The Tooles of Ballyreagh: A townland in the 1850s

Ballyreagh is towards the south end of the parish of Powerscourt on the northern edges of Powerscourt Mountain. Driving today, as you pass the entrance to Crone wood heading towards Glencree, you immediately enter Ballyreagh – the road roughly divides the townland in two. Its northern boundary is marked by the Glencree river, along the “Bluebell Walk” that the Wicklow Way follows between Knockree and Crone. In other words: it is isolated! One can only imagine then, in the mid 1800s, how isolated it was.

For our purposes here, Ballyreagh provides a useful case study on the difficult job the Guardians of Powerscourt estate had in keeping tenant plots of a reasonable size so that they may be sustainable, against a tradition of division and sub-letting. The century saw a trend of agglomerating small holdings into bigger holdings, with a subsequent reduction in population. However, from what is presented below, it appears that Ballyreagh bucked the trend somewhat, as the opportunity to agglomerate was missed. Ballyreagh is of extra interest, as it was held in a “rundale system” whereby several people (usually family members) would jointly lease a piece of land and share the farming of it, while living individually. From a land and estate management point of view, this was an undesirable situation, and perhaps this is why the number of leaseholders did not reduce in the 1850s.

Just after the famine, the lease on the farm held by the Tooles in Ballyreagh expired. This one farm consisting of just over 80 Irish acres had three tenants who paid rent directly to the estate and four under-tenants who did not. The details of these tenants and under-tenants were provided by Captain Cranfield, estate agent, in a note to the Guardians of Powerscourt estate who were responsible for it during the minority of Lord Powerscourt:

  1. John Toole Senr Nephew to lessee holds more than one third
  2. Patrick Toole brother to John holds about another third
  3. John Toole Junr Grand Nephew to lessee holds the remainder.

They have under them

  1. John Cavanagh, born on the Farm who holds 3 acres of tillage land
  2. Timothy Cavanagh, brother to John Cavanagh holds about 3 acres
  3. James Byrne of Ballyross – a tenant – holds about an acre (the field adjoining his house)
  4. John Toole came from Ballyross 16 or 17 years ago – holds about 1/2 an acre –

The farm contained 82 acres 3 roods and 5 perches Irish Plantation measure, accruing a rent of just £44 6s 2d. The seven persons were, according to Captain Cranfield, “of good character”. In reply to a request for instructions from Captain Cranfield, William Wingfield—one of the guardians—replied that “it will be better as preliminary to any correspondent of the Farm for Capt Cranfield to ascertain whether any of the tenants are under-tenants would desire to go to America” (22 October 1850).

However, while this was often a popular option, it looks like none of the tenants took up the offer. The Brassington and Gale survey which was commissioned by the Guardians in the early 1850s to have a uniform land valuation across the estate listed all tenants (and more) and was scathing about the O’Toole farm:

This farm (O’Tooles) is held in what is termed a rundale a system which precludes the profitability of proper or satisfactory management, improvement in lands so occupied is out of the question.

The ten holdings listed by Brassington and Gale were:

  • John Toole Senr, John Toole Junior, Pat Toole
  • Thomas Berry
  • Timothy Cavanagh
  • John Cavanagh
  • John Toole Senr, John Toole Junior, Pat Toole
  • Charles Burns
  • Richard Sutton
  • Mary Dangan
  • Tenants of Ballyreagh (16 acres “in very small holdings”)
  • In hands (wood)
  • Total 98-0-17 44-16-2
Ballyreagh from Griffith's Survey. Ballyross is a townland to the west.

Ballyreagh from Griffith’s Survey. Ballyross is a townland to the west, Crone just to the east. (From

This links in nicely with the Griffith Survey, conducted in the mid 1850s. Griffith lists nine plots in Ballyreagh (total area area: 222 acres.2 roods. 39 perches). The numbers listed refer to the map, although clearly there is a mistake in the numbering sequence, as number 8 and 8a below obviously refer to 9 and 9 a above. The occupiers are listed below as they appear on Griffiths – I suspect the holdings that relate to the above analysis are 4 – 5 d. The area is provided in acres.roods.perches:

1. Trustees Viscount Powerscourt – Land (wood) 18.1.20 (this wood is still present today)
2. John Toole – Land 0.2.5
3. John Cavanagh – a: House, office and land (0.2.8); b: land (3.3.26); c: house office and land (1.2.21)
4. Timothy Cavanagh – House, office and land (4.2.32)

5. John Toole, John Toole Jnr and Patrick Toole – Land 84.0.23)
5. a John Toole – House and Offices
5. b John Toole Jnr – House and offices
5. c Patrick Toole – House
5. d John Toole – House, office and garden (0.2.11)
5. e Mary Collins – House

6. a Michael Sutton – House, office and land (7.0.12)
7. Charles Byrne – Land (3.0.10)

8. John Toole, John Toole Jnr, Timothy Cavanagh, John Cavanagh, Charles Byrne and John Toole – Mountain (98.0.31)
8. a Thomas Byrne – House

Analysis of a later survey will be required to ascertain when the land holdings did begin to agglomerate. It seems though that for the duration of the minority, the rundale system held fast, and the Tooles of Ballyreagh saw little reason for that to change.

4 thoughts on “The Tooles of Ballyreagh: A townland in the 1850s

  1. Michael,
    A very interesting article.
    Have you seen the 1816 Powerscourt Estate map of Ballyreagh?
    The Toole settlement was clearly the core of the settlement in the townland and it is tempting to suggest that it must go back to at least the middle of the 17th century – there are six houses in Ballyreagh in the 1668 Hearth Money Roll.
    In 1816 there was just John Toole Snr and and John Toole Jnr. The main rundale or shared arable lands comprised about 9 acres adjacent to the Glencree River. There were also undivided pasture lands held in common, closer to the houses.
    Interestingly, high above the road is the ruins of a small cabin that belonged to Charles Wright in 1816. It appears to have been still inhabited in the 1830s but has been unihabited since before Griffith’s Valuation in the 1850s. Charles Wright also had a stake in the shared cultivated lands along with the Toole’s, which makes me think that he must have married into the family.
    At first glance Glencree looks like it should be very similar in terms of how the various townlands developed, but when you start to look closer, as you have done in Ballyreagh, it becomes clear that the evolution of the many townlands in the valley can be very different.
    Best wishes,

  2. Dear Christiaan,

    Thanks for your comment and insight. It’s to my shame that I haven’t yet seen the 1816 map – I went down to view it but had no idea of its bulk, so they were understandably reluctant to get it for me off the cuff. It can be a New Year’s resolution!

    The detail you provide is interesting. I think the fact that Brassington and Gale do highlight that this particular townland ran on the rundale system means that it wasn’t universal across the parish. I often wonder why the townland system lasted so long, certainly in the running a “modern” estate – it seems so archaic and crazy (and all the more pleasing for that!). But it did, and perhaps different townlands had different traditions… I think I read in Jacinta Prunty or perhaps Andrews that townlands themselves were agglomerations of smaller holdings.

    Thanks again for comment. I am a big fan of your work. I’m afraid my archaeology isn’t up to much, but I did try with this article on Killegar and the Rathdown slabs:

    All the best,

  3. My name is Patrick Kavanagh and my late grandfather also Patrick Kavanagh, was born in Ballyreigh Cottage – he was one of eight children. His brother John emigrated to the USA in 1887, aged 20 – settling in Providence Rhode Island. According to my grandfather’s obituary in The Wicklow People dated November 2nd 1941 – my grandfather went to Dublin in 1890 and joined the DMP – he was the tallest man in the ranks and he was one of the men hand picked to form the body guard for the funeral of Queen Victoria in 1901. The last family resident of Ballyreigh Cottage was my father’s cousin Jimmy Graves – a wonderfully kind and gentleman and soul. My late father, mother, Jimmy Graves and other family member are laid to rest in Curtlestown Cemetery – the stone of their headstones come from a quarry across the Valley.

  4. Hello Chris and Michael…
    I very much enjoyed reading the article and your comments. Charles Wright was my children’s g’g’g’g’grandfather and would love if you could any further information you may discover about him,
    Kindest regards,

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