An Irish Village

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Dunlavin area 1881-1901.

By its very nature, local history involves at least two variables – time and place. In this article therefore I hope to give an idea of what the village of Dunlavin and its hinterland was like in the late 19th century. I also hope to give the reader some idea of what life was like in the village during the study period of 1881 to 1901. This latter idea involves the third variable of local history – people. No study of Dunlavin at any period during its history would be complete without at least some mention of all three variables.

Let us begin by looking at place. A parish priest once gave an accurate description of his domain when he wrote: “Geographically then, the parish of Dunlavin, entirely within West Wicklow, touches upon Hollywood, Ballymore-Eustace, Kilcullen and Narraghmore, and forms to a great extent and for many miles the North-Western boundary of Wicklow. We run along the frontier from Tober to Colbinstown station”. While this description is very accurate, it does not give us the full picture. The parish really may be quite neatly divided into two halves, upland and lowland.

The inland part of the parish, with the village of Donard acting as a lower order services centre, comprises the Donard- Davidstown- Glen of Imaal region. An idea of just how mountainous this area is can be got by a glance at a map which shows the boundaries of Dunlavin Roman Catholic parish. This side of the parish goes right up to the summit of Lugnaquilla itself. Despite this, however, the Wicklow mountains act as a barrier and the distant East Wicklow towns of Bray, Wicklow and Arklow have little bearing on life in West Wicklow. Apart from the obstacle of the Wicklow mountains, there is also the question of distance. Each town in the East of the county is forty or more miles away, and in the winter Wicklow’s climate is another factor which hinders communications between the East and West of the county. Snow and freezing conditions made the mountain route ways treacherous. The mountains themselves were also more exposed in the late 19th century than they are today, as the coniferous forests that dot the mountains nowadays are quite recent in origin.

Given that the physical division of Co. Wicklow into East and West exists even today, it is likely to have been much more pronounced in the study period of 1881 – 1901. While late 19th century people were probably a lot more mobile than we sometimes imagine, there is no doubt that inferior transport meant that the physical presence of the mountains combined with the distance and climate limited travel between the East and West of the county a century or so ago much more than is the case in these more mobile times.

Below the mountains, nestling in the foothills, lies the other, lowland, half of Dunlavin parish. This area is centred on the village of Dunlavin itself. The village serves the area as a services centre, and dates from the late 17th century. Dunlavin is not mentioned in the Down Survey, and does not appear on the 1655 map. Two areas just outside the village – Rathsallagh and Fraynestowne - are marked in but the village itself was obviously not in existence in 1655 at all. This is obviously still the case in 1683, as Dunlavin does not appear on Petty’s map of county Wicklow from that year. Once again, some neighbouring areas( including Rathsalagh and fraynestowne) are marked in, but Dunlavin, itself is still conspicious by its absence.

The present town of Dunlavin was founded, therefore, some time after 1683. Lord Walter Fitzgerald tells us that the town dates from the late 17th century and owes its origins to the Bulkely family. This family came from Cheshire (via North Wales ) and in 1702 Heather Bulkely married James Worth – Tynte, thus beginning the long association of the Tynte family with Dunlavin. The village of Dunlavin may have been founded with the idea of its becoming an ivory tower of education, as the following extract written in 1709 shows : “ Dunlavin, a dirty village, but prettily situated on a hill belonging to Sir Richard Buckley[sic] who talked of establishing a university and building a college here; nay, went so far as to have the bricks burnt for this purpose, but I think that project is now at an end….”

While it did not become a university town, the village of Dunlavin, once established, seems to have grown quite quickly during the 18th century. It became a landlord village, built to Georgian architectural concepts. Some of these architectural concepts are still evident in the village – wide streets, a market square and a fairly uniform roof-line, for example. The most obvious sign of the improving spirit in 18th century Dunlavin was the building of a fine market house. This was erected in 1737 by Robert Tynte at a cost of 2,000, 1,700 of which was advanced by Tynte’s cousin Buckeley. Dunlavin market house was the scene of hangings on 24th May 1798, and it was from this building that thirty-six prisoners were taken to be executed on the fairgreen in Dunlavin on that same day.

As the 18th century gave way to the 19th the village of Dunlavin continued to grow. The census of 1821, the first real census of Ireland (however unreliable it might have been), shows us that the village of Dunlavin, which did not exist 150 years or so before, now had a population of 897 people, while the surrounding area supported even more people – 1,495 according to the census. The village was on one of the main roads to Wexford then – before 1829 the Tullow and Wexford road diverged at Blessington and went through Ballymore- Eustace, Dunlavin and Stratford-on- Slaney, before rejoining the present road again near Baltinglass.

Despite the loss of its main road status, the population fo the village continued to grow, and by the 1840s the population had reached the 1,000 mark. A Relief Commission letter, dated January 17th 1847 refers to “ Dunlavin , population 990 (a figure taken from the 1841 census), a comparatively good market town, the capital of a great district…. It is chiefly supplied from Naas.” This letter brings us to another aspect regarding the location of Dunlavin village. As we have already seen, East Wicklow wit its larger towns of Bray, Wicklow and Arklow was a world away from Dunlavin. However, though the village of Dunlavin lies within Co. Wicklow, it is only a mile from the Kildare border. This has numerous implications for life in the village. Even today Dunlaviners are much more likely to work in ( or move into) neighbouring Kildare than any other part of Co. Wicklow- including the Donard centered upland portion of Dunlavin parish itself. The lowland part of the parish, including Dunlavin village, has a hinterland that includes a large Co. Kildare percentage.

Thus we see that Dunlavin, founded in the late seventeenth century grew up as a landlord village on the Wicklow-Kildare border and had a population of about 1,000 people when the famine struck. However, all of this is by way of introduction and we now move on to the second variable in local history – time. This study begins in the 1880s and some idea of the post famine decline of the Dunlavin region may be gleaned from reading one of the first entries in the diary kept by Fr. Frederick Augustine Donovan, who became P.P of Dunlavin in 1884. Fr. Donovan wrote: “ The Roman Catholic parish of Dunlavin comprises the civil parishes of Dunlavin, Crehelp, Tober, Rathsallagh, Freynestown, Donaghmore and Donard. The total population of this parish, according to the statistics furnished by the census commissioners was as follows:

In 1841 - 9,599 people.

In 1881 - 4,386 people.

Obviously the village of Dunlavin was no longer the pre-famine boomtown of yore, but by the early 1880s some stabilisation of the post-famine decline had taken place. In 1881 the village, which had a population of 615 (down from 651 in the 1871 census) was included among the post towns of Ireland. Dunlavin post office was also listed as a telegraph office, a money order office and a savings bank. The village was also a market town and Wednesday was market day , while the fair days in Dunlavin were on 1st March, 10th May, 16th July, 21st August, 12th October and 30th November.

As a market town, Dunlavin served quite a large hinterland. We must remember that transportation was slower in 1881 than it is today, so the village of Dunlavin would have functioned as a higher order central place. Basically a central place, in geographical terms, is a place that serves an area larger than itself, and there is no doubt that a wide variety of goods and services was available in the village in 1881. In addition to basic lower order goods and services – grocery shops, public houses, R.I.C station, post office e.t.c – the village had all the hallmarks of a stable developed settlement. There was a resident doctor, George . E. Howes M.D., who had studied in Edinburgh. Petty sessions were held once a fortnight and the local magistrates were Joseph Pratt Tynte and Edward Pennefather of Rathsallagh House (an Oxford graduate). The clerk of the court was W.R Douglas.

As a village with a large hinterland and thus with a large catchment area of population, Dunlavin had its own national school. The national school is a symbol of the importance of any rural settlement, and there were six schools under Catholic management in the Dunlavin parish in the 1880s. Dunlavin village had both male and female nationals schools and there were mixed schools in Donard, Merginstown, Davidstown and Seskin. The master of the boys’ national school was Thomas Grace, while the girls school was under the charge of a Miss Toomey. There was also a protestant school in Dunlavin (with Charles O, Connor as master) in 1881.

The village of Dunlavin was also large enough to provide permanent banking facilities, a services which every community needs and values. The Munster Bank Ltd. Opened a new branch in Dunlavin in February 1874. The bank was described as “ a neat stone building” and in 1881 the manager was Robert Crilley. By 1890 this had changed to a branch of the Munster and Leinster Bank Ltd., open daily under the managership of A. Warmington. Nowadays the bank in Dunlavin is only open two days a week, which is probably an indicator of the villages decline as a central place, partly due to better and faster transport in the 20th Century.

Dunlavin had two churches in 1881. The protestant church was described as “a neat, plain building with a square tower”, while the catholic building was “ a plain but large and commodious structure”. The prodestant minister was Rev. J.C. Carmichael, while the catholic parish priest, Canon James Whittle also held the Diaconal Prebend of Tassagard, again probably an indication of the status of Dunlavin parish (and village) at the time. Dunlavin village did not have the advantage of a railway station in 1881. This came in 1885 but even before the coming of the railway, a village like Dunlavin, which had enough shops and businesses to ensure keen competition between similar establishments, had links both within and beyond its hinterland. One businessman in Dunlavin in 1881 was Martin Kelly “ Grocer, Draper, Seedsman and Tallow Chandler”. I have in my possession a number of Kelly’s business documents, mainly dating from the 1870s, which show that Kelly traded with many Dublin firms, including Thomas Crotty, 57 William St., Keating and Moorhead, 17 Andrew St. and James Crotty, Hibernia Buildings, Victoria Quay. Dunlavin’s cross-border links to Co. Kildare meant that Kelly supplied candles to the army in the Curragh camp. Dunlavin'’ hinterland was indeed quite large!

Martin Kelly is only one of a number of businessmen who were making a living in Dunlavin in 1881. Slater’s directory for that year lists the shopkeepers, tradesmen, farmers and other “people of importance” in the village. The full extract from Slater’s directory can be read in Newbridge library.

The picture of Dunlavin in 1881 that emerges then is one of a multi – functional market town which served a large rural hinterland. The town supplied the surrounding area with tradesmen and craftsmen and with goods and services. The surrounding area in turn concentrated mainly on agriculture and brought its produce to the market in the town. In fact, later, Slater’s Directory for 1881 paints a picture of a community practically self sufficient in many trades and crafts. Nicholas Byrne was a sadler, as was Richard Fisher. John Mullally had a coach-building business while the Byrnes, John and Patrick, worked as a tailor and a shoemaker respectively. Samuel Rawson also made shoes, while Matthew Hanley and John kelly made nails – trades now extinct in Dunlavin.

The list in Slater’s directory goes on (see Newbridge library), but I do not intend to go through each individual entry here. The business people listed by Slater’s directory – shopkeepers, manufacturers, publicans, e.t.c - acted as brokers between Dunlavin and its hinterland, between the village and the wider world. Their need to buy supplies, raw materials e.t.c probably brought them into contact with people from beyond Dunlavin’s immediate hinterland quite often. Indeed, Martin Kelly’s business documents prove as much. As well as business people, the larger farmers like John Harrington, Thomas Molyneaux and James Norton would have had dealings beyond the immediate hinterland of the village. Both shopkeepers and farmers(or, at least, larger shopkeepers and larger farmers) have traditionally been seen as leading citizens within their own localities in rural Ireland, and leaders of the people too.

Certainly both farmers and shopkeepers, as they had links outside the area, would have been more likely to come into contact with new people and new ideas. Mainstream political ideas like land reform and Home Rule were probably introduced and nurtured in the Dunlavin area by these leading citizens. One organisation that aspired to both Home Rule and land reform was the National League, a branch of which was established in Dunlavin in the 1880’s.

A study of the names of those involved in the League is quite interesting. The local papers printed the names of the peole that attended League meetings, and certain names recur quite often. However, I think it is fair to say that larger farmers were much better represented than larger shopkeepers or business people in the Dunlavin branch of the National league. In fact, I think it is fair to say that while the National League lasted in Dunlavin(during the 1880’s), “ larger farmers monopolized control and the expression of opinion”. This would concur exactly with the findings of P.H Gulliver in relation to Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny. Names like Harrington, Molyneaux and Norton appear many a time and oft in the local press and it is quite obvious that the leading local farmers were deeply involved in the local politics and issues of the day.

Local shopkeepers, publicans and business people, on the other hand, are not as well represented in the pages of the local press. It would seem that they were not as deeply involved in local politics, and more particularly in the National League. Whether large shopkeepers were more conservative than large farmers, or whether they were simply not as interested in land reform, the avowed secondary aim of the National League(the league’s primary aim was Home Rule) is hard to gauge. As they did business with all shades of political opinion, perhaps it was harder for shopkeepers to be openly Nationalist. Would Martin Kelly have supplied candles to the army, for example, if the authorities on the Curragh saw him as a leading local nationalist?

While we will never know the answer to this question, there is no doubt that the lists in Slater’s Directory for 1881 show the existance of a resurgent Catholic middle class in Dunlavin which probably emerged in the post-famine decades. This is interesting, as Fr. John Francis Shearmen had noted that anti-catholic discrimination was the norn in Dunlavin during the 1860s. He writes about the evictions of catholic families in the Glen of Imaal, and goes on to say that “the district of Dunlavin has been scarcely more fortunate”. The evictions of Catholic tenants were not new in the area in the 1860s either. In the aftermath of the 1798 rebellion, William Ryves of Rathsallagh had evicted many catholic families. Father Shearman goes on to say that in Dunlavin village at the time of writing (1862), Catholics were “a proscribed race”. This would hardly indicate that there was a prosperous Catholic middle class in the village in the 1860s. Indeed, Shearman goes on to tell us that “Catholics in general few exceptions aren’t wealthy, being severely tried by the ordeal of the three past inclement seasons”. Apart from telling us that most Catholics were quite poor, this extract also shows that dependance on the weather was a feature of life in rural areas at this time. Bad weather could mean hunger, and bad weather was at least partly responsible for the agricultural depression of the 1870s and the founding of the Land League in 1879.

Despite Father Shearman’s observations regarding Catholics in the Dunlavin area in the 1860s, Slater’s directory for 1881 shows us that many Catholic were included in the middle class of business people and farmers. This could indicate a “Catholic recovery” during the 1860s and 1870s. It is also possible that Shearman , A Catholic curate in Dunlavin painted a deliberately bleak picture in his writings, but as they were not intended for publication, I think this is quite unlikely. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that there was a fairly small but prosperous Catholic middle class within the population of Dunlavin by 1881.

Mention of population brings us on to the third variable in local history – people. What makes the third variable so interesting is their behaviour and in recreating the past the local historian must become a story-teller as well. Anecdotal evidence is vital – but of course must be put into context if possible. One anecdote about the Dunlavin area at this time concerns the collection of the poor law rate.

Dunlavin was in Baltinglass poor law union district and in 1890 a local scandal erupted. The man at the centre of the scandal was from Crehelp townland. He was the collector for the Dunlavin area and he managed to misappropriate between one hundred and twenty and one hundred and thirty pounds of the ratepayers’ money. He even collected the rates before they had actually been struck in most cases. The Board of Guardians prosecuted this man, who would have been liable to pay three times the amount that he had embezzled and serve a prison sentence had he been found guilty. However, he was actually acquitted at Dunlavin Petty Sessions, so the guardians brought the collector’s case before the Baltinglass Quarter Sessions. However, the situation had changed before the man appeared at Baltinglass.

There had been a delay with serving him with the appropriate “civil bill”, so he had had time to sign over his farm and all his possessions to his wife and son. When his case came up, he was declared a bankrupt and his promissory notes could not be honoured. His guarantors had to try to pay up and one of them was financially ruined by having to do so. Even with the guarantors monies paid up, there was still over one hundred pounds outstanding in May 1890.

One of the most interesting things about the rate collector’s episode was the way that it was reported in the “Leinster Leader” at the time. The “Leader” was founded in 1880 as a rival to the unionist newspaper “The Kildare Observer’. Thus the “Leader” had a Nationalist agenda, and was looked on with suspicion by the authorities during the 1880s and 1890s , when the land reform and the Home Rule movements were very strong. Indeed, in the same year as the rate collector’s episode happened the “Leader” speaks of a campaign of vengeance against our staff. Four printers had been imprisoned, a reporter ad been arrested and the proprietors of the newspaper had only recently got out of jail(in poorer health than when he was arrested).

Given the nationalist aspirations of the “Leinster Leader”, it was only natural that they should make hay over the rate collection affair. In 1890, the Baltinglass Board of guardians was predominately protestant and unionist. The collector was a protestant and the “Leader” states that his brethren on the board simply allowed him to do what he liked until the day of reckoning came”. The collector’s acquittal at Dunlavin petty sessions is described thus: “This man was brought before that congenial court, the Dunlavin petty sessions and allowed to go scot free”. In fact, the “Leader” tells us that “The doings of the Tory deadheads who rule the roost in Baltinglass often afford interesting reading on the law as it is administered by them, but for a paralell to the case [of the ex-collector of rates], Ireland would be searched in vain.”

The “Leinster Leader”, then , reported the rates debacle with glee, butsuch an approach was only only to be expected from a newspaper whose weekly column about the events in Westminster was entitled “In the Enemy’s Camp”! There is no doubt, of course, that unionists did control Baltinglass Poor Law Union in 1890. Joseph Pratt-Tynte, the mani landlord around Dunlavin village, was an ex-officio member of the board. While he may not have attended many meetings (two in 1889 as against sixteen attended by Edward Fay, the local elected Dunlavin representative on the board), Tynte’s ex-officio status on the board was never threatened. Tynte had 2,532 acres in Co. Wicklow with a gross annual valuation of two thousand one hundred and eighty six in 1883, while other holdings in counties Dublin , Cork, Kilkenny and Leitrim brought his total estate to 5,013 acres with a valuation of four thousand six hundred and seventy seven pounds.

Fay, on the other hand, was a member of a leading Catholic family in Dunlavin. The post-famine era saw the emergence of an admittedly small but steadily growing, Catholic middle class in the village. In the 1860s the Fays were among the nine leading Catholic families in Dunlavin village. The leading Catholic family , the harringtons, had a valuation of one hundred and thirty six pounds and ten schillings. Obviously, the gulf between the protestant landlord class and the Catholic middle class was wide in late nineteenth century Dunlavin. Edward Fay, a butcher and spirit dealer, was elected as Poor Law Guardian in March 1888. He was the first Catholic to represent Dunlavin in this position. However, it must be said that Fay was one of only a few shopkeepers who seemed to be involved in local politics, which was more the domain of strong tenant farmers, as already noted.

Strong tenant farmers, in their turn were well below the local landlords on the social ladder. Joseph Pratt Tynte, who was born in 1815 and married to Geraldine Northey of Cheltenham in 1840 was a resident landlord living at Tynte Park House, about two miles from Dunlavin village. Tynte was also a local magistrate and landlord control in Dunlavin was quite strong. There is no evidence of a small clique or cartel of local landowners below Tynte, despite some subletting by strong tenant farmers, a practice which went back at least as far as the mid 19th century.

Tynte, of course, was a leading figure in Dunlavin Church of Ireland circles. Indeed, he is buried in the local Church of Ireland cemetry. In 1881, protestants made up 21% of the population of Dunlavin parish. Protestant children were better educated (or at least more literate) than Catholic children in Dunlavin at this time, indicating that protestants generally were not to be found in the lower social strata of the area. Both a Catholic parish priest (Frederick Augustine Donovan ) and a protestant rector(Samuel Russel McGee) have left unique written records of their time in Dunlavin.
Donovan served there from 1884 to 1896, while McGee was in Dunlavin from !894 to 1905. McGee’s account of his time was published retrospectively in 1935 but Donovan’s diary was never published, though it has survived through the last 100 years or so. Both documents provide a wonderful insight into the ecclesiastical life of Dunlavin during the study period. The late 19th century was a period of change and consolidation for both the Catholic church – in the wake of the post-famine “devotional revolution” – and the protestant church – in the wake of the 1869 Disestablishment Act.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Crehelp crossed pillar. Three beliefs come together here. The pagan pillar, the Christian cross, and the horseshoe of superstition in one place.

Fiach Mac Hugh O'Byrne 2. 1597-1997 – The Firebrand and the Wicklow Legend that’s still burning!

This year [1997] marks the four hundredth anniversary of the death of Fiach Mac Hugh O’Byrne. This Wicklow chieftain is associated mainly with Glenmalure and this year many events have been organised in East Wicklow to commemorate his passing. Let us not forget, though, that Glenmalure more or less backs onto our own Glen of Imaal and that the name Fiach Mac Hugh O’Byrne was once very well known in the area that now composes our Parish.
Indeed, the O’Byrnes had control over almost all of highland Wicklow (which was not actually shired into a county until 1606), to such extent that the whole area was known as “O’Byrnes Country” or even “Fiach Mac Hugh’s Country” in the late 16th Century. Before 1997 ends, then, I thought this small article might be an appropriate way of remembering that this chieftain – “The Firebrand of the Wicklow Mountains” – once held sway in this area.
Fiach Mac Hugh, then, was born in or about the year 1544. He was the son of Hugh Mac Shane O’Byrne, who was chieftain of the O’Byrne clan. The young Fiach seems to have been a dashing and daring “devil may care” figure. He was involved in Sir Edmund Butler’s escape from Dublin Castle in 1569 and was implicated in the murder of Robert Browne in Wexford in 1572. The English poet Edward Spenser described how Hugh Mac Shane “got unto himself a great name” and goes on to say that Fiach Mac Hugh “increased that name . . . and is now become a dangerous enemy to deal with”
Indeed Fiach Mac Hugh proved to be a continuous thorn in the side of the Dublin Authorities. In 1580, he sup­ported Viscount Baltinglass (James Eustace) in a rebellion against the forces of Queen Elizabeth I.
There was a Dunlavin connection here too, as Edmund of Tubber (our own Tober), who was a brother of Viscount Baltinglass, also joined with O’Byrne and Baltinglass in the revolt.
The action ended in failure for the rebels. Edmund of Tubber fled to Portugal, where he died in 1594. However, Fiach Mac Hugh and his men defeated Lord Grey at a battle in Glenmalure in 1580. The overall rebellion might have failed but the Wicklow Mountains were still firmly in O’Byrne hands! The battle of Glenmalure is referred to in the song “Follow me on to Carlow”.

Follow Me Up To Carlow

Lift MacCahir Óg your face,
Brooding o’er the old disgrace,
Black Fitzwilliam stormed your place
And drove you to the fern.
Grey said victory was sure,
Soon the firebrand he’d secure;
Until he met at Glenmalure
Fiach MacHugh O Byrne.

Curse and swear Lord Kildare,
Fiach will do what Fiach will dare,
Now Fitzwilliam, have a care,
Fallen is your star, low.
Up with halberd, out with sword,
On we go for by the Lord,
Fiach Mac Hugh has given his word,
Follow me up to Carlow.

See the words of Glen Imayle,
Flashing o’er the English Pale,
See all the children of the Gael
Beneath O’Byrne’s banners.
Rooster of the fighting stock,
Would you let a Saxon cock,
Crow out upon an Irish rock?
Fly up and teach him manners!


From Tassagart to Clonmore,
There flows a stream of Saxon gore,
Och, great is Rory Óg O’More,
At sending loons to Hades.
White is sick and Grey is dead
Now for black Fitzwilliam’s head,
We’ll send it over, dripping red,
To Liza and her ladies.


Note that the song mentions the “Swords of Glen Imayle”. The Glen of Imaal was a natural pass through the mountains, allowing O’Byrne to threaten the western margins of the pale, and to link up with other (Midland) raiding Irish clans. As early as 1572, Fiach Mac Hugh joined with Rory Og O’More to launch an attack in the pale. (Rory Og O’More was the chieftain involved in the burning of Naas in 1577).
When Red Hugh O’Donnell was captured at Lough Swilly in Donegal by one of Sir John Perrott’s ships, Fiach Mac Hugh was still lording it in highland Wicklow. Red Hugh escaped from Dublin Castle in 1591 and after great hardships in the Wicklow Mountains (then in the depths of winter) he reached O’Byrne’s country. Fiach Mac Hugh nursed the young chieftain back to health and provided a strong body of horsemen to safeguard Red Hugh out of the mountains and past Dublin. It was January 5th – “Little Christ­mas Eve” and the lords of the pale were not keeping a good watch on that night. By morning, the party, led by Fiach’s son in law, Brown Walter of Ballygloran, had reached Co. Meath. Red Hugh was heading for Drogheda and the northward road ­home.
The 1590’s saw Ireland in the throes of the nine years war. Fiach’s guerrilla tactics were still successful in the Wicklow highlands, but the Crown forces were inexorably closing in. In 1595 Fiach was declared a traitor and a large reward offered if he were captured (the reward was even larger for his head!). From a crown point of view, Fiach was indeed “now a dangerous enemy”. In 1594, his audacious attack in Piers Fitzgerald’s lands near Athy had brought home to the Dublin officials the fact that the Wicklow mountains had to be pacified, or else a large area was under threat of attack.
In 1596, O’Byrne made an alliance with Hugh O’Neill the ‘commander in chief’ of the Gaelic Irish forces in the nine years war.
In 1597, Sir William Russell led a large force into highland Wicklow. As with the nine years war and its end at Kinsale in 1601, weight of numbers did not favour the Irish chieftains. Russell’s force moved onward and Fiach MacHugh O’Byrne was killed in a skirmish with them on the 7th May 1597.Fiach’s head was impaled on a spike in Dublin Castle and even though his son Phelim succeeded him as chief of the O’Byrne’s, Fiach’s death really marks the end of Gaelic Wicklow. (Fiach had three sons, Turlough, Phelim and Redmond, and was twice married). His life had been tempestuous and violent, his long resistance to Dublin forces had been remarkable, but by 1606, Wicklow had subdued and shired, and the Gaelic way of life would die out during the 17th Century.

Fiach Mac Hugh O'Byrne 1. Some Wicklow history – originally recorded

This article translates and publishes a piece of Wicklow history which really belongs to the old Gaelic tradition of oral history. However due to the diligence and foresight of a west Wicklow woman, this tract about Fiach Mac Hugh O’Byrne has been written down for posterity. Originally from Donard, Rose Byrne (nee Walshe) carefully wrote the following piece by hand into a hard cover copy. Rose was a national school teacher in Rathcoyle School, Rathdangan, Co. Wicklow for many years. Rose married Hugh Byrne (who was president of the G.A.A. from 1961 to 1964 and their son Seán currently teaches in Newbridge). Rose’s hardcover copy is now in the possession of Mrs. Sandra Cleary of Blackhill, Dunlavin, and I am indebted to her for allowing me to publish this material. Rose wrote in the Irish language, using the old Irish alphabet and I am also indebted to Mrs. Eileen Maguire of Clondalkin for providing me with a literal translation of the original.

Sixty years ago, on St. Patrick’s Day 1943, Éamon de Valera broadcast a famous speech outlining his vision for a “noble” Ireland. The speech included the following extract about the Irish language:

It is for us what no other language can be. It is our very own. It is more than a symbol; it is an essential part of our nationhood. It has been moulded by the thought of a hundred generations of our forebears. In it is stored the accumulated experience of a people, our people who, even before Christianity was brought to them, were already cultured and living in a well ordered society.
The Irish language spoken in Ireland today is the direct descendant without break of the language our ancestors spoke in those far-off days.
As a vehicle of 3,000 years of our history, the language is for us precious beyond measure. As the bearer to us of a philosophy, of an outlook on life deeply Christian and rich in practical wisdom, the language today is worth far too much to dream of letting it go.
To part with it would be to abandon a great part of ourselves, to lose the key to our past, to cut away the roots from the tree. With the language gone we could never aspire again to being more than half a nation.

Much has changed in the past sixty years and while I personally do not agree with all of Dev’s arguments, I do think that the following extract gains a lot from being left in its literal translated form. It is obviously not quite the same as reading the original Gaelic tract, but to put it into more modern and more “correct” phraseology would only serve to lose some of the zest of the original Irish. The Irish have a colourful interpretation of the English language – as valid an interpretation as any dialect found in England – not more valid or less valid – but as valid. One can just imagine Rose and other members of her generation actually telling the story of Fiach in this way. What is written here is his story (as opposed to history) and it is obviously a biased interpretation of events in late sixteenth century Wicklow. However it is not a primary source from that time. Rather it is a primary source from the early twentieth century and it provides a window into how history was viewed, discussed and taught at that time. Hence, this piece provides us with a little insight into how the psyche of the ordinary people was influenced by the absorption of historical information in a format such as this during this period. This psyche is deeply ingrained and much of the material that has developed the psyche has been lost, as older guardians of the oral tradition have died over the years. We are all indebted to Rose Byrne for recording this piece so meticulously during her lifetime. It is, in fact, a gem of both history and folklore and it reads as follows:

Fiach Mac Hugh O’Byrne and his Exploits

It is not possible to think of Glenmalure without thinking of the destruction that was wrought on the clans of Wicklow, the O’Byrne clan and the O’Toole clan who fought so long and so bravely against the incoming of the English, until they were attacked from every side in this isolated glen in the middle of Fertíre, from which the Vartry gets its name.
It was in Glenmalure that the clans made their last fight and it was there that destruction and murder was done on them in spite of the great victory they had over the English in 1580, when their fame went from one end of the country to the other, and in spite of the bravery of Fiach Mac Hugh O’Byrne, their last chieftain, a man to whom the other chieftains submitted and went under his protection, even though they had a greater claim to that position. It was only right that all the other chieftains helped Fiach because, apart from his own qualities, there were ties between himself and the most important people in the county. His mother was Sabina O’Toole, first cousin of Turlough of Powerscourt and his first wife was a first cousin of Phelim, son of Turlough. His second wife was Rose, a sister of Phelim, the woman who was burnt in Dublin. Phelim’s brother was Brian of the Battles and it was said at that time that he would succeed Brian in Powerscourt.
Before the year 1580 there was no doubt that the English boundary was spread out beyond Bray and that the English had founded a small settlement in Phelim O’Toole’s land.
Ormond settled down to live in Arklow and Wicklow. It was clear that Glenmalure was the most obvious place where troop movements from Bray and the South would meet each other. It was there that the independent remnant of the clan, the followers of Fiach, were to be found. Therefore, it was no wonder that the infantry and the cavalry came into this glen against him. There is no part of the country as beautiful or as interesting as that part which lies between the Dublin Mountains and Glenmalure and it is easier to access it from the Bray direction than from any other direction.
Going west through that beautiful glen – Glencree – where there was a royal forest situated long ago, we would meet the road that Red Hugh O’ Donnell took when he escaped from Dublin. It was probably the same route Dermot MacMurrough took when he guided the Normans to Dublin for the first time. The road comes from Rathfarnam and it goes past the two lakes, Tay and Dan and near to Glenmacnass waterfall to Rathdrum and there are a lot of fine glens on each side of it. But the English did not take this road when they tried to conquer Wicklow. They sent out their troops from Bray, Oldcourt and Newcastle and it was from the Rathfarnam direction that attacks used to be made on the Galltacht of the Englishry. [Area of English language and influence].
When the clans went for the Englishry in 1595 it was Fiach and his son in law Walter Reagh who were their chieftains and they set Crumlin on fire.
This shows the courage and spirit that was awakened in these men with the victory they won in 1580. This victory was only minor in comparison with what was in the minds of Desmond and O’Neill, who intended to rout the English out of the country altogether. There was a close relationship between the causes of O’Neill and the Munster chiefs and the cause of Fiach because we even know the names of the messengers that used to go between them.
In Elizabethan times this beautiful glen, Glenmalure, gave shelter and protection to to this chieftain, Fiach, who was renowned and famous throughout Ireland. Even his fiercest enemies gave testimony to his power and courage, even though they were very much against him. He had so much power and there was so much anger by the English against the clans who lived in these mountains that Lord Justice Sir James Crofts was specially ordered, when he went to Ireland, to defeat and annihilate the O’Byrnes and O’Tooles if he could at all.
In the middle of the sixteenth century, Fiach Mac Hugh was the strongest chieftain of the O’Byrne clan and it was he who struck terror into the hearts of the English.
The poet Spenser, a person who had unbounded hatred for the Irish, has only the worst account that he could write about this man. After making arguments to show that Fiach’s land belonged to the queen, he continues his account thus:
Even if it were the case that Fiach’s land didn’t belong to the queen, he would still have no right to it as it belonged to the old chieftain Brian, the man who used to rule this country, because Fiach and his followers were only followers of Brian. His grandfather was a miserable man, a man who had neither money nor power, but his son Hugh, the son of Seán, father of Fiach, rose out of the mud. Thieves and outlaws came to him to get protection, because they knew well the strength and impenetrable nature of Glenmalure, which surrounded the house of Hugh, son of Seán. They gave a lot of their booty to Fiach as they were under his protection. After a while he became very strong because of this money and because of the number of people who were under his protection and his fame went throughout all the Gaeltacht of the Irishry.
Fiach continued to receive the tribute of his father and he became more powerful and stronger by the day due to the number of victories he achieved over us and because of his personal courage. His reputation is so great now that he is a dangerous enemy to us. Everyone agrees that he did not keep the public peace very well, but that he always kept some fight or other going on. Even the most critical examiner cannot but admit that Fiach was one of the bravest and cleverest of the enemies that Elizabeth had. He was a hospitable generous man and he had a lot of good qualities, which reduced the fierceness that he inherited from his kind, and they show us the savage majesty of this nobleman. It is at Ballinacor the famous chieftain lived, on the edge of Glenmalure.
When Lord Grey de Wilton came to Dublin as the king’s viceroy, he was very anxious to do something to show his earnestness and bravery to everybody. And – hadn’t he a great chance now to do this? Wasn’t the felons’ camp only a day’s journey from Dublin? He would put the rout on these thieves, the bold chieftains of Wicklow! I suppose he was delighted that he had a chance to show the queen that he didn’t make much delay in putting the instructions she gave him into effect. But, according to him the victory would be too easy to get and he thought it would look better for him if his enemies were stronger than they were, so that there would be more respect for the victory when he had achieved it. But, although Grey did not win, he had more than enough fighting before that day was spent for him! It never ran through his mind that everyone who had preceded him in that office had failed to do the task which he thought would be too easy. He should have been warned by the things that had happened in this glen before now, especially when he knew it was the clan O’Byrne and clan O’Toole that were defending the glen. Forty years before in this glen, another Lord Grey was routed and he was seized with such dread that he didn’t stop till he was back inside Dublin Castle with the door closed after him, there was that much terror on him before the O’Byrnes. But maybe this present man was more courageous and more valiant. He had only, according to himself, to attack them and clear them out with one blow. He would put St. George’s flag up on the castles of the chieftains of Imaal and Ballinacor in place of “the lion” and “the firebrand”. He had it in mind to put the kerns and the Irish soldiers under subjugation so that they would remember the battle of Glenmalure until their dying day. And they did remember that day – but it was not the memory that Grey would have wished!
The officers of the English army came together before the battle to ponder on what was the right course of action. At this council were James Wingfield and the Earl of Kildare. The viceroy intended, by going into that glen, to have his name much talked of throughout the country because of the big victory that was waiting for him, and his plan to do this was to erect outworks at the mouth of the glen so that the Irish could not escape out of it. But he was too sure that he would be victorious and he did not provide a way for his own soldiers to return back. It is said that every general thinks of a way of escape even if a certain victory is in store for him but grey did not do this. Everything was now ready for the battle. The English were ordered forward and nine companies went into the glen to put a start to the defeat. But where was Grey himself? He was on top of a hill far from the place where the battle was to be going on and he had a very good view from that position of the glen and all that was going on there. There wasn’t a sound to be heard or a thing to be seen on the going in of the English to that glen. You would think that no living thing was to be found there. Grey and his companions were mocking the Irish when they did not see a stir out of them. They thought they were gone altogether when they heard talk of the forthcoming pursuit. But after a while they saw that the soldiers were going slower, because the glen was three miles long and there were very high mountains on either side and rivers running between them. For all this time there was not the sign of an enemy to be seen. The only opposition against the soldiers at this time was the territory itself. At last, Fiach Mac Hugh saw that the time had come to attack.
He gave them the sign and they let one yell only out of them “Faire” [Watch Out!] that put Grey and his followers shaking with fear. Then they attacked the soldiers and as for them they did not know where the shots were coming from. The English ranks were broken and then Grey ordered the reserves to help the other companies. Then the loud voice of Fiach was heard, telling the clans to attack the English. There was that much vigour and energy in that voice and its echo that all the soldiers were seized with terror, especially those people who were far away from danger at the top of the hill and who didn’t expect to see a sight like that. Like a flood going with the slope, the Irish attacked the English who were confused in the glen below. In vain did the English try to put a stop to that onslaught.
It was a rout from the beginning. The only thing in the minds of the English was to find some way to escape from the glen. That was what was troubling the soldiers and the officers as well. Grey himself and his personal friends fled early and with the help of swift horses they reached the city before they were captured. There returned to Dublin only a couple of broken companies out of all the fine army which had set out from the city only two days before.
It was a sorrowful story that was to be told by the people who had survived that terrible battle and the terror of the English increased along with the fame of the O’Byrnes and the O’Tooles. Maybe it is better to let an officer who came safely out of the battle give us an account because there are people who would like to do down the bravery and valour of the Irish. They are always trying to hide their ignorance of the history of this country by mocking talk. They say that it is impossible to put proper credibility in the history of Ireland with the amount of romantic fables there are there! All the same, they would not have that excuse with the account of Sir Liam Stanley – a man who was very much against the Irish. This is his account:
We went into the glen on the 25th day of August. We had to slither down the slope before we could stand at all. The glen was a mile in depth in the place we went into and full of stones, rocks, bog and woods. A river ran at the bottom of the glen and it was full of loose stones and we had to cross the river three or four times. So as long as we stayed at the bottom of the glen, we were all right, but the officer who was over us was a big fat man and he was unable to suffer any great hardship. The glen was four miles long, but before we had walked half the way, he ordered us up the hill. The side of the glen was so steep that we had to crawl to make any progress. The vanguard of the army was gone up the hill and so we had to follow them.
Our enemies made a fierce attack on us. There were soldiers on every side that day who helped those who had once been their enemies. Captain green was there with his company and they gave service in Connacht, but that day they were all under Captain Garrett and fighting against the viceroy. It was one of the fiercest battles I ever saw, even though it didn’t last very long. As I said before, myself and twenty eight soldiers were at the rear of the column. Eight of them were killed and ten were wounded. There was a drummer with us to give a signal to the soldiers and we put a stop to the attack eventually but a lot of my friends were dead.
Fiach’s army were hidden in the woods at the mouth of the glen, on the two sides, in the bogs and behind the rocks. As long as we stayed at the bottom of the glen, we did not lose as much as one man but the leader ordered us to go up the hill and the order of the ranks was broken with the climbing. We couldn’t see our enemies and therefore we could only go in the direction of the place where we saw smoke rising. But, all the same, we defended the rest of the army from the felons. I know and I admit that it was the hand of God that brought me safe. The place was that dangerous that a lot of soldiers were left on the side of the mountain even though they were not badly wounded, because it was so steep that no one could help them when they fell. Some of them died even though they were not badly hurt at all. All in a flutter, shortness of breath came on them and they were left lying on the glen side.
But O’Sullivan Beare tells us a lot of things that Stanley omitted and they are to be found in the “Catholic History”;
Eight hundred of the ordinary soldiers were killed in the glen, and on both sides, because they had to carry heavy baggage up the hill. It is clear to the person who examines this glen that the English were in a fix when they were attacked and when they tried to escape out of it. The Gaels had great knowledge of every twist and turn in this beautiful glen and of the whole neighbourhood. Besides the ordinary soldiers, Cosby, a Laois chieftain, was killed, also Colonel Moore, Peter Carew, Captain Audley and a lot of the other noblemen who came to Ireland with the viceroy, Lord Grey. The flight was that quick that the English had to leave all their baggage behind them. The Irish later found all the baggage, and the ammunition also.
In the account by the Abbé MacGeoghan it is stated:
In the year 1580 when the Lord [Grey] was sent over to Ireland as viceroy – at that time a secret plot was established to get relief from the persecution that was going on and to get satisfaction because of the insult that was given to their clergy and to their religion. They all joined together under Fiach Mac Hugh and Lord Baltinglass. But the conspiracy was discovered shortly after it was founded and the most important people in the society were captured and put to death. Grey got the position of viceroy in 1580 and it was said to him when he came to Ireland that Fiach’s camp and his auxiliaries were in Glenmalure. Lord Baltinglass was with them also. Grey put his mind to chasing them out of the glen and to that object he collected the soldiers of Leinster and went to Glendalough. His enemies were ready to go against him. The battle started in a wood, with Grey’s cavalry on each side of it. The battle went on for about four hours but neither side yielded for a long time. In the end, Fiach and his brave followers won and they inflicted destruction and terrible murder on the English soldiers. They had to beat a shameful retreat. Eight hundred soldiers and most of the principal officers were killed.
In the year 1594 Fiach helped Red Hugh O’Donnell to escape from Dublin Castle, after having spent seven years inside there. O’Donnell, McSweeney, O’Gallagher, Henry and Art O’Neill were rescued and also Philip O’Reilly. Fiach coaxed the people who were guarding him onto his side and they did not interfere with the escape. He sent some linen to the prisoners for their personal use, mar dhea! O’Donnell cut the linen into strips and he tied them together and they came down from the prison where they were with the help of the rope that was made from the linen.
There was a big difference between the Battle of Glenmalure and the battles that went before. In the previous battles there was no comparison between the Irish and the English armies. There were big differences between them as regards size, wealth and arms. The English used to have a big army, well equipped and well trained in the use of arms. But this time Fiach had a good army too and they were well practiced in the methods of warfare of the time. The commander had great practice in every kind of war for he had spent most of his life in England and many of the soldiers had spent some time in the English army also, because arms were often brought in from the continent and we know now that O’Neill intended to send an army to Wicklow in ships to help Fiach. It is plain that a lot of the soldiers came from the south to help because we hear of the Fitzgerald clan [of Desmond] in the account of the battle; after the Battle of Glenmalure Fiach and O’Toole rose up against the government because that victory gave them courage and spirit. They attacked Castle Ormond in Wicklow and set in on fire. The ruin is still to be seen and it now goes by the name of the “Black Castle”.
After that deed Lord Baltinglass went as far as Clondalkin plundering the surrounding countryside around the mountains and nobody opposed him. The viceroy had had more than enough of fighting and as well as that Desmond had rebelled in Munster. But the victory in Clondalkin was never followed up and nothing worth mentioning came out of it.
There is an account to be got in the “State Papers” between 1594 and 1597 of the things that happened before the rebels were crushed. It was Lord Russell, secretary to the viceroy, who wrote the account. It is written in the form of a diary.
But they were not able to withstand the continued attacks that were made on them after that. The English were victorious over them by degrees and in the end Fiach and the other chieftains had to promise that they would keep the law of the queen. But that was only a clever trick to get promises from the Irish. It was part of their tribute system always and it was exactly like the Roman system of tribute. The Irish chieftains were compelled to send their sons to England to be educated.
Young Art O’Toole, the son of Brian of the Battles, and grandson of Turlough was sent to England and he was educated there and spent most of this life in England. It is certain that he did not have a very happy life there because the English and the Irish did not mix very well together and Art’s presence was a constant reminder of the tribute as long as he remained in England. But he was very useful to the English because they threatened Phelim that they would send Art’s body back to Ireland if he did not stay quiet and that was how they kept Phelim under foot.
Something happened at that time that shows us the kind of man Fiach was in his own home. There was a lot of talk about his happening at the time and Fiach was faulted for it in exactly the same way as Phelim O’Toole was blamed for what he did when Hugh O’Donnell went to him asking for help. His first and second family did not get on very well with one another and there was jealousy between them and they mistrusted one another. Rose, Fiach’s wife was in prison at this time and it was said to her that Fiach’s son was about to betray him. That was not true; it was a plan the English thought of to try to separate the Irish chiefs from each other. But, all the same, Rose thought the story was true and she sent a message to Fiach to say that his son was going to betray him. When Fiach heard this story he was very angry and he seized his son and gave him to the English. The English were overjoyed to get him as he was wanted by them because of his part in a rising that happened before that.
For a good while from 1594-1597 the English were tightening their grip on Glenmalure until Fiach and his followers were without space to walk on there and with no hope of any improvement. His wealth and his followers decreased day by day. On the 16th January 1595 the viceroy went right up to Ballinacor and he put Fiach out of his house. He went to the house to catch Fiach, but when they were near to the house, one of the soldiers beat on a drum and that was how a warning was given to Fiach and Fiach and his people stole away before any of them were caught. They went under the woods of Glenmalure and his son-in-law, Walter Reagh, came to help him. Russell remained in Ballinacor for ten days and then he returned to Dublin, leaving a garrison in Fiach’s house. The next day Fiach and his wife and his son-in-law were proclaimed as outlaws.
On the 21st January Captain Chichester was sent to Ballinacor with gunpowder and bullets. On 30th January the O’Tooles and O’Byrnes raided Crumlin and set it on fire. They brought the lead roof of the church with them to make bullets out of it. The fire was even seen in Dublin but Fiach and his people escaped before the viceroy’s soldiers came. Because of this attack the Star Chamber convened and it was decided to send another army to Ballinacor. The army came and they made an encampment near Ballinacor. Fiach sent them a message looking for a parley and permission was given to O’Hannactain to have discussions with him, but nothing came of it. The English started making outworks and fortifying Ballinacor.
Now when Ormond thought that Fiach was thrown out by him, he helped Russell to oppose Fiach, but the Ballinacor garrison had to return to Dublin. So that is how the second raid on Ballinacor ended and Fiach had the victory again, even though the viceroy and Ormond were united against him. Ballinacor fell into the hands of the English again on the 10th August 1596. The leader of the garrison sent a message to Dublin to say that Fiach had received letters from O’Neill and that he was afraid that he would burn him. He had good cause to be afraid because he had plundered and murdered Fiach’s people and their property. Russell thought now that he would make a big name for himself by annihilating Fiach altogether, or as he said himself, to chase the old fox out of his cave. For that purpose, he sent a company of troops to Ballinacor and had five hundred men fit for service in the fort of Rathdrum.
Fiach’s troops attacked them and they killed the most of them and the others went back at their best, as fast as they could to Dublin. Captain Tucker sent some of his troops to meet the gunpowder that was coming, but when they were gone Fiach attacked Ballinacor and took Tucker prisoner and set the fort on fire. When the viceroy heard what had happened in Rathdrum he sent two hundred kerns and four hundred cavalry to Ballinacor, but at Newcastle they heard of the fall of Ballinacor and they returned to Dublin.
Something happened at the invasion of Ballinacor that shows us the nobility of Fiach. Tucker surrendered on condition that not one of his men be put to death and when he was brought before Fiach he did not kill him even though he was the cause of the murder and destruction that the English were inflicting on the Irish.
In the middle of September Russell moved against Ballinacor once again. He and two hundred infantry and fifty cavalry went off in the direction of the fort. Nearing the fort they heard a big cry and saw about one hundred and sixty of the Irish on the side of the hill. They came down to the bridge to fight with the English. But the viceroy’s soldiers beat the Irish and they took the bridge without much trouble. Russell sent the officers Lee and Street to a place where there was another entrance to the glen and they set Farranceran [possibly Farrenci near Hacketstown, but geography is against this?], a town belonging to Fiach, on fire. They continued fighting with Fiach for an hour or so and Russell remained on the side of the hill looking at them with a large detachment beside him to protect him.
We have to give praise and honour to Fiach for the way he went against Russell, when his own people were leaving him and all the chieftains were against him. Only for the help he got from the O’Toole family he would have been finished long ago. There were a lot of people there at that time and instead of giving him help as they ought to have done they went very much against him because they thought they would be able to get the reward of his estates when every thing was quiet; that is, when Fiach was dead or a prisoner of the government. But they had another think coming when Fiach was dead, for the greedy people in charge of the government didn’t care whether they were partial to Fiach or against him – they took their lands from them.
But Russell failed to completely defeat Fiach, even though he had enough soldiers and even though he employed every sort of cruelty against him. Fiach had but a very few soldiers in comparison to those against him, but all the same he kept the flag of the Gaels swinging in Glenmalure. Therefore, in the month of October, Russell asked Ormond to help him and he came to Russell’s camp with a hundred cavalry and two hundred kerns. Around midnight Russell sent John Chichester and Captain Lee to the glen, but they were to enter it through special little passes. At the break of the day the viceroy himself went into the glen and Chichester and his company met him. They saw about one hundred men of the O’Byrnes’ people at the other side of the glen, but they were afraid to attack them. Then they went to the camp. Russell spent a fortnight in this neighbourhood making raids on the O’Byrnes and enforcing the law and then he went back to Dublin, leaving the garrison under Chichester. Chichester continued to fortify Ballinacor.
When Russell returned to Dublin the Star Chamber convened and they were in favour of making peace with Fiach because they were afraid he would get help from O’Neill, but Russell and his friends’ desire for the property of the Wicklow clans would not let them make any peace with Fiach. So he returned to the encampment; Sir John North and Sir John Bowles were with him. They brought two hundred men with them. The brought these soldiers with them for fear that O’Neill would succeed in sending help to Fiach Mac Hugh. Chichester and Lee went into the glen again on the 15th day of November and the viceroy himself went in on the North side. But they had to return out of this because of the heavy rain. The lord viceroy went to Baile an droichead [Place unknown – possibly Bridgeland which was part of Farnees, but geography suggests some bridging point in west Wicklow?] and from there to Naas and then back to Dublin. He failed for the third time to defeat the Wicklow clans and take their lands from them and catch Fiach.
Twelve days after the return of the lord viceroy Fiach attacked the guard who were bringing ammunition from Wicklow to Ballinacor. Maybe you are wondering why Fiach let the viceroy go free when he paid his last visit to the glen. Well, there was a reason for it. He knew that O’Neill was trying to get peace terms from the man that had the armies and if he succeeded in getting those peace terms there would be no interference with Fiach and his lands from then on. Fiach’s power and following decreased every day until they were almost beaten by the English. Fiach was about seventy years of age at this time. The viceroy could go anywhere he liked, from Dublin to Baile an droichead and from Baile an droichead to the sea. But he couldn’t go into the glen where Fiach was yet. O’Neill would have liked to help Fiach but he couldn’t. Ballinacor, Rathdrum, Wicklow and Naas were in the hands of the English, so the English were in power all around Glenmalure.
In the end it was discovered where the old chieftain was hiding and the rest of the story is told like this:
On Sunday, early in the morning, the soldiers came into the place where he was. They came in at him from every direction and he had to flee into a cave. A man called Millburm [Millbum?] and the soldiers were that angry that he could not make a prisoner of him that he killed him with his sword. He took the head with him and he gave it to the viceroy. Most of his followers were killed and two hundred cows were taken and great plunder and all the booty was divided amongst the soldiers.
Fiach did not get his proper place in the history of his country yet. He remained independent of England during his lifetime and he kept his followers and his people independent of England even though he was living on the border of the Galltacht [Pale]. He could have had wealth and title like a lot of other chieftains but he did not do the likes. He was a man who had only one object and that was to acquire the freedom of Ireland. He put this before anything else. He didn’t care if he lost everything if he had but to achieve that object. There was no wealth to come to him for his thankless work but that was not what he wanted – he was satisfied with a little. He was the first man to unite these clans, who were so different in customs and traits, under one banner and he made a good army of them as well as that. He kept them fighting against an army that was stronger and more powerful than themselves for years. There was no going against authority in Wicklow after his death. His death was a heavy blow to all the chieftains, but especially to those of both the South and the North. A stone monument should be erected in Glenmalure in his honour.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Famous Dunlaviners – Remembered Elsewhere; Forgotten at Home

Like many small villages in a rural Irish setting, Dunlavin has experienced a predominant trend of out-migration over the last two centuries. Perhaps the most famous migrant from our parish was the rebel leader Michael Dwyer, who left Ireland with his wife Mary from the port of Cobh in August 1805. Dwyer was one of five well-known rebels who sailed on the ‘Tellicherry’, which reached Port Jackson in New South Wales on St. Valentine’s Day 1806. Dwyer’s companions were Arthur Devlin, John Mernagh, Martin Burke and Hugh ‘Vesty’ Byrne, who travelled with his wife Rachael and their children. Dwyer’s life in Australia, and the lives of his companions have been researched and the findings published by Kieran Sheedy in his excellent book entitled ‘The Tellicherry Five’ (Dublin 1997).

However, there were also many less famous emigrants from the Dunlavin area, and it is on a few of these that this article is focussed. Emigration was an ever-present reality here during the nineteenth century. Passenger lists from some of the ships that bore our greatest resource – our people – from this area to a new life abroad still exist. While Michael Dwyer still awaited his fate in Kilmainham Gaol, for example, the emigrant ship ‘Susan’ sailed from Dublin on 28 March 1804, bound for New York. Among those on board was Anne Matland, aged fifty six. Anne was a widow and she was accompanied on the voyage by her son, Thomas Matland, who was twenty one years of age and was described as a ‘labourer’. Thomas’s sister Mary Ann also sailed on the ‘Susan’. She was a twenty year old ‘spinster’. The Matlands settled in the New York area, where their new life began, and where the spelling of their name somehow became ‘Maitland’. Many emigrants at this time were unable to spell, and many immigration officials simply spelt phonetically what they heard, so such a change of spelling was actually quite a common occurrence. The family settled in, survived and prospered and they still have descendants in the North-Eastern United States today.

The case of the Matlands is given as an example as it possesses some interesting features. Firstly, unlike Dwyer and his fellow rebels, the Matlands’ migration was voluntary rather than forced. Indeed, most of the nineteenth century emigration from this area was voluntary and was induced by the lure of a better lifestyle away from the agrarian poverty that existed here throughout the period in question. This poverty was accentuated by the impact of the Great Famine of 1845-1850, but it would be wrong to assume that out-migration from this area was a purely post-famine phenomenon. Again, the Matlands are a case in point, as they emigrated long before the famine struck.

A more famous pre-famine emigrant was James Fenton, who arrived in Tasmania in 1832, aged 12, from the village of Dunlavin in the County of Wicklow, with his mother, three brothers and three sisters (his father had died during the voyage).
In 1840, when he was only 20, he was the first settler to take up land west of the Mersey River where he selected large areas of heavily forested land between the Don and Forth Rivers. His first dwelling was a paling and bark hut on the river flats at the Forth Estuary. James Fenton's first permanent home at the Forth was called "Norwood". Then, after he began farming on the eastern side of the Forth, he made his home there in a house, which is still occupied, which he called by the aboriginal name ‘Lenna’.
In 1879 James Fenton retired from farming and settled in Launceston, where he built a house (also called ‘Lenna’) at 41 Brisbane Street. It was here that he created the literary works that are perhaps his most notable contribution to our heritage. In 1884 his ‘History of Tasmania’ was published by Macmillan’s of London. In 1886 his biography of the Reverend Charles Price was published by George Robertson in Melbourne and in 1891 he completed his widely read ‘Bush Life in Tasmania’, which is still in print. He also completed a large lithograph depicting the Progress of Tasmania, for which he was awarded a Diploma at the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880-81. This work is now held by the Queen Victoria Museum in Launceston. James Fenton died in Launceston on 24th June 1901, aged 81, and there is now a very prestigious ‘James Fenton Memorial Scholarship’ in his honour.
James Fenton never stood for Parliament, though he was keenly interested in local Government. He was a member of the various Devon Road Trusts for many years and Chairman of the Local Board of Works. He was a member of the Mersey Marine Board and in 1856 was appointed a local Justice of the Peace. However, James’s son, Charles also took a keen interest in politics and he did become an M.P.
Charles Benjamin Monds Fenton, settled and developed land at Table Cape and later established Tasmania's first Co-operative Dairy Factory at Wynyard which, nearly 100 years later, lead to the creation of United Milk Tasmania, the State's largest dairy producer. Charles Benjamin Monds Fenton was a member of the Tasmanian House of Assembly between 1886 and 1897. In turn, his son, Arthur Benjamin Fenton, represented the Division of Russell in the Tasmanian Legislative Council for 24 years from 1933 to 1957.
Another grandson, Charles Balfour Marcus Fenton, and his wife Flora (a member of the well-known North-West Tasmania Anthony family) conducted a dairy farm on their property, named ‘Dunlavin’ on the Irishtown Road near Smithton. He was involved in the administration of the State's dairy industry for many years and has been Chairman of the Board of Directors of both the Duck River Co-operative and United Milk Tasmania. Charles Balfour Marcus Fenton was also the member for Russell in the Tasmanian Parliament for 24 years from 1957 to 1981 and President of the Legislative Council for 9 years from 1972 until his retirement in 1981. After his retirement he was awarded the nation's highest honour, Companion of the Order of Australia - the A.C.
Incidentally, another member of the Fenton family who emigrated from Dunlavin and became a member of the Tasmanian Parliament was Captain Michael Fenton who arrived there in the early 1820s and obtained a large grant of land above New Norfolk which he called Fenton Forest. Michael Fenton was the cousin of James Fenton's father, who died on the voyage to Tasmania. When the old Legislative Council was established in the mid-1820s Michael Fenton was one of the nominated members. When the first elected ‘bi-cameral’ Parliament began in 1856 Michael Fenton was elected to the House of Assembly and became its first Speaker.
The Fenton family of Dunlavin certainly came a long way from their origins in a rural Irish village before the famine. However, while Dunlavin experienced a certain level of pre-famine emigration, it is also true that the levels of emigration increased during the second half of the nineteenth century. The presence of an emigration agent in Dunlavin village testifies to the fact that emigration was a harsh reality and an ever-present threat to many families in this area after the famine and right into the twentieth century also. For example, in 1881, ‘Slater’s Directory’ listed Patrick McDonough as the local emigration agent. One Dunlaviner who would become famous in his chosen field, and who probably passed through McDonough’s office was John Lawler.

John Lawler went to America, where he furthered his education to such an extent that he became a leading figure in the famous University of Notre Dame in Indiana. He became a priest and took the name of Brother Albeus. His obituary appeared in the University magazine, ‘The Scholastic’ (Volume 47, Issue 11) in 1913, and it makes impressive reading indeed:
‘Albeus, Brother (Lawler, John)
The closing days of the last school year at Notre Dame were saddened by the death of Brother Albeus, the treasurer of the University, on the 14th of June. The deceased has been troubled for some years by a weak heart, and hence, while his death was sudden, it was not unexpected. He had been dangerously ill during the first week of June, but soon recovered sufficiently to return to his post of duty, where he died a few days later.
Brother Albeus, known to the world as John Lawler, was born in Dunlavin, Ireland, in 1857. At an early age he came to this country and in 1883 he joined the Congregation of Holy Cross. After his profession in 1886 he was for many years, prefect in Carroll Hall and teacher in the preparatory department of the University. He was made treasurer of the University in 1901, in which office he remained until his death. In addition he was for many years a councillor of the Provincial of the United States Province and a member of the General Chapter of the Congregation.
In business ability, Brother Albeus was well qualified for the burdensome office with which he was entrusted for so long a time. He is fondly remembered by the students of many school years for his unselfish devotion to their interests during their days at Notre Dame. Among members of his community, he was always esteemed for his fine spirit of charity, his quiet but tense devotion to duty, and by the exemplary quality of his religious life.
The ‘Scholastic’ may readily presume to represent all the Notre Dame students who have known the lamented Brother in extending to the University their sincere sympathy in the loss of its esteemed treasurer and in praying that the departed may speedily enjoy the reward for which he lived and laboured.’
John Lawler from Dunlavin was another who had left his native place and who had worked his way into an eminent position. He is remembered with fondness and pride in the university in which he taught for nearly thirty years. Another emigrant from this area, who also was to become famous within his own sphere and beyond, was Thomas Ambrose Butler.
Thomas Butler served as a curate in Dunlavin during the early1860s. However, he yearned for a more difficult position and resigned his position in Dunlavin to take up a position in Kansas, sometime about the middle of that decade. Kansas has only joined the Union in 1861 and the new state was real frontier territory, which was opening up to settlers in the aftermath of the American Civil War. This raw, new, vigorous, exciting but dangerous land attracted all kinds of homesteaders. These included Irish Catholics, and Fr. Thomas Butler went with them to minister to their religious needs. Butler wrote a book entitled ‘The State of Kansas and Irish Immigration’, which was published by McGlashan and Gill of Upper Sackville Street, Dublin, in 1871. This work, which went on sale for the sum of six pence, became the ‘bible’ on Irish Catholic emigration to the American West. It was a almost a necessity for any prospective emigrant on this side of the Atlantic to purchase the book, but it was also widely sold in the East of the United States, where many immigrants who had arrived there were thinking of making their way further west.
A few excerpts from chapter one of Butler’s book helps us to get an idea of his aims, objectives and his stance on certain subjects. He begins by telling us that: ‘It is now nearly five years since I resigned my curacy in the diocese of Dublin, and came out to this country in order to lend my humble aid in the sacred cause of our holy religion. I was well aware that amidst the crowd of immigrants flocking out upon the prairies of the new State of Kansas many Catholics were to be found and I also felt convinced that sons and daughters of Old Ireland would never be happy and contented while wanting the consolation Catholicity affords’.
He goes on to inform us that: ‘My missionary duties have been performed in the rising cities and amidst the young settlements upon the prairies for nearly five years; I therefore presume to think I can afford some useful information to persons intending to emigrate, and some interesting reading to all my countrymen at home who take an interest in the adopted country of millions of their race’.

Butler then made his intentions clear, when he wrote: ‘It is on account of so many misstatements appearing in Irish journals, and because I dread the injurious consequences to my countrymen, I undertake the task of writing on the subject of Irish emigration, especially to Kansas; and as I feel convinced that my sacerdotal character will be a pledge to the reader of my sincerity, and that more reliance will be placed in the statement of one who has been engaged in the duties of the priesthood amidst the people in the young cities and rising settlements of the Great West than in the words of land-jobbers and their agents’.
Emigration was a fact of life, in Dunlavin as elsewhere in Ireland at this time, but Butler did not see this as the ideal situation. He wrote: ‘I begin by assuring the reader that I am not an advocate of Irish emigration; I would rather a million of times that ‘the old race’ could hold every inch of ‘the old land’. I believe that the pang of separation, and the subsequent sad feeling of exile from friends and country, leave an impress upon the heart that can never be removed. Let those, then, who can live at home in Ireland remain there – unless, indeed, the future prospects of their family are very dark’. However, Butler saw one type of emigrant as having no choice: ‘There is one class in Ireland which, I am well aware, has no other resource left but emigration; I allude, of course, to the unhappy farmers who become the victims of eviction’.
Having established his background and beliefs, Butler went on to give a detailed and very interesting account of life in Kansas at this time. Among other things, he tells us that: ‘About the year 1854 the first small stream of immigration came in on the eastern borderlands of Kansas. Brave pioneers came up the muddy Missouri in boats from Saint-Louis, and pitched their tents in a pleasant place near the protecting guns of Fort Leavenworth, having a semi-circle of wooded hills beside them, and the great river as an arc to the chord of sylvan bluffs. Here some speculators soon built up frame houses and small ‘shanties’, and store-houses, trusting for trade to the officers and soldiers of the fort, and to the freighters who transported goods across the plains.’
At another point in the book he writes: On the second and fourth Sunday of every month I celebrate mass at St. Joseph's Church, eight miles distant from Leavenworth. When I enter my buggy, at six o'clock in the morning of the above days, to drive out to St. Joseph's, I feel as if about to go to a country chapel in dear old Ireland. The journey up and down the rugged hills, and through the lonely woods, and over the rippling streams, does not seem a long one, for memory is travelling all the time amidst the green valleys of the Emerald Isle, through the glens of lovely Wicklow, and amidst the giant mountains of the North. And when at length I catch a view of St. Joseph's Church from the summit of some hill, how like an Irish scene is the appearance presented’.
Moreover, Butler also noticed some differences from home and he went on to record: ‘The scene around the prairie church differs much in one point from that around an Irish chapel. Long lines of horses and wagons are seen standing on the roadside near the church, or coming over the prairies. The farmers and their families come in wagons or on horseback to Mass – none walk along the country road, as they were wont to do olden times in Ireland. In winter, when the mud is very deep upon the roads, young women travel to church on horseback, and at such season the long cavalcades of men and women present a picturesque appearance crossing the prairies or emerging from the woods’. The content of his narrative is actually very varied, but space does not permit any further quotation of his work here.
However, the conclusion of Butler’s book is quite strongly worded, and makes interesting reading: ‘We hear our people boasting oftentimes of the blessings diffused through America by Irish immigration. I gladly acknowledge that Ireland has been, and is, ‘a Missionary nation’, and that Catholicity would be hardly known on this continent had not the scattered Celts sailed over and planted the cross on many a prairie. But, then, if we seriously consider the loss of thousands of sons of Irishmen gone away from the fold of Christ, we will be inclined to wish that ‘the old race’ would remain at home beside their Irish chapels until their bodies are placed to sleep in holy ground, in the shadows of ruined abbeys, than come here to see their children growing up in infidelity. But in the country the sons of Irish farmers grow up as good and faithful as if they lived all their time in ‘the Isle of Saints’. For this reason, as well as for many others, which I have already stated, I am a strong advocate for farming life for the exiled Irish. While treating of the sons of Irishmen I must not fail to remark that the great mass of them possess an extraordinary love for the land of their fathers. They have learned many of the traditions of ‘the old land’ from their Irish mothers, and their American love of Liberty fills them with enthusiasm for the welfare of Ireland. I feel now that I am drawing to an end in the treatment of my subject. I have endeavoured to fulfil a promise made to many friends, and a duty I owed to my fellow-countrymen at home. I have described things as they really are in Kansas, having no object in life to gain by doing so. I do not seek notoriety through the Press, but I struggle for that which urged me out here from my quiet curacy in Dunlavin – the good of the Irish people. My patriotism is the broad national Irish one – ‘for Faith and County’. In conclusion, and as a last advice, I say to all the Irish people – Do not come out to America if you can live at home. If you cannot live in Ireland, come out and till the fertile prairies, and you will be happy. ‘Uncle Sam has lands enough to give us all a farm!’

Today, Thomas Ambrose Butler is a famous man in academic circles. His book, ‘The State of Kansas and Irish Immigration’, now known simply as ‘Fr. Butler’s Kansas’, is widely studied in universities throughout the U.S.A. and beyond. The book contains a wealth of information for students of the pioneering days of the American Mid-West, and is an important primary source for Kansas historians, as well as scholars of American history generally.
However, the book also works at other levels. It is also studied by students of the nineteenth century ‘Devotional Revolution’ within Irish Catholicism. Butler lamented the situation regarding state education in Kansas – he had come from an Irish national education system where church and state were intertwined. At one point he wrote: ‘But what we have to contend with the school tax. The school tax is an injustice in this free country. Catholics are obliged to pay this tax for the support of schools to which they are opposed, and even although they send their children to other schools not supported by the State. It is difficult for Catholic parents to pay the tax and pay for their children's education at Catholic schools. If we could get a share of the school tax funds for the support of our Catholic schools, then we would have every chance of educating the rising generation of Catholic children free from evil influence, and under the protection of those safeguards which Almighty God has given to His Church’. The Catholic agenda again shone through when, for example, Butler wrote: ‘It is true that the Catholic Church is gaining great numbers of converts every year in America, but if we consider all the children of Catholic parents who are being lost in the meshes of infidelity, we will probably cease to rejoice’.
Butler’s work is also studied by anthropologists and students of Irish ethnicity. The picture of Irish emigrant life contains much detail regarding their gradual cultural assimilation, and (in some instances) their contribution to acculturation within the melting pot that was nineteenth century Kansas. At one point Butler wrote: ‘The majority of our countrymen in Leavenworth belong to the labouring class, and are obliged to work hard on railways and streets for small wages. Four years ago the pay given to labouring men was two dollars per day; and if you take into account many inclement days during the year, when the labourer cannot work, it will be seen that such men have hard times here. The stern truth of the case is this – Irishmen must not hope to make much money as labourers in the towns and cities in the future. Since the emancipation of the Negroes the labour market has been glutted, and, undoubtedly, in a few years more Sambo and John Chinaman will be the only labourers on the highways’. By today’s politically correct standards, such references are seen as racist, but they must be taken in the context of the time and place of writing, as well as the cultural background of the writer himself.
That writer was a nineteenth century emigrant from Dunlavin. He was one of a number of emigrants from our area who had made good in a new life overseas. This article has only scratched the surface of the subject of emigration from this place. For every Matland, Dwyer, Fenton, Lawler and Butler who left this village and its environs, there are thousands who left, never to return, and whose names, lives and achievements were never recorded. Many have faded into obscurity and oblivion over time. Many more have lived full and varied lives and have descendants who still come to visit this area. However, it is pleasing to note, I think, that some of our emigrants from this place became very successful immigrants in faraway places, and this article has told a few of their stories.

St Nicholas of Myra RC Church, Dunlavin c. 1930

Precensus Dunlavin. Townland ghosts and some reflections

The year 1815 was undoubtedly a watershed in Dunlavin parish, as parish records begin on October 1st of that year.
This beginning of a new parish register probably indicates that a new church was erected on the present site at or about this time. The penal laws were still in force – Catholic emancipation didn’t happen until 1829 – but they were becoming more lax during the late 18th and early 19th century, with the exception of a short ‘backlash’ period after the rebellions of 1798 and 1803.
However, the years after 1810 saw the building of many new Catholic Churches – including the one in Dunlavin, which was built on land donated by the Tynte family. Whether the Church was a permanent structure or a temporary one in 1815 is uncertain, but the fact remains that the first parish register – to have survived, at least – came into being during this year.
Three infants – Michael Brien, Hannah Healy and Michael Magarr were baptised on October 1st 1815. Perhaps this event was not as far – reaching as Wellington’s victory at Waterloo in the same year, but for our parish these three baptisms are the beginning of our own unique social record. There were twenty one baptisms recorded for October 1815 and a total of 100 is mentioned for the year of 1815. This latter figure is a strange one, as there are only 59 entries from October to December in the book for 1815.
Subsequent years show totals in excess of 200, so perhaps the priest simply guessed that there were about 100 baptisms for the year, since records only began in the month of October.
The parish register provides us with lists of names and areas, but reading between the lines it also provides us with some clues about the social history of the time.
Before we move on to the lists of family names, some observations about the register should be made.
The first point to note is that these records do not give the complete picture. They refer only to the Catholic families. Anglicans and/or dissenters who were living in these townlands are not mentioned in the records. Also, by implication, because these are baptismal records, the register will only show young to middle-aged Catholic family names. Older couples, childless or with more mature children by 1815, will not appear on these pages.
The accuracy of townland boundaries is questionable too: For example, certain areas like Tubber seem to be very populous, while other areas like Sandy Hills do not appear at all. I suspect that the term “Tubber” refers to all the townlands in the old parish of Tubber. Hence “Kelly’s of Tubber” for example could refer to “Kelly’s of Man of War”, but there is no way to ascertain this.

Many family names were very common too, occurring in various different town­lands. The old Wicklow names of “Toole” and “Byrne” are widespread, while “Kavanah”, once very prevalent in South Wicklow is also a popular name.
The spelling of Kavanah – without the ‘g’ – brings us another point. All the spellings in the register are as per the priest of the day. No doubt many of the ordinary people were uneducated – National Schools were not established until Lord Stanley’s Education Act of 1831, so, if there were variants of the surname unknown to the priest, they did not appear in the book. (My own name, for example has variants of Lawlor, Lawler and Lalor). Hence, for example, there are no Keogh’s listed, only Kehoe’s. This however, does not mean that some present Keogh’s may not be descended from the Kehoe’s listed. Many names changed spelling at the latter end of the 19th century, during the Cultural Revival. The work of organisations like the Gaelic League “gaelicised” the spelling of many family names. An example of this in the register is that no surname is preceded by ‘O’. Names like “Neile”, “Reily” and “Toole” would surely now have ancestors called O’Neill, O’Reilly and O’Toole. Pronunciation may have changed over the years too, for example, would “Cassin” then become “Cashin” in modem times?
Place names also show pregaelic League spellings in the register. The revived interest in the Irish language taught people the meaning of many old names. Thus the Irish word “Cnoc” (Hill) became “Knock” when it was Anglicised. The English “K” represented the Irish “C”. No such niceties applied in 1815 though, hence we got the spellings “Nockaderry”, “Nockbawn” etc.
Another weakness of the records, is that, due to erratic spelling, the same family may have been recorded twice in certain townlands. Thus, in Ballinabarny, for example, we get both “Connel” and Connell”.
In an effort to avoid repetition, I have not included the same surname twice in the townland lists if it is spelt the same way for more than one family within that townland. This is not to imply that families with the same surname did not inhabit the same townland. They very often did – and I mean very often! There were quite a few families of Rogers in Merginstown, Nowlans in Tubber and Byrnes in Frianstown, to name but three. This would definitely indicate the sub-division of family holdings – a practice common locally and all over prefamine rural Ireland. This practice was mostly brought to an end after the famine when primogeniture (eldest son inherits) became common.

Mention of the famine brings me to another point evident if one browses through the parish registers for 1815-1820 – the high birth rate. The total number of baptisms per annum for these precensus years consistently exceeds 200 – put another way there was a rough average of two baptisms every three days. The actual figures are: – 1815 (part of) 100 (possibly a guess – see above) 1816 - 273; 1817 - 201; 1818 - 215; 1819 - 224; and 1820 - 226. There is no doubt that these figures are high for a parish of this size – but high birth rates were a usual feature of rural Ireland at this time. Three and even four baptisms per day in Dunlavin Church was quite a common occurrence. Many parents return during this five-year period – again and again – with three, four and even five children to be baptised. The period 1815 – 1820 saw a “Baby Boom” in Dunlavin, as in the country as a whole.
The infants listed in this register would be in the 25-30 year old age group when the great famine struck – therefore, they would be having their own families and there is no doubt that overpopulation exacerbated an already serious situation in the 1840’s. Large families were the norm. Without going into the moral arguments about family planning, the attitude of the Catholic Church to large families was that they were generally desirable. Families like the Finns of Eadestown, the Balfes of Dunlavin and the Ryders of Loughmogue – to name but three – returned again and again to the baptismal font.
In an interview to mark his 70th birthday, the recently deceased Dr. Noel Brown referred to woman bearing many more children than their body could manage. He blamed his own mothers ill-health and death on this fact. A similar trend is to be found in our own precensus parish records. The low life expectancy, the poverty, the overpopulation are all there if you read between the lines. Dunlavin – and Ireland in general – during this period obviously had some traits in common with many Third World Countries today.
Other trends may also come to light by studying the old registers. Some anthropologists and social historians, for example, have suggested that there was a seasonal nature to childbirths in pre-famine Ireland. Of course, babies were born all year round, but they would expect the figures to peak in the late summer and autumn. The reasoning behind their theory is that both men and women were tired from working on the land during the summer months when dusk could be as late as 11 p.m., with an early dawn to follow. The long winter nights, on the other hand were the time to make babies, hence the expected high in the figure for births should occur in the autumn. The figures for August 1818, for example, saw eighteen baptisms (with sixteen for the previous month of July). However the figures for January of 1819 show only twelve baptisms. Could the ‘Seasonal’ model be true? Further scrutiny of the overall figures tend to cast doubts over it though. January of 1818, for example, recorded a very high number of baptisms indeed – and so did other winter months while many summer and autumn months show low totals. No real evidence here, then, of ‘seasonal childbirths’.

Another trend which can be perceived is that certain areas had large numbers of young families – young parents, while other areas record low totals. Once one allows for difference in actual population, there is still some evidence of differing birth rates in different townlands. One example, here in Milltown – quite a populous townland according to pre-famine census information, and yet an area with quite a low birth rate – and a low number of young parents of childbearing age. One possible reason for this is that Milltown was quite heavily settled with older families and so would show a more mature population pyramid than certain other areas.
A modern comparison might involve a new housing estate with many young families moving in as opposed to an older estate, where the families are older and have settled there for some time, so they would not figure as often in a baptismal register.
There is no doubt that prefamine society was more geographic static than our own well-travelled society. Certain families appear in areas where the surname is still to be found (in or close to the same place) today. Some examples here include Metcalf’s of Crehelp, Moore’s of Tubber and Dwyers of Seskin, to name but three. The question “are they the same families as their modem namesakes”? Could be probably answered by a careful scrutiny of parish records through about 175 years. Generally after the collapse of the Landlord system (c 1880 - 1910) some tenant farmers did survive and buy out neighbouring land to become strong farmers. It is quite probable that there are modern “survivors” still living in the same townlands as their ancestors of 1815 - 20.
The lists published here do have one advantage over the later Census figures. They cover a five year period and so build a fuller picture of any in – migrants during such a five year period – provided they had children to baptise, into the Catholic faith! People living in a townland during any five years between census taking, often left no official trace of their movements.
Judging by the number of baptisms recorded at Dunlavin for families from the “other side” of the parish, it is probable that Donard did not have a Church at this time. One disadvantage of this involves the comparison of contemporary and modem statistics. Any such comparison would have to include modern statistics for all three Churches in the parish to be truly comparable. Even allowing for this, the baptismal rate of two hundred plus, per year seems high. The average rate also rose as one went through the 1820’s and 1830’s – in 1828, for example, Fr. Hyland, the new Parish Priest recorded two hundred and seventy two (272) baptisms while the 1835 figure was three hundred and two (302).
Just to stay in the 1830’s for a moment in order to further illustrate the booming population in those prefamine years, Fr. Hyland records that Archbishop Murray Confirmed four hundred and sixty (460) children in Dunlavin chapel on 5th August 1833, while on the 12th June 1837 the number Confirmed in Dunlavin by Dr. Murray was seven hundred and twenty two (722). This must represent phenomena growth during the 1830’s (c.f. my article in the 1994 Arts Festival Brochure). Modern Confirmation numbers even for the whole Parish, hardly come anywhere near these figures.
But to return to the precensus era. One interesting aspect of the baptismal register for these years is that all parents of children baptised seem to have been married. Indeed, I could not find an exception to this anywhere in the first Parish register book, which covers the years 1815 to 1839. But an interesting footnote for the year 1833 might shed some light on this situation. It states that there were two hundred and ninety four (294) baptisms in 1833. But, “About ten (10) baptisms have not been registered from March to August in consequence of the right of one of the clergymen”. Might these children be ones whose parents were not married (at least not at the time of birth/baptism)? We must remember that we are dealing with a time when Church attitudes were much more hardline, and social stigma was an ever-present reality for anyone that the people chose to reject.

Poverty was quite widespread during these years too. A Mallen family who had a baby Christened in Dunlavin Church in 1816 are recorded as being ‘vagabonds’. The travelling rural labourer, or spalpin, was a common figure in prefamine Ireland. The famine did much to wipe them out, but some survived right up to the time of the First World War. Once again though, the pages of our parish register highlights a local and a national problem.

Footnote 1: Only one mixed marriage seems to be recorded in the first book – Thomas (Protestant) and Briget Moody, Whitestown.
Footnote 2: The marriage register starts in 1831, with Maurice Whelan and Margaret Kavanagh being the first wedding on St. Valentine’s Day of that year. Marriage total from 1831 - 1838 averaged about fifty, the most per annum being sixty six; the least being thirty nine.
Footnote 3: One interesting baptism in 1818 was that of James Whittle, son of Joseph and Margaret, sponsored by Joseph Byrne and Briget Conlon. James Whittle was Parish Priest of Dunlavin from 1862 to 1884 and is buried outside the side aisle and commemorated by a wall plaque inside.
Footnote 4: Two early Curates of Dunlavin were Fr. A. Reynolds and Fr. P. Mulaney both of whom served here in 1833, when Fr. J. Hyland was Parish Priest.
Footnote: 5: The townland of Eads­town contains a family of Dwyers. Michael Dwyer, the famous Wicklow rebel was born in this place and as these records pertain to a time only about 15 years after his campaign and eventual capture, it is probably his family that is registered here.

Catholic Surnames in Townlands
There follows a list of the Catholic Surname for each Townland named in the Parish register during the period from 1st October 1815 to 31st December 1820. (The first Census dates from 1821 and so can be used to get family names after 1820).
I have given the spelling of place names as they appear in Liam Price’s book. These are in bold type. I have also given any deviant form of the spellings which appear in the parish register in brackets after the name.
If only one form of the name appears, the parish register concurs with Price’s spelling. Where possible, I have also briefly given Prices explanation of the origin of the place names (italics). In some cases, names not in Price’s book appear. Where this occurs, I have stated that the name is not mentioned by Price and any explanation is, of course, not applicable.
BALLENARAY (Ballenara) (not in Price): Brien, Kinsella.
BALLINARD (Ballenard) (High Town): Kavanagh, Brien, Lambe, Kinsella, Headen, Butler, Toole, Bulger.
BALLINABARNY (Ballinabarnie, Ballinabarna, Ballabarna) (Cattle Enclosure at the gap road): Connell Kearney, Connel, Shiel, Finn.
Parish Records also show this name with “Bally” instead of Ballinabarny.
The following family names are listed under the corrupted spellings given beside them: Conoly – Ballybarnie. Hoxy, Duffy – Ballibarna. Shiel – Ballybarny. Connell Kearney – Ballybarna.
BALLINCLEA (Ballinaclay) (Mountain Settlement): Kenny, Conran, Kelly, Canavan, Doyle, Crowley, Farrel, Brien, Timmins.
BALLINEBO (not in Price) (Town of the Cows?): Wade.
BALLINEDDAN (Ballineddin) (Town of the Drained Land): Byrne, Shell, Kerwin, Carty, Rourke, Kirwan, Brien.
BALLINFOYLE (Ballinfile) (Booley House of the two Pools): Burke.
BALLINTRUER (Ballintruin, Ballin­trure) (Homestead of three people): Webb, Pendergast, Duff, Cullen.
BALLYHOOK (Family Name – Hookes Town): Gavan.
BALLYHUBBOCK (Ballyhubue, Bally­hubbur, Ballyhubut) (Robert’s Town): Pendergast, Mooney, Kavanah, Sheridan, Brien, Valentine, Donahue, Kearns, Murphy, Byrne, Germain.
BALLYHURLEY (not in Price): Mooney.
BALLYLEA (Family Name – Ely’s Town): Dowling.
BALLYLION (Ballyline) (Family Name – Leynagh’s Town): Nowlan, Metcalf, Lewis, Pendergast, Daly.
BALLYMOONEY (Ballymoony) (Mooney’s Town): Toole, Gardly, Flood, Neale, Lennan, Dwyer, Tyrrel, McLoughlin, Lennon.
BALLYMOOR (not in Price) (Could this refer to Ballymore-Eustace?): Kane.
BALLYREASK (Ballyreesh) (Marshy Town): Kenny, Donahoe, Donoghoe.
BALLYTOOLE (O’Toole’s Town) – part of Coolmoney and not to be confused with Toolestown: Butler, Daly, Lennon, Sheridan, Byrne, Lindsay.
BALLYVOHAN (Ballyurahan, Bally­rocan, Ballyoran, Ballyvoran, Bally­orahan) (see below) (O’Mohan’s Town and O’Braghan’s Town): Kelly, Reynolds, Cullen, Byrne, Brien, Brady, Miller, Nowlan.
Price names two separate townlands, Ballyvoghan and Ballyvraghan. The multiplicity of spellings in the parish register make it almost impossible to separate them.
BARRACK (not in Price) (Could the name refer to the police barracks in the village?): Kennedy.
BLACKMOOR (Blackamore): Nugent, Byrne, Kehoe, Ellis, Kinsella, Mullen, Heyden, Reed, Carrol, Daly, Lamb.
BLACKHILL: Traynor, Tracy, Keating, Byrne, Ward, Heade, Reddy, Dunn, Judge, Copeland, Hegarty.
BOWRY (Brothel): Mitchel, Kealy.
BRITTAS (Fortified Dwelling): Case, Butler, Byrne, Flood, Kelly, Kavanagh, Whelan, Darcy.
RUSSELSTOWN (Family Name?): Hayden, Lynch, Smyth, Lennon, Maher, Healy, Smith, Heyden, Donohoe, Fitzpatrick.
CAMARA (Camera) (Drained Area): Doyle, Kelly, Connel.
CASTLERUDDERY (Castlerudry) (Knights Castle or Roderick’s Castle): Hickey, Finn, Donohoe, Duff, Doyle, McEvoy, Brien, Plant, Mackay, Toole, Byrne, Conron, Mulhall, Metcalf, Marlay, Maher, Flood, Boyne, Butler, Brown, Maley, Murray, Daly, Synott, Connor.
CASTLESALLAGH (Castlesalla) (Dirty Castle): Donohoe.
COAN (Cowen) (River Bend): Murphy, Toole, Connel.
COLLIGA (Colloga, Colaga) (Thorny Place): Broughal, Karney, Murphy, Kearney, Moore, Mahon, Kavanah.
COOLAMADDRA (Coolamadra) (Den of the dog or wolf): Kelly, Delaney, Conran, Heney, Brien, Donnelly, Germain, Valentine, Heany.
COOLMONEY (Sheltered Shrubbery): Byrne, Hanlon.
COONANSTOWN (Family Name): Somers, Whittle.
CREHELP (Creehelp, Cryhelp) (A branch of the clan Elpi): Murray, Walsh, Kane, Byrne, Kehoe, Manwaring, Hobart, Metcalf, Heyden, Perry, Galbally, Noon, Quin, Toole, Dempsy, Barden, Maneron, Kelly, Flood, Brad, Mulally, Cunningham, Murphy, Mangan, Cassin, Donohoe, Nowlan, Grattan.
CLONSHANNON (Crosshannon) (Meadow of the old one): Donohoe, Murphy, Martin.
CROSSKEYS (Probably the name of an Inn): Doyle, Connor, Murphy, McEvoy, Byrne x 2, Waddy, Nowlan.
CURTRA (not in Price): Higgins.
DAVIDSTOWN (Area was held by David Donn in the 13th Century): Kenny, Brien.
DERRYNAMUCK (Dernamuck) (Wood of the pigs): Martin, Ryan, Hoxy.
DRUMREAGH (Drumreed) (Striped Hill): Donaghan, Reily.
DONARD (Dunard) (High Fort): Mulhall, Lennon, Fitzpatrick, Byrne, Murray, Farrel, Doyle, Lambe, Grehan, Claxton, Nerale, Coogan, Lewis, Fitzgerald, Tenison, Brady, Russel, Case, Murphy, Lawler, Artry, Conway, Boylan, Eardly, Nowlan, Headen, McEvoy, Donohoe, Harrington, Morgan, Leviston, Ivery, Maneron, Reddin, Stokes, Curren, Fullam.
DUNLAVIN (Fort of Liamhan?): Kehoe, Gavan, Fitzgerald, Gorman, Mahon, Balfe, Morgan, Christy, Martin, Neile, Cullen, Fahy, Murphy, Kavanagh, Donohoe, Hoxy, Dempsy, Fox, Roche, Cahill, Whelan, Molyneaux, Byrne, Doyle, Kenedy, Kealy, Gafney, McEvoy, Elliott, Walsh, Toole, Doran, Power, Connors, Ryder, Whittle, Corrigan, Jiven, Donovan, Neale, Leeson, Chamney, Gyves, Barret, Kearns, Conran, Kelly, Couse, Nowlan, Irwin, Heyden, Wall.
EADSTOWN (Eadestown) (Named for the Ede Family): Donely, Martin, Dwyer, Rice, Farrel, Anderson, Doody, Breen, Brien, Heyden, Finn, Boyce, Weary, Murphy, Cavan, Byrne, Conway, Doran.
FAUNA (Fiawana, Fawna, Faronah) (Sloping Land): Doyle, Kelly, Kehoe.
FRIARHILL (Fryarhill) (Named for Monks in the Rectory of Tober): Byrne, Reilly, Murphy, Flood, Judge, Doyle, Mangan, Meade, Kelly, McEvoy, Heade, Walsh.
GIBSTOWN (origin unknown): Kelly, Dowling, Mackey, Byrne, Hanlon, Lambe.
IRISHTOWN (Area where Norman Fitzgeralds put local settlers?): Bolland.
KELSHA (Wooded Area): Kehoe, Halpin, Toomey, Flyn.
KENOW ( Kennours) (not in Price): Toole, Connel, Kehoe, Marnah.
KILBAYLET (Kilbealet, Kilbeleth, Kilbelet, Kilbalet, Kilbelim) (Church at the Pass): Murphy, Burke, Rourke, Murray, Dowden, Farrell, Coogan, Whittle, Bulger, Foley, Lennon.
KILBREFFY (Kilbruffy, Kilbruffey) (Church of the Wolf-plain): Kerry.
KILCOAGH (Kilcough, Kilcooke) (Church of St. Cuach): Fitzpatrick, Lennon, Byrne, Kelly.
KILLYBEG (Killabegs, Killibeg, Killybeggs) (Little Wood): Heyden, Byrne, Roche, Lennon, Neale.
KINSELLASTOWN (Kinselastown) (Family Name): Cunningham, Keily, Kehoe, Heade.
LEITRIM (Grey Hillock): Kelly, Darcy.
LEMONSTOWN (St. Loman’s Town): Coogan, Mooney, Metcalf, Costeloe, Cullen, Murray, McAtee, Davis, Mulaly, Conoly, Mulally, McDonnel, Gallaher, Coleman, Ayres, Dalton, Donnelly, Murphy.
LOGATRINA (Corncrake’s Hollow): Donovan, Fay, Brien, Fahy.
LOUGEMOGUE (Pool of St. Maodhog): Mahon, Brien, Loughran, Burke, Rowley, Barden, Broughan, Corrigan, Dalton, Henry, Doyle, McEvoy, Wright, Ryder, Dunn, Carroll, Smith, Valentine, Johnson, Deegan, Byrne, Conway, Kealy, Behan, Brady, Connor, Kenedy, Deering, Sleator, Dempsy, Cullen, Maglinn, Smyth, Tyrrel.
MERGINSTOWN (Family name of 15th Century settlers): Rogers, Heyden, Doyle, Dowling, Dempsy, Toole, Nolan, Redmond, Byrne, Fitzgerald, Kavanah, Sleator, Kehoe, Kealy, Walsh, Kane, Murphy, Smyth, Lynch, Myley, Carroll, Brien.
MILLTOWN: Flood, Coleman, Owens, Hede, Byrne, Foley, Duff, Traynor, Toole, Neale, Conway.
MONROE (Monrue) (Red Bog): Headen, Grace.
MOORSPARK (Moorparke) (Family Name): Conran.
NEWPARK: Heyden.
NEWTOWN: Connor, Toole.
KNOCKADERRY (Nockaderry) (Hill of the Copse): Kavanagh, Lenhan, Dow­ling, Doyle, Kananah, Kehoe, Mackey, Donohoe, Brien, Case, Murray, Higgins.
KNOCKANARRIGAN (Nockanargin) (O’Regan’s Hill): Conoly, Donelan, Benson, Doyle, Byrne, Manwaring, Mahon, Kelly, Donely, Kerwin.
KNOCKBAWN ( Nockbawn) (White Hill): Cassin, Whelan.
KNOCKANDARRAGH (Nockendara) (Little Hill of Oak Tree): Heyden, Dolle, Conran, Butler, Reily, Grace, Byrne, Bulger, Lynch.
KNOCKNAMUNNION (Nockna­munga, Nocknamunion) (Hill of Little Torrents): Doyle, Benson.
OLDMILL: Toole, Metcalf.
PLEZICA (Plessica, Placika) (Shelly Place): Whittle, Nowlan, Byrne, Hagarty, Cunningham, Timins, Dunn, Moran, Copeland, Somers, Grace.
RANDALSTOWN (Family Name): Byrne, Brien, Ennis, Dunn, Kearney.
RATHSALLAGH (Rathsalla) (Dirty Fort): Fay, Byrne, Pigeon, Healy, Wilson, Kavanah, Toole, Brien, Drumm, Fahy, Headen, Norton, Murphy, Kenedy, Nowlan, Darcy, Bowe, Magennis, Dunn, Kelly, Cullen, Doyle, Dowling, Heade, Cooke, Dunlaley, Harrington.
ROSTYDUFF (Rustyduff) (Headland of Black Houses): Geoghan, Lynch, Duffy, Tone, Murphy, Keefe, Flood, Doyle, Rorke.
SESKIN (Marshy Place): Kenedy, Cullen, Dowling, Curran, Rogers, Sullivan, Connor, Lynch, Dwyer, Byrne, Doyle, Kavanagh, Jessop.
STRANAHELY (Shranahely) (Bank of the River Hely): Cullen, Wade, Kinsella.
SLATEQUARRY (Slatequarries) (Old Name for Plezica Area): Nowlan, Whittle, Mangan, Mulally.
SPINANS (Spinings) (Place of the Gooseberry Bush): Cambel, Conway, Doody, Valentine, Ennis, Kavanagh, Kehoe, Doyle, Grady, Byrne, Ryan, Finn.
STUDFIELD (Dating from the 18th Century-Area for Horses): Lennon, Tyrrel, Murray, Kearney, Daly, Quinahan, Flood, Kane, Walsh.
TOOLESTOWN (Toolstown) (Family Name): Cullen, Toole, Byrne.
TOURNANT (Mound of Nettles): Heyden, Coonan, Mackey.
TOBER (Tubber) (Well or Spring): Magarr, Nowlan, Byrne, Harney, Magrath, Moore, Dunn, Fahy, Fay, Doyle, Dowden, Kelly, Judge, Creighton, Ryder, Hyland, Molloy, Rourke, Brien, Donohoe, Moran, Whelan, Waters, Kearney, Murray, Delaney, Ross, Hartigan, Redmond, White, Foster, Hickey, Butterfield, Murphy, Stuart, Kehoe, Neale.
TOBERBEG (Tubberbeg) (The Little Well): Healy, Miley, Kelly, Dalton, Johnson, Whittle. WHITESTOWN (Named for the White Family. Also spelled Fottestown. The Irish form of White was Fait.): Brofy, Byrne, Roche, Doyle, Dunn, Valentine, Brady, Geoghan, Duff, Tracy, Germain, Pendergast.