This next series of blog posts will focus on three abandoned historic buildings in Ireland that were once homes to Irish families and they reflect the influence of the nineteenth and twentieth century Irish class systems in architecture. Significantly they were all homes to different generations of my ancestors.
Irish Place names
That rather long title is the name of the first abandoned historical homestead that I am researching. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Ireland mapped their cities, towns and villages differently to England. Most places were defined by their parish, as in most parts of what is now the Republic of Ireland, the Catholic Church was dominant. It must also be remembered that until 1922 all 32 counties of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom and under British rule.
Therefore Irish addresses are recorded a little differently in historical records. Very few censuses survive for Ireland with the exception of the 1901 and 1911 censuses and fragments of the 1821,1831 and 1851 censuses. This is due to historical decisions regarding their safe keeping (for example some were pulped for paper during WWI) and others destroyed in the Four Courts fire in 1921.
Apart from big towns and cities, most Irish properties did not have house numbers. This is because the largely rural nation was made up of small villages and each family would be known to each other. Therefore “Aughbee” is the name of the house/farm in this blog post. Curaheen in the name of the ‘townland’ which is another name basically for the street or country lane it was on.The nearest village was Silvermines and the whole area was in the parish of Killoscully, in the Barony of Owney and Arra and the poor law union of Nenagh, the nearest big town.
Aughbee has existed since at least the early 1840s, when my Great Great Great Grandparents John and Margaret Grace moved here from the near by parish of Newport. John (1800-1885) and Margaret (1803-1883) had eight children. Their eldest children; Sarah, Mary, Robert, Jude and John were all born in the parish of Newport. My Great Great Grandmother Bridget (1842-1917) was the first child to be born at Aughbee, shortly followed by Margaret and Michael.
The Grace family managed to survive the famine of 1845-49 and prospered after. Between 1847-1864 the first ever property tax survey was carried out in Ireland. The ratings given in this valuation was used to calculate local taxation until the 1970s. Tenants of landlords who had property valued at less than £5 were exempt from taxation and the Landlord had to pay this. Notoriously this led to many landlords evicting poorer tenants to avoid this cost, which in turn led to the Land Wars of the 1880s.
The survey, commonly known as Griffith’s Valuation and Land survey was taken in Curraheen in 1850. It shows us that John does not rent his land and uncommonly for the time he actually owns it himself. Moreover the document shows us that John also owns several smaller pieces of land which it appears are for his sons, as shown in the document below where his sons names are recorded in brackets next to his own. In total he owns about 125 acres of land (see below).
The Kennedy Family
In 1879 Bridget Grace married Patrick Kennedy at Ballinahinch Parish Church, which was the local church for the family, located about 2.8 miles away. It is the same Church where Bridget was baptised and where later generations of the family would also worship. It seems amazing to modern eyes that they would walk that distance each Sunday to attend mass.
Margaret was a relatively old bride at 37 years of age when she married and she still lived with her parents at the farm. Patrick Kennedy must have been a younger son, as he had no land of his own, so instead the couple lived at Aughbee. Bridget and Patrick had a daughter Mary Margaret in 1880, followed by a son Thomas in 1881 (my great grandfather) and then three more daughters, all named Bridget (1883-85) (1885-86) (1887-89). Sadly each daughter died in infancy of diseases such as scarlet fever. At the same time in Britain working class patients of these diseases were being treated in specialist sanatoriums however in rural Ireland this simply were not an option. At the same time Bridget’s parents John and Margaret also passed away.
The 1901 census gives us a snapshot of the life of the Kennedy family at the turn of the century. In the three-roomed cottage is Patrick Kennedy a farmer, his wife Bridget and their two surviving children Mary aged 20 and Thomas aged 18. The original census form filled out by Patrick survives, however he did make some errors. Whether they are deliberate or not will remain unknown but he records his wife’s age as “46” despite the fact she was actually 59 at the time!
In 1909 Patrick Kennedy passed away and in the same year his daughter Mary Kennedy married, leaving just Bridget and Thomas at home at Aughbee. As Patrick had not left a will, Thomas had to go through probate to receive his father’s property, which included cows and calves to the value of £11 (about £787 in modern currency). The vast acres of farmland that John Grace had owned but divided for his sons now meant that Thomas Kennedy was left with only 4 acres of his grandfathers farm land.
In 1914 Thomas married Margaret Gleeson and they lived at Aughbee with Bridget until her death in 1917 at the age of 75, she had lived her whole life in the same house. Thomas and Margaret had several children, all born at home in the cottage. Bridget (1916) was the eldest followed by Patrick (1917-17), Mary (1920), Thomas (1921), Joseph (1923 my Grandfather), Margaret (1926), Denis (1928-28) and Ann (1930).
It is remarkable to think that all eight people fit into the three roomed cottage but this was normal for Ireland at the time. Aughbee at the time consisted of a main kitchen and living area with two rooms of either side of it. One room was the parlour, with the best furniture and reserved for important occasions and the other room was the bedroom. To overcome the crowded atmosphere, the Kennedy’s subdivided this room into two. Also as the cottage had quite a steep thatched roof, this had a platform put in over the kitchen where others could sleep too.
The Kennedy’s were a close and loving family. In 1936 when an operation to remove cancer left Margaret Kennedy blind, her husband Thomas dug up their vegetable patch and planted a vast flower garden so his wife could at least enjoy the smell of the foxgloves and Sweet Williams. Sadly Margaret passed away in 1944 at the age of 54, her family published a memorial in the local newspaper on her anniversary in the years that followed.
Unfortunately tragedy followed the family, the eldest daughter Bridget died in 1949 at the age of 33 and her father Thomas died in 1952. As the eldest surviving son, Thomas Kennedy inherited the house and farm. His younger siblings Ann and Joseph both left to start new lives in England and after having no children of his own to pass the property on to, Thomas sold the farm in the 1970s, after 130 years in the family possession.
The house was old-fashioned and run down and the new owners took out the fixtures and fittings and used the house at a cow shed. It has been abandoned ever since and the grass, weeds and brambles grew to such an extent that when I visited the former home of my ancestors in 2013, it took vigorous efforts of three people to cut a path through (see photo below)
Obviously Aughbee is a special place for my extended family and myself, as in one small cottage there has been over 130 years worth of history and memories.However more than this it reflects just one small example of the hundreds of abandoned cottages across Ireland which are no longer inhabited. Each, like Aughbee, has its own stories and each in turn reflects a little bit of the social history of Ireland.
- 1911 and other censuses of Ireland – http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/search/
- Griffiths Valuation and Land Survey – http://www.askaboutireland.ie/griffith-valuation/
- Photographs and Biographical information – Own Collection