Scully, William (1821–1906), landowner, was born 23 November 1821 in Kilfeacle, Co. Tipperary, the youngest son of Denys Scully (qv), lawyer, and his second wife, Katherine (née Eyre; d. 1843). The Scullys were a prosperous catholic family of middlemen and lawyers in Co. Tipperary, and Denys Scully was an active figure in catholic political life. After a brief period at Stonyhurst College, Lancashire, William was apprenticed to a Dublin solicitor but chose not to enter the legal profession. Instead he concentrated on that other tradition within the Scully family, land, and by the 1840s had acquired a significant amount of property around his home at Ballinaclough in Co. Tipperary. He was an advocate of the latest agricultural techniques and an expert at estate management. He concentrated rigorously on maximising profits, often at the expense of his tenants, which inevitably caused conflict. Indeed, he often acted as his own bailiff and became involved in a number of violent incidents with tenants while attempting to evict them. Tried at Clonmel assizes in 1849 for shooting two sons of a tenant during an eviction, he was not convicted, but at the Kilkenny assizes in 1865, he was found guilty of assaulting Bridget Teahan, the wife of one of his tenants, sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment, and ordered to pay Teahan £80 in damages. After a local priest criticised his actions, he converted to protestantism and insisted that his children do likewise.
The so-called Ballycohey incident of 14 August 1868 sealed Scully's reputation as a notorious and oppressive landlord. He went to the townland of Ballycohey in Co. Tipperary with a number of bailiffs to evict tenants who had refused to accept a new lease allowing Scully to give three weeks' notice of eviction, instead of the normal six months. The tenants resisted with arms and one of his bailiffs and an RIC sub-constable were shot dead. Scully himself was injured in the affray. No one was ever convicted for the killings. The situation was only prevented from deteriorating further by the intervention of Charles Moore (1804–69), liberal MP for Co. Tipperary (1865–9), who bought the Ballycohey estate from Scully, thereby ending the cause of the dispute. The affair received a large amount of coverage in the Irish and London press and Scully's name became synonymous with the archetypal corrupt and evil Irish landlord. The incident had a significant impact on Gladstone and accelerated moves towards land reform in Ireland.
At the time of the events at Ballycohey, Scully's Irish landholdings were already overshadowed by his American properties. He had purchased around 25,000 acres of land in Illinois in the 1850s at a cheap rate from the American government, the value of which had multiplied by 1870, making him a millionaire. As the USA spread further west Scully made additional acquisitions, particularly in Kansas and Nebraska. By the end of the century he owned approximately 250,000 acres in the US and, through his land agents, was able to exert greater control on his American lands than on those he owned in Ireland. From his home in London, and by means of biennial visits to his American estates, he implemented the latest agricultural techniques. He devised what became known as the ‘Scully lease’ which set rents at lower rates but bound tenants to follow set crop rotations and other advanced agricultural practices. It was a hugely profitable policy and contributed to his enormous personal wealth at the time of his death (at least $10 million). He became an American citizen in October 1902 and died 17 October 1906 in London.
Scully married twice; firstly Margaret Sweetman (d. 1861) in 1851, with whom he had three daughters, and secondly Enriqueta Angela Chynoweth (d. 1932) in 1876, with whom he had three sons and one daughter. Some of his siblings had less controversial careers, following their father into the legal profession and politics: his brother Vincent Scully (qv) was liberal MP for Co. Cork (1852–7, 1859–65).