By Mairin Kenny

Barrystown Yard: History and Geography

My earliest memory of Barrystown yard is of my grandaunt Maggie Carton clattering feed buckets around, shouting at the horses and the hens, and at anyone who looked idle. She was especially derisory about stopping to look at the beauty of the place: “Hah! You can’t eat the view!”

Barrystown yard certainly has a view. Located about two kilometres from Wellingtonbridge on the road to Bannow, it is situated on a gentle slope facing west over the wide, tidal estuary traditionally known as “the Little Sea”, where the Corach and Owenduff rivers join and flow into Bannow bay. This estuary is a well-known bird sanctuary; Brent geese gather here annually on their journeys to and from Iceland. Otters are often sighted here also. A complex of monastic ruins in Clonmines lies northwest on the opposite bank.

Why is this yard worth studying? For me, because it is the centre of our family farm. But also because it was part of Barrystown House demesne, first as a hub of local military control, then of a large estate for nearly eight centuries. The story of this House has been assembled by historians such as Fr Thomas Butler, Billy Colfer, Nicky Furlong and Eithne Scallan[i]. I hope to add detail, exploring the history and geography of the estate from its medieval beginnings through to the 1900s when tenant purchase converted it into a mosaic of independent holdings. The yard complex reflected these stages. The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage assesses it as: “A farmyard complex surviving as an interesting relic of a much-dissipated estate”[ii]. As will be seen, its story is not finished yet.

Barrystown estate: earliest known owners

Barrystown takes its name from Robert de Barry, son of William De Barry of Monorbier Castle in Pembrokeshire, and one of the first Anglo-Norman knights to land at Bannow Bay in 1169. His brothers, Phillip and Gerald De Barry, came too. Gerald, better known as Giraldus Cambrensis, chronicled the Anglo-Norman settlement in Ireland.

In 1429 Henry VI issued an order “that every liege-man of our Lord the King… who choose to build a castle or tower sufficiently fortified … the Commons of the said counties shall pay … ten pounds by way of subsidy”[iii]. In 1441 an Act was passed, for “building towers upon the waters or river of Taghmon…” These waters were a tributary of the Slaney, and the Corach. In 1452 a further Act called for towers on the river of Bannow (the Corach again). Fourteen, including Barrystown, were built. This line of defence isolated Bargy and Forth – the Pale of Wexford – by the end of the sixteenth century[iv].

Endnotes

[i]  Butler, T.C. (1985). A parish and its people. Wellingtonbridge. Privately published.
Colfer, B. (2019). Arrogant Trespass: Anglo-Norman Wexford, 1169-1400. Dublin: Four Courts Press.
Scallan, E. (2016). Barrystown House, Wellingtonbridge. In David Rowe and Eithne Scallan, Houses of Wexford: Historical Genealogical Architectural Notes (On Some). Ballinakella Press.

[ii] National Index of Architectural Heritage (2008). Building survey: Co. Wexford 2007/08. Department of Arts, Heritage & the Gaeltacht.
NIAH (2013). Barrystown Castle. Historic Environment Viewer http://webgis.buildingsofireland.ie/HistoricEnvironment/?REG_NO=15704535

[iii] Cited in O’Neill, T. (2014). The story of Killahara Castle. p.6. http://static1.squarespace.com/static/551dac61e4b03c74fdcc81f5/t/55267f70e4b0e591f74c0300/1428586352038/KillaharaCastleHistory.pdf

[iv] Colfer, B. (2013). Wexford Castles: landscape, context and settlement. Cork University Press.

Barrystown castle

Photo Courtesy Denis Kenny

The pointed doorway of dressed granite … is protected by a yett [defensive iron grille] and there is a murder hole in the lobby. In addition the lobby commands a gun-loop in the S wall and is covered by a loop from the ground floor chamber… [eight other gun loops and twelve musket or long loops are itemised on the ground floor]. … a first floor chamber… commands the murder-hole (NIAH, 2013)

Ó Danachair[i] argues that around the late fifteenth century “a fashion in tower house building swept through … from the European continent”; every prominent landowner had to have one. The NIAH estimates Barrystown castle to have been built in 1654, but the description above might suggest that it wasn’t built just as a fashion statement.

Today, the castle retains marks of gables on the west and east walls, where it may have been given a pitched roof when it was incorporated into the House. An L-shaped double ditch, about a hundred metres north of the castle, might be part of the original bawn boundary. Known locally as “the jungle”, it is not marked on any map[ii].

About 400m northwest of the castle there are the remains of old lead/silver mines. Numerous attempts have been made to extract ore here, from as early as the Viking period[iii]. It is believed that the Vikings first arrived around the end of the eighth century; they made their way along the Corach River from bases at the towns of Bannow and Clonmines, and mined silver and minted coins at Barrystown[iv]. Later short-lived attempts to revive the mines were made, by order of Henry VIII in 1546, Edward VI in 1550, and Elizabeth I in1559; and finally in the 1920s and 1950s (see below), again proved futile.

The map of Barrystown townland below shows the position of the House, gardens and key roads as on the Ordnance Survey (OS)[v] 1841 map and Griffith’s 1878 map. The named fields (blue script) became the Carton/our family farm in 1932.

[i] Ó Danachair, C. (1977). Irish Tower Houses and Their Regional Distribution. Béaloideas. Iml. 45/47 (1977 – 1979), pp. 158-163.http://www.jstor.org/stable/20521396?read-now=1&loggedin=true#page_scan_tab_contents, 9

[ii] Kenny, C. (2012). Barrystown Castle. Unpublished paper.

[iii] Furlong, N. (2003). The history of County Wexford. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan Ltd.

[iv] Hore, P. H. (1920). Barony of Forth: Part1. Uí Cinsealaigh Historical Society No.1. pp62–106

[v] Ordnance Survey Ireland (2017). Wexford maps in: Historic Map 6 inch, 1841; Historic Map 25 inch, c.1870; Cassini 6-inch map, c.1930.http://map.geohive.ie/mapviewer.html

Barrystown townland, grounds, mines and ford road, 1837/1854. Carton farm, 1932

Barrystown from Cromwell to 1798

The incumbent in Barrystown in 1640 was James Barry; he was involved in the 1641 rebellion, so his estate (210 acres according to the 1654-56 Civil Survey, or 311 acres plantation acres according to the 1656-58 Down Survy) was forfeited[i]. He may have been gone already when, following the fall of Wexford in 1649, some of Cromwell’s army camped on the castle lawn on their way to Duncannon and New Ross via the Scar ford (see map above).

In the Down Survey, a Nicholas King is listed as a Titulado (prominent person in the district) with land in “Duncormocke”; there was a prominent businessman named Nicholas King in Wexford town; and in 1655 a Nicholas King was granted the forfeited land of Barrystown for his military services. Whether these were one, two, or three Nicholas Kings, is unknown.

In the early 1700s, Nicholas’s son, “Jonas of Barrystown” married Katherine Goar[ii]; they had three sons: Nicholas of Scullabogue, Rev. James, and Richard of Barrystown. (These first names cascade down through successive generations of Kings. There were four Barrystown proprietors called Jonas; for clarity, I will number them, starting with this first one: Jonas I). Richard married Sarah Shudall, daughter of the Rector of Duncormack. Their sons were Captain Francis King of Silverspring, near Kilmore, and Jonas II (1759–1832) of Barrystown.

Richard acquired lands in Brandane, and probably elsewhere but no other records survive. In April 1765 he rented lands east of Kilmore:

Lease by Hon. Henry Loftus of Dublin to Richard King of Barrytown, Co. Wexford, gent., for £139 18 7½ yearly, for lives of Francis King, Jonas King, and Ann King, sons and daughter of lessee, of part of Ballymager called the Black Stone, Doyle’s Park, the Little Ennis, the Cull, and the Fallow Park, with the Slobbs and Reisk, Bargy barony[iii].

Richard may have leased Barrystown House to George Ogle between 1776 and 1804 when Ogle investigated the mines: he is named as resident in Barrystown in Taylor and Skinner’s 1777 road maps of Ireland, and again in Wilson’s 1786 travelogue (both cited by Roche, 2013[iv]). In 1804 Ogle exported 1,381 tonnes of ore from the mines, but his efforts were profitless[v].

Ogle was probably not in Barrystown during the 1798 rising, when the Scar ford was the scene of many frantic attempts to cross the Little Sea to safety in Duncannon Fort. He was Grand Master of the Orange Order in Ireland, and an arch conservative; he would hardly have welcomed an enemy into the House, but on 31 May/1 June 1798, “the last of the rebel chiefs, John Henry Colclough … and his wife had passed the night peacefully at Barrystown”[vi]. There is no record of where the King proprietors stood regarding the United Irishmen or the political conflicts of the day, but their fine demesne seems to have emerged unscathed from the rebellion. By then the castle had been augmented by yard buildings, a coach house and Barrystown House itself, all substantially completed c.1777[vii].

[i] Civil survey, AD 1654-1656. Vol. IX: county of Wexford. Dublin. Irish Manuscripts Commission. http://www.irishmanuscripts.ie/digital/The%20Civil%20Survey%201654%20Co%20Wexford%20Volume%20IX/
Down Survey. Books of Survey and Distribution for counties Wexford and Kilkenny, compiled circa 1703. Down Survey http://phaedrus.cs.tcd.ie/petty/petty/landowners.php#mc=52.244349,-6.716929&z=14

[ii] For this and all the “family-tree” type information in this paper, census records were useful, but above all I am indebted to the late Tom McDonald’s blogs contributed over many years to the Bannow Historical Society website, http://www.bannowhistory.ie/blog/; and to the expert assistance of Michael Dempsey, libarian, Wexford County Library, in searches of Civil Registers.

[iii] Goodall, D. (1976). The Freemen of Wexford in 1776. The Irish Genealogist. Vol 5, No 3, Entry 156. Available at https://www.irishancestors.ie/purchase-copies-of-individual-articles-published-in-the-irish-genealogist-vol-1-8/

[iv] Roche, R. (2013). From Bannow to Wexford: Old roads of Forth and Bargy. Journal of the Bannow Historical Society (3), 85–93.

[v] Fraser, R. (1807). Statistical Survey of the County of Wexford. http://www.askaboutireland.ie/reading-room/digital-book-collection/digital-books-by-county/wexford/

[vi]Gahan, D. (1995). The People’s Rising: The Great Wexford Rebellion of 1798. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan Ltd..

[vii] NIAH (2013)

The scar ford at low tide today

Photo courtesy Denis Kenny

The nineteenth century

All I say is, kings is kings, and you got to make allowances. Take them all around, they’re a mighty ornery lot. It’s the way they’re raised. ‘ (Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn, Chapter 23)

Jonas II succeeded his father. Very little is known of his stewsrdship, but his name appears in the East India Company accounts to parliament (1808)[i]. He, with others, received a total of £99.11s for three road repair projects: 80 perches of the Bannow-Wexford road, and two stretches totalling 214 perches, of the Wexford-Waterford road. It seems that the East India Company regarded the landlord system as a conduit for road maintenance projects; twenty-one were listed for Bargy alone.

The old major road from Wexford town to Duncannon and New Ross looped down through Duncormick, up through Carrig and down past King’s estate gates, to the Scar ford (this route is marked in red arrows in the map above). Then Wellington Bridge was built across the Corach, about two kilometres north-west of the ford, and a direct route, still called the “New Line”, was built, linking Wexford town to this bridge. The old route lost its status, and the tidal ford fell into disuse. The Bannow road to the ford was extended along the Little Sea to meet the new bridge and road. Barrystown House gates no longer opened onto the main thoroughfare across south Wexford, but its social whirl went on, at least for a few decades. Mrs. Anna Maria S.C. Hall, who wrote about Irish rural society, grew up in Bannow and was a frequent guest in Barrystown. She described Jonas II and his House thus:

The master was large; the house was large; the trees were large; the entrance gates were large; the worthy owner’s heart was large – and so was his purse. … his house, especially in the shooting or summer season, was always full of company, more numerous than select, but all resolved to enjoy themselves… his house … was almost magnificent … hall walls well garnished with fowling pieces, fishing rods, … antediluvian horns of a monstrous elk, … floor of beautiful Kilkenny marble; its polish certainly had departed… Dogs of various sizes … The dining room … massive sideboard … highly-wrought, antique plate … table on enormous pillars, bore evident marks of having seen good service in convivial times…[ii]

She mentions badly painted, heavily framed family portraits, which Jonas II loved; and “very venerable” curtains and carpet he had talked about replacing for years, but hadn’t. Host and guests were absorbed in the social whirl around hunting, shooting, fishing, and matchmaking. Mrs. Hall closed her account with an approving comment on one young lady whose marriage originated in that whirl: her house was similar to Barrystown except that her great hall was “garnished with merry, laughing children instead of dogs, eagles, cats, and ravens.”

Jonas II lived in Barrystown with his mother; he never married. His death notice in The Wexford Freeman, November 7th 1832, is admiring but hardly accurate:

At Barristown …, Jonas King Esq., aged 72 years. The degree of estimation in which this amiable and most unoffending gentleman was held within his vicinity was great, indeed. His remains were attended to the grave by a large concourse of rich and poor who, on this occasion, were met together in unaffected sympathy. He was a truly good man, such as one is rarely met with.

Barrystown went to his nephew, Rev. Richard King (1794–1878), son of Captain Francis King of Silverspring. Rev. Richard had married Dorothea Wilson of Roseville in 1825. They had seven children: Jonas III (1828–1881), Francis (1830–1908), Fridsweed Anne (1835–1879), Adelaide (1837–1898), Richard (183?–1901), Albert (1841–1927), and Theodora (1842–1922).

Rev. Richard was Rector of a series of parishes; his final one was Tomhaggard. His residence there, Woodville, was very convenient for management of his properties in east Bargy. Barrystown House possibly fell into disuse after Jonas II’s death. Mrs. Hall laments:

When last I drove by old Barristown, it looked grim and grey, shut in with its own loneliness—nothing about it telling of existence, except the rooks that cawed above the one tall ivied tower, where the old lady slept and died. It looked grey and sad and well it might; for those who made it ring again with hospitality were all—all—in their silent graves. ….

Her assessment of Barrystown demesne is endorsed in Griffith’s House Books (1845) [iii], suggesting that Jonas III’s father and hospitable, chaotic granduncle did not set him a great example of property management. As eldest son, Jonas III was predestined for Barrystown. Two brothers attended Trinity College Dublin; they had successful careers and were property owners. There is no record of Jonas III’s education, and he was effectively his father’s tenant for life. Griffith’s House Books place him (then eighteen years old) in Barrystown House in 1845, and in Griffith’s 1854 land Valuation[iv] he is listed as holding the house, offices and 192 acres on lease from his father. By then the Barrystown Kings had amassed about 2,400 acres (three times the acreage they received in 1655); the parcel leased to Jonas was a small fraction of it.. That arrangement does not suggest easy relations between father and son, and it contrasts with the brothers’ independent professional profiles.

In his blog for the Bannow Historical Society website, Tom McDonald relates an incident that occurred at the official opening of the new harbour in Kilmore in 1849. Rev. Richard had left before the banquet; when Jonas III, twenty-two years old, was called on to respond to toasts in lieu of his father, he jested that there was no risk of him leaving early as he was ever reluctant to part from his faithful friend, “the tumbler”. As will be seen, this friend shaped his life.

Barrystown mines attracted interest again. The Wexford Conservative, Oct 23, 1841, noted: “A lease of the mine for 31 years has been procured from [Rev. King] at a Royalty Rent”. The Barrystown Mining Company of London, established in 1841, procured this lease and operated the mines from 1845. The markets backed the venture: in 1845 share prices rose from £100 to £250. The work offered a living of sorts to between102 and 120 people (including children), but it was brutal and dangerous. Then “Famine came in and with it the general decay of business, which caused the works to be discontinued” (Wexford Independent, March 31 1877). The engine house was decommissioned in 1851. The miners lost their livelihoods just as post-Famine emigration was hitting epidemic levels.

The Famine and its impact

Mrs. Hall wrote glowingly of the Bannow peasantry. However, census data for 1841 to 1911[v] suggest a more complex reality for the tenants. These censuses give detailed information on population densities and accommodation quality, through the years of the Famine, the Land League, and the demise of the landlord estate through the tenant purchase schemes. These censuses offer windows onto life on estates such as that held by the Kings. And that life varied hugely from townland to townland, as the comparative situation of Brandane will show.

Between 1841 and 1911, Barrystown’s population dropped from about 19 to 12 persons per 100 acres. That was fairly typical of the change in the overall King estate, and across Bargy barony. However, Brandane was different: its population density in 1841 was extraordinarily high, 99 persons per 100 acres, and by 1911 it had dropped to 29 persons per 100 acres. Cormac Ó Gráda’s argument[vi] that the Famine scarcely impacted South Wexford does not fit the reality in those years in Brandane, a townland whose story got submerged in the regional averages.

Almost nothing is known of how the Kings responded to the Famine. In 1847 Rev. Richard came fourth in a list of a hundred donors to the Bannow Famine Relief Subscription, and on August 7, 1850 the Wexford Independent reported, with hyper-gratitude:

… another instance of landlord generosity in this county … Rev. Richard King of Woodville made an abatement varying from 15 to 20 per cent to his tenants …

A few facts of this nature would tend more forcibly to promote good feeling and generous cooperation amongst the component sections of the community, than all the statute law in the realm – besides cheering the country in her present sad and gloomy condition.

Jonas III was barely out of adolescence in the Famine years; who knows what impact it had on him. My father often told the following story: Mr. Boyse, landlord in Bannow, organized his tenants to beat back the beggars who were crossing the country in search of food, and sent word to his neighbouring landlords to do likewise. Mr. King replied that if they could get anything on his land, they were welcome to it. Whether the story is true or not, this reply captures Jonas III’s oppositional style, and says more about how little he cared for his land, than about how much he cared for the beggars.

Griffith’s land valuations, 1854

As Griffith’s records show, Rev. King’s estate was comprised of scattered properties in south Wexford. Barrystown, historically the family seat, was the largest single property (519 acres). He owned the nearby townlands of Sheastown and Brandane (423 acres total), but over half his lands were at least ten kilometres away: 1,050 acres in east Bargy and 410 in Shelmaliere. Other branches of the King family had estates elsewhere in the county; the Barrystown estate’s fragmented geography may have been in part due to the vagaries of inheritance.

The landholding profiles of Barrystown and Brandane in 1854 are very different. Less than one-tenth of Barrystown land was in holdings of 0–15 acres, while about half the land in Brandane was in this range. In Barrystown, two farmers had over sixty acres each, and one had over one hundred; in Brandane the largest holding was thirty acres.

Rev. King also rented about 130 acres in scattered lots in neighbouring townlands of Balloughton, Danescastle and Kiltra. Danescastle and Kiltra are included in the Cliffe estate maps portfolio, drawn up in the early 1800s. Boyse was granted them in the 1659 Distribution; Cliffe may have acquired them later, and the nineteenth-century Boyse may have bought or rented them back and sublet to King, who sublet to tenants – who also sublet portions, as small farms, wee houses, bits of gardens, etc. Such movement of land among owners, and cascades from owner through layers of subletting, were common. Griffith’s records only show the final pairing: immediate lessor and occupant.

Jonas III

In 1852, Jonas III married Mary Elizabeth Goff, daughter of Rev. Abraham Goff of Duncormack. From the various birth, marriage, death and census records I could find, it appears that they had six children: Mary Elizabeth (1859–1911+), Isabella (1863–1896), Jonas [IV] (1866–1907), and three whose dates are unknown: Dorothea, Francis, and Richard.

After his marriage, Jonas III entered public life: he became a JP, was a member of the Wexford Union Board of Guardians, and ran twice (unsuccessfully) for election to local offices. Tom McDonald mentions press reports of instances where he exceeded his powers as JP: for instance, in 1859/60, he used his position to have a man who owed him money held illegally in the barracks; the court proceedings about this went on for months.

There is contradictory evidence regarding Jonas III’s treatment of tenants. My father’s anecdote about Jonas III allowing Famine beggars onto his land is in line with the perspective of two Brandane contributors to the 1937 schools folklore collection[vii]. Boyse and King both leased land to tenants in Brandane. One contributor recalled Boyse as a brutal landlord, in contrast to Jonas King whose name was revered among the people. The other described people living in cabins with no bit of garden, on the edge of the road, called “Geneva” –tenants evicted by Boyse who had nowhere else to go were allowed to build their cabins there[viii]. It would have been more like King than Boyse to allow this.

But most of the little available anecdotes suggests that he dealt harshly with people in need. In one case in 1866, at a meeting of the Board of Guardians, he voted against admitting a mentally ill man into the poor house, asserting that a man with so much property (seven acres) had no business applying. This despite a letter from the man’s doctor, strongly advising his admission. But Jonas had company in his severity: the board voted to turn the man away.

It is unknown for how long Jonas III and family lived in Barrystown House; by 1870 at the latest, they had settled in Dublin. Jonas kept coming down for business; in 1871 he ran for election as coroner, unsuccessfully. There was silence then, until Christmas Eve 1877:

Jonas King was put forward charged with feloniously setting fire to a dwelling house at Barrystown on 24th December last. … The jury, after hearing the evidence, found the prisoner not guilty without leaving the [jury] box. (The Irish Times, March 23, 1878.)

In its report on the case, The Dublin Daily Express added:

… that Barrystown was the property of the prisoner’s father and that until a week before the fire Mr. Jonas King was confined in a lunatic asylum. The case for the crown was that when the fire broke out there was no person in the house … The defense … Jonas had reported the fire…

Jonas was tried for arson – but why would he have reported the fire, if he intended the place to burn down? He may have started the fire accidentally, or he may have found the place on fire. The evidence against him was flimsy: the jury found him not guilty, without even withdrawing to discuss the case. So why did no local paper mention this case in the Assizes report? Maybe the Rev. Richard exercised some influence on his son’s behalf.

Rev. Richard died on November 6, 1878. The terms of his will proved troublesome. Jonas III already had a life interest in Barrystown; this will added a life interest in about 130 acres of land in east Bargy, but not ownership of any land. Jonas’s sisters received legacies in cash, and his brother Richard got Pludboher (a townland of twenty-four acres). The bulk of the 2,400-acre estate went to his brothers Albert and Francis, and to his son Richard, or if he died, to his other son, Jonas “the younger” (Jonas IV). In a bill of sale for King lands issued in 1900, the named owners are Jonas IV and Rev. Richard’s sons, Albert, Francis, and Richard. The terms were debated in court time and again; the final case was in 1911, to rule on bequests to Jonas IV and his brother Francis – both already dead then.

That Jonas III was mentally ill sheds some light on his erratic behaviour, and the terms of this will regarding him. His continuing volatility suggests that he did not fully recover.

In January 1881 he wrote from Dublin to a tenant:

Dear Mrs. …, If you don’t send me bank order for the rent I must take immediate proceedings against you, which I would be very sorry to do as the costs would be very heavy and which, from the great regard I have had for poor P– and your family, would cause me great regret, but I cannot help it. No one shall know anything of our transaction. Yours Truly, Jonas King.

The note of patronage/camaraderie here echoes the recollection of my father and of the Brandane contributors to the 1937 Schools collection. This benevolence was not reliable.

Jonas III was strongly opposed to the Land League, as is evident from this letter to The People, 19th March 1881:

On [16th March] Mr. Jonas King went about this neighbourhood with a revolver in his hand, asking every one he met was he a Land Leaguer; and if he said he was, he (Jonas) would swear his G— he would shoot him, and in one instance, he did fire. I am told a prosecution is pending.

Next day, during the St Patrick’s Day parade in Wexford, Jonas appeared with a gun, declaring “Down with Parnell!” He was arrested that night for drunkenness, and found to have a revolver and a walking-stick gun with six cartridges at his hotel (White’s in Wexford town).

Prior to that, in February 1881, at a meeting of the committee of Carrig-on-Bannow Branch of the Land League, the President called the attention of Jonas’s tenants to writs he had issued against them:

They were unanimous in paying their rents at their former offer, with 20 per cent off and hoped Mr. King would see his way in accepting the offer in the spirit it was made and not to sever the ties of mutual regard that always existed between them and their landlord. A proposal was passed unanimously:–“That in the event of Mr. King carrying out those extreme measures in the Dublin courts, this branch will bear the tenants harmless in all law costs.”

On 6th April 1881 The People published Jonas III’s response to this:

Dear Sir—I have issued writs against several of my tenants. I would have not have done so only I saw by a report in your paper that the Land League was to bear the expenses, as I don’t want to injure my tenants but I want my rents—Yours truly, Jonas King

This was a neat turn: by pressing for his rents, Jonas would hurt Land League funds. He seems not to have noticed that the Land League promised to pay tenants’ legal expenses, not rents. That same month, he was boisterous at a Wexford Land Court session, called himself “mad Jonas King” and declared that he was drunk.

The end came for Jonas III on 5th August 1881, in Wexford. He was found dead on the roadside, “convenient to Balloughton chapel”. The death notice reported the cause of death as “weakness of heart action”. He was fifty-three years old.

In August 1882 his widow, Mary E. King, applied for letters of administration to his estate; her address was Cullenswood Avenue, County Dublin. As noted above, the King estate was owned by Jonas III’s brothers, none of whom lived in east Bargy, and his son Jonas IV who lived in Dublin. This was the Jonas cited in over twenty Land Commission cases between 1884 and 1904 regarding rents, evictions and tenant purchase on the King estate, and sifting the terms of Rev. Richard’s will.

There was evidence of inadequate distance management of the King estates. There were several eviction cases in the 1890s, and tenants legally challenged withdrawal of their rent reductions, as in this summary of a tenant’s arguments in the following case:

A tenant from Brandane since 1873 had been allowed a rent abatement but it was not continued. … His landlord lived somewhere in Dublin. There had been no improvements made in his time. There was no water on the holding only what fell on it. (Wexford Independent, Feb 8, 1896)

There were several such cases, overlapping with court proceedings to set rents and purchase prices under the terms of the Land Purchase Acts. In the areas formerly part of the King estates, soil quality is mainly good to moderate[ix]. However, when dealing with the Land courts, it was in the tenants’ best interests to emphasise problems such as poor soil quality and poor estate upkeep:

Regarding two land sales from the King estate: The soil stiff and cold, but farms with few exceptions well worked. There are some very good farmhouses and offices but on very many of the holdings the buildings are very old and need renovation. (The People, Jan 11, 1902)

The estate was situate 20 miles away from anywhere in the County of Wexford. It was near the coast, and the land was exceedingly poor. (The People, March 5, 1904)

WH Lett, a local landowner and land agent, and a valuer in the Land Courts, presented such an account of the Barrystown land he had rented and was now purchasing:

Mr. Lett … took the lands from the Court of Chancery. …. He had laid out a large sum in improvements on the land. … The place had been burnt, and the tenant went out of it. It was mostly in grass.… The land had gone down, and it is good land now. Part of it is of no value. I drained it and it has gone back again. (The People, March 1, 1902)

WH Lett was agent for the Kings and was renting the land from them; the tenant who “went out of it” must have been someone to whom he had sublet land and perhaps the yard and cottage, as part of his attempts to rescue the place from decades of neglect.

WH Lett and Barrystown

The Lett, Goff and King families were connected by marriage: Jonas III married a Goff, and her sister married a Lett of Balloughton. And in 1879, WH Lett married Jonas III’s daughter Isabella. He was twenty-nine, she was sixteen. They had four children: Mary E. (b.1882), Isabella (b.1885), Richard (b.1889), and Jonas WH (b.1892). Isabella, wife and mother, died of scarlet fever in 1896.

Unlike his father-in-law, WH Lett was committed to the Land League. He contributed to fundraisers for Parnell. At a meeting in Carrig he criticised Bannow tenants who, he said, were too busy minding their potato fields to fight for their rights. At a meeting in 1888 to decide action regarding the eviction of a Land League activist from Bannow, WH Lett proposed: “That we express our deepest sympathy with James Barry and pledge ourselves to work as one man to maintain his right to live on fair terms in his ancestral home”.

Comments on him in this letter to the editor (The People, February 1892) reflect his independence:

Grabbing in Bannow. Sir – By publishing this you may do a lot of good, as it may meet the eye of some of the old Nationalists of Bannow, and induce them to join the ranks before we are all put to the road. You will see that all the farms that have been idle for so long have been taken at big rents, and those on the King property, who were about settling for two years’ rent, were told the other day that their offer would not be taken. … some of the big farms on the King estate are to be taken and given to strangers. We hear Mr. Lett of Balloughton has lent his ploughs …. I can scarcely believe this is a fact as no man got more persecution by landlords than he did. ….

King estate tenants were becoming independent landowners. In the available UK Land Commission sales records 1901–1904[x], about 1,900 acres (including all of Barrystown) were sold from the King estate.

Brandane’s 242 acres and Sheastown’s 181 acres comprised the remainder of the King estate as per Griffith’s 1854 valuation. Brandane tenants were involved frequently in court proceedings regarding rents and land sales; Sheastown featured in court cases regarding settlement of Rev. Richard’s will. Lands in these townlands may have been sold outside the Land Commission framework.

The Land Commission fixed annuities reflecting the acreage and quality of each holding, so tenants could purchase their holdings in instalments. The disparity in holding size between the two townlands persisted: one purchaser acquired half of Brandane’s purchased land value but this holding was in the £20–£50 annuity bracket, while two purchasers acquired about two thirds of Barrystown’s purchased land value, and their holdings were in the £50–£100 bracket. However, in both townlands the numbers of tiny holdings had gone down, and the proportion of land in very large holdings was rising.

Housing quality continued to improve, but the most striking indicator of progress is the growth in the number of outhouses in holdings between 1901 and 1911: up by a third in both townlands. It seems that investment in structures that supported income growth came first.

Finally, on matching the 1902 tenant purchasers by name to the 1911 census list of residents, it emerged that over half the purchasers had left Barrystown, almost half had left Brandane, and almost as many newcomers had moved in. Perhaps ownership and the departure of landlords proved to be a mixed blessing, but selling land at market rates may also have been profitable, given the generous Land Commission tenant purchase terms. And consolidation was ongoing as land changed hands.

The fate of Barrystown House

Mrs. A.C. Hall described Barrystown House as “…clinging and climbing around an old castle with high arched vaults and winding stairs and dark little turreted chambers …” Following the fire in 1877, the house and castle were roofless ruins. WH Lett’s comments to the Land Commission suggest that by the turn of the century the yard and demesne were in a neglected state. We have no visual record of the place before the fire. These photos, taken c.1920 (photographer unknown), show its results:

[i] East India Company (1808). Accounts, Presented to the House of Commons, pp.422, 432. Original: Oxford University. Digitized 27 Jan 2009. https://books.google.ie/books?id=ADFbAAAAQAAJ&dq=%22jonas+king%22+wexford&source=gbs_navlinks_s

[ii] Hall, Mrs. A.C (1839). Hospitality. In Sketches of Irish Character (1844 Revision), Ed., M. Durnin (2015). Routledge (pp.143-162).
Hall, Mrs. A.C. (1839). Stories of the Irish Peasantry. Chambers Edinburgh Journal, No. 405. London: Bradbury & Evans. (p.231)

[iii] Griffith (1845). Valuation Office House Books. http://census.nationalarchives.ie/search/vob/house_books.jsp

[iv] Griffith (1878) Valuation Maps: Sheet including Barrystown.  http://griffiths.askaboutireland.ie/gv4/single_layer/i8.php?lat=&longt=&dum=0&sheet=45,46&mysession=2613054152622&info=&place=&county=Wexford&placename=Barrystown&parish=Bannow&country=Ireland&union=&barony=Bargy

[v] Census of Ireland, 1841 to 1891. Histpop. http://www.histpop.org/ohpr/servlet/Show?page=Home
Census of Ireland, 1901 and 1911. National Archives of Ireland. http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/

[vi] Ó Gráda, C. (1999). Black ’47 and Beyond: The Great Irish Famine in History, Economy, and Memory. Princeton University Press, NJ.

[vii] Dúchas Bannow Collection, Danescastle NS. Teacher: Tomás Breatnach. The Local Landlord. Informant: James Davey, Grange, Co. Wexford. https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/5009233/5000472/5130337

[viii] Dúchas Bannow Collection, Danescastle NS. Teacher: Tomás Breatnach. Geneva – Locally Pronounced Genaivey. From Peter Colfer, Vernegly, Bannow: Age 66 yrs. https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/5009233/5000476

[ix] Gardiner. M.J. and Radford, T. (1980). Soil Associations of Ireland and Their Land Use Potential. Explanatory Bulletin to Soil Map of Ireland. National Soil Survey of Ireland. Dublin: An Foras Talúntais.

[x] Land Commission (UK) (1904). Monthly returns of proceedings under the Land Law (Ireland) Acts, the Labourers (Ireland) Acts, and the Purchase of Land (Ireland) Acts: 1900 to 1904.http://www.dippam.ac.uk/eppi/eppi_lc_subjects/2821

Barrystown House c.1920

On the NIAH website[i], Barrystown Castle/Tower House is described as “a large irregularly shaped structure; … in time the castle became enmeshed in later work that has now all been removed.” The irregular shape is evident in the photo above which shows back of the house. The large curved structure with generous window openings held dining rooms and drawing rooms (as children in the 1950s, we called the remaining bits of wall and the grass patch they surrounded “the ballroom”).

The Twentieth Century

WH Lett purchased two lots of Barrystown land (193 acres and 23 acres) from the Land Commission – probably the demesne and the adjoining mines area. In the 1911 Census, he is registered as owning twelve outhouses/farm-steadings in Barrystown: a stable, coach house, cow house, calf house, fowl house, three piggeries, two barns and two sheds. In a separate listing in that Census he is registered as owning an unoccupied dwelling house there. This complex of structures could be Barrystown yard.

The Griffith map shows the original Barrystown avenue lined with trees; they were gone by the 1890s. The 1901 OS map shows that the ford road from the estuary up past the Hill Field had become an estate lane, and the stretch past the Calf Park had become a field boundary. The OS Cassini map (c.1930) shows that the stretch from the old estate gates to the Carrig road had become part of the access route to the yard; it was tree-lined, and ended with gates onto the Carrig road. This was probably the work of WH Lett. But it is puzzling that he did it. The House was gone, and this route to the yard was generally known by then as “the back lane”. It offered the shortest route by about a mile from the yard to Carrig, but for anything else, the wider lane to the Grantstown road had the advantage.

Lett also re-investigated the old mines. The Echo, 3rd May 1909 reports:

Mr. W. H. Lett, Balloughton. … decided on carrying out with his own work men some prospecting work and it would now appear that his efforts are about being rewarded …. It is expected that by the summer months everything will be in full swing and a large number of hands employed. Mr. Lett deserves to be congratulated on his plucky and patriotic action.

Barrystown engine house was recommissioned in 1913, and around 1914 Edward Armstrong “Pasha” Johnson, a prospector, arrived (a son of the Rector of Ferns, he acquired the title “Pasha” during his years as a colonial administrator in Egypt). He prospected at Barrystown, Bree, Adamstown and Caim. Things looked promising, but then his engineer left to fight in World War 1, and there ended the last exploration before Independence.

[i] NIAH Buildings of Ireland website map notes

Barrystown mines today

Photo courtesy Denis Kenny

An engine house and 13-metre high ventilation stack are all that remain of the mines. The NIAH describes this structure as “an ivy-enveloped shell of a Cornish-type engine house representing an important component of the nineteenth-century industrial heritage of south County Wexford”.

WH Lett remained an active member of rural society. Tom McDonald cites newspaper reports of him hosting a concert in 1915 in “one of his rooms at Barriestown” to raise funds to build a parochial hall, and adjudicating at Duncormick Petty Session in 1918. And in 1929 he wrote to the Council:

… calling attention to the very dangerous turn on the Balloughton road where there had been a good many accidents, four of which he had seen. The obstruction could be obviated by an outlay of about £5. He would give the land free on condition that the work be done within three months…. It was decided to refer the matter to the County Surveyor for report.[i]

(Minutes, Wexford County Council Meeting, 9 December 1929, p.851).

WH Lett died aged 79 in January 1932. The historic Barrystown demesne era was truly over.

Barrystown mines attracted brief interest again in 1933; they were mentioned twice in Dáil Éireann as on the State survey list (2 May 1957, 21 April 1959[ii]); locals remember surveying by a Canadian company in the 1970s. Again, it came to nothing. The mines have been left in peace since then.

Endings and beginnings

Jonas III was the only one of his family to have children. As noted above, his daughter Isabella Lett had four children. His son, Jonas IV (1868–1909), a dairy proprietor in Dublin, had two sons. Born at the turn of the century, they died before 1911.

WH Lett, Jonas III’s son-in-law, succeeded him as owner of Barrystown, by purchase, not inheritance. We believe he had tenants in the yard cottage at least at times between 1900 and 1932: it would have been sensible to have a farm worker living there to ensure its upkeep and to work the land, but we have no information apart from tentative pointers in the 1901 and 1911 censuses mentioned above. WH Lett died in 1932, and the Balloughton Lett family moved to England around then. Possibly the sale of their lands, including the Barrystown property, was negotiated with the Irish Land Commission at that time.

In 1932 our granduncle Jim Carton and his wife Maggie jointly purchased Barrystown land – mainly the demesne, the orchard and the yard complex – from the Irish Land Commission for £300. They were offered a further sixty acres on the other side of the mine road for £60, but declined because they would have had to borrow to buy it. Jim and Maggie both grew up in north Wexford; they married in 1918. For a time before that, Jim, noted for his skill with horses, worked at Whites of Killag; Maggie worked in service in a great house (unknown) in England. Later in the 1930s, Mogue Kenny from Raheen Camolin (Jim’s nephew and our father), came to work for them in Barrystown and in the 1950s the farm passed to him.

The story of Barrystown is a microcosm of the story of Irish landholding. The Barrys were invaders, and history recorded their lineage, conquests and defeat. We can trace the story of Barrystown under the Kings, from Jonas I’s careful estate-building, through Jonas II’s fun days, Rev. Richard’s distance management, Jonas III’s disintegration both personally and as landlord, on to the fading links between the last of the Kings and the shrinking Barrystown estate, and closing with WH Lett’s role in managing Barrystown and furthering tenant purchase. The story of the tenants is interwoven with all this. It was hinted at above, in the brief review of population change 1841–1911, and the long struggles around tenant purchase.

The castle was commenced around1654, and by 1777 almost all the yard buildings we have today were completed. We have no old images of Barrystown House or demesne in its heyday. Photos A and B below show some of the elements as they are today.

[i] Wexford County Council (1929). Minutes: Meeting Held on 9th December,1929. N. J. Frizelle, Secretary. Fortview, Wexford. Wexford County Council Archives. http://www.wexford.ie/largefiles/archive/WXCCMinutesV11to20/December-1929-Vol14.pdf

[ii]