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By Liam Byrne. “History is made with documents. Documents are the imprints left of the thoughts and the deeds of the men of former times. For nothing can take the place of documents. No documents, no history.” Charles Seignobos, Histoire de la civilisation contemporaine (1920)1. Gearóid O’Brien, Executive Librarian at the Aidan Heavy Library & Archive in Athlone, a noted historian and author, is fond of enjoining his audience to “write things down”! “If it isn’t written down” he says, “it never happened”! But what does he mean? Our current understanding of early Irish social life and culture is entirely dependent on a small number of extant manuscripts, saved from destruction by chance and donated to the National Libraries during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These survivors are only the tip of a mountain of documents and books that existed in Ireland and formed the libraries of the great Monasteries at Clonmacnoise, Armagh and elsewhere. We know these libraries existed because the list of holdings of a number of English Monasteries have survived (though sadly most of the books have not) and in each case a collection of several thousand volumes, at least, was the norm. That the Irish Religious Centres had anything less is highly unlikely. The raiding of the native Irish, the Vikings and the English soon destroyed much of this historic collection so that today we have only a small number of surviving documents on which to base our research. It would obviously be better if we had a larger body of material to study, but in this case, that is not possible. Fast forward to the twenty-first century! What will our children’s, children’s, children think of us in 100 years or so? What documentary material will they use to explain how their ancestors lived their lives? Will they have only a small collection of material on which to base their research – a few magazines and a worn-out video of “Home & Away”? Many people will accept the validity of the statement cited at the head of this essay, but just agreeing that documents make history is insufficient in itself, for if the documents we make are lost or destroyed then the history, of which they are such an important part, is also lost. We must therefore take the issue one step further and save that written history, so that it can be used by our great-great grandchildren in the future. This collecting is just as important as “writing things down” and it is the reason why I collect Roscommon books, documents and ephemera. Collecting can also be fun! About six months ago I acquired a letter, which was listed as “1750 EL to Dublin with albino ELPHIN and black FREE, bs M-A/25 medium Bishop”.2 Not a description to arouse great curiosity, but any material from the eighteenth century relating to Co. Roscommon is interesting, so when the letter arrived I was at first surprised that it appeared not to have any signature on it? Further study however, showed that the name on the letter was simply “Edw: Elphin”. This was really interesting as the only Edward in Elphin in 1750, who could post his letters for free, was Edward Synge, the Protestant Bishop of Elphin, who initiated the Elphin
Census (1749), a document used extensively by Roscommon People researching their family history. Edward Synge was born in Inishshannon, Co. Cork, in 1691, the eldest son of Edward Synge, of Inishannon and grandson of Edward Synge of Bridgenorth, Shropshire, England. After private education in Cork he entered Trinity College, Dublin in 1706 and took his BA in 1709. He became vicar of St. Audoen's in 1719 and St. Werburgh's in 1727and was Chancellor of St. Patricks Cathedral, Dublin from 1726 to 1730. He was installed as Bishop of Clonfert in 1730, transferred to Cloyne in 1732, to Ferns & Leighlin in 1734 and finally to Elphin in 1740. He married Jane Curtis, daughter of Robert & Sarah Curtis of Roscrea, Co. Tipperary in 1720. They had six children but only one, Alicia, survived. His wife died in 1737. While resident in Elphin he retained his house in Kevin Street, Dublin. He died in 1762 and is buried in St. Patricks Cathedral.
The letter from Edward Synge, Bishop of Elphin, to Anthony Foster in 1750 and (above) the Bishops Wax Seal.
Apart from this being a letter from an important man, the correspondence is interesting in that it mentions a number of local people, who also appear in the Elphin Census. The Bishop seems to have had a wry sense of humour. He says "I frightened Hickes horribly about this lease. I said wth a very grave and angry Countenance that I never would renew it and bid him tell Burke yt I said so ..." Two persons of the name Hickes are mentioned in the Elphin Census of 1749 - George Hickes & his wife, Papists, tenants of the Bishop since 1740 in "Dingowan" and Matthew Hickes, Papist, a doctor, in "Camoge".3 The letter is dated 23 May 1750 from Elphin to Dublin and addressed to Synge's Lawyer Anthony Foster (1705 - 1779), who entered Trinity in 1721 and took BA in 1726. A Kings Council, he later became Chief Baron of the Exchequer. He practiced in King St., St. Stephen's Green, Dublin but this letter is addressed to his home in Mary Street. Edward Synge has left a good archive of material for modern scholars to study. His letters to his daughter Alicia are in Trinity College and his Elphin Census is in the National Archives. Both have been extensively researched.4 Synge wrote a letter to
his daughter the same day that he wrote this letter to his solicitor. Isn’t it nice that, after almost 260 years, this letter has finally returned home to Roscommon! Another interesting letter is from the Earl of Roscommon, though he wasn’t entitled to use the title at the time he wrote it! The mans name was Michael James Robert Dillon (1798 -1850) the twelfth and last Earl of Roscommon.
The letter from M. J. R. Dillon dated 1825 and his signature as (Earl of) Roscommon which he was not entitled to use until 1828.
The Dillon family, originally from Leinster, later resided in South Roscommon and finally settled in north-west Roscommon and Mayo, were given the title Earl of Roscommon in 1622. Possibly the most famous of the family was the 4th. Earl, Wentworth Dillon, who was a noted poet. When Patrick, the 11th. Earl, died in 1816 there was a problem with the succession and it took M. J. R. Dillon over 10 years to convince the House of Lords that he was entitled to the honour. In 1823 a Houses of Parliament report was produced concerning the Earl's claim. Titled "Minutes of Evidence Taken Before [the] Committee for Privileges to Whom the Petition of the Earl of Roscommon & Baron of Kilkenny West, Claiming a Right to Vote at the Election of Representative Peers for Ireland, & Also the Counter Petition of Francis Stephen Dillon of Kye in the County of Roscommon, Esquires were Referred", it names the rival claim to the title. Francis Stephen Dillon was unsuccessful in his appeal and in 1828 Michael's claim was approved. The new Earl had no family however and when he died in 1850 the title finally became extinct. The Earls of Roscommon were: James Dillon, 1st Earl (died March 1642). Robert Dillon, 2nd Earl (died 27 August 1642). James Dillon, 3rd Earl (c.1605–1649). Wentworth Dillon, 4th Earl (c.1630–1685). Carey Dillon, 5th Earl (1627–1689). Robert Dillon, 6th Earl (died 1715). Robert Dillon, 7th Earl (died 1721). James Dillon, 8th Earl (1702–1746). Robert Dillon, 9th Earl (died 1770).
John Dillon, 10th Earl (died 1782). Patrick Dillon, 11th Earl (1769–1816). Michael James Robert Dillon, 12th Earl (1798–1850).
M. J. R. Dillon was the last Earl. He married Charlotte Talbot (born circa 1800) the daughter of John Joseph Talbot and Susan Harriet Anne Bedingfeld. Charlotte died on 21 November 1843 and on Michael’s death on 15 May 1850 at age 51 the Earldom finally became extinct. This interesting letter, illegally signed “Roscommon” was sent to Bernard Collier of 22 Upper Ormond Quay, Dublin. It is dated 14 February 1825, (three years before the official approval) and was sent from Birmingham in England. The letter is concerned with attempts to have his right to the title vindicated and mentions various witnesses and the death of his father. - A very interesting reminder of a very different time in Co. Roscommon! Finally for this year, two interesting items that I need help with? The first is a ticket with the text “Curraghroe Social. To be held at Curraghroe Barracks. On Saturday Night 8th January. Admission 1s”
Admission ticket to Curraghroe Social.
This item was found with some World War II (The Emergency) material relating to Mullingar, Co. Westmeath. So far as I can determine there is no Curraghroe near Mullingar, but there is a village of this name on the Ballyleague to Scramoge road (R371), in the parish of Lisonuffy. The Barracks was a big house at the Doughill Road junction. According to the Universal Calendar the 8th January fell on a Saturday in 1940 and in 1945. Does anyone know if this dance was held in Roscommon?
A booklet by “William O’Brien (Shades Of)” (1948).
The second item is a booklet by "William O'Brien (Shades of)" from Hollywell, Roscommon, dated 30th. August 1948. The publication was produced "in response to numerous requests I publish this booklet" and consists of a number of "Letters to the Editor of The Champion" sent during 1947 and 1948. The letters are titled "Roscommon Land Agitation", "Roscommon Land Division", "Roscommon Land Query" "Land Division:
Emigration" & "Land Division Finance: Emigration". The last letter, dated 28 August 1948 mentions the Goodall Estate and lands at Coolteigue and Hollywell and the last page (of our damaged copy) has "Cloonmurly Farm" as the heading! Does any reader know anything about this publication or it’s author? If you can help with these queries or if you have similar material, please contact me by phone (090) 6489555 or by email (email@example.com). If you would like to see more of this type of material please visit my website at: http://www.roscommonhistory.ie Happy 30th birthday to Roscommon Life (The Roscommon Association Dublin Yearbook), - “helping to preserve our yesterdays, for our children’s tomorrows”! Until next year … Liam Byrne
UCD Archives: http://www.ucd.ie/archives Auction Catalogue 7 December 2008. MacDonnell Whyte Ltd. Dublin. 3 "The Census of Elphin - 1749" by Marie Louise Legg. Irish Manuscripts Commission. 2004. 4 "The Census of Elphin - 1749" by Marie Louise Legg. Irish Manuscripts Commission (2004) & "The Synge Letters. Bishop Edward Synge to His Daughter Alicia, Roscommon to Dublin 1746 - 1752" by Marie Louise Legg. Irish Manuscripts Commission (1996).
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