Cork history

A very long lease: Ummeraboy in Duhallow

A very long lease: Ummeraboy in Duhallow

Niall C.E.J. O’Brien

In the civil parish of Kilmeen in the Barony of Duhallow in the County of Cork lies the two townlands of Ummeraboy East and Ummeraboy West. The townlands are situated on the north side of the road between Boherboy and Knocknagree with the Araglen River in the east and the Blackwater River in the west. The landscape is fine undulating farmland with views southwards towards the Boggeragh Mountains. The name of Ummeraboy means “yellow ridge” and the land is a ridge running east-west with lowland on the east, south and west.

On 26th July 1762 Ulick Roche of Ummeraboy, farmer, dismissed to Ulick Roche and Elizabeth Dickson Houghton for the sum of five shillings the town and land of Ummeraboy for a term of 20,000 years at a yearly rent of sixty-three pounds.[1] What! a lease for 20,000 years who could conceive of a thing. A lease for 20 years would be manageable, 200 years acceptable, 2,000 years a bit too much Roman wine to drink but 20,000 years is to walk to the supermarket with dinosaurs. As they would say in Duhallow, somebody was eiri in áirde (showing pride or airs and graces).[2]

Ancient history in Ummeraboy

Yet in this western part of Duhallow, the past, even the distant past can be very much found alive. In the 1830s the teacher/poet Edward Walsh wrote how one day he was walking by the Araglen River near Kiskeam, a few miles north-west of Ummeraboy, when he met a youthful herds-man minding a few cattle. There, as the lyric waters of the river flowed past, the boy recounted the tale of the day Finn Mac Cool came to Kiskeam to defeat the giant warriors of the King of the Eastern World. And by the way the story was told you could even smell the cake cooking on the fire in Finn’s house such was the past alive in the young boy’s words even though the story was by then some fifteen hundred or more years old.[3]

There are a number of archaeological antiquities in the townlands of Ummeraboy East and West. In the townland of Ummeraboy West there was a possible stone row of three stones (stones removed to field boundary in 1980s). Stone rows come from the Bronze Age and the majority of Irish examples occur in the south-west. The examples in North Cork (including Ummeraboy) are at the edge of this concentration. About 90 meters away were two standing stones one of which was reputed to have had cup marks. This latter stone was removed to a nearby field fence in the 1980s and shows no cup marks on the exposed side.[4]

Ummeraboy West has two examples of the prehistoric monument called a ring-barrow. These monuments are assigned to the Neolithic (4,000 BC to 2,000 BC), Bronze Age (2,000 BC to 500 BC) and Iron Age (500 BC to 400 AD). They were used for burials, although some ring-barrows have produced no evidence of burials.[5]

In the townland of Ummeraboy East there are three examples of fulacht fiadh while Ummeraboy West has four examples. The fulacht fiadh was a Bronze Age cooking site and the Barony of Duhallow has a high density of such sites.[6] Ummeraboy East has two ringforts and a possible site of a third ringfort. Ringforts are the most widespread and characteristic archaeological feature in the Irish landscape. The majority of ringforts were enclosed farmsteads of the Early Christian period with most built between the seventh and ninth centuries.[7]

Ummeraboy in the seventeenth century

In medieval times the lands of south-west Duhallow were held by the O’Keeffe family and the area was called Pobal O’Keeffe (the people of O’Keeffe) while the lands of Pobal McAuliffe were in the north-west of Duhallow. But the area between the Araglen and Blackwater Rivers was disputed territory with both peoples claiming ownership. The townland of Ummeraboy was in the disputed border area. In 1637 the disputed area was settled with all the land west of Glenreagh (a north-south upland ridge in the centre of the disputed area) going to O’Keeffe and the land sloping east going to McAuliffe.[8] The townland of Ummeraboy was split between the two peoples into Ummeraboy East (McAuliffe) and Ummeraboy West (O’Keeffe).


Ummeraboy [marked in red] in the Down Survey map c. 1654

By 1640 Dermod McCarthy had acquired Ummeraboy and other adjacent lands. He also held much of the parish of Cullen to the south of Ummeraboy. After the Confederate War, Dermod McCarthy had his lands confiscated by the Cromwell government. With the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 the property passed to the crown. On 1st July 1663 Lewis Craige took out a mortgage on Ummeraboy and other places formerly held by Dermod McCarthy. On 10th July 1668 Ummeraboy was granted to Sir George Hamilton with most of the lands formerly owned by Dermod McCarthy in the parishes of Cullen and Kilmeen.[9]

Sir George Hamilton was the fourth son of James Hamilton, 1st Earl of Abercorn. About 1620 Sir George Hamilton married Mary Butler, sister of James Butler, 12th Earl of Ormond and later 1st Duke of Ormond. They had six sons and three daughters. His grandson, James Hamilton, succeeded his cousin in 1701 as the 6th Earl of Abercorn. In the Civil war Sir George Hamilton fought on the Royalist side and defended Nenagh against Henry Ireton. He went to France during the Cromwellian period and was restored to his lands with the Restoration. During the 1660s he was rewarded with further lands like at Ummeraboy.[10]

It is possible that Sir George Hamilton or one of his children made the first grant of a 20,000 year lease on Ummeraboy. Much of the Hamilton property was in Ulster and so Duhallow was far from the family’s main centre of activity. A long lease on Ummeraboy would earn some money without too much outlay in expenses. A lease of 20,000 years is very much a sale of Ummeraboy when normal leases for 999 years are described as effective sale of a property. The changing political climate between the 1530s and the 1660s with further changes likely because of a Catholic heir to the throne (James II) motivated Hamilton to make a lease of Ummeraboy rather than a clear sale.

Ummeraboy in the eighteenth century

Meanwhile we return to 1762 and the Dickson lease on Ummeraboy. The land of Ummeraboy was then in one townland and contained 657 acres. Hugh Dickson, the father of Elizabeth Dickson had previously demised the lands of Ummeraboy to George Bastable, farmer of County Cork, but under what terms is as yet unknown. The July 1762 witnesses to this amazing lease of 20,000 years included Cadwallader Waddy of County Wexford, Cornelius Sullivan of Gneeves, Co. Cork, tailor and Alex Moynihan of Newbridge, Co. Kerry.[11]

The Cloyne will of Charles Bastable, junior made in 1710 mentioned his brother George Bastable but it is unclear if this was the same George Bastable who had a lease of Ummeraboy.[12]

The family of Cadwallader Waddy are said to have come to Ireland in the person of a cavalry officer in the army of Oliver Cromwell.[13] There is mention of Cadwallader Waddy dying in 1843 at his seat of Kilmacoe House, Curracloe, Co. Wexford but it is unclear if this is the same person as in the Ummeraboy deed.[14] Elsewhere we learn that a person called Cadwallader Waddy was an attorney at the Irish Exchequer but no date was given as this fact.[15]

Elizabeth Dickson Houghton had married Charles Houghton of Mount Charles in County Wexford.[16] No such place appears in the Houses of Wexford book.[17] The name of Mount Charles possibly changed subsequent to the 1760s and its present location in County Wexford is uncertain. Elsewhere we learn that on 28th February 1766 Charles Houghton of Mount Charles died.[18] In the same year (1766) the probate of his will was granted.[19]

In 1722 Hugh Dickson of Ballybrickane, Co. Cork gave leases for lives on some of his Duhallow estates. The townlands named in Duhallow included Clontiforcull, Artrinagragh, Mantekillikeen, Island Duff and Derrynetubrid. Hugh’s sons, Abraham and William Dickson were named as witnesses to these leases.[20]

On 8th November 1738 the will of Hugh Dickson of Ballybrickane, Co. Cork, was proved. He left everything to Henry Boyle, Speaker of the Irish House of Commons as his “honoured friend and patron”. Among the creditors of Hugh Dickson were Herbert Phaire for £300, George Chinnery of Midleton for £23 13s 4d and George Chinnery of Mallow for £30 1s 2d. Among the tenants on his estate were Cornelius O’Callaghan of Banteer, Teige O’Callaghan of Killavoy and Daniel Callaghan of Coolclougher.[21]

On 2nd March 1768 Edward Shank, a shoemaker of the City of Dublin, sold to Thoby Roche of Dysert, Co. Cork his interest in the town and land of Ummeraboy. We are told that Edward Shank held this interest during the life of Carbery Egan, a named life in a previous lease deed relating to Ummeraboy. In the sale deed the 20,000 year lease is mentioned along with the more manageable term of thirty-one years. The sale by Edward Shank was witnessed by Thomas Franks and William Boy.[22]

It may seem strange for a Dublin tradesman to have land interests in eighteenth century County Cork but he was not alone in this regard or in selling those interests. In 1755 John Forester, bridle cutter of Dublin, sold the lands of Keelpatrick, a tenement in Macroom and the village of Killnegurteen in the Barong of Muskerry. Cornet Gilbert Mellefont of the Lord George Sackville Regiment purchased the property. In a later document, dated March 1756 we find that John Forester acted as a Protestant Discoverer for the lands of Ballyvallyshane in the Barony of Muskerry.[23]

As part of the Penal Laws against Catholics it was enacted in 1704 that no Catholic could have a lease on land longer than thirty-one years.[24] But loopholes were found in the 1704 Act and further legislation was introduced in 1709.[25] Further legislation was needed in 1733 in close more loopholes as Archbishop Hugh Boulter explained that “the business of the law from top to bottom is almost in the hands of these [Catholic converts to Protestantism]”.[26] Some Protestants made it their business to search out for land given to Catholics which contravened the law. And these were known as Protestant Discoverers. Having found such land that broke the law the Protestant Discoverer could claim the land. It is not as yet stated in documents but Edward Shank of Dublin may have been such a Protestant Discoverer in relation to Ummeraboy. The Catholic Relief Act of 1778 allowed Catholics to hold leases longer than thirty-one years.[27]

So far, like many of the other characters involved with Ummeraboy, it is not possible to gather much information on Edward Shank, the shoemaker from Dublin. There is an Edward Shand mentioned as executor to the will of Edward Bond in 1742 where in which document is also mentioned Rev. Edward Shand.[28] The spelling is different but a slip of the pen by the land deed registry official may have made the difference; further research work is needed.

In the first half of the eighteenth century much of western Duhallow was little influence by its landlords. The Boyle manor of Castlemacauliffe was left very much to its own devises while the Crown estate in the old Pobal O’Keeffe lands was left in very long leases to the O’Cronin family (it so remained Crown lands because nobody wanted it).[29] It was possibly these long leases that gave the unknown owner (possibly Hamilton) of Ummeraboy the idea of the 20,000 year lease.


A photo representing how the land of Ummeraboy looks 

Agricultural improvements

During the second half of the eighteenth century improvements in agriculture penetrated into western Duhallow and Ummeraboy. Yet it was reported that even though by 1800 much of eastern Duhallow had good plantations of trees the western part was denude of trees as it had been since the earliest times of history.[30] The use of lime as a fertilizer for the land increased crop yields and allowed more animals to be supported by the land.[31] The two parts of Ummeraboy were well served by lime kilns with nearby a dozen in the townland.

Yet cattle farming and not the more profitable dairy farming remained the chief enterprise. The problem was the difficulty of getting dairy produce to the largest butter market in the world, Cork City. Land transport across bog and mountain was slow and difficult. In the 1820s a series of new roads opened western Duhallow to the outside world but the area around Ummeraboy was still without good road connections. The engineer and surveyor, Richard Griffith, made efforts to correct this absence. By 1839 a new road from Castleisland to Ballydesmond and on through Kiskeam to the Mallow/Killarney road opened the area and helped improve the lives of the inhabitants.[32]

Ummeraboy in the 1780s

Long before the construction of these new roads the ownership of Ummeraboy had changed hands. On 9th March 1781 Thoby Roche, gent of the City of Cork, sold Ummeraboy for 999 years to Patrick Creagh, merchant of Cork, in consideration of £600. The land contained about 657 acres for which Patrick Creagh paid a yearly rent of £63 with the provision of redemption by Thoby Roche. The lease sale didn’t last long and in 1784 Patrick Creagh surrendered the lease back to Thoby Roche who was then living at Dysert, Co. Cork. On 17th December 1784 (the same day of the surrender) Thoby Roche granted Ummeraboy to his eldest son, Ulick Roche of Dysert for 100 years after Ulick Roche had paid over £835 to Peirce Purcell of Altamera, Co. Cork and William Purcell of Mount Purcell, Co. Cork (likely creditors of Thoby Roche). This payment of £835 was not enough to satisfy the debts and the two Purcells were given a 12 year lease on Ummeraboy and another townland called Killeterigh.[33]

By December 1788 the 657 plantation acres of Ummeraboy had passed to John McAllen of Athy, Co. Kildare. On 4th December 1788 John McAllen made a lease and release with Rev. Joseph Miller of Wexford of the lands of Ummeraboy so that the lands would be held for John for life while Rev. Miller got £63 of yearly rent from lands in County Wexford.[34]

Ummeraboy in the nineteenth century

In Griffith’s Valuation (c.1850) Ummeraboy East contained 371 acres and was held Denis McCarthy with about thirteen different tenancies while Ummeraboy West contained 709 acres and was held by the same Denis McCarthy with about twenty-five different tenancies.[35] In June 1863 the estate of Denis McCarthy at Ummeraboy East and West was offered for sale.[36] Florence McCarthy held Ummeraboy in about 1834 according to the Tithe Applotment books.

Previously on 24th January 1854 the overlord owner of Ummeraboy, John Chrysostom Hennessy of Ballinhassig, Co. Cork sold Ummeraboy to Jonas Morris of Dunkettel, Co. Cork for £3,838.[37] John Chrysostom Hennessy was the eldest son of Michael Hennessy and Jane, daughter of Samuel Welply. John Hennessy was born in 1816 and succeeded his father in 1846. In 1850 he married Mary, second daughter of Richard Kenifeck of Ballindeasig House. In 1851 they had a son called Michael Hennessy.[38]

With all the centuries of English intrusion into western Duhallow and the plague of the Great Famine the old traditions live long in the area around Ummeraboy. The practice of transhumance or of taking cattle up into the high ground for summer grazing and back down to the lowland for winter shelter, continued from ancient times and was still practiced in the Ummeraboy area well into the twentieth century.[39]

If we returned to Ummeraboy in 19,700 years’ time what kind of place will it be. Will society have returned to transhumance or will it be totally unrecognisable to this generation. What we do know is that the descendants of the original person who gave the 20,000 year lease will not be able to claim their inheritance as the Land Acts made between 1870 and 1903 gave absolute ownership to the then tenant farmers.


Ummeraboy in about 1850 [in red] showing the plot numbers from Griffith’s Valuation


End of post



[1] Albert Eugene Casey & Thomas O’Dowling (eds.), OKief, Coshe Many, Slieve Loughter and Upper Blackwater (15 vols. Wisconsin, 1964), vol. 7, p. 1136

[2] Louis McCarthy, ‘The Hiberno-English of West Duhallow’, in Seanchas Dúthalla, Vol. XIV (2006), p. 107

[3] John J. Ó Ríordáin, Where Araglen so gently flows (author, 2007), pp. 26-30

[4] Denis Power, Sheila Lane & others, Archaeological Inventory of County Cork: Volume 4: North Cork Part 1 (Stationery Office, Dublin, 2000), pp. 11, 14, 16, 176

[5] D. Power, S. Lane & others, Archaeological Inventory of County Cork: Volume 4, Part 1, pp. 184, 190

[6] D. Power, S. Lane & others, Archaeological Inventory of County Cork: Volume 4, Part 1, pp. 43, 168, 169

[7] D. Power, S. Lane & others, Archaeological Inventory of County Cork: Vol. 4, Part 1, pp. 217, 330, 358

[8] John J. Ó Ríordáin, Where Araglen so gently flows, pp. 51, 107

[9] A.E. Casey & T. O’Dowling (eds.), OKief, Coshe Many, Slieve Loughter and Upper Blackwater, vol. 7, pp. 608, 609, 610

[10],_1st_Baronet,_of_Donalong accessed on 4th October 2014

[11] A.E. Casey & T. O’Dowling (eds.), OKief, Coshe Many, Slieve Loughter and Upper Blackwater, vol. 7, p. 1136

[12] A.E. Casey & T. O’Dowling (eds.), OKief, Coshe Many, Slieve Loughter and Upper Blackwater, vol. 14, p. 716

[13] Edward Walford, The County Families of the United Kingdom (Robert Hardwick, London, 1860), p. 661

[14] David Rowe & Eithne Scallan, Houses of Wexford (Whitegate, Ballinakella Press, 2004), no. 617

[15] Edward Keane, P. Beryl Eustace & Thomas U. Sadlier (eds.), King’s Inn admission papers, 1607-1867 (Irish Manuscripts Commission, Dublin, 1982), p. 493

[16] A.E. Casey & T. O’Dowling (eds.), OKief, Coshe Many, Slieve Loughter and Upper Blackwater, vol. 7, p. 1136

[17] David Rowe & Eithne Scallan, Houses of Wexford (Whitegate, Ballinakella Press, 2004)

[18] The Gentleman’s and London Magazine for 1766 (Dublin, 1766), p. 312

[19] Rev. Wallace Clare (ed.), A guide to copies and abstract of Irish wills (editor, 1930), p. 58

[20] A.E. Casey & T. O’Dowling (eds.), OKief, Coshe Many, Slieve Loughter and Upper Blackwater, vol. 7, p. 2017

[21] A.E. Casey & T. O’Dowling (eds.), OKief, Coshe Many, Slieve Loughter and Upper Blackwater, vol. 14, p. 646

[22] A.E. Casey & T. O’Dowling (eds.), OKief, Coshe Many, Slieve Loughter and Upper Blackwater, vol. 7, p. 1156

[23] A.E. Casey & T. O’Dowling (eds.), OKief, Coshe Many, Slieve Loughter and Upper Blackwater, vol. 8, pp. 2320, 2321, 2322

[24] David Dickson, Old World Colony: Cork and South Munster 1630-1830 (Cork University Press, 2005), p. 185

[25] Maureen Wall, The Penal Laws, 1691-1760 (Dublin Historical Association, Irish History Series, No. 1, 1976), p. 21

[26] Conor Cruise O’Brien, The Great Melody: a thematic biography of Edmund Burke (London, 1992), pp. 10, 11

[27] Miriam Lambe, A Tipperary Landed Estate: Castle Otway 1750-1853 (Dublin, 1998), p. 26

[28] P. Beryl Eustace (ed.), Registry of Deeds, Dublin: Abstracts of wills, Vol. 1, 1708-1745 (Stationery Office, Dublin, 1956), no. 699

[29] David Dickson, Old World Colony: Cork and South Munster 1630-1830 (Cork University Press, 2005), p. 224

[30] Seamus O Cróinin, ‘Duhallow- Two Hundred Years Ago’, in Seanchas Dúthalla, Vol. XV (2011), p. 33

[31] John J. Ó Ríordáin, Where Araglen so gently flows, p. 177

[32] John J. Ó Ríordáin, Where Araglen so gently flows, pp. 177, 179, 185

[33] A.E. Casey & T. O’Dowling (eds.), OKief, Coshe Many, Slieve Loughter and Upper Blackwater, vol. 11, pp. 1286, 1288, 1289

[34] A.E. Casey & T. O’Dowling (eds.), OKief, Coshe Many, Slieve Loughter and Upper Blackwater, vol. 11, p. 1303

[35] Griffith’s Valuation, Barony of Duhallow, Parish of Kilmeen

[36] 7 September 2014

[37] A.E. Casey & T. O’Dowling (eds.), OKief, Coshe Many, Slieve Loughter and Upper Blackwater, vol. 15, p. 2051

[38] Edward Walford, County Families of the United Kingdom (Robert Hardwick, London, 1860), p. 303

[39] John J. Ó Ríordáin, Where Araglen so gently flows, p. 115