Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Castletown and Land-Holding in Ireland

On our travels we visited Castletown house. This large lovely home was built nearly 300 years ago and the man who had it built was able to enjoy it for nearly seven full years before his death.

 The original owner, William Connolly, built the home with his wife, Kathryn, in 1722. William had married 'up' in society and was able to use the influence and money that Kathryn brought into their union in 1694 to purchase land forfeited by the Irish Catholics following the institution of the penal laws. Luckily, William's parents had converted before his birth so he was not subject to the harsh rules held over the Irish Catholics. His early landholdings were approximately 15,000 acres, but by the time of his death that number had increased to over 100,000 acres.

A Striking Contrast

But who would farm this land that William was quickly accruing? The very people from whom it was taken. The Irish Catholics who had forfeited the land were forced to rent or work the land they had so recently owned. There were many types of tenants, or renters, but one of the most memorable in my opinion is those who worked not for money, but for land to grow their food.

Compensation for a Hard Day's Work

The economy and markets in a place as tumultuous as Ireland at that time created inconsistent food supplies. The inhabitants realized that the safest way to ensure that they could feed their families was to produce the food themselves, and so they did. Men would work a lord's land in exchange for use of a plot to produce food for their families. These families lived almost entirely on potatoes, but it was better than nothing at all.

There were a few exceptions to common conditions for tenants, but sadly, many were living in less than ideal conditions. One can hope that Castletown House and the Connolly family were one of those exceptions. Do you think you could live on potatoes for a year? (Given infinite ketchup, of course.)


  1. The most interesting part of this whole story was how Mr. Connelly treated the farmers working on his land. As we've learned, many landlords didn't care less about the conditions that their workers were living in. In Mr. Connelly's case, he allowed farmers to use his land to plant their potatoes. It's so crazy to think that whole families were living solely on potatoes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Unfortunately, this didn't work out so great in the end, as the potato famine wiped out the crop, and over a million people lost their lives.

  2. I have had a deep love of spuds my entire life, but I doubt that I would be able to live off of them for a year. When things are difficult, as they clearly were during this time, you make due with what you have. However, I cannot imagine any amount of ketchup helping me through eating the same food everyday for a year. Though I am now curious about how many different ways there are to prepare potatoes.

  3. You'd be surprised how many ways there are to prepare potatoes! Just off the top of my head, I can think of several traditional methods that would have been available to the Irish at this time (depending on how much access they had to fresh milk, butter, and vegetables): boiled, mashed, fried, roasted, boxty, potato cakes, champ, colcannon just to name a few ;) I highly recommend champ, colcannon, and boxty--google it to see examples.

    As you probably noticed, potatoes are still a staple of the average Irish diet. Check out this Irish site on just potato recipes to see what I mean!