‘A Various country’ Essays on Mayo History 1500 –1900 edited by R.G. Gillespie and G. Moran


The book consists of an introduction by the Editors and six essays on different topics on Mayo History 1500 – 1900.

Introduction : Writing Local History R.Gillespie and G. Moran.

The introduction is subdivided into three parts: firstly, a brief comment on the state of Local History in Ireland and a glance at the complexity of the concept of "community". Some consideration is given to the "county" as community unit and also to that of the Catholic Parish. "Defining the appropriate local communities for study in the Irish context is thus not an easy matter".


The foregoing was by way of an ‘introduction to the "introduction" a part not numbered, though separate in the text. This Section, 1 in the Introduction, examines the use of Mayo, the county, as a unit of Study for Local History. The "untypicality" of the county is touched upon and the fact that some contributors have not restricted themselves to the ‘county’unit.


"Mayo was in fact composed of a wide range of different overlapping communities". While "overlapping" is one theme, the interaction of the overlapping communities is the second, resulting theme, in the essays.

"The study of the relationship between different communities of interest should therefore be the central concern of the local historian in Ireland".

The point is also made that these overlapping, (inter) interacting communities "also belonged to a wider network of communities outside the region". ("Outeraction" perhaps, to coin a new word?). In this context are Edward Nangle in Achill, Maynooth College Clergy, government influence through the gentry, markets, "ironing the land, returning immigrants are mentioned. …… "how various communities interacted …conflicts resolved … we begin to understand the totality of history which is the local community".


This final section of the introduction examines two approaches to local History.

(a) To examine the basic building blocks in a community e.g. an individual family. In this approach the "neighbour" community, the parish community are validated as units of study.

Within this approach, the study of a family need not be "merely a collection of names .. but an explanation of the world within which that family lived and died…".

(b) To examine "a process not an individual" is the second approach outlined. The "process of commercialisation" is considered and its repercussions on a community. Also, education, leading to literacy , and its consequent opportunities to a farming community. "Nationalism" in the nineteenth century is suggested as a process and the varying community responses to this phenomenon.

The editors concluding paragraph emphasise that asking the right questions is essential, while the final sentence, "Local history is too important to be left to the professionals" ends the introduction on an enlightening note.


Natives and Newcomers in Mayo 1560 –1603 Bernadette Cunningham

The essay consists of an introduction and five subdivisions numbered 1 –5.

A revision of "the relentless pursuit of conquest" as the accepted idea of sixteenth century Irish history is considered. Modern historians , however have neglected to note the importance of regional variations and further study is required. The area, that is County Mayo is best studied in terms of a "Gaelic Lordship", (the MacWilliam Iochtar ) and the "English County" since the latter gradually replaced the former in the years concerned.


In this section the writer outlines the shiring of Connaught, the establishment of the Presidency and the difficulties experienced by the ‘new’ administrators. The differing perspectives of the crown, (lord, deputy ) provincial governor, sheriffs and the tensions which these created are considered. This section concludes stating that confrontation with the native population was not the only interaction and that the new administration of the Presidency was "little more than one more factor in a complex political framework.


This section of the essay outlines the preoccupation of the native families including here the Sean Gaill. "There was no hint of a national perspective among the local elite" This only developed during "the course of the seventeenth century".

"Pragmatism rather than idealism" was the response to foreign encroachment.


The changeover from native to English provincial administration is examined in this section with reference to the work of Sir Nicholas Malby. Malby’s intervention in succession disputes; his dealings with MacWilliam and his good standing with the annalists are outlined. The gradual resort to the English courts particularly under the Bingham presidency towards the end of the century is demonstrated. The machinations of one Theobald Dillon in manipulating the "fluidity" in the time of changeover and garnering for himself all of the barony of Costelloe, are presented.


The progress of the composition and reasons for its acceptance are dealt with in this section. Basically the economic considerations were decisive in that the composition made the hiring of mercenaries unnecessary and lessened the burden of taxes/ exactions on the lesser lords. North Mayo differed from South Mayo in this context. Bingham resorted to war to enforce "primogeniture" and propelled the local ‘movers and shakers’ into support for Red Hugh O’Donnell in the Nine Years War, ending in defeat. In contrast, the South Mayo Buke’s , Clanricard , became Presidents of Connaught in the new century.


The final brief section states that the various responses to the Presidency of Connaught was not "a struggle on behalf of a nation but rather an ongoing contest for personal power". " Kinsale was not really a defeat for Gaelic Ireland".


Lords and Commons in Seventeenth Century Mayo R. Gillespie.

This essay deals with the economy of seventeenth century Mayo which was a "period of considerable growth".

The native economy is described as "distributive or barter" economy while the new economy was ruled by the "invisible hand of impersonal market forces". Different areas experienced the change at different speeds. Clare and Galway underwent the changeover with in a much shorter time than Mayo. This was due to the absence of a clearly unifying force in Mayo such as Clanricad in Galway and also the relative trickle of planters , outsiders etc. into the county. During the seventeenth century a process of inheritance known as ‘Gavelkind’ was widespread in Mayo being practiced by many of the 1,000 freeholders. The quarter of Clondara is taken as an example. In a generation it is divided into four parts, in the next each part is divided into seven parts and a generation later further divided in half, reaching 1/56 of the original quarter. Larger units, such as sept lands or settler estates had the problem of a shortage of tenants to contend with.

The attempt to modernise by the establishment of fairs and markets, was hindered in that Mayo "hovered between a cash economy and a barter economy". By 1641 "only a partial transition to the English style of governance and economic life" had taken place. Remarkably the Stafford Plantation of Connaught 1635 and the Cromwellian Settlement of 1652 both failed to materialise.

However the Restoration Settlement of 1660 allowed the large estates to claim the now often empty freeholds becoming very large even by national standards. Viscount Mayo grabbed 340 leaseholders bringing his estate to 500,000 acres. Two Cromwellian carpetbaggers, Gore and Ormlisy absorbed 62 and 15 respectively. Freeholders became tenants and leases became the norm. The restoration resulted in large consolidated estates and Mayo became a county "run by a handful of landlords" The author here mentions as a consequence of the creation of great estates that their assets prompted economic development e.g. ironworks, salmon fisheries, etc. Cattle raising increased towards the end of the century. This is evidenced by the increase in the size of holdings withmultiple tenancies. A chart of the Browne estate demonstrates this trend. The lack of infrastructure (what’s new) and the lack of quality tenants retarded development though there was some ‘improvement’ resulting from Protestant plantation. An example of a "recalcitrant" non paying tenant in the barony of Gallen is presented. However, unlike our "hero in Languedoc", his landlord, John Brown, was obliged to keep him on in forlorn hope of a replacement. Also the "quit rent" of the Restoration was some five times the previous "crown rent". Landlord indebtedness increased.

Mayo’s transformation was slow but a base had been laid despite the many problems e.g. poor communications, fragmented holdings, lack of capital. What would the eighteenth century bring?.


Development of the Co. Mayo Economy 1700 –1859 W.H Crawford

This essay draws heavily on the almanac prepared by government of fairs and markets.. He refers to travellers accounts such as Arthur Young, John Wesley etc. He also draws on the statistical survey of Co. Mayo - the Devon Commission and Lewis 1837.

His opening and indeed closing position is that there was "very real progress" achieved by the economy . He attaches considerable importance, correctly, to the growth of towns as evidence of economic growth. He outlines the development of the linen industry, the reclamation of marginal lands, the development of a road network and the influx of Ulster people both Orange and Nationalist.

He does note that while towns prospered, rural conditions deteriorated due to the massive population increase. Between 1821 – 41 the population jumped by 100,000 some 33%.

He concludes with a list of approximately fifty markets and fairs beginning with the Ardnaree patent of 1612 and ending with Westport.

Social Order& the Ghost of Moral Economy in Pre-Famine Mayo Desmond McCabe

The Author examines a rather unusual topic, the "Moral Economy" in an interesting essay.

The Moral economy may be defined as the obligation of the landlord, farmer, or merchant to forgo the right to profit, in deference to the tenant peasantry in bad times, particularly in times of food shortage or collapse in prices. It centres mainly on the landlord gentry and their response to distress between 1817 – 45.

McCabe sets out the views and actions of the peasantry, as not dissimilar to food riots of the English crowd. He states that the aims of the secret agrarian societies of the early eighteenth century were reformist rather than revolutionary, not unlike the English poor. He discusses the social stratification of pre Famine Mayo and outlines the effect of the rundale system. He seeks to establish the community of interest of landlord and tenant in the context of absenteeism, religion and ability to speak Irish. The ‘moral economy’ was quite robust despite ’98 up to the early 1820’s. He enters into some detail re. crowd gatherings in Ballina Feb. 1817 500 persons; Belmullet 1831 6,000 persons. Westport 1831, Ballaghadrrean 1831. Ballina (again) 1831, the latter called off due to police response. Always they were preceded by letter of appeal, rather than rebellion, to the local gentry.

The magistrates were also part of the "moral economy" and often the target of the crowd demo. and petition.

The Ballina magistrates resolved that "It is the bounden duty of the gentry and proprietors of this country to hear the complaints and relieve the wants of their tenants".

The constabulary also were politely but firmly informed that they should prevent the export of grain.

The writer concludes that there was a distinct change in landlord – tenant relations in the 1830’s & 40’s and " the famine evictions erased the final vestiges of peasant trust in landlord power."


Edward Nangle and the Achill Mision; 1834-52 Irene Whelan

This essay contains all the elements of Finberg’s definition of local history. It charts the origin, growth, decline and fall of the evangelical Protestant community in Achill from 1834 –52.

The rational behind this trend (evangelical experiments ) was …. The demands of commercial agricultural management.

The improving landlords ran their estates with a bible in one hand and a cash book in the other. A necessary adjunct of the well managed estate was the "moral agent". Into this context Edward Nangle launched his part of the "Second Reformation". The famine and cholera of 1831 provided fertile ground for the founding of



Nangle’s mission. By 1840 the project could argue a long list of achievements in Achill: education, reclamation, printing, hospital, hotel, roads, police, law, orphanage and of course Protestantism.

The struggle with the locals, the Roman Catholic Church, Bishop McHale, Vincentian preachers, Sisters of Mercy and Third Order of Saint Francis is outlined. The purchase of the island in its entirety with money from London supporters together with the relief work during the famine and the criticisms of Hall, the travel writer, is described.

Despite all, Achill remained a bastion of Catholicism. Perhaps the most lasting legacy of the valiant efforts of Nangle and his fellow evangelicals was the tradition of tourism which it bequeathed to Achill. Long before Nangle, who had been transferred to Skreen in Co. Sligo, also in Killala diocese, died in 1883 his experiment had petered out.

Emigration, the death of trusted colleagues, a dispute among the trustees and the rise of the land question combined to quench the "missionary light of Connaught".

The Changing Course of Mayo Politics 1867 –74 Gerard Moran

The title is indeed apt as this essay centres on the twists and turns of political stances and allegiances in the short span from 1867 – 74. The Principal character is Fr. Patrick Lavele, a veteran of the "Partry" eviction of the 1860’s who progresses / regresses from a confirmed supporter of Fenianism to a confirmed believer in constitutionalism.

The involvement of the priests in politics in the 1860’s is set out in some detail. Their decisive influence at selection conventions and elections is dealt with in some detail. So also are Lavelle’s clashes with Cardinal cullen, his alliance with Bishop McHale and his estrangement from the latter.

The 1868 (General) Election in Mayo.


Clerical influence was at its height in the 1868 General Election, with considerable clerical involvement in 24 of the 28 constituencies in the three provinces. In Mayo, since 1857, the constituency returned 1 conservative and 1 liberal without a contest. Fr. Lavelle declared his support for George Henry Moore at the outset, for the 1868 election and championed the tenant cause exclusively, making no mention of the national Question, disestablishment, Education. This factor is taken by Moore as evidence of Fr. Lavelle’s first move towards constitutionalism. He "warmed to the principal of standing for parliament himself" according to his speeches in the Mayo by- election of 1870. Moran contends that Lavelle espoused a Dual Monarchy - Hungarian Policy, some 30 years before Arthur Griffith. This was the time of the Ammesty Association and the neo-fenian movement, - prepared to use parliament to achieve their aims. Lavelle was again very influential in the election convention for the 1870 by-election.


The 1874 General Election in Mayo

The Home Government Association, founded by Issac Butt in 1870, was a milestone in the change from fenian to constitutionalist by Fr. Lavelle. He founded the new organisation and was nominated to the 61 man central committee. Fr. Lavelle’s last great foray into politics was the election of 1874. In the selection convention he succeeded in preventing the nomination of John O’Connor Power to the disgust of Bishop McHale. However it transpired that the nominations were reopened and O’Connor Power was re-entered and won the election. His victory marked the end of landlord representation and also the end of clerical management of political affairs.

"Events of the period 1868 – 74 had given birth to a new political hierarchy, its masters coming from among the people".



M O’D.