228 – The Rosses and Gweedore 1820s

We believe we’ve located the area where John Gallagher and Hannah Roarty lived in the early 1800s.

What was their life like?

The Rosses and Gweedore

We found Gallaghers and Roartys in a handful of townlands on Donegal’s northwest coast. We narrowed the search, finding Dugans and Duffys in Meenderrynasloe. We have a DNA relative from Annagry. These townlands are in The Rosses and Gweedore Districts.

The Rosses and Gweedore Districts

A quick history

Why were Gallaghers living in The Rosses and Gweedore on the northwest coast of Donegal? Why did Northern Ireland split to remain a part of Great Britain?

The answer to those two questions begins with the Plantation of Ulster.

Plantations in 16th- and 17th-century Kingdom of Ireland involved the confiscation of Irish-owned land by the English Crown and the colonisation of this land with settlers from Great Britain. The Crown saw the plantations as a means of controlling, anglicising and ‘civilising’ parts of Ireland.

Plantations of Ireland – Wikiwand

The most ambitious of these was the Plantation of Ulster, beginning in 1606. The British confiscated all the land in six counties, including Donegal, and set about redistributing it to English and Scottish immigrants. The British landholders were to import their tenant farmers from Scotland or England. Furthermore, the new British landholders were banned from selling any of their land to native Irish.

During the 17th and early 18th centuries, over 80,000 English and Scottish immigrants took these lands and settled in the north of Ireland. That’s why Northern Ireland was loyal to Great Britain, and why it was partitioned in modern times.

The previous Irish Catholic landholders were granted one quarter of their previous holdings, to be located in the Barony of Kilmacrenan. Only a few dozen Irish were granted estates.

The Barony of Kilmacrenan includes The Rosses and Gweedore Districts.

Land assignments – Plantation of Ulster

The Irish peasants had no land to begin with. They were to be relocated. Many moved to the Irish-designated Barony of Kilmacrenan. Our Gallagher ancestors were probably among those who relocated.

The protestant Church of Ireland was granted all the churches and land previously owned by the Catholic Church.

The Ulster plantation was one cause of the 1641 Irish Rebellion, during which thousands of settlers were killed, expelled or fled. After the Irish Catholics were defeated in the Cromwellian conquest of 1652, most remaining Irish Catholic-owned land was confiscated and thousands of English soldiers settled in Ireland.

Plantations of Ireland – Wikiwand

The Rosses and Gweedore

John Gallagher and Hannah Roarty were born in The Rosses or Gweedore around 1800. Their families had probably relocated here during the 1600s and 1700s.

Gweedore is a small area in the Northwest Corner of Donegal. The coastal area is a low-lying plain, mainly below 200 ft in altitude. The inland boundary of the Gweedore area are high mountains. The area is covered with thousands of lakes and peat bogs and is generally treeless. It is the peat bogs, however, that made intensive settlement possible as they provide the only source of fuel. 

History of Gweedore – Tim O’Sullivan
Treeless peat bogs in Gweedore, potato patch and cottage – late 1800s

Ed. Note: We’re talking about lifestyles in the early 1800s, before photography. I’ve included photographs from late 1800s to help convey the lifestyle. But these aren’t period photos, they’re taken 50 to 80 years later.

Rundale

The Rosses and Gweedore were remote. There were no roads. The inhabitants were self-sufficient and independent. They lived meager lives.

Many didn’t have landlords, and others didn’t pay their landlords. They grazed their sheep and cows on the mountainside bogs, and planted in communal fields. Most resources were communal. This was known as the Rundale system.

The rundale system of agriculture consisted of nucleated villages known as clachans.

The main “clachan” area where the small thatched cottages were concentrated, was situated in a cluster on the best land (the infields) which was surrounded by mountain or grazing land of inferior quality (the outfields) where the livestock was grazed during summer or dry periods.

In the remote western areas of Ireland where the rundale system was most commonly seen, the land was a complex mixture of arable, rough and bogland. It was a difficult task to ensure that each tenant had an equal share of good and poor land.

Rundale – Wikipedia
A clachan. The residents of Magheraclogher gathered for a photograph in 1865. Most of the residents were Gallaghers and Roartys in 1857, so there are likely some of our cousins in the photo.

Peat

There weren’t many trees, so wood was scarce. The area was covered with peat bogs. Peat, or turf, was matted and decaying grass and other plant materials. It was the go-to material for many purposes. Foremost it was the fuel for fire, so all cooking and heating was done using turf. People slept on turf beds and sat on turf chairs.

Cottage in Gweedore, Donegal – 1870s – Notice in the nearest window that the room is packed full with peat

It was used for roofing material and sometimes their entire cottage was built of turf.

Turf cottage in Gweedore – 1870s

Food

As you’ve guessed, the people fed and clothed themselves.

They grew potatoes (to eat) and oats (to pay rent).

Surprisingly, not many mainland residents were fishermen. That was left to those who populated the islands off the coast. Boats were an expensive investment, and precious salt was needed to preserve the catch. Those near the coast could forage for urchins and seaweed.

The potatoes were cooked in a pot, then drained in a basket called a skib (sciob). The skib was placed atop the cooking pot to keep the potatoes warm, and the family sat around and ate the potatoes with their hands. There might be a bowl of “kitchen” placed in the center of the skib in which to dip the potato. “Kitchen” might be buttermilk, or salted cod water, or boiled seaweed, or anything else the cook may have that could add flavor.

Potatoes with pot and skib and a bowl of “kitchen”

Marriage

John Gallagher and Hannah Roarty married, probably around 1820 to 1825. Most marriages were done in the home or outdoors. There was not a Catholic Church nearby in 1820, so perhaps a traveling priest did the honors. There was no ring or wedding dress.

Man with Pipe 1848, The Irish Woman 1866, both by Gustave Courbet

May God be with you and bless you. May you see your children’s children. May you be poor in misfortunes and rich in blessings. May you know nothing but happiness from this day forward.

Irish Marriage Blessing

The married couple may have lived in one of their parents’ households. Multi-generation households were common. Maybe a cup of poteen celebrated the wedding. Poteen is a strong whiskey made from potatoes. The word means “little pot.”

John and Hannah had hopes and dreams. I wish we could ask their thoughts.

Children

Patrick Gallagher was born to John and Hannah Gallagher in 1827.

Michael Gallagher was another son. I’m guessing he was younger, but we don’t know. We’ll meet Michael in a future story. Maybe there were other siblings too.

Patrick grew up and came of age in the 1830s.

Hardscrabble

We’ve gotten a feel for life in The Rosses and Gweedore in the 1820s. It was difficult. But things were about to get worse.

Nibbles Extra Credit – Beyond 2022

Beyond 2022 is an Irish government project to restore historical documents lost in the Record Treasury fire of 1922. The project’s website went online on June 30, 2022, one hundred years after the Four Courts fire.

It’s an ongoing effort, with more to be digitized and added. For now, many documents are online and searchable.

We were hoping for restored census records from 1821, 1831, 1841, and 1851. Unfortunately, no luck.

But there are some documents that will help us understand the life and times of our ancestors. We’ll include this information in our future stories.

You can take a virtual tour of the Record Treasury. https://vrtour.virtualtreasury.ie/

Project 2022 – Virtual Tour of the Record Treasury building

Timeline


Sources

4 thoughts on “228 – The Rosses and Gweedore 1820s

  1. deborahlargefox0764 July 6, 2022 / 9:59 am

    Very interesting. I have ancestors from Counties Tyrone and possibly Fermanagh, the maps with the settlements’ timelines and origins are very intriguing. Thanks again for another helpful post.

    Like

    • Mark Jarvis July 6, 2022 / 11:37 am

      I’m glad it was helpful. I was intrigued by the Ulster Plantation and how its roots played out with the separation of Northern Ireland centuries later.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Brenda Teply July 6, 2022 / 6:46 pm

    As always I love your research. Most interesting. So glad to see Joseph Smith included in your timeline. He is truly one of my favorite characters.

    Like

    • Mark Jarvis July 7, 2022 / 10:38 am

      I wasn’t aware of your long-held reverence. I can see that sly Brenda smile shining through this message.

      Like

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