History Series #3
County Kilkenny: Old English Families


Anglo-Irish Families in Kilkenny County (1300)

It was not until the reign of Edward I, or about the year 1300, that surnames began to be fixed. From that period, Fitzgerald, Butler, Fitzmaurice, Grace, etc., begin to be accepted as surnames, replacing such designations as John Fitz Thomas, Theobald Fitz Walter, Oliver Fitz William, etc. Somewhere along in that period also, these names begin to appear in their Irish equivalent. Thus Fitz Gerald became McGarett, or MacGarolt, from which came Garret. Le Gras (Crassus) became Grassagh, from which Grace. The name which went in as St. Alban, or St. Aubin, came out as Tobin. Odo l'Ercedekne emerged as Cody, Mac Coady, and Archdeacon. Others of these early Kilkenny family names were Archer, Barron, Blanchville, Bryan, Burke, Butler, Cantwell, Comerford, Daton (Dalton), Denn, Dobbin, Early, Fanning, Forrestall, Frayne, Hackett, Heneberry, Howling, Keating, Lawless, Lee, Power, Purcell, Ragget, Rothe, Roche, St. Leger, Shea, Shortall, Strong, Sweetman, Wall (de Valle) and Walsh.

The lands they took were, in the main, those of the Gaelic dynasts of the O'Kealys, the O'Brennans, and the McGillapatricks (Fitzpatrick).

The first Cantwell came with the first Butler, and witnessed his charter to the Cisternians at Owney. Odo Archidiekne witnessed William Marshall's charter of Kilkenny. Geoffrey and William Schortall witnessed the charter of the Abbey of Kells. The first Grace (Le Gras) was seneschal of Leinster for the first Marshal and was his cousin. The Purcells were adherents of the Butlers and captains of their army. The Powers worked up from Waterford, where they were in possession of the eastern half of that county. The Archers, Rothes, and Sheas were prominently identified with Kilkenny city. The first Archer appears in 1230. The Rothes appear as mayors from 1403 to 1690. The Shees (Shea) came to Kilkenny from Kerry in the fifteenth century. They also were Butler captains and lawyers, and mayors of the Butler capital of Kilkenny city. The Walls and Walshs were very early comers. John de Valle (Wall) was a knight at Castleinch (Inchiologan) in 1247. Adam Walensis (Walsh) is noted near Gowran between 1235-44. The first Lawless was a burgess of Kilkenny in 1396. This family had lands in Dublin county much earlier. The Raggets appear in the first year of the 13th century. The Comerfords came to Kilkenny, about 1500, following the Butlers, with whom they held positions of trust. They got some of the properties of the Walls. The Aylwards were very early in Waterford, spreading later to Kilkenny. The Bryans were also relatively late comers. The Denns of Grenan were there in 1247. The de Fraynes, or Freneys, were prominent from the beginning of the 13th century. The Keatings were Geraldines, and so were the Barrons.

It will be easier to understand the relation that existed between these families of adventurers if we bear in mind that they were firmly united, during all those centuries, to one or other of the Palatine Lords. At first it was Strongbow, who came in 1172, leading the Anglo-Norman invasions into Ireland. Then followed the Marshals, and after them the Butlers. "Get you good lordship" was the first counsel of success in those days.
Excerpts from: Walsh from 1170 to 1690

Also see: Surname Histories -- Barony Histories -- Knights' Fees in Co. Kilkenny


Landed Gentry of Kilkenny County (1640)

From the end of the high medieval period (c.1350) to the time of just prior to the Cromwell confiscations (c.1650), County Kilkenny (and Tipperary) came to be dominated by the Butler families, headed by the earl of Ormond who at different times had ruled from Nenagh, Carrick-on-Suir and, most particularly, from Kilkenny city. The Butlers had become dominant land owners in the towns of Roscrea, Nenagh, Thurles, Cahir, Gowran, Knocktopher, Inistioge and Callan thereby controlling the core areas of the economy. The Ormond Butler lands of Kilkenny practically commanded all the frontier territories of the county, as well as part of the rich middle core from Dunmore in the north to the former monastic lands of Jerpoint. Lord Mountgarret (of Butler ancestry) dominated the lowlands along the strategic territories fronting the former Gaelic zone to the north. Likewise other key Ormond allies held frontier lands bordering the county, including the Graces to the north-west, and the Purcells and the Cantwells to the north-east. In addition, underneath the Butler overlordship, the head tenants on the individual manors were for the most part lesser Butlers, or members of other leading English landed families such as the Comerfords.

The remainder of the rich central lowlands of county Kilkenny was dominated by Norman families such as the Shortalls, the St.Legers and the Blanchfields. Further dominating the lowland scene were leading merchant families of Kilkenny city and allies/kinsmen of the Butlers -- the Shees, the Rothes, and the Archers. In addition, the Bishop of Ossory held over 5,000 acres scattered throughout this lowland core.

To the south, the complex hierarchical territories of the Walsh family (the Lords of the Mountain) extend right across the county from Tibberaghny in the west to near Rosbercon in the east. Here Robert Walsh alone held over 10,000 acres. Other key centres in this upland region were manned by members of the extended kingroup of the Walshes. This kinship strategy was also characteristic of all the major families in Tipperary, Kilkenny and elsewhere, revealing the interweaving of 'Gaelic' and 'feudal' strategies of land management and social control. The remainder of the south was dominated by long established landed families: the Forstalls dominated in the parishes of Ballygurrim and Kilmakevoge; the Fitzgeralds are lords of Brownsford and Gurteen, William Gaule held 1,631 acres around Dunkitt and Gaulskill; Edmund Dalton, near Piltown, controlled 2,179 acres; while the families like the Denns and the Freneys were also strongly represented. Some descendants of Waterford merchant families such as the Stranges and the Grants were well-established in the lands fringing the lower courses of the navigable rivers.

County Kilkenny was therefore dominated up to the 1640's by a long established territorial, political and social hierarchy headed by the earl of Ormond, who directly ruled over 50,000 plantation acres. The next level in the hierarchy was represented by Lord Mountgarret with close to 20,000 acres. Then came a third layer of eight major owners, John Grace, Robert Walsh, Sir Edmund Butler, Henry Archer, John Bryan, the Bishop of Ossory, Phillip Purcell and Robert Shee, each with estates of 5,000 to 10,000 acres. Beneath this group was a further eleven landowners, including Shortall, Strange, Blanchfield, Freney, Fitzgerald, Dalton, Cantwell, Rothe, Denn, Forstall, and St. Leger. Underneath this group included three Fitzgeralds, two Butlers, two Walshes, one Strange, one Grant, one Purcell, one Dobbin, one Sweetman, one Comerford, one Shortall, one Walton and one Dalton. Then came smaller landowners, 22 with estates from 500 to 900 acres from William Drilling to Thomas Grant. A further 29 held estates from 330 to 490 acres beginning with James St. Leger down to Joseph Walsh. A further 41 smaller landowners held estates/farms from 200 to 280 acres.

The total list of landowners included at least 13 each of the Walshes and Butlers, 11 Shortalls, 8 St. Legers, 7 Fitzgeralds, 6 each of the Archdeacon/Codys and Graces, 5 each of the Forstalls and Dobbins, 4 each of the Comerfords, Denns, Grants, Rothes and Shees. At least 3 Blanchfield families are represented, and two each from the following families: Cantwells, Sweetmans, Gauls, Freneys, Kealys, Aylwards, Howlings, Bryans and Cowleys.
See 1640 Landowner Map.

The Gaelic lands of Kilkenny, in contrast, had almost disappeared by 1640. In the previous 60 years the vast patrimony of the O'Brennans of Fassadinin had been whittled down to a pathetic 60 acres by the insidious penetration of the earl of Ormond and his Old English henchman, and finally obliterated by the creation of the great modern estate of the Wandesfords centered in Castlecomer. Only the Ryans from their hearthland in Idrone in Carlow kept a residual if resilient foothold in the Leighlin parishes of east county Kilkenny. In the extreme north-east the Bryan family (a branch of the Idrone O'Byrnes of Carlow but now clearly assimilated to the Old English order) manned the gap on the edge of the former woodlands and boglands of the Gaelic fastnesses of the north-west. The Gaelic substratum being very deep, beneath the Cambro-Norman landowners, the surviving hearth money records of the 1660s bring up the layers of Cahills, Hennessys, Phelans, Keefes, Meaghers, Murphys, Brennans, Brophys, and Delaneys interwoven in complex webs throughout the townlands, villages and towns.
* Excerpts from Kilkenny History and Society

Beginning in the mid 1600's, the profile of landowners in Kilkenny changed dramatically once more. The coming of Cromwellian and Williamite forces brought the end of Catholic land ownership, the transplantation of the Old English families into Connacht, as well as the movement of family members serving in the 'Jacobite' army into the armed forces of foreign countries. The ascendancy of the New English Families into Kilkenny reached its peak by the year 1703.

Next Article: New English Families.

Contents and maps compiled by Dennis Walsh (copyright 2002).

Further Articles:
Ancient Ossory (the first in this series)
Medieval County Kilkenny (the second in this series)
New English Families (the fourth in this series)
Timeline of County Kilkenny History
Administrative Divisions

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