Did you ever hear of Mooneystown in Glencree?

Chris Corlett writes about changing land ownership around Curtlestown. This article was originally posted on his website, where you can read more of his writing on a variety of topics relating to history and antiquities.

A FEW YEARS AGO I came across an interesting story recorded in the Schools Manuscripts held in the National Folklore Collection in UCD. It was recorded in the late 1930s at Annacarter School near Roundwood:

There was a partial clearance about 70 years ago of 70 families out of part of Glencree now known as Mooneystown from the number of persons of that name (Mooney). They were squatters on the mountainside. Having built rude edifices of clay, wood and bracken and reclaimed small patches on the bleak mountainside, they were beginning to enjoy small comforts when they were unexpectedly visited by the Lord Powerscourt agent who demanded rent for their little holdings. The women were terrified under threat of eviction and entreated their husbands and brothers to comply with the agent’s demands, which seemed most moderate, only a few pence a week being at first demanded. This was to establish the land lord’s title to the holdings. When this had been secured English law was soon put into operation. The sheriff soon appeared and all were evicted. The night following the evictions the infuriated heads of families assembled and burned the old shacks to the ground. (NFC 917/253).

For a long time I was perplexed by the named Mooneystown – easily confused with the better known Moneystown near Roundwood. But the account in the Schools Manuscripts was clear that Mooneystown was in Glencree. Some initial enquiries in the area also turned up no results. And then I remembered the Powerscourt Estate maps from 1816, copies of which are held in the Irish Architectural Archive. Sure enough, there were three families of Mooney’s in the townlands of Curtlestown Upper and the adjoining part of Curtlestown Lower, on the northern side of the Glencree valley. The map reproduced here shows both townlands and is based on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey maps from 1838, but I have transferred the information on the 1816 Powerscourt Estate map here for convenience. This information includes who held what land, and what that land was used for.

Curtlestown Upper and Curtlestown Lower in 1816

Curtlestown Upper and Curtlestown Lower in 1816. (The location of the Chapel will help orientate.)

The largest holding shown is Bethel Burton’s farm (No 2) in Curtlestown Lower. However, what are relevant to this discussion are all the eleven tiny holdings to the north-west, mostly in Curtlestown Upper, but also in the adjoining part of Curtlestown Lower. The largest of these holdings are:

  • No 5 – John Smith,
  • No 6 – James & William Cox,
  • No 7 – Edward Mooney,
  • No 8 – John & James Mooney (all in Curtlestown Upper), and
  • No 3 – Laurence Mooney (Curtlestown Lower)

Notably, several of the plots of arable and pasture lands were held jointly by families with different names – perhaps indicating that they were related through marriage.

The settlement pattern shown on the 1816 map of Curtlestown Upper and Curtlestown Lower is very interesting, with small clusters of two or three houses, generally with arable and meadow lands nearby, suggestive of crop rotation. The pasture lands are mostly situated further from the farmsteads. Of particular interest is the large undivided field in Curtlestown Lower which is shown as ‘rundale’; this must have been a large arable field that was cultivated collectively by all eleven small tenant farmers.

So, the identification of Mooneystown appears to have been solved, and there seems no doubt that it equates with the townland known today at Curtlestown Upper – though the 11 families living here in 1816 falls well short of the alleged 70 families mentioned in the story above.

But what about that part of the story which describes the large-scale evictions of the families living in so-called Mooneystown? If we take Curtlestown Upper, we don’t know the population living there in 1816, but we can say that there were at least 8, possibly 9 inhabited houses in the townland. In 1841 we know from the census that the population living in Curtlestown Upper was 19, living in 5 houses. So the population appears to have declined between 1816 and 1841, but this hardly equates with a large-scale clearance. Interestingly, in 1851 the population was actually 20, again living in 5 houses. So the population in the townland was surprisingly very stable during this period that saw the Great Famine. However, within a couple of years, and certainly by the time of Griffith’s Valuation in the mid-1850s, all the inhabitants of Curtlestown Upper had been removed. The entire townland of Curtlestown Upper was held by Thomas Walker (the main tenant in Curtlestown Lower), and the only house – described as a herd’s house – was uninhabited at the time of the valuation’s survey. Therefore, between 1851 and 1855 there must have been a large-scale clearance of all the families that had been living in Curtlestown Upper. This then supports the story in the Schools Manuscripts.

In any good story there is always a twist. By the time of the 1901 census the Walker family continued to hold much of Curtlestown Upper. However, what is more interesting is that only two people lived in the entire townland; Brigit Gallagher, a 16 year old apprentice from Leitrim, who lived with none other than one Catherine Mooney (aged 66), described as a widow and labourer.

The map of Curtlestown Upper and Curtlestown Lower reproduced here shows the ownership and landuse in 1816 (based on the Powerscourt estate map of Curtlestown, held in the Irish Architectural Archive).

Acknowledgements

My thanks the National Folklore Collection in UCD for access to the Schools Manuscripts, and to the Irish Architectural Archive for access to the 1816 Powerscourt Estate Maps.

You can read lots more at Chris’ website: http://www.christiaancorlett.com/

For text searching purposes, the names associated with the holdings on the map are: 2: Bethel Burton; 3: Laurence Mooney; 4: Pat McArdle; 5: John Smith; 6: James and William Cox; 7: Edward Mooney; 8: John and James Mooney; 9: Thomas Whelan; 10: Philip McAneney; 11: James Kiernan; 12: James McArdle; 13: Laurence McArdle.