Brief History of County Roscommon

Saint Coman arrived in the fifth century AD and built a monastery on this site. The forest nearby became known as St. Comen's Wood and the village that grew around the monastery was named Ros Comain. Abbey ruins on the site today were built near the old site by Dominican Monks during Norman occupation. 

 

The Longer History

St. Coman came in the fifth-century and built a monastery on a wooded site. The woods nearby became known as St. Comen's Wood, and the first village was called Ros Comain. 

Abbey ruins on the site today was built 800 years later by Norman Dominicans in the thirteenth century.

North end of the county was the traditional lands of the MacDermots, while the south formed part of the territory of Uí Máine which was ruled by the O’Kellys. History suggests that County Roscommon was relatively un affected by the Norman invasion, but was later one of the counties left by  native proprietors by Oliver Cromwell. 

Old ways survived here longer than elsewhere. Nineteenth century Roscommon suffered by overpopulation and poverty and the people were devistated by the Famine. Between 1841 to 1851, the population in Roscommon fell by nearly a third, the largest loss of people in any county in Ireland.

Today (1996) about 55,000 people live in Roscommon, a drop of 80% from 1841. Looking at the emptiness of the countryside now, it is hard not to believe that ghosts of the past still walk here.

Roscommon is rich in history and genealogical resources. We hope you enjoy your visit.

The following is courtesy of The Irish Times:

When the county was created in 1565, its name was taken from the major town, Roscommon. Little is known about Coman, the fifth-century saint from whom the name comes. The ruined abbey which dominates the town was founded by the Dominicans in the thirteenth century.

The north of the county was included in the traditional lands of the MacDermots, while the south formed part of the territory of Uí Máine, ruled by the O’Kellys. Roscommon was little affected by the Norman invasion and was one of the counties left to the native proprietors by Cromwell in the seventeenth century.

One result was that many of the old ways survived here longer than elsewhere. Another result, by the nineteenth century, was huge over population and abject poverty. The fragile subsistence of the people was shattered by the Famine; in the ten years from 1841 to 1851, the population fell by almost a third, the largest single fall of any county in Ireland, and has continued to fall. Today around 55,000 people live in Roscommon, a drop of 80% from 1841. Looking at the emptiness of the countryside now, it is hard not to feel there are ghosts here.


The Province of Connaught

Connacht is the smallest and most westerly of the four provinces. It includes counties Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Roscommon and Leitrim.

 The name of the province derives from the Connachta, the large tribal grouping which dominated the west and north of the island in the first few centuries A.D. They claimed descent from the mythical Conn, brother of Eogan, the ancestor of the rulers of Munster, the Eoghanachta. By far the most important of the Connachta were the Uí Néill, who ruled much of the northern and eastern parts of Ireland. The Uí Brion and the Uí Fiachra , offshoots of the southern Uí Néill based at Tara in Co. Meath were dynastic kings of Connacht from the fourth century down to the arrival of the Normans in the late twelfth century, when the entire territory was granted to the de Burgos. These invaders were eventually completely assimilated into Gaelic culture, becoming the Mayo and Clanricard Burkes, and, in true Irish fashion, producing many offshoot families, among them Gibbons, Jennings and Philbin, all surnames still commonly found in Connacht.

Because of their remoteness and the relative poverty of the land, the counties of Connacht, together with Co. Clare, were excluded from the confiscations following the wars of the seventeenth century, and became a refuge of sorts for those dispossessed elsewhere.

By the nineteenth century the region was densely populated and desperately poor, with the result that its people suffered disproportionately in the Famine and the mass emigration that followed.

Eighteenth Century Census Substitutes (courtesy of Patrick Lavin)

There are at least two surveys for the 18th century Ireland - the 1749 Elphin Diocese Census of all Religious and Economic Classes, and the 1796 Spinning Wheel Survey of Ireland. 

The Elphin Diocese Census, mainly covering counties Roscommon and Sligo, was undertaken in 1749 by Bishop Edward Synge of the Church of Ireland.  This survey was limited to household occupiers then living in the diocese of Elphin.  The data collected listed the householder, his spouse, their children under and over the ages of fourteen, and their religion.

The 1796 Spinning Wheel Survey of Ireland contains a list of 53,900 persons from 30 counties who, in the year 1796, filed applications with the Linen and Hempen Manufacturers of Ireland for awards for growing hemp and flax that year.  Only counties Dublin and Wicklow are missing.

Emigration from Roscommon

Emigration from County Roscommon commenced on a large scale at the time of the Great Irish Famine although there was emigration from here much earlier. The chief destinations were the English Midlands including Manchester, the United States of America and Australia. The population of County Roscommon was reduced through death and emigration by 32% over the period of the Great Famine.

Click here for a set of pages describing the forced emigration of families in the Ballykilcline area.

The following is courtesy of Encarta Online:

Hyde, Douglas (1860-1949), Irish statesman and scholar. He was born in Frenchpark, county Roscommon. He joined the Irish nationalist movement in his youth and in 1893 helped found the Gaelic League, an organization established for the propagation of Irish culture. Hyde succeeded in making the study of the ancient Gaelic language of Ireland compulsory in the public schools. In 1938, when the office was created, he was elected president of Ireland and served until 1945.

Click here for more information on Douglas Hyde.

The following is from a book called Life and Traditions in Rural Ireland, written by Timothy P. O'Neill. publ. 1977.

Houses:

To the casual observer all Irish traditional Houses appear as long low buildings with thatched roofs and whitewashed walls. Most of the houses are built of stone, clay or mud and to a lesser extent sod or turf, and the rooms are invariably arranged in length with a door from one leading to the next. The roof is generally at an angle of 45 degrees to the walls and the roof timbers usually sit on the walls, though cruck roofs and purlin roofs are also known. Windows and doors are usually found in side walls rather than at tends, and the hearth which lies in he long axis of the house, is normally at floor level. The chimney projects through the roof ridge. Traditional slate and stone roofed houses also have the same characteristics though slate roofs were found in few districts. Shingles or overlapping wooden tiles are recorded in some northern counties.  In the 40 years up to 1791 the number of houses in Ireland increased by up to 75%, and the greatest increase was in Connaught where the number of houses more than doubled. After 1791 the number of houses continued to increase and by 1821 the number of houses in Connaught had again doubled.  By 1841, 40% of houses in the country were one roomed cabins a further 37% had 2-4 rooms. The greatest increase had obviously been in the poorer type housing and many contemporary accounts describe the poverty of these dwellings. A description written in 1823 gives an impression of their squalor:

"The interior of an Irish cabin - you must let me make you acquainted with one, which will serve for many under my eye- that you may judge how impossible it is for the greater part of the population however willing they may be to obtain the reward held out for cleanliness - a room 15x9, no window, no chimney, not even the sign of a fireplace, a mud floor sunk considerably below the level of the road by the side of which it stands,   originally ill made and in this wet season covered by almost one foot of water, in one corner are a few lighted sods of turf which, while they afford but little warmth to the wretched group around them, fill the room with volumes of smoke."

Rural housing conditions were made even more uncomfortable by the shortage of fuel in the wet seasons when it was difficult to dry the peat for the fires. The presence of a manure heap outside the doors, which was a sight remarked upon by many travellers, completed the picture of these damp cold houses. The massive increase in the poorest type housing meant that many lived in appalling conditions in pre famine Ireland.  The effects of the great famine can be seen in the record of traditional housing. The census reports for 1841 and 1851 recorded house types before and after the famine.   Increases in the three larger type houses were recorded, while a massive decrease for the poorest was recorded: 355,689 or 72% of the poorest houses disappeared, which , allowing 6 persons per house, represents the homes of over two million people.

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WE ARE OF THE GAEL
By Brian O' Higgins

The space at our disposal is limited and so we must resist the
temptation to go probing and searching and surmising in the enchanting
mists of pre-historic Ireland where a whole lifetime could be spent
without finding out anything that was definite and certain and worthy to
be clung to as recorded history.

Whether we can trace our descent from Japhet, whether we are
Parthalonians or Nemedians or Firvolce or Tuatha Dedannan or Celts,
whether our first ancestors came from Greece or from northern Europe or
southern Europe, are matters that have been argued for hundreds of
years, but will not now be debated in these pages.

We are of the Gael who absorbed all the other branches of our ancient
kindred, who, while they remained true to themselves and clung to their
precious cultural possessions, absorbed even the fierce Norsemen, and
bloodthirsty Normans and Saxons who came to subdue and enslave and mould
us to their own pattern, and our task today is to tell as clearly and as
simply and as truthfully as we can this story that has been brought to
an end so often, but has never been ended.

We will tell the story of a people so unyielding and a land so inspiring
that they could never be brought to such an extremity or such a despair
of mind and heart and soul as to make them cry out for mercy and finally
surrender to the force and the guile, the laimh laidir and the serpent
cunning that have so often endeavoured to master them in a battle that
has been going on for over eight hundred years and is not over even now.

Again and again, and ten times again, the invading enemy has paused and
listened for the final, 'I submit,' but it has never been spoken by the
true voice of Ireland and in that fact and truth of history we have
found courage and inspiration to stand against the foe.

 

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This page was last updated on 04/30/06.