In my previous two postings in this series, I’ve explained how I eventually found my Ryan ancestors’ roots in County Kilkenny, Ireland, after many years of searching. I now want to tell you what I found, once documents began to open to me after I had determined a specific place of residence for the family and a particular Catholic parish in which the family’s baptisms, marriages, and deaths are recorded. A reminder: a cardinal rule of doing research on Irish families is that you must locate their precise place of residence before records will unlock for you.
My previous posting told you that Valentine Ryan married Bridget Tobin in Kilmacow Catholic parish on 21 September 1836. In that posting, I shared with you a copy of the marriage record as it has been transcribed into a diocesan record — the diocese is Ossory — for the period 1801-1852 (as I also told you, my efforts to obtain a copy of the original record from the parish register of Kilmacow or Kilbeacon/Mullinavat have been futile). The marriage record as transcribed in this source contains two valuable pieces of information, in addition to the date and place of the couple’s marriage:
- It names the two witnesses to the couple’s marriage, Edmund Hayden and Margaret Fitzgerald.
- And it tells the place of the marriage, the town of Mullinavat.
When you’re doing research in Catholic parish registers in Ireland, it’s very important to note the sponsors at baptisms and witnesses at marriages, if they are named in the parish register as these sacramental events are recorded. These are quite commonly close relatives or friends and neighbors of those who are being married or having a child baptized. We can assume that either Valentine or Bridget might have been related to Edmund Hayden and/or Margaret Fitzgerald, or these were friends or neighbors of theirs. I have not yet determined the connection, except that we do know that Valentine Ryan had a brother Daniel who married Mary Fitzgerald on 13 February 1838 in Kilmacow Parish, with the marriage record stating that the couple married in Buckstown — I’ll discuss this couple in more detail, with documentation, as I talk in a later posting about what I know of Valentine Ryan’s ancestry.
Couples normally married in the parish of the bride. We can assume that Bridget was from Mullinavat, from the parish of Kilbeacon (which was joined to Kilmacow into the 1830s). I have not been able to determine Bridget’s parents. Her tombstone in Orion cemetery, Grant County, Arkansas (see above), indicates that she was born in 1818. This was some years before Kilmacow and Kilbeacon parishes began keeping baptismal records.
With the invaluable assistance of John Ryan, my gracious host on two trips to Ireland, who helped me locate the marriage record of Valentine and Biddy, I have determined Valentine’s parents, John Ryan and Margaret Oates, and will tell you about them later. Because the baptisms of that couple’s children (including Valentine himself) are documented in another parish register, that of Templeorum parish in Piltown, I know for certain that Valentine was not from Mullinavat — and that helps confirm the deduction that the parish in which he married Biddy was her home parish, not his.
The several documents that can be found for this family after Valentine and Bridget married in Mullinavat and began having children show that not only did they marry in that town, but they settled there following their marriage — in an area of the town called Buckstown. Following their marriage in 1836, the couple had the following children, all born in Mullinavat-Buckstown:
A daughter Margaret, who was baptized 3 August 1838, with her baptism record showing that the sponsors were Michael McEvoy and Catherine Holden, and that her parents lived in Buckstown. The McEvoys were neighbors whose descendants still live in Mullinavat along the same road on which Valentine and Bridget lived. Because McEvoys show up repeatedly as sponsors for the baptisms of Valentine and Bridget’s children, it’s also possible that they had some familial connection to either the Ryans or the Tobins. Re: Catherine Holden, Valentine had a sister Judith who married William Holden, so Catherine may be a kinship connection of Valentine’s through that marriage. As I explained in my last posting, the Kilmacow parish register correctly identifies this child of Valentine and Bridget as Margaret, but when this record was transcribed in the Kilbeacon register, the name was incorrectly recorded as Valentine.
Here’s a photo of Margaret, by the way, which her descendants in Mississippi have shared with me. It must have been taken 1860-1862:
A son Valentine, who was baptized 3 December 1839, with Daniel Ryan and Bridget Byrne as sponsors, and with the record stating that Valentine and Bridget Ryan lived in Buckstown. As I’ve noted, Daniel was the elder Valentine’s brother, who married Mary Fitzgerald — hence the importance of noting that Margaret Fitzgerald witnessed Valentine and Bridget’s marriage in 1836.
A daughter Ellen, who was baptized 7 May 1840, with sponsors Watt Costello and Margaret Smyth, and the parents’ residence given as Buckstown. As we’ll see in a moment, Valentine and Bridget Ryan rented a house in Buckstown from Walter/Watt Costello and lived beside him, and there are some indications that he was a relative.
A son William, who was baptized 12 September 1841, with Pat Ryan and Bridget McEvoy as sponsors. I am not quite sure who Pat Ryan was, but I think we can safely conclude that he was probably a close relative of Valentine. Note the McEvoy name again. As I told you in my previous posting, though Rothe House sent me the indexed listing for this baptism from the Kilbeacon parish register, I have not yet located it there.
A son John, who was baptized 1 February 1844, with Edmond Hayden and Anty Hennebery as sponsors, and a note that the parents lived in Buckstown. This is likely the same Edmund Hayden who witnessed Val and Biddy’s marriage. I suspect he’s a relative of Bridget Tobin’s, but do not know this for a fact. We can determine from Griffith’s Valuation that the Henneberrys were neighbors of Valentine and Bridget.
A son Patrick, who was baptized 14 April 1846, with William McEvoy and Bridget Dungan as sponsors, and the baptismal record stating that the parents lived in Buckstown. Again a McEvoy as a god-parent for a child of Valentine and Bridget Ryan. . . .
And, finally, a daughter Catherine, who was baptized 19 August 1849 with Patrick McEvoy and Mary McEvoy, the parents living in Buckstown. McEvoys again. . . .
My last posting (linked above) shared a close-up snapshot of Catherine’s baptism, and I shared Pat’s in this previous posting. I said in my last posting that all of these baptismal records state that the parents were living in Buckstown when their children were baptized. But note that the one for Valentine actually gives the residence as Mullinavat, as did Valentine and Bridget’s marriage record. Buckstown is a “suburb” of Mullinavat, so this family was living in Mullinavat while living in Buckstown.
All of these places — the Catholic parishes of Kilmacow and Kilbeacon/Mullinavat, as well as the town of Piltown and its Catholic parish, Templeorum, where Valentine Ryan was born and baptized — are in far southern County Kilkenny, just north of Waterford. In letters he sent me in the 1990s, John Ryan of Piltown told me that people in these communities often walked to Waterford in the past to do business or shopping.
As Owen O’Kelly notes, Kilmacow parish is in Iverk Barony in extreme southern County Kilkenny. The southern tip of the parish touches the border of County Waterford. Waterford City is about 6 miles south of Kilmacow, and 7½ miles south of Mullinavat. Mullinavat is a village on the Glendonnell River just north of Kilmacow; the village is, however, in Knocktopher Barony and not Iverk. O’Kelly notes that the land in this portion of County Kilkenny is “good upland arable land.”
An important aside: Ireland is divided into counties, which are subdivided into baronies, civil parishes, and townlands. It also has Catholic and Church of Ireland dioceses that are divided into religious parishes. It’s important to take note of each of these divisions and subdivisions, of the names of the quite specific places in which your family lived and went to church in Ireland, because various kinds of records were (and are) generated at each of these levels.
L.M. Cullen echoes O’Kelly in noting that most of Iverk Barony and the southern half of Knocktopher Barony in which Mullinavat is located are upland areas, with Mullinavat “the nearest approach the region has to a focal point.” Cullen adds that “the archaic character of the region is reflected in the fact that Mullinavat is, as a town that grew from a village, largely post-1800 in origin.” I take this to mean that the geography of the region did not foster the growth of urban centers including villages, towns, or cities, but kept the population concentrated on farms. Cullen goes on to say that the absence of seats and estate villages in the uplands illustrates their lack of residential appeal for non-farming settlers, and explains how the region remained culturally unchanged — that is, less Anglicized than other parts of County Kilkenny — even into the 19th century.
Cullen thinks that the cultural continuity of the region, its rather stable social structure, and the inbred character of its marriages account for the fact that the region was the most Irish-speaking part of the county into the 19th century. As he notes, 19th-century observers such as William Tighe in his Statistical Observations Relative to the County of Kilkenny (1802) found the region around the borders of Iverk and Knocktopher having many comfortable farms in the early 19th century. Cullen also indicates that the “closed character of the region” kept significant numbers of Protestants from settling in it. According to Cullen, the baronies of Ida, Iverk, and Knocktopher had the highest proportion of Irish speakers in the county into the 1850s, and also the highest literacy rates — in Irish, that is.
In a previous posting, I cited Máirín Nic Eoin, who finds that the southern part of County Kilkenny was the most socially stable area of the county into the nineteenth century, and therefore the part of the county that remained Irish-speaking longer than other areas in the county. I noted that Nic Eoin cites an 1815 observer, Atkinson, who speaks of the many prosperous pig breeders and dairy men of the Walsh Mountains region in which Mullinavat sits, who could not speak a word of English in 1815. Maps accompanying Nic Eoin’s essay show that the southwestern portion of the county had Irish speakers numbering up to 40% in 1851, and up to 15% in 1891.
Mary O’Shea also notes that the history and culture of the southern part of County Kilkenny are distinctly different from that of the northern and middle parts of the county, the latter areas being much more Normanized, with their Gaelic culture destroyed by the Norman invasion of Ireland. O’Shea thinks that the cultural and family structures of the southern part of the county remained generally impervious to this invasion (and the area was unattractive to Anglo-Norman settlers), with close-knit communities and much intermarriage within kinship networks. This allowed the retention of an oral culture and the Irish language in parts of this region into the early 20th century.
Kathleen Laffan, too, in her book The History of Kilmacow, stresses that southern County Kilkenny was “socially a most stable region,” which retained the Irish language longer than other parts of the county as a result. Laffan states that “Irish was the ordinary language of the people in the area between Mullinavat and Kilkenny in 1826.”
An article previously online at a Walsh family history website that now seems to have been taken down — its title was “Early Walsh History in Ireland, Rise and Fall” — focuses on the Walsh Mountains and Mullinavat, which sits more or less in the center of this hilly upland region. This article quotes a source entitled Welcome to Medieval Kilkenny, which says,
Driving through Piltown takes one through one of the most scenic areas in all Kilkenny. As one drives from Templeorum to Mullinavat across the southern slopes of the Walsh Mountains, the views of the Suir Valley are truly spectacular and extensive, and this is also the route reputedly taken by Cromwell on his march to Carrick from New Ross.
On my trip to Ireland in June 1998, when I stayed with my kind and generous hosts John and Maura Ryan of Piltown, they took me on just that drive, and I can confirm what the guide to medieval Kilkenny says. On that trip that took us to Mullinavat, I met Tom McEvoy, a teacher in Buckstown, who told me that the McEvoy family who were neighbors of the Ryans from the 1820s and baptismal sponsors for several of their children) had bought their land in the 1820s from an elderly Mr. Walsh (the surname is pronounced “Welsh” in this region). “Early Walsh History in Ireland, Rise and Fall” notes that the Walsh family came to Ireland from Wales (hence, the “Welsh” family) during the Norman invasions, and owned large portions of land in southern County Kilkenny in Knocktopher and Iverk Baronies — the area that became known as the Walsh Mountains. Mullinavat, which did not, of course, exist at the time that the Walshes acquired this land, sits in the middle of these Walsh landholdings.
According to Samuel Lewis’s Topographical History of Ireland,
The most extensive dairies [i.e., in Co. Kilkenny] are in the barony of Iverk and principally around the Walsh mountains: this tract has a good depth of soil, much inclined to grass.
Lewis also notes that great numbers of cattle and hogs were raised in this area in the past.
According to Kathleen Laffan, Mullinavat (along with Piltown and Fiddown) began to be built as a village in the late 1700s, all of these communities being on then existing roads. Laffan notes that Piltown and Fiddown were “estate villages” attached to the Bessborough estate — an observation to which I’ll return when I talk about Valentine Ryan’s father John Ryan, who may well have been, several indicators suggest to me, a skilled artisan working for the Bessborough family at their estate in Piltown.
Buckstown, the portion of Mullinavat in which the Ryan family lived after Valentine Ryan’s marriage to Bridget Tobin in 1836, is not a recognizable village, but a loosely-defined section of the town of Mullinavat. A small bridge separates it from the main part of the town. According to William Carrigan in his History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory, Buckstown abuts the townland of Inchacarran in the religious parish of Kilbeacon, though it’s in the civil parish of Killahy. Carrigan says that Buckstown is a corruption of Ballynarobuck, meaning “Robuck’s town.” In 1653, Robert Cadygan/Cadigan forfeited the settlement to Cromwell’s troops during the Cromwellian confiscations.
O’Kelly says that Inchacarran is at the site of a destroyed structure close to Mullinavat and near the angle of the Assy and Black rivers said to have been the residence of Seán Mac Bhaitéir Breathnach, John MacWalter Walsh, Bard of the Walsh Mountains. The name Inchacarran means “holm of the stone-pile.”
Griffith’s Valuation shows Valentine and Bridget Ryan living in 1849, immediately prior to their emigration to American in 1852-3, in Killahy civil parish, Inchacarran townland. Griffith’s Valuation is a survey done for taxation purposes by the British government between 1848-1864 of all landholders and leaseholders in Ireland. It’s a crucially significant document, because it’s about the only “snapshot” we have for many of the Famine emigrants just as they were poised to leave the country. In the 1916 Easter uprising of the Irish Revolution, the Public Record Office in Dublin burned; almost all censuses were lost in the fire, along with many other valuable records. Griffith’s serves as a quasi-census at just the period many of us most need that document to locate our ancestors just as they left Ireland.
Griffith’s is now searchable online (free) at the Ask About Ireland site and at Ancestry (for a fee). Now that it’s searchable online, it’s easy for me to discover that there is not one but there are two Valentine Ryans listed on this survey — the man living in Graiguenamanagh that I found by laboriously searched the old-fashioned way in the 1980s, fiche by fiche, and who was, I assumed, the only Valentine Ryan in the county on Griffith’s survey; and my ancestor.
Griffith’s shows Valentine Ryan not owning land, and renting a house for his family from Walter Costello for an annual fee of 10 shillings. The house is house 2A in the townland of Inchacarran, and since maps were generated to accompany Griffith’s survey, it’s possible to see on the maps that go hand in hand with the valuation lists precisely where this house was located. Walter Costello was living on the same land and in a house adjacent to the Ryan house, renting 25 acres from Rev. John T. Moore, Lewis Moore, Esq., and the Misses Moore, a Church of Ireland family with English roots who owned much of the land in the Buckstown area at this time. The living arrangement that Griffith’s documents suggests that Valentine Ryan was either working for Walter Costello as a farm laborer, or farming with him as a relative.
Note: I have now found (I’m adding this note in April 2021) the listing for the house Valentine Ryan was renting from Walter Costello in the Valuation Office Books that accompany Griffith’s Valuation. The house books in this collection provide information about the quality and size of the house being rented. Please see this later posting and you’ll see a digital image of Val Ryan’s listing in the House Books of the Valuation Office Books held by the National Library of Ireland, along with information about how to find this collection of books.
One reason that I ask myself about a possible family connection between Walter Costello and Valentine Ryan (note again that Watt Costello was a god-parent for Valentine and Bridget Ryan’s daughter Ellen) is that the 5 January 1865 will of Thomas Ryan, a farmer of Mullinavat and Buckstown, names Watt Costello, a farmer of Buckstown, as well as William Costello, a grocer of Mullinavat. Thomas Ryan died with debts to both men. I have not yet placed how — or if — this Thomas Ryan is connected to Valentine. His will shows that Thomas had a brother Patrick in Glendonnell, as well as land and houses in Mullinavat, Ballynoony, Ballyvera, and Scart.
The Kilbeacon parish register shows a John Costello of Mullinavat who had a wife Judith Fanning, several of whose children were baptized in the 1840s. Sometime between 1846 and 1850, John died, it seems, since after 1850, Judith Fanning Costello appears in the parish register as the wife of Thomas Ryan of Buckstown. The first time it mentions a child born to Thomas Ryan and Judith Fanning, the parish priest writes her family name as Costello, then crosses it out and writes Fanning. This shows us that Judith Fanning Ryan was the same woman previously married to John Costello. This is the same Thomas Ryan who left the 1865 will naming Walter Costello.
And so I conclude that there was some sort of connection between the Ryan family and the Costellos. In fact, I also find Valentine Ryan’s wife Bridget in the Kilbeacon register as sponsor for the baptism of Thomas Ryan and Judith Fanning’s daughter Eliza on 17 October 1850. The other sponsor was James Holden, who also evidently lived in Mullinavat at this time, and who appears to be related to the William Holden who married Valentine Ryan’s sister Judith. John Costello, the first husband of Judith Fanning, was a sponsor for the baptism of William Holden and Judith Ryan’s daughter Catherine on 21 April 1843.
On 19 March 1854, Thomas Ryan and Judith Fanning had another daughter, Joanna, baptized in Buckstown, according to the Kilbeacon register. Again this baptism record shows Bridget Ryan as a godparent, along with John Gaule. I’d be inclined to think this, too, is a record showing Bridget, wife of Valentine Ryan, acting as a baptism sponsor for a child of this couple, except that it seems Bridget and her children had saied to America by this date. Though it seems there was, in the past, the option in Catholic baptisms for a godparent to be godparent by proxy, with someone else standing in his or her place for the baptism….
In June 1999, Tom McEvoy sent me a map showing the location of Watt Costello’s house just southeast of the road into Mullinavat from Buckstown. Tom told me that neither this house nor the house rented by Valentine Ryan is still standing. As the letter Tom sent me accompanying this map tells me, Walter Costello’s house, which adjoined Valentine Ryan’s, is circled in yellow on the original map from which (see below) his annotated map is taken.* The green circle marks the McEvoy house, and the red circle is the house of a Mary Ryan whom Tom knew, a woman who operated a sweet shop from the bottom floor of her two-story house on the road from Buckstown into Mullinavat.
Tom later (February 2000) sent me photos he had taken of such structures as remain in the spot where the joined Costello-Ryan house once stood. The first of these two (see below) is taken from the west side of the foundation of the structure, looking eastward into the wall against which stood the house of Valentine and Bridget Ryan. The second photo below is taken from the east looking over the wall onto the spot where Valentine and Bridget’s house stood. On a trip to Ireland in July 2001, I went to Buckstown, and Tom McEvoy and John Ryan showed me the site.
It seems fairly clear that no Ryan family (or no Tobins, for that matter) lived in Buckstown in 1823 — thirteen years prior to the marriage of Valentine Ryan and Bridget Tobin — since a Buckstown estate map created for Lewis Moore in September 1823 shows neither family living on Moore’s land in Buckstown at that point. The map does show William McEvoy there, in house 36, with 4 acres of land.
Similarly, the Tithe Applotment for Killahy civil parish in the Barony of Knocktopher shows no Ryans or Tobins owning land in Buckstown when this survey of landholders was taken in 1827. This resource lists those who paid taxes to the Church of Ireland between 1820 and 1840. Taxpayers include, of course, Catholics, who were required in this period to tithe to the Church of Ireland even when they were not members of the church.
What caused the Ryan family to leave Mullinavat in 1852-3? It seems clear that, as with so many Irish families emigrating in that period, the horrific years of the Great Hunger, the Famine, precipitated the family’s move to America. Though many sources indicate that outright starvation was not the extreme problem in southern County Kilkenny that it was in some other areas of Ireland, landless cottagers like Valentine Ryan had serious difficulty providing for their families due to the failure of the potato crops during the years of famine. Landless laborers were particularly vulnerable to distress, since the Napoleonic Wars had resulted in a shift away from grain production, which required farm laborers, to less labor-intensive cattle grazing.
1847 was the peak year of suffering, with fever rather than hunger accounting for many deaths in the southern part of County Kilkenny at that time. As I note above, between the 1838 birth of Valentine and Bridget Tobin Ryan’s first child, Margaret, who came to America with them, and the last two children Patrick (born in 1846) and Catherine (born in 1849), who also emigrated with them, four other children — Valentine, Ellen, William, and John — were born to the couple between 1839 and 1844. I find no record of these four Ryan children after their baptisms were recorded in the Kilbeacon parish register. Since none of them came with their parents to America, I have to assume that all died as infants or very young children — and likely of disease during the peak years of the Famine.
*Tom McEvoy’s letter does not identify the map from which his annotated copy is taken; it appears to be either an Ordnance Survey map of the Buckstown area, or perhaps the map accompanying Griffith’s Valuation for this community.
This posting is the third in a series of postings tracing the Irish roots of Valentine Ryan and Bridget Tobin. The second posting in this series is here.
On the Hennebery/Henneberry family, see William Carrigan, The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory, vol. 4 (Dublin: Sealy, Bryers & Walker, 1905), which says that in Kilmanihin civil parish (which is in Templeorum religious parish) is a townland called Ballyhenneberry (p. 241). According to Carrigan, the Henneberrys were connected with that locality from at least 1300 when Philip de Hyndeberg was a lay patron of Owning church. The roots of Valentine Ryan’s family prior to his marriage to Bridget Tobin lie in Templeorum religious parish — at Piltown. Anty Hennebery may have married Walter Walsh, since a couple with those names is in the Kilmacow parish register with children born in the 1860s. Anty is a nickname for Anastasia.
See Owen O’Kelly, The Place-Names of the County of Kilkenny (Kilkenny: Boethius, 198), pp. 129-130.
ibid., p. 167.
Ibid., p. 157.
L.M. Cullen, “The Social and Economic Evolution of Kilkenny in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries,” in Kilkenny: History and Society: Interdisciplinary Essays on the History of an Irish County, ed. William Nolan and Kevin Whelan (Templeogue: Geography Publ., 1990), p. 278.
Ibid., p. 279.
Ibid., pp. 279-290.
Ibid., p. 275.
Máirín Nic Eoin, “Irish Language and Literature in County Kilkenny in the Nineteenth Century,” in Kilkenny: History and Society: Interdisciplinary Essays on an Irish County, pp. 465-6.
Mary O’Shea, “The District of Piltown,” at the Templeorum parish website at eircom.net. See also Thomnas Gregory Fewer, “Famine Mortality in South Kilkenny: A Parochial Microcosm,” in Old Kilkenny Review 47 (1995), p. 45.
Kathleen Laflan, History of Kilmacow — A South Kilkenny Parish, 2nd edn. (Grannagh: G.K. Print, 1998, rev. 2005), p. 133.
Ibid., p. 134.
Samuel Lewis, Topographical History of Ireland, vol. 1(London: S. Lewis & Co., 1900), p. 104.
Laffan, History of Kilmacow, p. 107.
Carrigan, History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory, vol. 4, p. 175.
O’Kelly, Place-Names of County of Kilkenny, p. 169.
Richard Griffith, General Valuation of Ireland: County Kilkenny, Barony of Knocktopher (Dublin, 1850), p. 43. Note that though this volume was published in 1850, it’s a valuation that was done in 1849.
The map is in the map holdings of the National Library of Ireland in Dublin, ms. Map Collection 21, F23.
This document is now indexed and searchable online at the website of the National Archives of Ireland.
See Mary O’Shea, “The District of Piltown,” cited supra.