Saturday, 8 November 2014

The O'Donoghues of Ballyduff - the story so far


By Rod O’Donoghue
Originally published June 2014
Click Family Tree for the O’Donoghue family tree and  for a map of the area

In the autumn of 2011, I discovered where our family came from, after twenty years of searching.  Since then I have made regular trips to north Kerry in pursuit of the story behind the raw data.  The time has come to bring all the strands together.  This will not be the last time, but it feels appropriate.  Consider this a status report!  As ever it will be a mix of fact and interpretation and will recap some of the material included in earlier blogs.  These blogs have detailed the analyses that have led to my interpretations, so I do not intend to repeat that work.  As background to their lives, I will endeavour to give insights into the history and conditions through which our ancestors lived.  My task is to make you feel what it would have been like to live through these times.
The earliest known characters in this tale are James Donoghue of Benmore and Ballyduff, born in the 1770s, and Julia(na) Boyle of Knockercreeveen; they are my generation’s ggggrandparents.  I have interpreted that James’s father was named Patrick.  Apparently any self-respecting Irish family in times gone by would have been able to relate their family tree for seven generations back; I fail, as I can only go back six, but my children conform!
Benmore/Ballyduff is a townland in the civil parish of Rattoo in the barony of Clanmaurice in the county of Kerry.  It lies in the Catholic parish of Causeway.  There is a glossary at the end of this article to give you background to these Irish land divisions.
I suggest you print the family tree and map so that you can follow the story with more understanding.
Arrival in north Kerry

Their names are unknown but it seems likely that our earlier ancestors moved up to north Kerry from the Killarney area in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries.  It is also possible that they were descendants of an ancient O’Donoghue tribe from many centuries earlier, but if I was to place a bet it would be on the former case. They were probably living in the northern barony of Iraghticonnor in the RC parish of Lisselton, which became Ballydonoghue, or over the border in the county of Limerick.  At some point they moved south into Clanmaurice barony; in 1659 there were no O’Donoghues living there.
The eighteenth century

Much of the living conditions described here would have applied until the middle of the nineteenth century, when many of our ancestors left Ireland.
A clear class system existed.  At the top were the landlords and their agents.  Next came the professional people, government officials and shopkeepers in towns and various levels of tenant farmers in the countryside.  Those farmers with small holdings were no better off than agricultural labourers.  Four out of five had less than 15 acres and half of those less than five.

A simple barter approach operated in trade.  An agricultural labourer would do work for the tailor, weaver, blacksmith and priest etc in return for their services. 
In the middle of this century, Patrick [I] Donoghue and his family lived in the townland of Benmore.  They were Roman Catholics which made them subject to the Protestant English Penal Laws; these were an attempt by the English parliament to convert the native Irish by making their historic religion an impediment to progress in life.  Patrick and his family were not wealthy but did have a certain status in the community as valued artisans/trades people.  They had no church to worship in and had to follow their faith through the offices of wandering priests who held the services in the open air.  If caught, the priest would have been executed.

The Stoughtons, the main landlords in the area, were, however, of a less bigoted nature and allowed the building of a Catholic timber church in what was to become Ballyduff village in the eighteenth century. 
The family would have been Gaelic speaking and would have recognised their name as Ó Donnchú (short for Ó Donnchadha).  The Penal Laws were trying to drive out the historic traditions in the greater proportion of the population (over 90% of whom were Catholic).  An outcome of this was the dropping of the Ó by many people including our family.  It was not put back on until they had moved to Poplar.
The family almost certainly had enough land to be self-sufficient as far as food was concerned, although it was a very limited diet of potatoes and milk, some vegetables but little meat unless they killed one of their own few animals.  Living so close to the sea and the River Cashen one would have thought that fish would have figured as well but I have been told that few could have afforded the equipment necessary to catch them.  Perhaps a few herrings might have been purchased on occasions.  The only luxuries would have been alcohol, soap and tobacco.  The women smoked as well as the men. 
The major industry in north Kerry (apart from farming) was the growing of flax and the weaving of cloth for ship sails, army tents, clothing and bedding.  Milford House, Ballyduff was a major centre from the 1730s.

Clothing was homespun: men wore a shirt, knee breeches, a waistcoat, sometimes a tailcoat or overcoat with a hat; women, a petticoat, midi-dress and a hooded cloak or shawl.  Sundays were for dressing up.  Apparently both men’s and women’s clothes were brightly coloured.  Shoes were a luxury, very often only worn on Sundays for church or big celebrations.  They would be carried to a point near the church or other venue and only put on at the last moment.  In fact I have been told that children still went to school barefoot until the 1960s.

There is a picture in the Ballyduff Magazine of a Mrs Margaret O’Donoghue still wearing a hooded shawl in 1990.  Apparently Ballyduff women were known for wearing green shawls.  Her husband was not one of ours, at least not in the more immediate past.
Leisure was scarce but, when their lives allowed, people went to sports (weight-lifting, throwing, jumping, running), hurling games (which could turn into a real rough house known as a faction fight, very often between historically opposed families) and race meetings at Ballyeagh/Listowel.  The race meetings would generally coincide with a big fair with all sorts of activities but mainly trading.
Dancing was a Sunday evening pastime for the young people in the summer; certain cross-roads were the usual venues. The instruments were fiddles, uillean-pipes (the Irish bagpipe), bodhráns (like a tambourine), and accordions.  In winter, visiting houses was the pleasure with story-telling (perhaps with a visiting seanchaí) and card games.
Famine and disease were a constant hazard and life expectancy for children was low.  An extraordinary climatic shock, the ‘Great Frost’ struck Ireland and the rest of Europe between December 1739 and September 1741, after a decade of relatively mild winters. Its cause remains unknown but it caused severe famine. 

Patrick and his wife are thought to have had at least[ii] six children born in Benmore and probably more.  These children also had the majority of their offspring in the latter part of this century.  His son James is my generation’s ggggrandfather; James married Julia(na) Boyle.  They were both probably born in the 1770s.
The parish priest, Father Nelan, from 1786 to 1806 used to write pejorative comments against the entries in the register.  When he moved on, he destroyed his records so that no one would ever know what he had said.  Entries start in 1782.  We would have known so much more if those lost years had been available.

Hearthill or Knocknacree and Ballyduff
Cnoc na croí has been anglicised as Knocknacree, but it actually means the Hill of the Heart.  It was a clachán or cluster settlement of rather temporary dwellings which implies there was a larger farmhouse nearby, probably Rattoo.  These houses would have been made entirely of mud.

One of the ways the British army ‘recruited’ men was the press gang.  In 1805 a group of marauding British soldiers entered the village of Hearthill, just to the west of Benmore.  All the inhabitants, seeing them coming and recognising their intent, had hidden.  In their frustration the soldiers set fire to the village and left it devastated.
The villagers decided that rather than rebuilding Hearthill they would create a new village in Benmore townland and call it Baile Dubh (the dark town, in recognition of what had happened to their home) or Ballyduff.

It was positioned beside the ferry road (opened sometime between 1790 and 1800) which led down to the River Cashen.  This location was influenced by the landlord, Stoughton, who recognised that people could ply their trades and sell their wares on such a busy road and therefore meet their rental obligations.
This was the period of the Napoleonic wars, culminating in Waterloo in 1815. There followed an economic slump which lasted for two decades and was accompanied by a series of natural disasters.  In 1816-18, bad weather destroyed grain and potato crops and smallpox and typhus were rampant.

From the parish records, it appears our family was living in the adjacent townland of Benmore in the latter part of the eighteenth century.
Sylvester Donoghue and his family[iii]

Sylvester[iv] is, I believe, the eldest of Patrick’s children, but I cannot be sure for reasons already mentioned.  Let us say he is the oldest in the records.
Married to Mary Flahive, I have ‘found’ five children of this union.  Daughter, Ellen, was born in 1784 and married John Connor.  Between 1808 and 1832 this couple had at least seven children, the eldest of whom was Ellen, my generation’s gggrandmother, as she married James and Julia’s son Thomas[v].
Sylvester was of sufficient stature to have erected his own mausoleum in the historic Rattoo churchyard just outside Ballyduff.  The inscription says ‘Erected by Sylvester O’Donoghue for him and his posterity Anno 1820’ as in this picture.

I do not know how he afforded such a considerable expense but he clearly was a man of some means, derived, I surmise, from a trade/skill of some worth in the community.  It does not appear that they had any substantial land holdings for farming, so this is the only conclusion I can reach.  Just in front of Sylvester’s tomb is one for a John Lawlor dated 1819.  I wonder if these two were friends and Sylvester decided to follow John’s lead.  Behind Sylvester’s is a Boyle mausoleum, but with no originating name or date.

The Rattoo complex of great house, round tower, churchyard and ruined abbey was owned by the Gun family, the second largest landlord in the area.  This picture shows the churchyard today from the top of the tower.  Sylvester’s tomb is the second from the top on the left.  As we will see the O’Donoghues had a special relationship with the Guns.

The potato failed again in Munster in 1821, and people starved to death in Cork and Clare. 
But our O’Donoghues seem to have survived, as in 1825 Sylvester was occupying an acre of land[vi] on Chapel Land & Madegan’s Holding in Benmore.  Part of his land was dedicated to the adjacent church.  I have been told that there would have been a house on these plots.  His brother Bartholomew was nearby on another acre.  Between them was a John Connor who was almost certainly Sylvester’s daughter Ellen’s husband.  He also had an acre.  Sylvester’s son, Bartholomew, was on 6 acres in the east of the townland, which was a relatively small holding.

After 1825 there are no more mentions of Sylvester and his family or descendants.  What happened to them?

I restored Sylvester’s tomb earlier this year.  There are about six decayed coffins in it but who they were for remains a mystery.  These pictures show the tomb before and after.


This song ‘The Boys from Ballyduff’ was written by P.J. Sheehy on the occasion of the Ballyduff/Crossabeg All-Ireland Hurling final in 1891.  This is the first verse; you’ll find the full version here[vii]

Just a mile or thereabouts from the lordly Shannon mouth,
There's a spot to which none other I'd compare;
It's a village, not a town though her sons have gained renown,
For the Boys from Ballyduff are always there.

That’s us – a bit diluted by now I suppose…

In 1660 the population of the Ballyduff area is estimated at 300, by 1841 it had grown to 4000.  Much of this increase was due to immigration from the barony of Iraghticonnor to the north of Clanmaurice and also from across the Shannon in County Clare.

In Ballyduff village in 1831 there were 448 people, 79 families (41 families were in agriculture, 28 in ‘Tradesman structures – Handicraft’) and 68 inhabited houses (3 uninhabited).  By 1841 there were 331 people, down to 269 by 1851 and down again to 214 in 1861.  By 1881 there were only 101 people in the village.

The majority of the houses in 1841 were thatched.  Four annual fairs (cattle and horses) were held in the village and there was a police station and petty sessions were held every alternate week.  It was quite a substantial place.  It had a gravelly street, white washed thatched cottages and a village pump.

In the 1840s Ordnance Survey, Ballyduff, described as ‘one irregular street’, is said to have boasted two publicans, three shoemakers, one nailor, three tailors, two weavers and one carpenter.  They appear to have missed the smithy which appears on the 1841 map. 

This picture is of nearby Ballylongford in 1900s, but it is probable that Ballyduff looked much the same in the mid nineteenth century.  It does seem to follow the description above.

Historically in an Irish family there was a differentiation between the ‘place’ (or home place) where the original family home (perhaps a more substantial farmhouse, which would have been described in censuses as house, land & offices in land records) was occupied by the leading family member and the houses of the other ‘lesser’ family members.  This still applied after the English legal system was imposed but within the context of a landowner and tenant relationship.  These secondary family houses were of a short term, much less substantial nature.  There was also a difference between who was in the ‘place’ (ie long term person who owns/works farm) vs who was on the ‘place’ (short term from dowry or inheritance).

In the Ballyduff area the number of houses in each townland were at least four times the number of ‘places’ in the decades before the famine.  During the famine these less substantial houses reduced dramatically whereas ‘places’ hardly changed at all, suggesting, unsurprisingly, that greater substance led to an increased likelihood of survival.

I have not found any evidence of a ‘place’ (rather than a house) for our family other than perhaps the 6 acres in Farranedmond described later.  I do not think we were of sufficient substance for this differentiation to apply.

Birth rates increased dramatically from 1783-6 at 23.5 births per year to 110 in every year but one from 1833-46 and most would have been into the poorer sort of housing.

In 1841 some 58% of the people in the barony of Clanmaurice lived in mud cabins having just one room (thatched with straw or rushes), and 35% lived in mud cabins with two to four rooms and windows.  The cabins measured no more than fourteen feet by eighteen feet, rarely over seven feet high and with a fire in the middle of a mud floor ventilated through the wickerwork door.  Some shared their cabin with their livestock.

Beds were not used until the start of the nineteenth century. People slept on straw or rushes on the floor.  From the first decade of that century furnishings improved considerably with a table, a couple of chairs and a couple of beds. 
The church parish for our family was Causeway but in the adjacent parish of Listowel, 75% of the rural livers were in one-room mud cabins.  In the town it was 35%.  I suspect Ballyduff, as a sizeable village, would have been somewhere between these two numbers.  I have been told that Julia Donoghue would have lived in a thatched cottage, which I suspect would have had more than one room. 

A village of this sort would have had a strong tradition of hospitality and sense of community.
The two main landlords, in the later period, were Thomas Anthony Stoughton, whose tenanted farms were at least 10 acres (other than in the townlands of Lacka East, Leagh and Knoppoge South where some smaller acreages pertained) and Wilson Gun whose holdings ranged from half an acre to 7 acres.

Conditions in the period 1800-50

In 1800, Clanmaurice had 400 acres under potatoes with wheat 180; barley 150, oats 200; rape 100; rye 0.  For Iraghticonnor to the north the acreages were 400; 100; 150; 200; 100; 0.  While potatoes dominated, other crops were not insubstantial.  For the poorer tenants, however, potatoes were paramount.

Life was clearly a matter of survival for many.  In 1817-8 famine was widespread and in 1821-2 many died of starvation and it is said that of a county population of 230,000, 170,000 were destitute in 1821.  Further local famines happened in 1829-31, 1835-7, in 1839 and 1842. 
Throughout the early 1830s, cholera repeatedly ravaged the poorest classes, and, in the decade as a whole, the potato crop failed on a local level to some degree in eight out of the ten years. 1838 saw a savage winter, and ‘on the night of the big wind’, snow buried the cottages and cattle froze to death in the fields.  Finally, in 1840-1844, the potato crops partly failed three more times. Small wonder that the Irish should feel God had abandoned them. "There is a Distruction Approaching to Ireland", wrote one emigrant, "their time is nerely at an end" (sic).

Why such a dependence on potatoes?  An acre and a half of potatoes would provide a family of five with food for eleven months; to provide oatmeal to make porridge and bread for a similar size family would require six acres of oats.
From 1841-51 the population of Rattoo civil parish declined 75% and Killury 86%.  This was the period of the worst famine of them all in 1845-7, the agony not really being relieved until 1850.  1847 was the worst year.  Clearly the failure of the potato crop was the main reason, but it was overlaid on the population explosion described earlier which exacerbated the situation.  Apparently this was partly caused by parish priests encouraging early marriage in order to garner marriage fees.  However it seems clear that the policies of the English government were a major contributor to the unforgivable distress, other crops than potatoes being largely diverted to export markets.

People were reduced to eating nettles, grass, kale and even seaweed leading to dysentery and cholera.  Those who failed to survive the famine were generally very small landholders and labourers. People were dying all along the roads and were just buried in the adjacent fields.

Vast numbers of people fled from 1848 onwards, without any resources, to Britain and the USA; our family amongst them, as the O’Donoghue name virtually vanishes from Benmore and Ballyduff at this time.

A ticket to England cost five shillings (25p) or 2s 6d (half a crown or 12.5p).  But to get to America cost £5 which was beyond the means of the ordinary labourer.  So most of the early emigrants to the USA were tradesmen and strong farmers.  Does this explain why Thomas came to London?
Many landlords just left the people to their fate, staying on their estates in Britain.  Others went bankrupt as there was no labour to work their estates.  The three landlords of our area, Stoughton, Gun and Rice, behaved better than most according to local sources.  They did not go bankrupt and maintained good working relationships with their employees.

The local people were disillusioned, they thought bad times would never end.  Agriculture was going to tillage, and less horses were used.  People could not get a bit of land as landlords were consolidating and largely absent. 
James Donoghue and Julia(na) Boyle

 I do not know exactly when James and Julia(na) were married but it would have been around 1790 I imagine, as most people married in their teens.  Julia came from a nearby townland, Knockercreeveen, I believe.

Almost all marriages of property were arranged by the respective parents and the local priest or a professional matchmaker would finalise the details including how any property or dowry was to be handled.  Sometimes the couple would not meet each other until the wedding day or a day or two before.  As all our couples came from a close geographic area they probably knew each other, but the parents almost certainly fixed their marriages.  Whether our folk had enough property to fall into this pattern is hard to say, but I suspect that they did as well-regarded artisans/trades people.

A Kerry wedding was well supplied with food and drink and lots of music and dancing.   North Kerry weddings had an unusual characteristic.  ‘Straw-boys’ were uninvited guests who dressed up in helmets and gaiters of straw and joined in the fun.  They only received hospitality, however, if they entertained the wedding party.

Funerals were used to bring people for matchmaking.  A form of marriage proposal was ‘Do you want to be buried with my people?’

I do not know what James did for a living but Julia may have been a seamstress/dressmaker and perhaps ran a small shop in her cottage/house in the centre of the village.  She would have kept hens and ducks.

They had at least five children: Patrick, James, Mary, John and Thomas (b.1806) my generation’s gggrandfather about whom more later.

Patrick married Catherine Dee from Knoppoge and two children have been found, Mary (b.1823) and John (b.1826).  Prior to 1848 Patrick was living next to his mother in the village.  Then he and his family disappears.  I believe he came to London which will be the subject of a future blog.

James married Elizabeth Boyle from Ballincrossig and had Juliana, Ellen, Honora, Mary, Patrick between 1836 and 1847.   Prior to 1848 he was living alongside his brother, Thomas, my generation’s gggrandfather, in Farranedmond in the east of Benmore, and then he and his family vanish from the records.

Mary married Thomas Ryle and they had Juliana, Michael, James, Ellen, Thomas between 1840 and 1852.  They lived in the village near to Julia until she died and then they took over her cottage.

John married Joanna Boyle from Sleveen and they had Juliana, James and Mary between 1840 and 1845.  I have been told that this brother was shot trying to escape British soldiers, possibly during the rebellion of 1848.

James, my generation’s ggggrandfather, died before 1848 and possibly as early as the 1820s as his name does not appear on the 1825 land records.  His corpse would have been ‘waked’ with relatives and friends visiting the house during day and night to receive hospitality according to the means of the family.  If James and Julia were comfortably off, she would have provided drink, tobacco, clay-pipes and snuff in the kitchen and the ladies were taken into ‘the room’ for tea and gossip.  Unless the death was particularly tragic the ‘keening women’ would not have appeared until the removal of the remains to the church and the burial in the churchyard.

Where was he buried?  He might have been in one of the six decayed coffins in Sylvester’s tomb in Rattoo churchyard.  He might have been represented by one of the unnamed small headstones in the same churchyard; unnamed because if the local people could not write their memorial in Irish they preferred not to be named at all in protest.  When Wilson Gun (see below) closed the churchyard to any more burials because of the disruption they caused, they were moved to Raheala down the road, which was probably opened in the 1840s.  In famine times it was known as County’s Acre and that may also be where James was buried.

His memory has lived on however as there has been a James (sometimes more than one) in every generation that followed

Julia was a tiny lady (as was her own daughter, Julia), I suspect she was the engine of the family.  But when they all left she stayed behind.  Probably she felt too old, in her 70s, to go through all the upheaval.  She had a nice, little, rent-free for life, thatched cottage and garden in the middle of village opposite the church and her daughter, Mary, had stayed with her husband, Thomas Ryle, so why leave?  This was the view from her front door, or at least a later version of it.  Her cottage was on the same land as her nephew-in-law Simon Halloran, the husband of her niece, Mary Boyle; another reason to stay.

Rattoo House and the Gun family

Rattoo (Rath Thuaigh) means Fort of the Northern Plain and it is a place of both historical and mythical significance.  Ley lines converge on the tower.

This family and their community at Rattoo played an important role in our family’s lives. 

 The Guns came to the area in around 1700 from Liscahane Castle in Ardfert (further south).  They had at least two other houses in the locality before moving to the current Rattoo Great House in around 1836.  Prior to that time their residence was Rattoo West in the townland of Lisnagoneeny about a mile south of Ballyduff (see picture left).

Rattoo Great House incorporated the churchyard, the round tower and a ruined Augustinian abbey. In our ancestors’ time this house was much more extensive than today with further building to the left and stables.  I have been unable to find a picture of that time but here is how it looks today.


The Gun who interests us most is Wilson (see left) who was born in 1809.  He had one older brother William Townsend and four sisters, one of whom was named Elizabeth about whom more later in this section.  Their father, Townsend Gun, died in 1812 and their mother, Amelia Wilson, in 1849.

Wilson married Gertrude Allen in 1839 and they had three children, one of whom, Emma, married George Browne of Listowel in 1862.

There are a number of pointers to the close relationship that our family had with the Guns.

In 1820 Sylvester was allowed to erect his mausoleum in Rattoo churchyard.

 In 1832 Julia acted as sponsor to Wilson’s illegitimate daughter, Catherine[viii], whose mother was
Catherine Rahilly.  The parish register records his residence as Rattoo Lodge near the future Great House.  The photo opposite is said to be Julia outside Rattoo Lodge probably with Catherine; the date is unclear but the age of the child suggests early 1840s.  By this time Julia would have had at least four children of her own.

 I have been told that the family worked/lived at a big house with horses and Julia’s son Thomas was a farrier It has been suggested to me that Julia may have been a dressmaker/seamstress and may well have worked for both the Guns and the other landlord, Thomas Stoughton, who lived at Ballyhorgan House.

As a minimum I think we can assume that they were valued servants.

In 1852 Julia’s son Thomas had a daughter in Poplar.  One of the godparents was an Elizabeth Gunn (see above), so her family felt a desire to be represented.  Perhaps less relevant, but at least a coincidence, a Nicholas Browne was a witness at the marriage of Julia’s grandson, Thomas, to Mary Sullivan in 1865.

Ballyhorgan House and the Stoughton family

The Stoughtons arrived in the Ballyduff area in the sixteenth century when Anthony Stoughton, a clerk at Dublin Castle acquired Rattoo Abbey and lands. In 1750 Ballyhorgan Great House was built by another Anthony.

The Stoughtons were the most significant of the landlords in Ballyduff and they were the owners of all the property our family rented.  For James and Julia the specific individual was Thomas Anthony Stoughton (1818-1885), who was an absentee landlord but a well-regarded one who generally visited in the summer.  His father, another Thomas Anthony, had acquired a big estate at Owlpen in Gloucestershire by marriage.

When the Stoughtons visited they were greeted by ‘cordial hearty cheers’ and a monster bonfire was lit at the gates of the house.  In the evening a dance took place, and refreshments were distributed with ‘a liberal and bountiful hand’.

The fact Julia was allowed to have a rent-free life tenancy for her cottage from the Stoughtons suggests an established relationship. 

 James Donoghue’s brother, John, rented 14 acres at Bishopscourt, the townland adjacent to Ballyhorgan, and must have been close to the Stoughtons.  Close by was a Michael Ryle on 24 acres; he was possibly Thomas’s father.  It seems highly likely that other members of the family worked at Ballyhorgan House.  The Stoughton and the Gun families were very close.

East Benmore and Farranedmond

In 1825 Bartholomew Donoghue was living on six acres in East Benmore.  By 1846 this holding appears to have passed to James and Thomas (called Tom), our generation’s gggrandfather and his brother.  It was and is now called Farranedmond in the later records. 

When James and Thomas gave up the land, it was taken by a Simon Halloran, who was married to Mary Boyle, a niece of Julia’s.  Simon was also the tenant on an eight acre piece of land in Ballyduff on part of which Julia was living.

Simon and Mary had their first two children in Knockercreeveen where Julia came from.  Mary’s father, Patrick, Julia’s brother, was a comfortable farmer on 38 acres, suggesting that the Boyles were rather better off than our family.


The Penal Laws forbade education to the Catholic Irish and the churches were closed.  In the eighteenth century Kerry was renowned for what were called its ‘hedge schools’, in which it is said even Latin and Greek were taught.  As the name implies children were taught in the open air by teachers, who if they were caught would be subject to the full force of the law, even death.  A boy had to be left on watch to ensure they were not spotted.  No one could offer premises to the teacher because that was also against the law.

In 1782 the law was relaxed to allow schools to occupy premises and the existing hedge school in Ardoughter, within walking distance of Ballyduff, had a permanent building.  The children were taught reading, writing and arithmetic in Irish.  English was taught if a teacher was available.

In 1831 the National Education Act was passed which led to the creation of the National Schools still in operation today.  The first in the Ballyduff area was at Slievadra in 1843, again within walking distance, but all the teaching had to be in English which left the children in total confusion.

If the family left Ireland between 1848 and 1851, it would appear that Julia (b.1834), James (b.1836) and Catherine (b.1839) might have taken advantage of the schools, as infants started at six.  However our only available evidence of the educational standard of our Irish-born ancestors is whether they signed their names or used a mark (a cross) on the occasion of their marriage in London.  Julia and Catherine used a mark in 1854 and 1873; but Thomas (b.1844) signed his own name in 1865.  I was told by an uncle that Thomas had schooling (in London), and it was he who appears to have put the O’ back on the name.   Did girls get less attention in the Irish schools? 

Ellen Donoghue and John Connor

Ellen (b.1784) was the daughter of Sylvester.  John Connor was a family friend and in 1825 occupied the plot of land between those of Sylvester and his son, Bartholomew. They had at least seven children between 1808 and 1832: Ellen (b.1808), my generation’s gggrandmother, Daniel, Mary, Honora, John, James, Margaret. 

Connor is a very extensive name in north Kerry, let alone Ballyduff.  In 1825 a William and a Maurice were living close by John.  By 1851 there were a number: Jeremiah, Joseph, John (with houses close to Julia) and Patrick, all living in Benmore/Ballyduff,

Thomas Donoghue and Ellen Connor

Born within two years of each other, they were first cousins.  Marriages at this degree of consanguinity were not unusual at the time and sometimes served to seal relationships by keeping property in the family.

Thomas was a farrier who probably learnt his trade at the smithy at the south end of the village a few properties down from his mother. 

A farrier's routine work is primarily hoof trimming and shoeing.  In ordinary cases, it is important to trim each hoof so it retains its proper orientation to the ground.  If the animal has a heavy work load, works on abrasive footing, needs additional traction, or has pathological changes in the hoof, then shoes may be required.

Additional tasks for the farrier include dealing with injured or diseased hooves and application of special shoes for racing, training or ‘cosmetic’ purposes. Horses with certain diseases or injuries may need remedial procedures for their hooves, or need special shoes.

Apprenticeships were possible for the young in the nineteenth century in shops and all the various trades – a list of these is provided in the notes[ix]. They could lead to the person setting up on their own and gaining artisan status, which is what happened in our family I believe.

Some of the trades were handed down from one generation to the next, so it is probable that Thomas’s father and other relations were in the smithing/farrier trade.

Their wedding would have been in 1833/4.  Their children born in Ireland were Julia (b.1834), James (b.1836), Catherine (b.1839), John (b.1841), Thomas (b.1844 see baptism record below), my generation’s ggrandfather, and little Ellen (b.1847).

Sometime between 1848 and 1851 the family left for London, possibly via Dublin, but James and Ellen did not go with them.  I suspect that Ellen died, as she was born in the worst year of the famine and disease was everywhere.  But what happened to James?


North Kerry has always been a very Republican area and Ballyduff has its own tradition as the memorial in the town square, commemorating those who died in the 1916-19 period, gives evidence.  Our generation’s gggreat uncle, John, was apparently part of that tradition and died fighting for Ireland’s independence.  His last known child was born in 1845 and so it must have been sometime after that that he was shot.  I am not aware of any anti-British actions in Kerry at that time so, if it happened, it was most likely to do with events, which started in the summer of 1846 when Young Ireland became a political movement and broke away from Daniel O’Connell’s Repeal Association.  O’Connell wanted self-rule for Ireland within the British Empire, whereas Young Ireland was after total independence.

The Young Irelander Rebellion, a failed Irish nationalist uprising, part of the wider Revolutions of 1848 that affected most of Europe.  It took place on 29 July 1848 in the village of Ballingarry, South Tipperary.  After being chased by a force of Young Irelanders and their supporters, an Irish Constabulary unit raided a house and took those inside as hostages. A several-hour gunfight followed, but the rebels fled after a large group of police reinforcements arrived.
The exodus and aftermath
The famine, the financial difficulties and absence of the landlords (with the dependence on very often venal local agents) leading to the consolidation of land and eviction of tenants, the repeal of the Corn Laws and the forbidding of the sub-division of land (a longstanding tradition in Irish families) all contributed to the mass exodus from Ireland in the 1840s.  People just had nothing to lose as conditions at home were so awful.

Those of a community who had left before sent money home to help their relatives and told tales of lands of plenty.  Immigrants tended to settle in the same neighbourhood as their fellows from home, maintaining their traditional relationships.

Many needed help to pay for their journey to a new land and there was very little difference between paying their fares and maintaining them in the workhouse for a year.  In 1847, the earlier system of granting free passage to the British Colonies for certain classes of people was resumed.  Included were agricultural labourers, shepherds, female domestics and farm servants of good character.  These colonies were desperate for labour to help develop their virgin territory.  Some landlords contributed to the cost of this programme, but not in Ballyduff.

However it was not just the helpless who left but also the strong and able-bodied who in the words of the Kerry Evening Post of 14 April 1847 were ‘carrying with them the capital and the sinew of the country’. 

It was seldom that an old man or woman emigrated as we have seen with Julia.

As you can see from the family tree we have an awful lot of people to account for.  Those who went to America would have taken a boat from Tralee or Cork, probably the former.

Those who went to Britain could have left from Tralee, Cork or Dublin (perhaps via Tarbert on the Shannon to the north of Ballyduff). 

During a period of time when London must have appeared incredibly remote, a passenger service operated between Tralee and London.  This was run by The London and Limerick Steamship Company, it called periodically at Portsmouth and Plymouth.  The passenger fare for a state cabin was 21s.  Weekly sailings were also available to and from Liverpool.  The fee for a state cabin was 15s, whilst to travel steerage one paid 7s 6d (it must be borne in mind that these sums of money would have been beyond the means of the majority of the population at the time)

With Thomas, my generation’s gggrandfather, and his family there is evidence that they went to Dublin (probably by coach) and then on to London.

But that’s a tale for another time…..


[i] I have assumed the name Patrick because James and Julia’s eldest recognised son was given this name and  Irish naming practice would have meant that this was his paternal grandfather’s name.  I cannot, however, be sure that there was not another son before Patrick so it is really conjecture.
[ii] I have to say ‘at least’ because often the priest baptised the child in the family home, wrote the details on a scrap of paper and then lost it. I have also been told that religious practice was not that rigorous in those times and children may not have been baptised at all.
[iii] The evidence for Sylvester Donoghue being in our ancestral line is very strong but I cannot prove it.  Local experts tell me that I can be assured that Donoghues in such a local area would have been related.
[iv] Sylvester is an unusual given name in this part of Ireland and my books do not give me any idea of what the Irish equivalent may have been.  He is the only Sylvester Donoghue in Causeway and the only other Sylvester Donoghues from 1760-1850 are all from Glenflesk/Killarney. In Causeway there are other Sylvesters  - McEgan, Horgan, Crounin, Brassil, Murphy, Markum, Connor – but that is not a lot.
[v] First cousin marriages were not uncommon in what was a geographically limited society
[vi] This data is derived from the Tithe Applotment books which only recorded agricultural land.
[vii]Just a mile or there abouts, from the lordly Shannon mouth
There’s a spot to which none other I’d compare,
It’s a village, not a town, tho’ her sons have gained renown,
For the Boys of Ballyduff are always there.
For courage, beauty, grace, they need not hide their face,
At a wedding, a pattern or a fair,
And should you want a friend, there is always one to lend,
For the Boys of Ballyduff are always there.
In Clonturk Park they fought, when the Boys of Wexford thought,
With their camans to their credit they could spare,
But they found out to their cost, when they fought the fight and lost,
That the Boys from Ballyduff could beat them there.
I’d not like to have the cheek, of their daughters pure to speak,
But I tell all the other young fellows beware
That when cupid’s arrow fly, ‘neath a bright and sparkling eye,
I’d not like to be the target, I declare.
When they leave their native soil, in a foreign land to toil,
And to earn a decent living everywhere,
They’re the chosen few, they’re the honest men and true,
For the Boys of Ballyduff are always there.
And should you want a drop, call into McDonnell’s shop,
When the shadows of the night have ended care,
There you’ll find some jolly tar, to attend behind the bar,
To the social Ballyduff Boys there.
For courage, beauty, grace, they need not hide their face,
At a wedding, a pattern or a fair,
And should you need a friend, there is always one to lend,
For the Boys from Ballyduff were always there.
[viii] Catherine married a Patrick Horgan of Meenogahane.  Wilson Gun treated all his illegitimate children well; all girls were named Catherine.  He offered the newly married couple the townland of Clashmealcon, but rather than dispossess the existing tenants they decided to go to America.  James died quite soon after that and nothing more is known of Catherine.  She is the Kate in the folksong ‘Sweet Kate of Ballyduff’ I am told.
[ix] Bakers, blacksmiths, candle-makers, carpenters, cart and carriage-makers, coopers, dressmakers, dyers, harness-makers, masons, millers, milliners, nailers, painters and glaziers, shoemakers, tailors, tanners, thatchers and weavers
A barony (Irish: barúntacht, plural barúntachta) is a historical subdivision of a county. They were created, like the counties, in the centuries after the Norman invasion, and were analogous to the hundreds into which the counties of England were divided. In early use they were also called cantreds. Some early baronies were later subdivided into half baronies with the same standing as full baronies. General Register Office (Northern Ireland)
Civil parish
Civil parishes in Ireland are units of territory that have their origins in old Gaelic territorial divisions. They were adopted by the Anglo-Normans and then the Elizabethans, and were formalised as land divisions at the time of Cromwell. They no longer correspond to the boundaries of Catholic parishes, which are generally larger. Their use as administrative units was gradually replaced by poor law divisions in the 19th century, although they were not formally abolished. Today they are still sometimes used for legal purposes.
"The townland is the smallest and most ancient of Irish land divisions, and is the goal of all family researchers in identfying the origin of their ancestors. The townland was named at an early period and they usually referred to a very identifiable landmark in the local area such as a mountain, a bog, an oak forest a village, a fort or a church. The townland became standardised as a basic division in the 17 th century surveys by people with little knowledge of the Irish language. As a consequence many place names were either lost or had their meaning or construction altered." Brian Mitchell, Inner City Trust 1989.
Sources & acknowledgements:
People without whose help I could not have written much of this article and to whom I am very grateful.
O’Connor, Bertie 
O’Connor, Mossie
Quinlan, Sean     
Ryle, Gerard & Sean 
Main books, publications and web sites:
Bary, Valerie – Houses of Kerry, Ballinakella Press, 1994
Birdwell-Pheasant, Donna – The Home ‘Place: Centre and Periphery in Irish House and Family Systems from House, Family and Construction of History
Birdwell-Pheasant, Donna (source) – Ballyduff and Causeway Villages in the 1840s, Ballyduff Magazine Vol.4, 1992
Cantillon (Houlihan), Kathleen – My Search for the ‘Old Street’, Ballyduff Magazine Vol.2, 1989
Dowling, P.J – The Hedge Schools of Ireland, Mercier, 1968
Gaugan, J Anthony – Listowel and its Vicinity, Mercier, 1973
Guerin, Michael – Listowel Workhouse Union, 1996
Lucid, Geraldine – Nineteenth Century Emigration from County Kerry, Blennerville Gateway to Tralee
O’Brien, Charles - A View of the state of agriculture in the county of Kerry Anno 1800, JKAHS Vols 1 & 2 1968 & 1969
Ó Conchubhair, Padraig – Ballylongford and the Great Famine
Ó Conchubhair, Padraig – The Hedge Schools, Shannonside Journal 1994
O’Connor, Noel & MacKenna, Patsy – Origin of Ballyduff Village, Ballyduff Magazine Vol.1
O’Connor, Noel & MacKenna, Patsy – The Stoughtons of Ballyhorgan, Owlpen, Gortigrenane, Ballynoe and the Big Houses 1590s to 1925, Ballyduff Magazine Vol.2, 1989
O’Connor, Noel & MacKenna, Patsy – Did you know? – Ballyduff Magazine Vol.1
O’Connor-Kerry, Bertie – Slievadra School: 150 years of education, Ballyduff Magazine Vol.5
Quinlan, Sean – The Great Book of Kerry Vols 1-3, Cló na Ríochta, 2007-9
Quinlan, Sean – Kerry: The Kingdom, the Power and the Glory, Cló na Ríochta, 2012
The Population of Ballyduff village as recorded at each census year 1841-71, Ballyduff Magazine Vol.4, 1992

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