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

William the Improvident (1652-1735) & Patrick the Failure (1677-1730)

Patrick was cautious and fairly businesslike, and he lived for fifteen years to enjoy the Co. Clare property of which he luckily and unexpectedly found himself possessed. He died in 1672, barely sixty years of age. During those fifteen years they lived at Shandangan in the parish of Kilmurry and were well-off: Patrick had money from his Limerick business, from which he seems to have retired after being removed to Clare, as well as the proceeds of the Clare property; but even he was not entirely free from the family failing for law, and towards the end of his life we find him several times mixed up in lawsuits[68] principally about land.

The country very soon recovered economically from the effects of the Cromwellian wars (the remarkable recuperative power of Ireland after the most devastating wars is one of the features of her history) and up to 1690 another period of comparative material prosperity was enjoyed until the arrival of King William inaugurated two centuries of economic depression unrelieved by any bright spot, except the fictitious glitter associated with Grattan’s Parliament, when for a few years the brilliance of one class and one city overshadowed the misery of the submerged majority. There were, however, several causes which after 1660 prevented the country going ahead as far as it might have done, notably the feeling of insecurity as to land tenure and titles of ownership which the confiscation and transplantations had engendered, as well as the legal restrictions on industry and the chaotic monetary system to which I will have occasion to refer later on.

Patrick put the house at Shandangan in order and lived within his income. But his eldest son William was of a different type. He was only twenty-one when his father died in 1672[69] and he never took any part in the Limerick business, which apparently ceased to exist as far as the McLysaght family was concerned with the retirement of Patrick from it. I label him William the Improvident.

He would have had some early childhood memories of Camus and Ballynanty, as he was eight years old when the trek was made. He had at least one brother, Patrick, also born before the transplantation, and two sisters born in Co. Clare. It would serve no purpose to discuss people who have no known connexion with men and women now living and who do not illustrate phase of the life of their own day. A glance at the genealogical tree given in Appendix B will show what is known about them. Further investigation may, of course, reveal some facts of interest.

William lived to be well over eighty years of age and the whole of his life is one long catalogue of feckless shifts and contrivances to try and obviate the results of his own extravagance and unbusinesslike habits. The hard riding, hard drinking, gambling squires of the eighteenth century are familiar to us in both history and fiction. Such a one was William, though he entered on his career of waste twenty-five years before the eighteenth century began. In one important respect only he was not true to the well-known type; he remained unwaveringly Catholic. In 1690 we find him imprisoned on suspicion and standing his trial with other Catholic gentry for complicity in the alleged “Popish Plot,”[70] and even up to the end of his long life (he did not die till 1735) when conformity would have paid him well, he always appears in the various records available as an uncompromising “Papist”.

There is a William Lysaght in King James’s army list who greatly distinguished himself. It has several times been suggested that this was our William the Improvident; but tradition says he was a West Clare man. The fact, however, that we know our William was definitely associated with the Catholic cause might give some colour to this belief, and it is interesting to note by way of confirmation, in a negative sense, that there is a gap of some years in the records of his incessant law cases, just at the time when the Jacobite army was occupied on active service. If so he was lucky to escape the exile to the Continent which was the lot of so many of King James’s officers. If he actually was one of them, John Steven’s diary, to which I shall refer frequently in my projected book, has a special interest for us, as, on the march from Loughrea, the army camped for a night at Ballymarkahan;[71] and if William was with Stevens on that occasion - he may even have been one of those officers about whom Stevens is so scathing while in common with every other commentator of the time praising the rank and file of the Irish soldiers - we can imagine William slipping off for a few hours to see his family while the army lay asleep in the camp near by.[72]

Apropos of religious affiliations I may mention that in the records of Co. Clare during the Penal times I find several of our own name included in that most odious of all categories, the lists of what are known as “Protestant discoverers”. I am thankful to say that I can trace no relationship to us in any of these, though as one who looks upon history as a science, quickened by the imagination, rather than as a means of propaganda, I would be obliged to record the fact, even if one of those miserable creatures had been our direct ancestor. The Penal Laws, and the depths of meanness and treachery to which they deliberately encouraged men to debase themselves for personal gain belong to the eighteenth century and are too well known for me to expatiate on them here.

In any case I am going too far ahead. Our story has only reached 1672, and at that time the Penal Laws were not so severe as to make the everyday life of a Catholic layman irksome; nor had they begun to have the effect they afterwards had of cleaning up the loose morals which prevailed in Catholic Ireland as in Protestant England at the Restoration period.[73] It was an age in which it was possible for such amazing figures as the notorious “Bishop” Miler Magrath to behave in a way so outrageous as to be hardly credible and yet, in modern parlance, to get away with it.

Patrick, the Transplantee, in his will[74] left all the Clare property to his eldest son William (the Improvident). Division of estates was still fairly common; and I have yet to ascertain what Patrick the second son got, or what became of him. William stated in 1709 that he believed him to be still alive.[75] At this time, though the value of landed property was depressed for the reasons I have given, farming paid well and the country was again becoming prosperous, indeed, that England was already in accordance with the accepted theories of the times, taking steps by means of Cattle Acts, Navigation Acts and so forth to check the growing commercial activity of what she regarded as her colony, lest its rising industries should compete with the established ones in England.

It was still lawful for Catholics to own land and the disabilities attaching to the old religion pressed more hardly on the clergy than on the laity. The clergy, who previous to the Cromwellian war had been in comparatively comfortable circumstances, now found themselves reduced to the direst straits. The income of the See of Cashel, for example, had fallen in 1678 to £20 from over £1,000. The priests were in equally bad case for they depended on the voluntary offerings of their parishioners, who had to pay twice for every service, since the priests were only suffered to receive such dues if similar sums were first paid to the Protestant clergy of the place. The Catholic clergy, in fact, were more or less “on the run” and seldom if ever dared to go abroad in clerical attire. In 1678 Blessed Oliver Plunkett was the only Catholic Bishop in Ireland who had a house of his own.[76]

Two years after his father’s death (in 1674) William married Barbara Arthure of Clounanna.[77] The Arthures or Authurs were a well-known family settled near the city of Limerick, the most distinguished of whom was Dr. Richard Arthur, Catholic Bishop of Limerick from 1623 to 1650. One of them Dr. Thomas Arthur was the author of the MS. which is so much quoted in Lenihan’s History of Limerick: He appears as a witness called on behalf of William in a lawsuit in 1671/2.[78] The connexion between the two families was very close at this time: Barbara’s mother (Mary Arthur) was herself a MacLysaght,[79] one of the Kilkerrily branch, so that Barbara was William’s third cousin, and Elinor Arthur (who, I think, was Barbara’a aunt) was married to another McLysaght[80] whose exact relationship to William I have not yet traced.

William must have already shown signs of the improvidence which eventually, to use the words of a legal document of the time, had by 1698 “brought him to poverty”,[81] for before the marriage with Barbara took place the Arthurs, knowing their cousin’s character insisted on his settling all his Clare property on her for her life.[82] This precaution, however, was unnecessary, as she died in 1678, not long after the birth of their only child who, in accordance with the custom of the family, was called Patrick, after his grandfather. As in consideration of the settlement William received £800 in cash from the Arthurs, this must have been one of the very few business transactions ever entered into by him which ultimately proved profitable.

It is only fair to William to remember that for a man of extravagant and unbusinesslike habits the second half of the seventeenth century was a specially difficult time.[83] The average man of that type had no assests except landed property. The value of land was low because of the sense of insecurity which accompanied its possession, so that in order to obtain the sums of ready money he required he had to mortgage twice as much land as would have sufficed in more favourable circumstances. Add to this the fact that the ordinary rate of interest was 10%, when 4% was considered an adequate return in Holland at the same date, and it is not hard to understand how he ran through a nice estate.

Though the establishment of a regular bank was seriously proposed as early as 1623[84] such banking as was done in the seventeenth century in Ireland was in the hands of brokers. In the year 1680 many of these men went bankrupt, an event which added to the financial embarrassment of men like William. I do not know whether he had any transactions with these brokers, but the fact remains that while in 1678 he had cash to spend on making improvements at Ballymarkahan[85] in 1683 we find him being sued for the payment of £16, due for goods bought in a shop at Ennis[86] and thereafter the mortgaging and selling of land begins.

A 10% rate of interest was but the reflexion of the financial situation which indeed in Ireland was chaotic. The system was rudimentary and disorganised as well. Bank notes, of course, had not yet been introduced: traders’ tokens to some extent took their place, but their circulation was only local, and bills of exchange and letters of credit were sometimes issued, even in the early days of the century, by rich men such as the Earl of Cork, to their friends and acquaintances to eliminate the risks of carrying actual cash from place to place.[87] In addition to the elements of chaos already mentioned the coinage was in a state of hopeless confusion. There was no mint in Ireland till James II established two (in Limerick and Dublin) the issue of whose debased coinage only served to make confusion worse confounded. All sorts of foreign coins – Ducatoons, Pistoles, French Louis, Portugal Royals and Mexican Pieces of eight[88] – were in circulation, as well as counterfeit coins of all descriptions, and their value was determined by weight, which in turn led to much fraud and uncertainty.[89] This state of affairs may be regarded as the normal one in Ireland throughout the century and was mentioned by Sir Henry Bourgchier as a serious evil in 1623 - the middle of the first peace period.[90]

Since William’s son Patrick died five years before his tough old father and had no effect on the family fortunes beyond begetting a son, who, after various adventures, once again restored the fallen fortunes of the family, it would be as well to dismiss him here in a few lines. According to a note attached to an extremely interesting autobiographical fragment written by his son (William of the Lemons) referred to just now, this Patrick (to whom I attach the label of The Failure to distinguish him from the previous Patricks) fell out with his father because he would not marry a rich heiress (name not given) with whom old William had arranged a match,[91] hoping, I suppose, thereby to stave off some of his creditors. He did marry, a Miss McNamara, I believe, in 1715 or 1716 but his son William of the Lemons was not born till 1721. Patrick was if possible even more feckless than his father: in 1709 he actually went so far as to sell his right of reversion in all the Clare property “for £20 cash, and £10 payable 1st May, 1710, and 50/- a year, and a horse!”[92] The purchaser in this curious transaction was one Wm. Butler of Limerick, but as we find the same man paying Patrick £1000 for Ballymarkahan, Shandangan and Feakle, in 1717,[93] the first deal must have been regarded as invalid. Either Butler was a fool or Patrick a remarkably plausible knave, as by this time every acre of the property not already sold outright had been heavily mortgaged by his father, some of it apparently twice over. It would be wearisome to recount here all of these incumbrances.

In 1709 Patrick paid a visit to Portugal.[94] Like every Irish Catholic family of any standing the McLysaghts had connexions on the Continent: it was usually Spain, where Irish names may still be found amongst the aristocracy (the Duke of Tetuan, for example, is an O’Donnell) but in our case it was Portugal, and the connexion was kept up in the next generation too, as we shall see.

Immediately after the death of his wife Barbara, William the Independent left Shandangan and went to live at Ballymarkahan, and not yet having had time to dissipate all his fortune spent money on improvements there.[95] The two places lie, about three miles apart, between Quin and Sixmilebridge.[96]

The castle at Ballymarkahan still stands, solid and four-square, hardly yet to be called a ruin, though now the habitation only of sheep and cattle. Its actual structure will be known to anyone familiar with the thirteenth to fifteenth century castles which are dotted all over Munster; and anyone who happens to have been inside Lohort Castle before it was burned will remember how domestic household arrangements can be made to fit into such a building.

There is now no trace of any annexe to the castle itself at Ballymarkahan, but it was usual, especially when peaceful times permitted life to be lived in something more comfortable than a grim fortress, to add some rooms in the form of a single storey wing to the old structure. Up to the middle of the seventeenth century country houses, other than castles and a few mansions such as Sir Walter Raleigh’s house at Youghal and the fine Elizabethan house built by “Black Tom” Ormonde at Carrick-on-Suir, were nearly always built of timber and usually thatched: fires were thus common both in town and country.[97] We have evidence that money was spent at Ballymarkahan by our people and we can be pretty sure that a wing of some sort existed in their time, as also stables and out-offices, less pretentious, of course, than the spacious yards which are a feature of eighteenth century Irish country houses, but still built and serviceable enough.[98] In times when war was always imminent and when raids and cattle forays were a constant danger the custom was to bring in all the cattle and livestock at night in both winter and summer and to impound them in a large “bawn” provided for the purpose. The enclosure, of course included the dwelling house and the whole formed a compact area which could, if necessary, be to a certain extent defended. No such bawn would have been considered necessary, I think, at Ballymarkahan as late as 1672.

The big forests had already disappeared, but there is no doubt that a good part of East Clare was well wooded.[99] I do not know whether any of the trees of the type we are accustomed to associate with Irish country houses clustered around Ballymarkahan or Shandangan but it is certain that, if such there were, no cawing of crows (or rooks as they should properly be called) met the ears of our ancestors when they woke on an early summer’s morning, for the only crow then found in Ireland was the pied squall-crow,[100] a bird of very different habits.

William did not spend long mourning his young wife, for in February, 1678 (old style), less than six moths after her death he was already courting a Miss Bagot, of Rathjordan, Co. Limerick.[101] Failing to win her, he transferred his affection to Anne Reddan whom he married the same year.[102]

For some reason or other it has been generally believed in the family that this Anne Reddan was a person of low family and that she was the evil genius of old William; that she was the young wife of his old age and that she prevailed on him in his dotage to part with his property to relatives of hers. Among our papers is a letter from a certain Mr. Sayers of about one hundred years ago categorically making all these statements, which have been repeated in Col. Grove White’s book.[103] The facts of the case, I find, are entirely different. The Reddans were small gentry, quite well connected. He married Anne within a year of his first wife’s death,[104] he being twenty-nine years old at the time. She had at least two children by him: the elder, a William again (b. 1680), had so little property to come in for that he had to be apprenticed to Mr. Harold the Limerick merchant;[105] the younger was Margaret. Perhaps she has been confused with her mother, who actually died in 1679[106] while William was still a comparatively young man, thirty-eight years before his death in fact. Margaret, who married a certain David White (of another well-known Catholic family to be found on both sides of Limerick) did live with old William up till his death in 1735 and was in possession of all his papers before and after his death.[107]

It is true that in 1707 William attempted to get the sale of Ballymarkahan and Feakle to Ignatius Reddan (alleged to have been for the ridiculous sum of £300) cancelled. This was ten years after Anne’s death[108] and in any case was only on a par with all his other legal twisting. All who had dealings with him must have regarded him as impossible, and even his friend Theobald Bourke, who in 1696[109] is co-defendant with William in an action, appears as his opponent in 1700.[110]

It was into this atmosphere of legal squabbling, into that bitterness which is associated with poverty, when poverty follows affluence without change of scene, into a family where the head of the household, his grandfather, was old and querulous, that William of the Lemons was born. His father, little better than a waster himself, did not pull with the old man and we may believe was frequently away from home. We can picture him riding over to Ennis, when the mood took him, to fritter away with the young bucks and squireens of the county lands already twice disposed of before; or, more often, spending his time shooting over the many bogs and lakes which then, even more than now, were full of duck and wildfowl.

Sport was good in Ireland always. Contemporary books and letters contain many references to the abundance of pheasants and even partridges, as well as wild fowl of all kinds. Wolves and stags were the traditional quarry of Irish hunters. It is interesting to note that swans, which have always been numerous in Ireland, were killed regularly in the seventeenth century,[111] so that the traditional belief that it is unlucky to kill a swan, still current in most parts, is not as ancient as is generally thought, or at least that it suffered an eclipse in early modern times. Fox-hunting, however, had only been inaugurated in a few places and sport was not up to the standard of later times. We read that “a run seldom goes two miles outright”[112] and at the same time it is true that seventeenth century Irish horses had not made their reputation and were, in fact, inferior to English.[113] The ordinary Irish nag, however, was held in esteem from the earliest times.[114]

When young William of the Lemons was nine years old his father died and that feckless and yet rather pathetic figure fades out of the picture. The young boy is left in the gloomy and impoverished house alone with his old grandfather and his unfriendly step-aunt, Mrs. White.

The adventures of this young man will carry us to Portugal and County Cork: his life covers to all intents and purposes the whole of the eighteenth century. Before entering on this period, so brilliant and interesting elsewhere but for Ireland one of almost unrelieved and melancholy gloom, I will devote a few pages to considering the life of the County Clare, during the time our family occupied Shandangan and Ballymarkahan.

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Life in Clare c1680