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Short Study of a Transplanted Family in the Seventeenth Century
by Edward MacLysaght

William of the Lemons (1721-1798)

I have devoted rather more space than I intended to this attempt to recall the life of the country and the surroundings of our people at a period which covers the last years of Patrick the Transplanted, the prime of William the Improvident, and the early youth of Patrick the Failure. The limited scope of this preliminary sketch prevents me from doing the same thing for earlier generations, but I hope to be able to do it in the future. As for the period covered by the life of William of the Lemons (1721-1798), one has but to read such well-known books as Arthur Young’s “Tour”, of Professor Corkery’s “Hidden Ireland” to obtain a fairly clear picture of it, and there is less immediate need for another account of the most depressing century in Irish history.

Though he himself was not born till twenty years after the close of the seventeenth century, I have had occasion to mention William of the Lemons several times. His career belongs to the eighteenth century, and so does not fall properly within the scope of this study, but it is possible that my readers will have become sufficiently interested in the fortunes of the family itself to justify me in devoting a few pages to giving an account of the adventures of William of the Lemons, and so, as it were, opening a gateway from the period we have been considering to the days in which we ourselves live.

My information as regards the affairs of the family up to the death of William the Improvident has been obtained almost exclusively from Exchequer and Chancery Bills and Answers, Catholic Encumbrance Rolls, Transplantation Certificates and other documents preserved in the Record Office,[132] the Royal Irish Academy and elsewhere. For the life of William of the Lemons I have another and less forma authority to draw upon. I have already made a passing reference to this.[133] It consists of a few pages of autobiography written by William himself. It is a most tantalizing document, because the earlier part of it was already partially, and in places totally, obliterated when it was discovered. The manner of its discovery was thus described by Mr. Lysaght in 1846.

“Having heard from my father and Bess Sayers that my grandfather had written a short account of his life and early days, and that my uncle, John Lysaght, had it at one time, I applied to his widow, Mrs. John N. Wrixon, about it, and she told me than many years ago my uncle had given it to a man of the name of Pierce Mansfield, who was an accountant and receiver in the family, and taking an interest in them wished to read his narrative, which he saw amongst my uncle’s papers. It appears he forgot to return it. This Mansfield had been dead for some years. However, I went to his widow, who kept a baker’s shop in Mallow, and asked her about it. She recollected the circumstance of her husband having got it, but had not seen it for many years. She said she believed her husband’s brother had a box of his papers and directed me to him. At the bottom of this box, which lay on a wet mud floor, was this single sheet which I have copied above. The damp had absolutely melted away all except what I got.”

Unfortunately the early part, which is the most interesting and which deals with the time about which we have the least information, is most undecipherable.

It will be remembered that we left William of the Lemons as a small orphan of nine with his aged grandfather in the gloomy and impoverished castle of Ballymarkahan.

William himself says that the old man was very much under the influence of his daughter, Margaret, who was one of the second family and had married a Mr. David White,[134] but by 1730 was living at Ballymarkahan as mistress of the house. She was thus William’s step-aunt. There can be no doubt that she was anything but friendly to her nephew, who calls her “that never to be forgotten woman,” though from my knowledge of how the property had been squandered by William the Improvident and Patrick the Failure, I think young William exaggerated the enormity of her offences against him so far as her scheming to do him out of his rights was concerned; and the subsequent decision of the Courts against him when he took legal action in the matter tends to confirm this view. But I think we can safely accept the fact that she gave the young boy a thoroughly bad time. At the beginning of this story we came across this passage: “Thus….stanced….sed God perfectly recovered without loss of eye: tho’ greatly marked will follow me to the grave.” In its context this would even suggest that Mrs. White’s animosity was not confined to nagging and keeping the boy on short rations. In his notes on the fragment, which for want of a better word we must call the autobiography, Mr. John Lysaght relates how this lady and her mother even went so far as to engage an Algerian pirate to take William and his sister away and dispose of them. This would be easier to believe were it not for the fact that her mother, whom we have met as Anne Reddan, was in her grave over thirty years at this time.[135] Similarly he states circumstantially that Patrick the Failure married Barbara Arthur - who was, of course, his own mother!

At any rate, William found the situation unbearable, and whether the sinister scheme to have him kidnapped existed or not, he was glad to be persuaded by friendly neighbours to quit the house before he was 12 years of age. “Some followers and other relations gave me some little clothes [and I] went with their children to school, learned to write a letter and read grammar, in which I was instructed by a good humane, friendly gentleman, a distant relation, a Mr. Bourk, to whom God was pleased to put in my power afterwards to show him some remembrance of the gratitude I ought to remember.”

I do not now intend to comment on the life of the times at this period for the reasons I have already given, but I may mention here that the extract just quoted indicates that it was possible for Catholic school to be conducted with impunity in one of the less remote parts of Co. Clare in the year 1733. There is not doubt that it was a Catholic school. Our relatives, the Bourkes, were Catholics, as was William himself. Later on, he married a Protestant lady, Miss Knight of Ballynoe, and under her influence all his children were brought up as Protestants; one of his sons, however, reverted to the old religion, and he himself went through all the worst of the penal times without renouncing his original faith, in spite of the resultant handicap on the principal ambition of his life, the desire to restore the family fortunes and build up a landed estate in the county in which he finally settled down.

When William was still a boy, he applied to Mr. Lysaght of Mount North, Co. Cork - afterwards the first Lord Lisle - for assistance, who “harkened to my most piteous story”, and not only paid for his further education, but even wrote letters on his behalf to Mrs. White and her cousin, John Reddan, though without avail.

William evidently made a good impression on Lord Lisle, for he gave him business to do for him “beyond my years”. After these words is a blank followed by the words, “bear my imperfections”. I do not know what to make of this, but whatever may have been the cause, William decided to go to Portugal, where he met a welcome from his cousin, the son of his step-uncle, William, very different from the treatment he had received from that gentleman’s sister, his step-aunt, Mrs. White.

After a very pleasant stay in Lisbon, he returned to Ireland. Mr. John Lysaght says he did so with the object of taking his sister back to Portugal with him, but was much annoyed on reaching Co. Clare to find that she had married a well-born but penniless Mr. Hennessy during his absence. For this, or some other reason, he did not return to Portugal though he kept up the family relationship with his cousins there, calling one of his sons Joseph, after the man who had received him so kindly, and later sending this Joseph and his daughter, Grace, out to Portugal to live with their relatives.

The manner of his own return from Portugal is of greater interest, perhaps, than its cause. Having little or no money of his own, and as he tells us himself, being of an industrious turn, he bought a large quantity of lemons, hoping to make a good profit on them in Cork. Unfortunately, another ship with a similar cargo outstripped his and he arrived to find lemons a glut on the market.

He then entered the service of Mr. Lysaght of Mount North (Lord Lisle), who gave him the management of the place “at a reasonable salary”, and from that on he never looked back. By steady application to business, combined with a good eye for a beast, he gradually improved his position until he was able, in 1749, to build “a pretty little thatched house at Clogheen [near Doneraile], a parlour, kitchen, cellar, diary, little hall, three lodging rooms over and garrets.” “The times were low, lands very dear for the prices, but I both paid rents and improved the lands. I was ever fond of industry and improvements which I showed now to some purpose”.

It was to this house that he brought his wife; and if his descendents - appropriately enough, some of them Catholics and some Protestants - do not own Clogheen to-day, they live in various places not far from it, and are still buried in the picturesque graveyard surrounding the little ruined chapel of great antiquity, which lies at the bottom of the Clogheen lawn.

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Appendix A: Origin of MacLysaght Name