary, daughter of Gilbert Maher or Meagher, a farmer of Tullamaine, near Thurles. The history of the Scully family, strong farmers who rose to become minor gentry, is unusually well documented, through a diary kept by James Scully (NLI, MS 27479) and from ‘Gleanings concerning our family history’ (NLI, MS 27577) compiled in 1806 by his son Denys Scully (qv), as well as from genealogies compiled by Sir Bernard Burke (qv) and others (NLI, MS 27577). At the age of thirteen, James Scully left school, then worked until he was seventeen at the Ballinasloe cattle fair.
On his marriage, on 14 June 1760, to Catherine Lyons, eldest daughter of Denis Lyons of Croom, Co. Limerick, he received £1,500 from his father and £1,000 from his father-in-law, which enabled him to work farms at Garnacarty (c.1765–c.1770?) and Ballyvouden (1770–80). At his mother's death in 1780, his father went into retirement and gave him the farm at Kilfeakle near Tipperary town, which he had leased since about 1774. During the 1780s, encouraged by the Catholic Relief Act of 1782, James Scully took long leases of other farms. By 1792 he held over 4,000 acres by leases of three lives or thirty-one years; he stocked half himself and sub-let the remainder; his entire property was worth £40,000. Like other strong farmers in the county, he specialised in fatstock – cattle and (decreasingly) sheep. In 1806 and 1808 he bought for £19,380 the freehold of lands on the Clanwilliam estate occupied by himself and other tenants; similarly after 1809 he bought for £33,200 freeholds on the Mathew estate; thus he took advantage of Clanwilliam and Mathew indebtedness to become a landowner in his own right.
Scully's diary, kept for many years (1773–1814) and tightly written, is mainly a record of his routine as a farmer; it contains much detail of buying and selling livestock, prices, diseases, weather, and so on, and is an invaluable source for agricultural matters. James Scully took little interest in politics and his diary contains only the briefest of comments on political events: he described the execution of Louis XVI as ‘a bad act’ and deplored the 1798 rebellion; after an encounter between government forces and rebels he lamented the ‘many lives lost and credit hurt’. He supported the act of union.
He did not (as his diary confirms) attend the Catholic Convention held in Dublin in December 1792, though he was elected to do so as one of three delegates from Co. Tipperary on 2 October. Thanks to the patronage of a local magnate, John Bagwell, who in 1793 was high sheriff of Co. Tipperary, he was appointed a deputy governor of that county (in May) and then a JP (in June), the first catholic in modern times to achieve these distinctions; he sat on the grand jury at the summer assizes and at every assizes subsequently. Scully's respectability was again acknowledged when an assize judge dined and slept at his house en route from Clonmel to Limerick, on 13 March 1796. High prices after the outbreak of war in 1793, together with Scully's prudent management of his finances, enabled him to expand into banking and open a bank at Tipperary in 1802. James Scully died on 11 February 1816. He and his wife had six daughters and six sons. Their eldest son, Roger (1772–97), died from a fall from a horse. The second son was Denys Scully (qv). The third son, James Scully (1777–1846), was his banking partner, inherited his farm at Shanballymore (on the Mathew estate), and was a JP.