John Ryan (Bef. 1785) and Wife Margaret Oates of Piltown, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland: New Information

Likely Connection of Family of John and Margaret Oates Ryan to the Bessborough Estate: Summary of Previously Posted Information

The parish register states that John and Margaret were living in a place called Logriach (also spelled Loughreagh), which is in the townland of Belline and Rogerstown in Fiddown civil parish. Belline and Rogerstown and Tybroughney are adjoining townlands and are today part of Piltown in southwest County Kilkenny. As the postings linked above also tell you, at the time the Ryans lived in Belline and Rogerstown in the early 1800s, it and Tybroughney were closely associated with the major landholding family of the area, the Ponsonbys, who owned an estate called Bessborough.

As my two previous postings state (please see also the sources they cite), following Cromwell’s invasion of Ireland and the 1662 Act of Settlement, those who served with Cromwell in invading Ireland were awarded tracts of land seized from the Irish. Sir John Ponsonby, a Cromwellian soldier, was awarded land formerly belonging to the Walsh and Dalton families, and his son William Ponsonby was given further tracts of land. Sir John Ponsonby named his confiscated lands Bessborough after his second wife Bess (Elizabeth) Folliott and, in 1774, built Bessborough House at what grew into the town of Piltown. Piltown and the areas surrounding it became closely associated with the Ponsonby family and its Bessborough estate, with most of those living in this area renting their land from the Ponsonbys and doing work of some sort on the Bessborough estate. In the townland of Belline and Rogerstown where the Ryans were living in the early 1800s was Belline House, the residence of the agents of the Bessborough estate for many years.

The postings linked above also tell you that the places mentioned in the Templeorum parish register as the children of John Ryan and Margaret Oates were baptized from 1805 to 1815 suggest that John and his family may have moved from Logriach/Loughreah between 1806 and 1811 first to Milltown and then to Harristown, adjoining townlands just to the north of Mullinavat. 

My previous postings note that, like Piltown, Harristown is a Ponsonby village where the Briscoe family, who were intermarried with the Ponsonbys, lived. Because these villages/towns — along with Mullinavat, as noted in a previous posting — were just being built up in the early 1800s as places of settlement along roads running through the southern part of  the county, with the Ponsonbys and allied families funding much of the construction of the new towns, I’ve concluded it’s likely that John Ryan was employed by the Ponsonbys to do some kind of skilled work, and this explains why the Ryans were moving from Ponsonby village to Ponsonby village in this period in which these villages were being built up.

There are a number of indicators — again, see my previous posting — that even as John and Margaret Oates Ryan moved their family about around Piltown in the early 1800s, they retained a pied à terre in the Piltown area. In 1828, the Tithe Applotment Books show John Ryan renting land from the Bessborough estate in Banaher, Logriach, and Piltown in Fiddown civil parish. This shows the family continuing to live in 1828 in exactly the place in which I first find them in 1805 when their son Valentine was baptized. This Valentine is a first son of that name, by the way, who evidently died before John and Margaret’s second son named Valentine was baptized 3 October 1811 in Milltown — the Valentine Ryan who would marry Bridget Tobin in Kilmacow parish on 21 September 1836.

As Mary O’Shea explains in her book Templeorum Church, 1814-2014 (Piltown: Raheen Press, 2014), 183-5, those renting land from the Bessborough estate in the late 1700s and early 1800s generally farmed while engaging in other work for the estate, paying rent to the land agent at Belline House, Peter Walsh. O’Shea specifically notes that weaving was a way in which wives of men renting land and doing labor for the Bessboroughs supplemented the family’s income, and that some of the most skilled weavers in County Kilkenny in the latter part of the 18th century were in Piltown district (p. 186).

Finally, as the postings linked at the head of this one indicate, the John Ryan of these records may well be the man of the same name who appears in the presentment records of the grand jury of County Kilkenny for spring 1824 being paid in Iverk barony (which is where Fiddown civil parish is located) along with Michael Cox, Henry Briscoe, and John Walsh, Esqs., for repairing the road from Carrick-on-Suir to Kilkenny. This same John Ryan was also paid at the same jury session, along with Peter Walsh and H. Briscoe, Esqrs., and with Patrick Walsh, for repairing the road from Carrick to New Ross, between John Henebery’s house and Clarke’s forge. This may also be the John Ryan who appears in the county grand jury presentment books through the 1820s and 1830s as a deputy supervisor for public works in County Kilkenn . If these records pertain to the John Ryan with wife Margaret Oates, then the work John may have done for the Ponsonby family as it built its estate villages might have been construction work of some sort or stone-cutting.

Photo of servants in Bessborough House, County Kilkenny, ca. 1908, from National Library of Ireland, “Group of Servants, Bessborough House, Piltown, Co. Kilkenny”

Payments Made by Bessborough Estate to Flax Spinners, 1827: Peggy Ryan

This rehearsal of information I have already shared with you in previous postings (and, again, please see the sources cited in the postings linked above) is a prelude to telling you about another record I have found in recent months. In an article entitled “Kilkenny Women Flax Spinners, 1827,” at the Ancestor Network website, Jim Ryan extracts names of women, all apparently living near Bessborough House at this time, who appear in payment records of the Earl of Bessborough in 1827, being paid for spinning flax. The list of those paid for this work includes one Peggy Ryan, who is, I’m fairly certain, Margaret Oates Ryan, wife of John Ryan. 

Jim Ryan writes,

We list here 83 women receiving payments in 1827 for spinning and weaving of flax. The documents are in the Bessborough papers in the National Library of Ireland Ms 29,805. The estate was owned by the Ponsonby family who had very extensive estates in Kilkenny. Their residence was Bessborough House at Piltown in the civil parish of Fiddown. The house and estate are now an agricultural college. The family lived in England until 1825 when the 4th Earl of Bessborough and his wife came to live there, with their 11 children. They were ‘improving’ landlords and encouraged local industry and crafts. It is likely that the women on the list below were encouraged by the estate to become involved in spinning. Although residences for the women are not specified, it is logical that they lived in the immediate vicinity of the estate. There was no practical reason why the farm management would seek flax spinners further than was necessary. As further validation of this, almost all of the surnames on this list appear locally in the Griffith Valuation returns (1850) and in the Tithe Applotment Survey. For example, 15 of the 83 family names appear in townlands neighbouring Bessborough house e.g.  Belline & Rogerstown; 6 in Tobernabrone; 6 in Banagher and 6 in Fiddown.

Flax spinning involved making yarn by spinning, or twisting, fibres of flax into a thread. It was uniquely women’s work at the time and involved using a spinning wheel operated by a foot treadle. The yarn was then transferred to the weaver to be woven into linen cloth. Linen-making was popular with small-holders as it provided work throughout the year, and also involved several members of the household.  Men were involved in growing and processing the flax, and in weaving. Women were involved in the spinning and (later in the century) also in weaving. At the period of this list (1827) all of this work was still done by hand. The later development of steam-powered spinning machines resulted in rapid decline in hand-spinning. Machine-spinning became centered in large Ulster mills and the cottage-industry gradually disappeared. Weaving, on the other hand, was maintained partly because of the availability of machine-spun thread.

Jim Ryan’s notes for this article state that one of the less common surnames found in this list is the name Oates (Oats/Othes), a name found in the civil parish of Fiddown. Among those paid for spinning flax in the list are a Biddy and a Mary Oates. 

As Jim Ryan indicates, this list of payments is from papers of the Bessborough estate now held by the National Library of Ireland. The payments list abstracted in this particular article are for payments made from March to July 1827. Jim Ryan states that the originals are arranged by date, and most of the 83 women whose names he has abstracted in his article received several payments over that period. The catalogue entry for the collection in which these payment records are found is entitled “Bessborough Papers. Ponsonby Family, Earls of Bessborough, 1826-1864.” I think it’s very likely that this collection of estate papers contains more information about the family of John and Margaret Oates Ryan.

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