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The Grehan Family Collection held in the Boole Library, University College Cork.
Carol C. Quinn, B.A., D.A.A.
Clonmeen is the name of a townland just outside of Banteer, Co Cork. It is also the name given to the house and estate of the Grehan family, a family of Catholic landlords who lived in Clomeen from the mid nineteenth century until the 1970's. After the sale of the estate Mr. Peter A. Grehan donated his family archive to the Boole Library, UCC, where they are now available for research. Estate records like the Grehan Papers are one of the most valuable and useful type of records for historians trying to piece together Ireland's past. Records exist in collections such as these recording names of tenants who because of their low social standing go unrecorded elsewhere.
Estate collections generally contain records which divide into two categories, the personal records of the family involved and the administrative records of the estate itself. This division is reflected very clearly in the Descriptive List (the main finding aid) to the Grehan Collection. A copy of this guide is available for consultation at the reference desk in the Special Collections floor of the Boole Library. The Grehan's, originally prosperous Dublin wine merchants, first acquired land in Co. Cork through a legacy of the lands of Clonmeen left by one John Roche about 1830. Stephen Grehan ( - 1871), the main beneficiary of Roche's will, then set about acquiring more land in the area and also in County Tipperary. This work was carried on by Stephen's son George ( -1885), who in about 1860 moved from his Dublin home 19 Rutland Square, to take up permanent residence at Clonmeen, where his son Stephen (1859 - 1937 ) was raised.
When the Grehan's first moved to their property in Co. Cork they lived in a small Georgian house now known today as Clonmeen Lodge. In 1893, Stephen Grehan who had married a fellow member of the Ascendancy, Esther Chichester in 1883, built the present day Clonmeen House.. Large tracts of land were sold off by Stephen Grehan through the auspices of the Land Commission throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, but Clonmeen remained as a working farm until the death of Major Stephen Grehan in 1972, after which the property was sold.
Once the Grehan archives had been transferred to UCC they were cleaned, sorted and listed. During the listing process records of similar origin were grouped together into four main sections A, B, C, D each containing records of similar origin and content.
Section A, Legal Records is further sub divided by records relating to land title, with a large section containing pre Grehan titles, wills and marriage settlements relating to lands at Clonmeen, and records of trusts administered by members of the Grehan family and finally legal case papers. Trusts and Marriage Settlements are invaluable tools for tracing the dissemination of wealth of a family. They also reveal how rents from vast tracts of lands could be tied up in encumbrances such as dowries and provisions for children and widows. No prominent family would ever countenance a marriage without first having a settlement drawn up which stated very clearly the assets of a potential husband and how he planned to provide for any future family. A closely knit network of families of similar social class and religious background supporting one another is revealed through the numerous Trusts members of the Grehan family administered on behalf of relatives and fellow members of the Anglo Irish class. These records show that although separated by distance Ascendanccy families remained in close contact with each other and shared similar lifestyles and goals throughout the country.
Section B, Estate Administration, contains records of the working of Clonmeen home farm and the letting and sale of tenancies as well as records of employment on the estate and within the main house. The Grehan's seem to have generally been regarded as fair landlords and very few records exist relating to evictions or agrarian disturbances which would have included the eviction of Jerry O'Mahony in Ballingeary in 1906.
Copious correspondence relating to the administration of the estate survives. In the early years of Grehan ownership agents were employed to administer the estate especially the outlining holdings in Kildorrery and Inchigeela, Co. Cork.
Sub section C 'Family and Personal Papers' contains those records generated by members of the Grehan family which relate to their day to day lifestyle. Descriptions in this section begin with the records of George Grehan ( - 1885). Both he and his father Stephen ( - 1871), were prosperous wine merchants and members of Dublin's Catholic social elite. Stephen Grehan was appointed the first Catholic Director of the Bank of Ireland, and while at school in France witnessed the beginning of the French Revolution. His son George was a member of the St. Stephen's Green Club and graduated with a B.A. from Trinity College in 1835
Similarly to most members of their class the Grehan sons completed their education with a 'Grand Tour' of Europe. Stephen Grehan's letters home from his tour describing his route and itinerary are preserved within the collection. Stephen, although born in Dublin, was the first member of the family to live out his life at Clonmeen and it was there that in 1883 he brought his wife Esther Chichester.
Chief amongst Stephen and his family's leisure pursuits was a love of hunting. Both he and his son, Major Stephen A. Grehan, were prominent members of the Duhallow Hunt Club, some records relating to which survive.
Stephen had also four daughters May (Mary) b.1884, Magda b.1885, Kathleen b.1887 and Aileen b.1890. A son, George, (1892) died as an infant. The four girls were educated in England at Roehampton Convent, hunt. Their presence in the collection is reflected more through the very fine collection of nineteenth and twentieth century photographs and through references by other family members. All four married conventually members of their own social group, the families of their husbands all being related to the Grehans through distant ties
The bulk of the nineteenth century material in the collection was generated by Major Stephen (Stevie) A. Grehan (1895 - 1972). Major Grehan went directly from school in England to the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, and signed up as a cadet just at the outset of World War I. A diligent letter writer, over 200 of his letters home written while on active service in Europe, Salonica and Mesopotamia (1914-1922) are contained within the collection. These together, with his diaries, evoke the world of a British Army officer, proud to be part of the British Empire. Contemporary attitudes towards current affairs and international events are all reflected in the letters and diaries, as well a contemporary British attitudes towards those colonised which may now grate harshly, but were entirely reflective of their times. Major Grehan was not given to introspection in his diaries or letters and there is little philosophical musing on the nature of or need for war. Rather he writes an enthusiastic account of soldiers doing their duty cheerfully, secure in the knowledge that they are on the side of right.
Major Grehan resigned his commission in 1937, shortly after the death of his father and returned to Clonmeen to live and work the farm there. His later diaries contain accounts of visitors to Clonmeen, visits made, references to farm work, harvesting, the purchase of new machinery, etc. He maintained his links with the British Army through organisations such as the British Legion, of which he was the North Cork representative. The section dealing with this work, much of which involved investigating hardship cases, is described in 10.4, but the material itself will remain closed to researchers for 30 years from 1996 to avoid any embarrassment to the families of those who contacted Major Grehan and the British Legion. An interesting aspect of social history which this section reflects, is the amount of support given by organisations such as the British Legion to ex-servicemen and their families in the Republic for so many years after Independence.
Sub section D then deals with material generated by relatives of the Grehan's which was for various reasons transferred to Clonmeen.
Records generated by the Murphy, Nugent and Johnson families (all interrelated) would have come into the possession of the Grehan family when in 1939 Major S.A. Grehan inherited the Murphy home at Osberstown, Co. Kildare. Although he chose to sell Osberstown, and remain at Clonmeen, some furniture was transferred to Cork and most likely also the papers and memorabilia now preserved here. BL/EP/G1540 is a unique and poignant document, a history of her family by Mary Frances Murphy with some later additions spanning the period 1879-1912. She writes of her childhood in Dublin and her upbringing by her grandfather, William Murphy of Mount Merrion, who having quarreled with her father over money cut him off completely. Her parents were then forced to move to the continent where they seem to have spent their lives keeping always one step ahead of their creditors. William Murphy together with several members of his family died of cholera in 1849. Mary Frances' father died in 1853 after which she discovered the strain of her life had forced her mother into a sanatorium in Strasbourg. The history ends with Mary Frances's account of bringing her mother home and caring for her.
Other items in the Johnson section reflect the careers of Col. William Johnson and General Christopher Johnson who made their names fighting for various armies in Europe throughout the eighteenth century
A large number, over 500, of 19th century photographs are preserved within the collection. These range from the formal commercial photographs typical of the time, to more informal family shots of holidays abroad, friends and relations. Many of the more informal photographs wee taken by Christine Chichester, a noted amateur photographer of her day. Her work is represented in many recent publications of photographic collections.
Far from being merely the records of one family the Grehan Estate Papers contain records both of the Anglo Irish elite they were a member of and also of the lives of the tenants and farm workers with whom they encountered. They are an invaluable source for the local history of the Clonmeen area but also reflect and reveal the decline and virtual disappearance of the class who built and inhabited the 'Big Houses' of Ireland.
Further information about the Grehan's and other archival collections held in the Boole Library can be made by ringing 021 -903180 or by visiting our web site at