|A Brief History of Mayo As it Relates to the Byrnes, Feeneys, Langans, Naughtons and Walshes|
South Mayo, near Cong, has been identified as the site of the Battle of Southern Moytura, fought between the Tuatha De Danann and the Firbolgs about 1000 B.C.. Several websites, including Mayo On The Move, say the plain of Moytura is between Cross and the Neale (That is between Ballirnobe and Shrule).
Anglo-Normans in The West
English involvement in Ireland goes back a very long way. Norman-Welsh "adventurers" arrived in Ireland in 1169 during the reign of Henry II of England. They were relatively successful at subduing the local chieftains. Henry II came to Ireland in 1170 at which time he assumed the Lordship of the country. These events did not immediately have much effect on the remote west of Ireland and did not impact Ballinrobe until about a 100 years later.
Anglo-Norman invasion of the west did not begin until 1227.
William deBurgo, one of the Norman conquerors of Ireland, was awarded a land grant in Connacht (the area that now includes County Mayo) in 1216 by Henry II. William's son, Richard deBurgo built a castle near Galway City in 1232. By 1237 Richard and his allies were in control of most of Connacht. Richard, himself, took control of the rich lowlands of central Mayo and Galway. The Normans were successful in their military conquest but culturally the Irish won. A hundred years after the conquest the Anglo-Normans had intermarried with the native population and were indistinguishable from the Gaels in dress, language, and customs. DeBurgos became Burkes. The name Walsh (meaning Welsh or Breton) arrived in the area at this time. The name was probably given to several (or even many) of the soldiers in the army of Richard deBurgo.
The descendents of Richard deBurgo were divided into several factions who controlled most of the west of Ireland until the late 16th century. In 1570 Sir Edward Fitton, the newly appointed President of Cannacht, led an army against the Mayo Burkes. An indecisive battle was fought at Shrule. It was around this time that Cannacht was divided into shires on the English system and County Mayo was formed. In 1585 the Composition of Connacht established a yearly rent which put revenue in the Queen's coffers (Elizabeth I). Land holders charged their tenents fixed and regular rents. The area continued to be the site of regular rebellions against the crown until 1601. There was a relative period of peace in Mayo between 1601 and 1641. However, during the reign of James I (1603-1625) Mayo was called the home of "the most barbarous and dangerous people in all Ireland" who were "much given to idleness".
The English tried to introduce a plantation system in Mayo between 1634 and 1641. In 1635 an inquisition, at which landlords had to come forward and prove title to the land, showed that the bulk of the land was held in small parcels by several thousand landholders. The majority of them were descendents of the Anglo-Normans who had settled in the county after the conquest in the 13th century. The remaining land was held by Galway merchants and others who owned large tracts of land. The county had gradually been split into two groups: large landholders and tenents. The large landholders were increasingly becoming more Anglicized and Protestant. The tenants were mostly Roman Catholic.
The antagonisms between the Church in Rome and the new Protestant religions that had racked all of Europe effected Ireland as well. The ruling class of Irish Roman Catholics fearing that if the Protestants won in England their religion would be repressed in Ireland, rebelled against the increasing Protestants leadership in 1641. There were massacres of Protestant settlers. One of the many massacres that occurred during these troubled times took place in Shrule when a group of Protestants fleeing Mayo for the safety of a fort in Galway were killed by their escort.
The Catholic ruling class succeeded in gaining control of much of the island for a while.
Cromwell and the Arrival of the Protestants
Oliver Cromwell was a commoner who ruled England between 1649 and 1660. He was instrumental in bringing the civil war in England to an end. In 1649 he turned his army on Ireland. Cromwell, a fanatical Protestant, was in Ireland for nine months and ruthlessly slaughtered every Catholic he could find. In Wexford he killed the townspeople as well as the garrison. Cromwell returned to England in May 1650. His troops fought on. When the hostilities were finally over in 1652 Cromwell's government awarded land to the soldiers who had fought to subdue the Irish and to adventurers who had loaned the government money to carry on the fight. In August 1652 the English parliament passed the Act of Settlement which was designed to punish the Irish for the rebellion. 80,000 Irishmen were condemned to death and surrendered their estates to compensate the Commonwealth's creditors. In the end only several hundred were executed. Others, considered less guilty, gave up their land and were either banished from Ireland or resettled elsewhere in the country. Depending on the level of their guilt they were awarded estates that were normally one third to two third of the value of their original property. No Irish were to be settled in port towns in the west or within four miles of the sea or of the river Shannon. Connacht was reserved for the Irish Catholics. Cromwell stated that the Irish Catholics would go "to hell or to Connacht". The Protestants were to be given land in other providences. This, however, proved difficult as there was not enough land to go around. The land settlement was chaotic everywhere in Ireland and Mayo was no exception. Around 200 land grants, totaling about 52% of the profitable acreage in Mayo, were given to people from elsewhere in Ireland. Some baronies had as much as 70% of their profitable land granted to the transplants. This resettlement marked the end of the old order of landlords in Mayo.
The period that followed was one of transition. Under Charles II who took the crown when Cromwell fell in 1660, some of the land was returned to the original landlords. There appears to have been some shifting of control with a significant number of pre 1641 landholders still in control of the land by the turn of the century. There were also many formerly Catholic landholders who converted to Protestantism.
The Arrival of the Potato and the Increase in Population
The mid 1600s was also the period that the potato arrived in Ireland. It had at been brought to Europe by the Spanish in the 1500. No one knows exactly how it came to Ireland. By 1663 it was an established field crop in Ireland.
The Peasant in the 1700s and Early 1800s
Almost nothing is said about the common people who lived in the west and how they survived the periods of war with its repercussions of desease and the ruination of crops and livestock. Other than fish, which was plentiful in the many streams, they may have grown barley and oats before the introduction of the potato.
By the end of the 17th century many of the people who controlled the land in Mayo were interested in the profits they could gain from it. They did not seem to have any type of established patron/client relationship with their tenants. There were few relatively prosperous small farmers. The early 1700s saw small farmers who were lease holders with no real claim to the land. They were subject to rent raises and evictions by landlords who wanted to turn the land over to more profitable uses like grazing. The tenants responded to these forced evections by maiming, killing, and stealing livestock and ruining and stealing crops. In the second week in January 1712 three hundred head of cattle were reportedly killed in Mayo.
Things were very bad for the tenant class thought most of the first half of the 1700s. There was famine in Ireland in 1729-29 and 1740-41. The harvest was very bad in 1744 and 1756-57. Studies show that there were fluctuations in the population in the first half of the century. The rises and fall, however, ended up with a 42% increase between 1706 and 1753. This period corresponded to the beginnings of a cash based market oriented economy that was quite healthy by the end of the century.
The Byrnes, Feeneys, Langans, Naughtons, and Walshes were, almost certainly, among these small tenant farmers in the area.
The population grew rapidly in the later part of the 1700s and the early part of the 1800s. Many Mayo farmers worked communal plots with whole villages sharing the most and least profitable land equally. Many families had a cow, a horse, and/or a few sheep and these were also grazed communally. Pigs and poultry were also raised. The small farmers grew barley, oats, flax, and potatoes. The economy of Mayo appears to have been relatively good in the latter part of the 1700 and the first few years of the 1800s. However, as the population grew: the arable land was further divided among more people, the small but significant flax industry in Mayo died, and the potato had become the major crop grown by the small farmers. While the potato feed the family, it did not pay the rent and by the 1830s many small farmers had become "poor tenants" and were having difficulty paying the rent. The major commodity in Mayo was labor. However, there wasn't enough demand to employ all the available workers so many labourers would travel to England and Scotland for the harvest season. This provided income to pay the rent. Because the potato could feed so many so economically the population continued to grow. Before the major Famine hit in the mid 1800s, there was near failure of the potato crop in 1816, 1822, 1831 and 1835. Yet by 1845 almost 30% of the cultivated land in Mayo was used to grow potatoes.
See Potato now or at the bottom of the page.
The Night Of The Big Wind
In early January 1839 Ireland was hit by very unusual weather. On the evening of Saturday the fifth there was a heavy snow fall. The next morning the temperature rose to well above the seasonal norm and the snow quickly melted. By afternoon a cold front swept in off the Atlantic bringing high winds, heavy rains and hail. The thunder was loud and the lightning impressive. By Sunday night the winds had reached gale force. By midnight they were blowing at hurricane force and remained that way until morning. Gale force winds continued until Monday evening. "The Night of the Big Wind" became the subject of Irish myth; stories of what happened during the storm have been handed down for generations. For many years time was marked by things that happen before or after that famous night. A great deal of damage was done in County Mayo and other parts of Ireland. Almost every thatched house lost its roof. Slates went flying from slate roofed houses. Fires broke out and houses were destroyed. Hundreds of people were left homeless. There does not appear to have been much lost of live, but many people and animals were injured. Stacks of hay and wheat were scattered in the fields, ruined beyond recovering by the rain which caused it to rot. Stone walls blew over. Sheep in the mountains were blown over cliffs. Sea water blew inland for many miles carrying with it fish and seaweed. One Mayo landlord lost 70,000 trees felled by the storm. The storm caused great hardship for everyone. But, as usual, the tenant was the hardest hit as he, not the landlord, was responsible for replacing the roof on the house.
The Great Famine in Ballinrobe and Shrule
Famine had hit Ireland numerous times before The Great Famine of 1845-1848. The first major crop failure of the "Great Famine" occurred in 1845 due to potato blight. About a third of the crop was lost. The blight returned in 1846. About three quarters of the crop was lost in 1846. The crop of 1847 did not fail but was meager due to several causes including fevers and diseases that raged through the population. The crop of 1848 failed.
For a more detailed history of the Irish dependency on the potato and the Great Famine of 1845-1848 go to Famine now or at the bottom ot the page.
I cannot find much about the first two years of the famine in Ballinrobe and Shrule. It is mentioned that there were other crops in the area that enabled most of the population to get through the first two years and that many landlords were tolorant of late rent through most of 1846-47.
1847 was called "The Black '47"
"when conditions were terrible and the number of deaths from starvation and famine were frightening"Several web sites quote the report from Dr. Pemberton of Ballinrobe:
"The epidemic fever which commenced in the workhouse of this Union, the latter end of February 1847, was brought into it by a strolling mendicant from a distant locality, who sought and obtained shelter there with the fever on him, and where he died in a few days. This fever spread rapidly amongst the inmates of the workhouse, who were fully prepared to receive the infection, from the filthy state of the house, yards and sewerage, and also from the number of human beings - men, women and children - that were huddled together in the same rooms (probationary Wards) eating, drinkind, cooking and sleeping in the same apartment, in their clothes, without even straw to lie on, or a blanket to cover them. All the officers of the instutution were simultaneously attacked by it in its most virulent form. The physician, master, matron, R C Chaplain, and clerk, were lying in the disease at the same time, the physician, master and clerk dying."Note: Dr. Pemberton died of cholera in May 1849. See Ballina Chronicle below. By June, 1847 fever and dysentery were raging in Ballinrobe.
Disease was not class conscious, as Dr. Pemberton noted the physician, master and clerk died along with the peasant inmates of the Ballinrobe workhouse. In September 1847 Dr. Lavelle of Shrule also died of the fever.
The Reverend Phew wrote to the commissioners January 8, 1848 that the poor starving people of Shrule were
"almost neglected by the vice-Gardians of this Union. About three or four hundred of the most destitute families of this division have crawled to Ballinrobe (a distance of 10 or 12 miles) every Friday for the last month, seeking admission to the workhouse or outdoor relief."He continued:
"and yet though they remained each day until night, standing in wet and cold at the workhouse door, craving for admission, they have got no relief and I do now most solemnly assure you that, but for a few shillings which I used to distribute to buy bread to enable their poor families to return home very many of them would have died by the road-side whilst returning from Ballinrobe. Six poor creatures who have been dragged to Ballinrobe in this manner, have died in this electoral division this week, and I am greatly afraid that treble that number will meet the same awful death before this day week."Note: The Rev Phew quote is available on numerous web sites
In 1848 people thought the worst was over. The potato crop was supposed to be abundant. There was an "air of optimism". (The Bridge)
While there were large numbers on outdoor relief the numbers on indoor relief in July 1848 was low (about 800) and the numbers of deaths were "as low as one and not more than seven a week". (The Bridge) However the harvest turned out to be bad and the numbers in the workhouse soared to 1,600 and "continued to increase throughout the winter". (The Bridge). By March it stood at 2,000. The figures did not fall below 1,000 until 1853. (The Bridge).
In the "summer of 1848 more than 50,000 people were in receipt of Poor Law outdoor Relief in the Ballinrobe Union Area" (The Bridge).
Note: The Ballinrobe Poor Law Union covered an area of 298 square miles that included the towns and Electoral Districts of: Ballinrobe, Castlebar, Cong Hollymount, Kilmain, Mayo, Partry, Robeen, and Shrule (among others) in county Mayo and also Baoghholla and Ross in County Galway.
Several web sites have the following about the Ballinrobe Workhouse and related facilities:
"Between the end of 1848 and beginning of August 1849 the Guardians "recorded one thousand deaths on their premises, workhouses, Auxiliary workhouses, Fever Hospitals and Fever Sheds". In one week there were 136 deaths."Note:This does not take into accounts death in the general population that were not in the workhouses and related institutions.
While the tenants were in such dire shape and could not meet their rents several local landlords took the opportunity to evict on a large scale. The most notorious in the area was Lord Lucan. See Lord Lucan under Landlords now or at the bottom of the page.
Although most sources give the date of the Great Famine as 1845-1848 things were still very bad in Ballinrobe in 1849 as hunger, evictions, and disease continued.
The Ballina Chronicle, Wednesday, May 2, 1849
"A "gentleman" from Ballinrobe writes in partHe added that the town and neighborhood was in
"a most filthy state, heaps of loathsome stuff are to be seen in all directions"Yet some must have had the money to buy delicacies as the followin add was run the same day:
CONFECTIONERY AND ITALIAN WAREHOUSE, AND COMMERCIAL INN, KNOX'S STREET, BALLINA MICHAEL FOLEY, Having received very encouraging support since his commencement in this business, respectfully announced that he continues to be supplied with every article connected with the Confectionery and Italian Warehouse Department. The Confectionery is entrusted to the care of a parson possessing first rate abilities and who has had the superintendence of one of the principal establishments in the Metropolis for some years. The following is a list of articles, the quality of which cannot be excelled:- CAKES Bread and butter pudding, (Made to order) Pound cake, PIES Seed cake, Rhubarb pies, Queen cake, Apple pies, Anglesey cake, Cherry pies, Penny Plumb cake, Currant pies, Lemon cake Gooseberry pies, Chester cake, Mutton pies, Sponge cake, Lam pies, Quaker cake, Beefsteak pies, Toast cake, Mince pies, Trim cake, (Made to Order) Currant buns, JELLIES. Saffron bracks, Calves'-foot jelly, Barm bracks, Orange jelly Bath buns, Italian Cream, Coffee buns, Blanchmanch, Cavendish buns, (Made to Order) Adelaide buns, PASTRY Wedding & Christening Cakes Raspberry Puffs, and Fritter's cheese cakes, Tarts, Puffs, &c,&c. (Made to Order) BISCUITS SALLITERNS as bespoke. Wellington biscuits, GROCERIES. Wines to tea biscuits, Coffee in packages, Lemon biscuits, Pickles and Sauces, Queen biscuits, Sugar Works of all descriptions, Rice biscuits, Cigars, Tobacco and Snuff. French biscuits, BEWLEY AND EVANS York biscuits, Lemonade, Finger biscuits, Ginger Draught, and Naples biscuits, Soda Waters. Saffron biscuits, PERFUMERY German biscuits, FANCY BREAD and BISCUIT BAKERY. Victoria biscuits, Best American Flour Shrewsberries. Chesuse's Macaroni GINGER BREAD Vermicelli, Italian gingerbread, Keller's Mixtures, Smith's gingerbread, Gellatine in Packages. Parliament gingerbread, Ginger nuts. PUDDINGS Orange pudding, Lemon pudding, Almond pudding, Custard pudding, Rice pudding, Ground rice pudding, Chancellor's pudding, Plum pudding, Sago pudding, Best Gloucester Cheese, Hames, Spices, &c. And Many Others Too Numerous to Mention. M.F. respectfully informs persons travelling that he can supply them with Breakfast, Luncheons, Dinners, &c. on the shortest notice. Well-sized BEDS. All orders punctually attended to.
The Ballina Chronicle, Wednesday, May 9, 1849
The Ballinrobe correspondent of the Constitution, under date Sunday morning last, writes:- Cholera has ceased in this unfortunate locality; but during its stay made awful ravages, few houses having escaped the contagion. It is wonderful "how few and far between" were the recoveries of persons once seized with the disease. Thank God, for the last day or two there has not been a single case in town.The Ballina Chronicle, Wednesday, May 16, 1849
DIED In Ballinrobe, on Wednesday last, of cholera, Dr. J.D. Pemberton, F.R.C.S.I., for many years medical officer of the Neale dispensary.The Ballina Chronicle, Wednesday, May 23, 1849
STATE OF BALLINROBEThe Ballina Chronicle Wednesday, May 30, 1849
"Queen Victoria entered the 31st year of her age on Thursday."The Ballina Chronicle Wednesday, June 27, 1849
From a report to the Times as to the working of the Irish Poor Law
As part of a letter to the Times the following figures were given for the numbers of people on in door reliefThe Victorian Web, Lord Lucan And The Potato Famine by Cecil Woodham Smith
"Terror seized Mayo. The people, ignorant, starving and terrified, clung desperately to the land. They could not be got rid of -- turned out of their cabins they took refuge with neighbours, or crept back in the night and hid in ditches. It was necessary to forbid any tenant to receive the evicted, on pain of being evicted himself; it was necessary to drive them out of the ditches; finally it was necessary to organise gangs, known as 'crow-bar brigades', to pull down cabins over the heads of people who refused to leave them. The Bishop of Meath saw a cabin being pulled down over the heads of people dying of cholera: a winnowing sheet was placed over their bodies as they lay on the ground, and the cabin was demolished over their heads. He administered the Sacrament for the dying in the open air, and since it was during the equinoctial gales, in torrents of rain."The Brynes, Feeneys, Langans and Walshes During The Great Famine
On of the worst years of the travail was 1848.
John Walsh born in 1827 was 21 years old in 1848. Fanny Feeney born circa 1842 was 6. Mathias Langan Senior's age is not known. His wife, Margaret, was about 24 and their three known children, Pat, Mathias, and Bridget were small children. Their exact dates of birth are not known but they would have been about four years to ten years old. I do not know where any of them were living during the famine years.
Michael Byrne was about 59, his wife Nappy was about 35. They had Peter age 17, Nappy age 13, Winny age 10 , Thomas age 8, Margaret age 4 and Honor born in 1846 (the second year of the famine!). The Brynes lived in Mocharra a rural townland in Shrule parish.
How did they survive and what horrors did they live through? Did they suffer extreme hunger? Did they survive fevers? Were there deaths in their families? Did some family members emigrated and send money back to help them through? There are numerous stories of women left along with their young children while the husbands went to England in search of work. Was this true for the Byrnes, Feeneys, Langans and Walshes and their extended families? Certainly with death, hunger, and uncertainty surrounding them on ever side their lives were very trying.
It is impressive that the Langans and Byrnes had so many young children who survived the hardships of the times.
For more information on the Great Famine see The Famine now or at the bottom of the page.
After the Famine large farmers prospered but the fragile economies of the smaller farmers was devastated. County Mayo, the third largest county, was one of the most impoverished areas of the country.
There were many other years of hardship after the really tough years of 1845 to 1849. There were poor harvests in 1877-1879, 1884, and 1887 and the potato crop failed completely in 1897-98. In addition there was decreasing demand for agricultural produce and falling prices caused additional hardship for the tenant farmer.
The area around Ballinrobe and down to Shrule was part of the central narrow corridor of Mayo that included the best pasture and tillage land in the county. Most of the peripheral area is covered with bog. This corridor begins near Killala and Ballina in the north of Mayo, widens out to include the area between Westport and Castlebar and continues south to the Galway and Roscommon borders.
Most of Mayo's larger towns are located in this corridor. It had the best roads and was the area first serviced by the railroads beginning in 1860. The towns were the center of commerce and government administration. The importance of the towns grew after the Famine as the country moved to a market economy.
English/Irish landlords in Mayo made more money raising livestock than renting land to poor tenants farmers who were frequently in arrears in their rent payments, consequently the area was one of high depopulation due to the eviction of tenants as landlords tried to consolidate their holdings immediately following the Famine.
In addition to the masses that emigrated during the famine, post famine emigration from the west was high due to lack of sufficient land to support everyone.
|Examples from the area of Ballinrobe where the Walshes and Lanhans lived show the devastating rate of depopulation in the area.|
It should be kept in mind that people fleeing the total devastation of the famine in the
countryside headed for the towns in hope of employment and/or food, so some area of the
countryside may have suffered more than the town of Ballinrobe. See
Ballinrobe now or at the bottom of the page.
I have not been able to establish who emigrated among the Byrnes, Naughtons, Langans and Walshes before the known emigrations of the 1880s and 1890s which included: at least two of the children of Thomas Byrne and Mary Biggins Byrne of Moharra, the entire family of Mathias and Nappy Langan, and a majority of the children of John Walsh.
The normal pattern was for two or three children to remain at home with the parents and for the rest of the children to emigrate. The Byrnes and Walshes followed this pattern. The Langans were a real exception, not only because the whole family immigrated, but because Mathias Langan returned to Ireland to live out his later years.
When They Came and When they Left
Some Walsh ancestor arrived in Ireland with the armies of the deBurgos in the 13th Century. I believe that all of the descendants of John Walsh and Fanney Feeney left in the Ballinrobe area by the turn of the 20th Century.
By virtue of the name the Byrnes where descendents of Broen, the King of Leinster, who died in 1052 . The name was prominent in Irish history, especially in the resistance to English conquest. They continued to elect chiefs of their clans until the end of the sixteenth century and were prominent in the 1798 insurrection. Byrne is now one of the most numerous names in Ireland, although the name is less common in the west than in the area around Dublin. This does not of course explain either how or when our branch of the Byrnes ended up in Mochara in Shrule, Parish where there are still Byrnes today.
Feeney, Langan, and Naughton are all Connacht names indicating that they were probably in the area from an early date.
I do not think Fanny Feeney's family was from Ballinrobe. She may have been the only member of her family to live there.
I don't know where the Langans came from either. All of the descendents of Mathias Langan the younger left Ballinrobe and immigrated to America. The descendants of his sister, Bridget Langan Feerick may still be in the area.
None of the names are among the landlord class.
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|Lord Lucan under Landlords|
|Mathias Langan, Senior (dob unknown, died before 1867, Ireland)|
|Mathias Langan, Junior (1841-1920 Ireland)|
|The Byrnes of Mohorra, Shrule Parish|
|John Walsh (c. 1827-1894, Ireland)|
|Joseph Walsh, son of John Walsh and Fanny Feeney|
|Children of John Walsh and Fanny Feeney in New York City|
|Fanny Feeney, wife of John Walsh (1842-1892, Ireland)|