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The Byrnes of Ballymanus and the Gabhal Raghnall Connection
Conor O'Brien
Conor O'Brien, retired from a career in the pharmaceutical industry, devotes some of his spare time to the study of Irish antiquities and aspects of the history of Co. Wicklow.

The exiled '98 Wexford leader, Miles Byrne, wrote in his memoirs that Garrett Byrne of Ballymanus, father of the '98 Wicklow leaders, "was a descendant of one of the oldest and most distinguished branches of the Byrnes of Co. Wicklow... He brought up his family with high notions of what they owed their ancestors. Seemingly at one stage even that distinguished scholar, John O'Donovan, was influenced by this aura of putative noble lineage created about the Ballymanus family. In the course of his study of the county's antiquities for the Ordnance Survey, O'Donovan wrote from the field to headquarters on 3 January 1839 stating that in the Parish of Kilpipe "is situated the townland of Ballymanus (Baile Mhaghnuis) in which stood the house of Garrett Byrne, the senior representative of the Gabhal Raghnall who headed the men of Wicklow during the rebellion of 1798.”

In the mid-1860s a youthful Edward Joseph Colclough Byrne of Rathmines, a grandnephew of the '98 leaders, concluding that he was the last male descendant of the '98 generation, set about investigating if he could establish a claim to the ancestral estate in Wicklow. Several of his letters and notes on the subject, including a diary he kept for some weeks in the summer of 1867, survive in the National Archives. His entry for 21 June 1867 deals with a meeting he had at the presbytery in Lower Exchange Street of St Michael and John's Church with O'Donovan's fellow historian, Fr C. P. Meehan who had been a curate in Rathdrum in 1835: "Fr Meehan told me that he and the late John O'Donovan had spent a great deal of time and had frequently talked over together on the pedigree of the Ballymanus family, endeavouring to connect them with Feagh McHugh but could never succeed in doing so." Undaunted by these distinguished scholars' failure, the youthful Edward responded to Meehan that "I believed I would be able to do so, saying that they were descended from Raymond the son of Feagh. I gave him an idea of how - through John who I believe was son to Raymond and of whom Billy Byrne's great grandfather was the grandson, John having purchased Ballymanus about 1620 and removed the family seat thence from Kiltimon." Edward's papers do not contain a shred of evidence supporting his beliefs but nonetheless the lineage he postulated came to be adopted by O'Hart when compiling one of the most widely used reference works on Irish family pedigrees. Experienced students of genealogy will know that all too many pedigrees have been similarly created out of acts of faith.

When editing the Annals of the Four Masters in the 1850s John O'Donovan wrote that "According to the tradition in the country, the late Garrett Byrne, Esq. of Ballymanus was not of his [Feagh's] descendants, but of a branch of the Gabhal Raghnall who became spies and informers to ruin the great O'Byrnes of Ballinacor, a tradition which clearly points to Cahir Mac Hugh Duffe and his confederates who were for twenty-nine years inventing many false matters against Phelim and his sons”. Recent accessibility of Esmonde family papers in the National Archives has enabled some light to be shed on the connection between the Ballymanus Byrnes and Cahir McHugh Duffe, son of Feagh's onetime collaborator but eventual bitter foe.

Garrett Byrne, the 1798 leader and head of the Ballymanus family at that time, was the fourth generation of that forename.' It was to his great grandfather, Garrett Byrne 1, that on 13 January 1700 Sir Laurence Esmond of Clonegal granted a lease in perpetuity of the lands of Ballymanus, Macreddin and Clohernagh in Glenmalure, the possession of which enabled this Catholic family to enjoy a privileged gentry status in the county throughout the eighteenth century. Garrett died in 1714. In his will he requested to be buried with his ancestors in Rosahane. His father Hugh, sometimes called Hugh Roe Byrne, had been M.P. for the Borough of Carysfort (Macreddin) in the so-called Catholic or 'Patriot' Parliament of James II in 1689. Amongst the Esmonde papers is a transcript of an affidavit made by this Hugh Byrne on 26 May 1691 in opposition to proceedings intended to dispossess the then sixteen years old Catholic Sir Laurence Esmond of portion of his estate of inheritance, at Ballytramon, Co. Wexford, in favour of the Earl of Bath.' It was recited therein that Hugh was an adviser to the young Sir Laurence, and that he had been the agent in Wicklow for Sir Laurence's father (also named Sir Laurence) who had died in September 1688, and in turn servant to the latter's father, Sir Thomas Esmond. The very extensive Esmond estates in County Wicklow had been acquired by Sir Thomas's father, the Elizabethan adventurer, Captain Laurence Esmond (raised to the peerage in 1622 as Lord Esmonde of Limbrick, otherwise Limerick near Gorey) in the course of confiscations conducted in a manner aptly described by O'Donovan as affording "an appalling picture of human depravity and perfidy in those murderous times." Sir Thomas's mother was an O'Flaherty from Aughnagower in lar Connaught where her brother was head of the sept. She separated from Esmond and brought up her son as a Catholic. Thus father and son were on opposing sides in the 1641 rebellion.

Another document in the Esmonde collection is a copy of the confirmation of Lord Esmond's lands and regrant of the same by the Commissioners for Defective Titles on 24 May 1637. Its interest in the present connection is that a considerable portion of Esmond's lands in County Wicklow was described as the ''mannor of Laurenctown and the Castle, town and lands of Ballimanus henceforth the whole to be called the Mannor of Castle Lawrence". A rental account for 1671 refers to a holding here as "The lands of Ballymanus alias Lawrencetowne". The same name 'Lawrencton' is given as the abode of one Morough McHugh Byrne on a deed dated 27th May 1631 conveying the lands of Killaduffe and Monemore to Lord Esmond for ever. We would contend here that this Morough McHugh Byrne of Lawrencton, i.e. Ballymanus, is the progenitor of the Ballymanus family and that most probably he was the grandfather of Hugh Byrne, the M.P. in the Jacobite Parliament.

What of the connection with Rosahane, the ancestral burial place? By a fiant of Elizabeth I on 8 May 1567 pardons were granted to Hugh McShane, Feagh McHugh, and a number of other rebels in the Ranelagh/ Cosha district. These included Hugh duffe M'Donel [O'Byrne] and three of his brothers, of Knockragen [Knockrath], and Hugh m'Oone m' Glasney and his brother Edmund, of Rossaan [Rosahane]. These names, rendered as 'Hugh duff M'Donell, of Knockrae' and 'Heughe Mac Owen, of Rossane, footman' also occur in a list of pardons granted on 4 April 1569. And in another list of pardons, granted on 16 February 1572 to Hugh McShane's followers they occur as 'Hugh duffe M'Donill, of Knockragh, gent,' and 'Hugh M'Owen, of Rossehaien`.

In the aftermath of the slaying of Feagh McHugh the government was anxious to pacify the countryside and to that end issued a batch of about 500 pardons on 28 May 1598. Heading the list were Phelim and Redmund McFeagh and family members, and following closely behind were 'Cahir, Donnill, and Tirlagh m'Hugh 0 Birne', undoubtedly sons of Hugh duffe O'Byrne of Knockrath and later of Arklow Castle. Immediately following these, as if associates of the Knockrath family, were 'Owen m'Hugh m'Owen, Owny nyne Dermott, his wife, Teige m'Hugh m'Owen 0 Birne, Roose nyne Garrett, his wife, Morogh m'Hugh m'Owen 0 Birne, Owny nyne Hugh, his wife'. The three husbands may confidently be identified as sons of Hugh m'Oone m'Glasney of Rosahane whom we have noted above as receiving pardons in the 1560s, while we would suggest that Morogh m'Hugh, the last named and probably the youngest, was the same Morough McHugh of Lawrencton, alias Ballymanus, mentioned as having conveyed lands in the contiguous townland of Killaduff to Lord Esmond in 1631. In an even greater number of pardons (c. 700) granted in September 1601, we find many of the same names again, albeit some addresses revealing dispersion of the families, e.g. 'Cahir m'Hugh duffe 0 Birne, of Balleloske, gent., Donell m'Hugh duffe 0 Birne, of Carrigglenene, gent., Mary nyn Donogh 0 Cullon, his wife, Tirlagh m'Hugh duffe 0 Birne, of same, gent.' while the Rosabane brothers appear as 'Owen m'Hugh m'Owen 0 Birne, of Glanlarkane, Teige m'Hugh m'Owen 0 Birne of same, Rose nyne Geralde, his wife, Murogh m'Hugh m'Owen 0 Birne'. Glanlurkane is now an obsolete name in the county's toponymy. It has been identified by Liam Price as a place in the Aghavannagh neighbourhood adjoining Rosahane. It may well have embraced Rosahane in some topographical descriptions at the time. At any rate, in a general pardon granted by James 1 on 27 May 1606 we find named therein 'Murrogh McHugh O'Birne of Rossaghan' and 'Teige McHugh O'Birne of Rossaharne'. Thus, with Rosahane now evident as the district from which Morogh McHugh emanated, it merely remains to further identify the 'Owny nyne [daughter of Hugh', mentioned in the fiant of 1598 as his wife.

In 1628 Phelim, Feagh's son and successor as chief, and five of his sons were confined as close prisoners in Dublin Castle on foot of trumped-up charges alleging their involvement in the murder in August 1625 of Robert Pont, a minister of religion and justice of the peace in Wicklow. Lord Esmond was the most active of the conspirators involved, aiming to have the O'Byrnes capitally convicted with consequent possibilities of having their confiscated lands distributed to himself and similarly influentially placed persons in government. In the course of the subsequent defence proceedings taken by Phelim before the Council of State some witnesses' depositions revealed the outrageous measures, including torture, adopted by Esmond to induce persons to testify falsely against the O'Byrnes. One of those used by Esmond was Cahir McHugh Duffe. Another was 'Morogh McHugh McOwen, brother-in-lawe to the said Cahir McHugh Duffe', both of whom were said in a deposition to have been for "theise 29 years at least doeing what they could against Phelim and his sonnes, both in helping to take their lands from them, and inventinge many false matters against Phelim and his sonnes to procure theire death, as is well knowen." It thus becomes evident that Owny nyne Hugh, wife of Morogh McHugh of Rosahane, the progenitor of the Ballymanus family, was a sister of Cahir McHugh Duffe of the Knockrath branch of the Gabhal Raghnaill, confirming the tradition in the country that O'Donovan had noted. Unfortunately O'Donovan did not record details of where he learned of the tradition, but it is surely remarkable that knowledge of the enmity between the families had survived as tradition for more than two centuries.

O'Byrne Files Copyright © 2002 N. O'Byrne Most recent revision: Thursday, 25 March 2004

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