The final part of my abandoned Irish buildings series focuses on The Grange, a detached property in County Monaghan, Ireland. As with the other buildings I have explored, the history of The Grange is reflective of a different part of Irish social history. This building was home to my Great Grandmother for over 40 years.
A History of Corragarry
Corragarry is the name of the townland where The Grange is located. It is easier to think of a townland as the Irish equivalent of a street, except as this is the rural countryside a townland covers a much wider area with fewer houses.
Corragarry lies between the parishes of Aghabog and Ematris in County Monaghan. It is situated near the towns of Newbliss (about 5 miles away) and Ballybay (about 14 miles away), slightly further away is the large town of Castleblayney (about 22 miles away). A significant feature of Corragarry is its proximity to Northern Ireland, the border is only 7 miles away and this will feature prominently in the history of The Grange. Monaghan is one of the nine counties which form the region known as Ulster. However in 1921/22 Ulster split, when Monaghan and Cavan became part of the Irish Republic and the other six counties remained part of the United Kingdom, under British Rule. The legacy of this can even be felt in both Ireland and Northern Ireland today.
After the “Nine Years War” (1594-1603) between the British and the Irish, Ulster ceased to be the most Gaelic part of Ireland, as it had previously been beyond British control. King James I of England (he was also King James VI of Scotland) decided to introduce the migration of English and Scottish Protestants to Ulster to ‘colonise’ the area from the Irish Catholics. To encourage this he rewarded his loyal followers with huge estates of land in the counties of Ulster, it became known as the “Plantation of Ulster”
The 1640s was a particularly turbulent time in Ireland due to rebellions led by the Irish Catholics against the English and Scottish and reprise attacks by the British army, also there was fighting amongst the colonists during the English Civil War (1648-49). Despite this plantations in Ulster continued, especially from Scotland in the 1690s after a famine. Most of the Scottish settlers were Presbyterian, a denomination of Christianity which branched off from Protestantism in the 16th century.
This is where we meet the Dickson (sometimes recorded as Dixon) Family, who owned land in Corragarry for almost 200 years.
The Dickson Family
The first recorded Dickson at Corragarry is Thomas Dickson (c.1715-1784), whether or not he was born in Scotland and moved over or if he was the son of Scottish migrants is unknown, however he was certainly in Monaghan in the 18th century. His son was also named Thomas (c.1740-1810) and he in turn had a son, Thomas (1790-1849). The family are recorded as members of the Presbyterian church in Cahans as early as 1758. The family later worshipped at Drumkeen Presbyterian Church, where they were very prominent members. They had their own private box pew and the family grave is located on its own outside the front of church.
Thomas Dickson (1790-1849) married Jane Bryson (1791-1884) and it was under this couple that the Dickson family farm flourished and they became quite successful and wealthy. Their son John (1814-1903) inherited the farm, he married Sarah McEndoo (1821-1901) and they had eight children: Thomas, Matilda, Margaret Jane, John George, James, Robert, Elizabeth and Sarah Ann.
Three of their children left Ireland to pursue new lives abroad. Their eldest son Thomas left for America, supposedly to be a gold miner. His brothers James and Robert both went to England where James was a surgeon and Robert owned a drapery business. As the only remaining son, John George Dickson inherited the farm. Matilda and Elizabeth both married leaving Sarah Ann (1862-1943) as the only daughter at home to care for her elderly parents. After their death she lived with her brother John George and his family, as often spinsters of the late 19th and early 20th century had little rights and were dependent on male relatives.
It is evident from old Ordnance survey maps (see above) and the 1901 census that there was two Dickson homesteads, one were the John and Sarah and their daughter lived and the other where John George and his family lived. After the death of his parents in 1901 and 1903 respectively, John George set about building a new home ‘The Grange’. It was much larger than the previous houses, in fact it was the biggest house in Corragarry.
It was double fronted with nine rooms inside and it featured a slate roof. The farm had at least 10 outbuildings including two stables, a cow shed, piggery and fowl house. Inside it was decorated with pretty wallpapers (see below), panelled window frames, a tiled hall and cornices.
As is evident from these surviving decorative features from their house, the Dickson family was a wealthy farming family. Indeed they even employed three domestic servants; a housemaid and two men as farm servants. In the 1911 census three servants are recorded as living with John George Dickson (1851-1930) his wife Sarah (1866-1954) and their children James (1898-1988), John (1899-1943), Hannah (1901-1974), Margaret Edith (1903-1940) and Alice (1908-15).
On 28th September 1912 John George Dickson, his wife Sarah and his sister Sarah Ann all went to their local church at Drumkeen and there they signed Edward Carson’s “Ulster Covenant”. This was a petition to the British Government from the people of Ulster (and beyond) declaring their loyalty to the British Crown and their objection to the potential Home Rule Bill which would have allowed Ireland its own parliament in Dublin.
The Dickson’s signatures are listed with the half a million others who signed the petition and it infers the Dickson’s saw themselves as British subjects, despite their families living in Ireland for generations. The Ulster Covenant was really the first organised mass ‘unionist’ movement and it set in motion events that would lead to the Easter Rebellion of 1916 and the eventual independence of Ireland and the Civil War of the early 1920s.
The Grange: 1920-1988
My own family connection with The Grange starts in the early 1920s when my Great Grandmother Bridget McGrath (1903-1975) went to work there as a domestic servant. Bridget was the youngest daughter of a small farming family towards Castleblayney.
Bridget worked for the Dickson family for over forty years, almost her entire adult life. After the death of John George Dickson, his eldest son James took control of the farm. In 1934 he married Isabella Armstrong but the couple never had any children. Despite this the house would have been busy as James, his wife, his mother, his aunt, two male farm servants and Bridget were all living at the property, in this arrangement, until the 1940/50s.
On my trip to Ireland in 2011 I was shown around The Grange by an elderly man who 86 years old and a life long neighbour of the Dickson family. He told me what each room looked like as he remembered it and described the sort of life Bridget would have had. Not only was she responsible for the domestic duties in the house, such as cleaning, cooking, washing clothes, fetching water. She was also responsible for milking the cows and feeding the livestock. In her old age Bridget suffered from severe arthritis which made it impossible for her to work for the Dickson’s any longer, no doubt it was caused from decades of hard, physical labour.
Another neighbour I interviewed in 2014 had this to say of Bridget:
” She was a faithful person. She was very very bad with arthritis, she was trying to help Mrs Dickson all she could and her not able. She was too faithful, she was more than faithful to them, more than she ever would have got credit for or maybe thanks for.”
The reason Bridget had such a devotion to the Dickson’s was due to her social situation. Rather shockingly for the time, especially as an Irish Catholic woman, Bridget was a single mother. What is even more amazing is that she had four illegitimate children,with an unknown person between 1923-1944, one of which was my Grandfather. Of course it was a hard life for Bridget and she had to give her children up to foster parents when they were still tiny children. For some reason, perhaps out of pity, the Dickson’s kept Bridget employed despite the pregnancies and the whole issue it seems was kept hidden and certainly never talked about.
It must be noted that James Dickson had a reputation locally as a hard man. For example he would sit facing the congregation at Church rather than facing the pulpit and neighbours have said he was not liked much. However he did show kindness to Bridget, when she was unable to attend mass he would invite the Priest to The Grange for her and towards the latter years of her time at The Grange, she would accompany the Dickson’s when they visited friends etc.
Mrs. Isabella Dickson passed away in 1971. Bridget went to live with her niece, where she did reconnect with her children, even though they had moved to England in the 1950/60s. She passed away in 1975. James Dickson lived to the age of 90, in the end he slightly modernised The Grange by installing electricity and a plumbing. Ever since his death the house has been abandoned, its decorative features ripped out and it sits sadly in the middle of farmland.
The Grange is another abandoned house that reflects yet another social class that existed in Ireland in the 19th and early 20th centuries. From the lives I have explored through these abandoned buildings, the hidden histories behind them have been revealed and have shown the rich social history of Ireland through its fractured class system and its religious and political turmoil. Moreover when you look beyond brick and mortar you rediscover the amazing lives that ordinary people, our own ancestors, lived and these building are a lasting legacy of them.
- Ulster Covenant – https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/services/search-ulster-covenant
- Old Map of Ireland – http://maps.osi.ie/publicviewer/#V2,560831,852155,3,8
- Census records – http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/
- David Nesbitt, The Drumkeen Story: A story of Aghabog Presbyterians 1803-2003, (Ballybay, Co. Monaghan: Cahans Publications, 2003)
- Robert Kee, Ireland: A History, (London: Weidenfield and Nicholson, 1981)
- Unpublished audio recording, 4 April 2014