Carlow History

John Burgess: an evicted Carlow tenant reinstated

John Burgess: an evicted Carlow tenant reinstated

Niall C.E.J. O’Brien


In the 1910 Parliamentary report of the Estates Commission only one former tenant in Co. Carlow was successfully reinstated in his former holding under the Evicted Tenants (Ireland) Act, 1907. On 25th April 1898 John Burgess was evicted from his holding at Coolnamara in Co. Carlow. John Burgess paid £16 9s 4d for sixteen acres of land on the estate of Walter Kavanagh.[1] The townland of Coolnamara was situated in the civil parish of Ullard in the Barony of Lower St. Mullins in County Carlow. It contains about 261 acres and is on the R703 heading north-east out of Graiguenamanagh.

Coolnamara in 1827

In 1827 an earlier John Burgess held thirteen aces and three roots of land in the townland of Coolnamara according to the Tithe Applotment books. Coolnamara measured about 261 acres but only 155 acres qualified under the Tithe books.[2] Pasture land was not subject to Tithe payments. We can say therefore that John Burgess had thirteen acres of tillage ground and the remaining eleven acres was in pasture.

In 1827 the Church of Ireland churchwardens for Ullard and Graig calculated £69 10s as the money needed to pay parish expenses for the year. This money would be mainly raise through the payment of Tithes on tillage land with Protestants and Catholics contributing to the collection.[3]

In the late 1820s and early 1830s there was great unrest and resistance across the country to the continuation to paying Tithes to the Church of Ireland. Due to intimidation and outrages the Tithe collectors had made no attempt at recovering the amounts due. In a report to the government the collectors said any legal proceedings against the defaulters would be unsuccessful due to the unrest. In 1831 John Burgess, farmer, was listed among eleven other people in Coolnamara as a Tithe defaulter. In the parish of Ullard there were 147 defaulters. After further unrest and long debate in Parliament the Tithe payment was transferred to the landlord who in most cases passed the bill onto the tenants as part of the rent payment.

Coolnamara and Mount Leinster

Coolnamara looking towards Mount Leinster

Coolnamara in 1850

In about 1850 John Burgess held twenty-four acres and twenty perches of land with a dwelling house and outhouses at Coolnamara. The land of John Burgess was worth £16 and his buildings valued at £2. John’s landlord was Michael Sweetman who in turn held his property from Thomas Kavanagh. John Burgess was one of seven farmers in the townland which included Michael Sweetman. The biggest farmer was Redmond Dalton was forty-two acres.[4]

In the 1851 census reported 103 people living in Coolnamara compared to 113 people in 1841. In 1841 there were 16 dwelling houses and this had increased to 17 houses by 1851.[5] Clearly Coolnamara was little affected by the Great Famine of the 1840s and the 1850s were good also as the population remained at 103 in the 1861 census.[6]

The Kavanagh landlords of Coolnamara

This Thomas Kavanagh III was the first son of Thomas Kavanagh II of Borris House by his second wife Lady Harriet Le Poer Trench, daughter of 2nd Earl of Clancarty, a staunch Presbyterian. Thomas Kavanagh II was the youngest son of Thomas Kavanagh I by his wife Lady Suzanne, daughter of the 16th Earl of Ormond. Thomas Kavanagh II succeeded to the Kavanagh estate following the early deaths of his three brothers. Sometime before 1798 Thomas Kavanagh II conformed to the Church of Ireland. Thomas Kavanagh II was twice married. His first wife was Lady Elizabeth Butler by whom he had nine daughters and one son. In 1825 he married his second wife, Lady Harriet Le Poer Trench and she gave birth to three sons, the youngest of whom was the limbless Arthur McMurrough-Kavanagh.

Thomas Kavanagh II died in 1837 and was successively succeeded by his sons Walter Kavanagh, Thomas Kavanagh (owner of 1850) and Charles Kavanagh. After the death of Charles Kavanagh in 1853 the limbless Arthur McMurrough-Kavanagh became lord of Borris House.[7]

Michael Burgess of Coolnamara

In November 1846 Michael Burgess of Coolnamara was sponsor for the baptism of Daniel, son of Arthur Kavanagh and Margaret Burgess.[8] In October 1850 Michael Burgess of Headfield married Anne Moran with Michael Dalton and Anne Doyle as witnesses.[9] In February 1853 Michael Burgess of Coolnamara and his wife Anne Murrin baptised their daughter Bridget. Ellen Burgess and Stephen Murrin were the sponsors.[10] Michael Burgess was possibly a son of John Burgess.

Kavanagh evictions

After the death of Thomas Kavanagh II in 1837 a good number of tenants were evicted from the estate in the name of land improvement. At Ballydine 208 people were evicted. Some of the evictions were in situations where the leases of middlemen had expired.[11] In 1850 John Burgess held his land from a middleman. After these middlemen leases expired some of the under-tenants were adopted as direct tenants of the Kavanagh landlord. As we see from the above the Burgess holding at Coolnamara came directly under the Kavanaghs between 1850 and 1898.

In 1879-80 the Kavanagh estate came under pressure from tenants who variously were unable or unwilling to pay their rent. The estate was the biggest recipient of financial support from the Government to keep it out of the bankruptcy courts. See related article =

On 25th April 1898 John Burgess was evicted from his holding at Coolnamara. John Burgess had paid £16 9s 4d for sixteen acres of land.[12] But it seems that John Burgess was unable to pay the rent, or unwilling to do so, and was evicted. The exact circumstances are unknown but non-payment of rent was the official reason.

eviction in co clare

Photo of an eviction in Co. Clare not unlike

Burgess house with its three windows and thatched roof

In the three months from April to June 1898 there were twelve eviction notice filed in the Carlow county court.[13] A small number compared to the 309 evictions in County Mayo but every eviction is somebody’s life and not just a statistic. It seems that in the twelve Carlow cases above, eviction was not immediate and that all were given caretaker status on their holdings for a brief time.[14] Overall there were 1,438 evictions in 1898 across Ireland for non-payment of rent, a small increase on the 1897 figure.[15]

The 1901 census

After his eviction in 1898 John Burgess disappears from the records for a time. The 1901 census records that the house of John Burgess was vacant and held by Walter Kavanagh.[16] The evicted John Burgess is not recorded in the census. He was not living in Ireland on census night in April 1901 but it is unclear if he had moved temporarily or permanently abroad. Instead the 1901 census a person called John Burgess (aged fifty-two years), was an unmarried farm servant in the household of Michael Dalton at house number three in the townland of Coolnamara.[17] Elsewhere another John Burgess (aged forty years) lived with his family at Ballaghaderneen by Fennagh in Co. Carlow.[18]

Political fortunes of Walter Kavanagh

It is not known where John Burgess lived between 1898 and 1907. After the passage of the Tenant eviction Act of 1907 John Burgess applied to the Estates Commission for redress. In the meantime the political fortunes of his former landlord were temporarily restored. In 1908 Walter McMurrough-Kavanagh was nominated as a Nationalist candidate in the Co. Carlow by-election. The vacancy was caused by the death of John Hammond, an anti-Parnellite, who was first elected M.P. for the County in 1891. At the end there was no contest and Walter McMurrough-Kavanagh was elected unopposed. It was a big change from the heavy defeat suffered by his father, Arthur McMurrough-Kavanagh, in 1880 when the tenants voted comprehensively for two Home Rule candidates.[19] But Walter’s time in Parliament was short lived. Before the 1910 Walter disagreed with the Government’s tax policies and didn’t contest the general election in January 1910 in which Michael Molloy was returned for Carlow.[20]

At a local level Walter McMurrough-Kavanagh served as chairman of Carlow County Council from 1907 to 1918 but lost his job due to his support for conscription. He died July 1922 leaving two sons.[21]

John Burgess reinstated to family land

By December 1909 the Estates Commission had reinstated John Burgess on a holding of twenty-four acres and twenty perches at Coolnamara. This was the same area and place as his ancestor had in 1850. Back in 1898 John Burgess was evicted from sixteen acres. It is not clear if the eight acres was held under a different lease agreement.

The annuity payable was £12 14s 10d on the twenty-four acres. John Burgess received £80 towards his building and other improvements. This amount was to be repayable as part of his annuity payment. John Burgess got £100 as a free non-repayable grant towards purchasing stock and farm implements.[22] The Poor Law Valuation of the former holding held by John Burgess and his new farm is not given.

1911 census

In the 1911 census John Burgess lived as a single farmer in house number four in the townland of Coolnamara. John Burgess was a Roman Catholic and was born in Co. Carlow. In 1911 John Burgess gave his age as thirty-nine and could read and write.[23] John’s dwelling house had three windows at the front of the house and was strongly built with a slate roof. It seems that John Burgess may have put on the slate roof as in 1901 the house had a thatched roof. John used three rooms in the house and had three outhouses.[24] The three outhouses consisted of one cow house, one barn and one shed.[25]

Later history

The later history of John Burgess after 1911 is unknown to this author. It is hoped that he enjoyed a long and happy life on his ancestral property. No person with the Burgess surname lives today at Coolnamara according to the telephone directory.




End of post




[1] accessed on 19 August 2016


[3] accessed on 19 August 2016

[4] Griffith’s Valuation, Coolnamara, Ullard Parish, Lower St. Mullins Barony, Co. Carlow

[5] accessed on 19 August 2016

[6] accessed on 19 August 2016

[7] Jimmy O’Toole, The Carlow Gentry: What will the neighbours say! (Carlow, 1993), pp. 131, 132

[8] accessed on 19 August 2016

[9] accessed on 19 August 2016

[10] accessed on 19 August 2016

[11] Jimmy O’Toole, The Carlow Gentry: What will the neighbours say!, p. 136

[12] accessed on 19 August 2016

[13] accessed on 19 August 2016

[14] accessed on 19 August 2016

[15] accessed on 19 August 2016

[16] accessed on 19 August 2016

[17] accessed on 19 August 2016

[18] accessed on 19 August 2016

[19] Jimmy O’Toole, The Carlow Gentry: What will the neighbours say!, pp. 134, 135, 136

[20] B.M. Walker (ed.), Parliamentary election results in Ireland, 1801-1922 (Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, 1978), p. 332

[21] accessed on 19 August 2016

[22] accessed on 19 August 2016

[23] accessed on 19 August 2016

[24] accessed on 19 August 2016

[25] accessed on 19 August 2016


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