234 – Castlecomer and the Wandesfordes

Lord Deputy Sir Christopher Wandesforde

The Wandesforde family were gentry in Yorkshire, England, where they held an estate called Kirklington Manor.

In 1637, Lord Christopher Wandesforde was granted land in County Kilkenny, Ireland. Successive generations of the Wandesforde family controlled this estate until the 1950s.

The estate

The Wandesforde Estate encompassed over 20,000 acres of agricultural farmlands and woodlands.

A manor house

The Wandesforde family at Castlecomer House – late 1800s

The Wandesfordes built a manor house and a demesne.

A demesne (/dɪˈmeɪn/ di-MAYN) or domain was all the land retained and managed by a lord of the manor under the feudal system for his own use, occupation, or support.

Demesne – Wikipedia
A hunt at Castlecomer House – c 1900

The town

Sir Christopher Wandesforde laid out the new town of Castlecomer. Castlecomer was the namesake of an old Norman castle built on the site in 1173.

The town plan was based on the Italian town of Alsinore, with stone buildings surrounding a large market square.

Castlecomer market square – c. 1832 and c. 1900

Settlers from Yorkshire

Christopher Wandesforde recruited tradespeople and artisans from Yorkshire, England to settle in Castlecomer.

Some of these tradesmen built and lived in the stone houses in town. The native Irish Catholic estate tenants lived in traditional sod or rock cottages in the surrounding countryside.

The English tradesmen also built Castlecomer House, the manor house of the Wandesfordes.

Could we be from Yorkshire?

It’s possible that one of those Yorkshire settlers was our Large ancestor. Large isn’t in any list of Irish surnames. Several surname lists say that Large is of British origin.

And we’ll see that several of the Large children, including Ellen, were baptized in the protestant church.

Large is an English surname, with variants including Lardge and Lurge. Its meaning is variable, though it may derive from the Norman French adjective, large (meaning “generous” or “big” [as in, “that’s big of you”, meaning generous, as well as large in size]), as it is found in the surname “le Large” in English records dating back as far as the 13th century.

Large (surname) – Wikipedia

Lady Anne Wandesforde

Lady Anne Wandesforde became heir to Castlecomer at the death of her father in 1784. She controlled the estate for many of the years that our Large family lived and worked there.

Lady Anne married John Butler of Ormonde, whose family was the prominent gentry family of County Kilkenny. She became Countess of Ormonde and moved away from Castlecomer.

The Irish Rebellion of 1798 was a violent movement against British rule. There were skirmishes and battles across Ireland. On June 24, the rebels moved on Castlecomer, hoping militant coal miners would join them. The town was burned, and the Wandesforde’s 160-year-old manor house was destroyed.

Castlecomer House – c 1900

Lady Anne returned to Castlecomer to live, and began a major reconstruction of the town, church, and manor house. The new Castlecomer House, completed in 1802, was much larger and grander than the original. The house had 365 windows, one for each day of the year.

Lady Anne also funded restoration of the town buildings and the church.

Castlecomer House fell into disrepair and was torn down in the 1970s. In the 1956 aerial photo above, you can see the manor house at the eastern edge of town.

St. Mary’s Church (Protestant)

St. Mary’s Church is the Protestant Church of Ireland. It sits on the site of the ancient parish Church of Castlecomer. The ancient church was built before 1374.

After the town and church were destroyed in the 1798 coal rebellion, Lady Ann Wandesforde Ormonde funded the restoration of St. Mary’s Church as we see it today.

St Mary’s Church of Ireland – Castlecomer

Ellen Large was baptized in protestant St. Mary’s Church on October 20, 1833.

Why the protestant Church of Ireland? Because Ellen’s father Thomas Large was protestant.

October 20, 1833 – Ellen Large – Thomas Large and Bridget Kavanagh – Ardra – Labourer by M/ Despard

Church of the Holy Cross (Catholic)

The Church of the Holy Cross was a Catholic chapel in Castlecomer with a convent nearby and a school under the care of the nuns. Holy Cross was replaced with a Gothic church building in 1844 and named Church of the Immaculate Conception.

On November 17, 1836, Ellen Large was baptized in the Catholic Church of the Holy Cross.

Why the Catholic Church? Because Ellen’s mother Bridget Kavanagh was Irish Catholic.

November 17, 1836 – Ellen – Thomas Large – A Catholicus – Biddy Kavanagh – Robin Shea and Catherine Shea – Ardra

The notation “A Catholicus” is written by Thomas Large’s name. “A Catholicus” means not Catholic. Also note Bridget’s name is written as Biddy Kavanagh. Biddy is the common nickname for Bridget.

Protestant and Catholic

Ellen’s older sisters were twins Catherine and Margaret. They were three years older than Ellen. They, too, were baptized in both the Protestant and Catholic churches.

Baptisms – Catherine and Margaret Large – Protestant and Catholic – January and February 1830

We don’t know if the four older boys were baptized both Protestant and Catholic. We have a baptism record only for Richard, and it’s at St. Mary’s Protestant Church of Ireland.

Baptism – Richard Large – Church of Ireland – September 10, 1826

Did I tell you that on my first trip to Castlecomer, I stopped at a church graveyard? I asked the groundskeeper if I had found the Roman Catholic church. He said no, this was the Church of Ireland. I told him my Larges were fervent Catholics, and he gave me directions to the RC church. I found no Larges on that trip, so I hired a genealogist. A few weeks later, I find the Church of Ireland records in the mail! Right where I had been standing!

I have long contemplated writing a genealogy book titled “Learn from Deb’s Mistakes.”

Deborah Large Fox

These dual baptisms reinforce the case that Thomas Large was protestant and likely English, perhaps first or second generation.

He or his parents or grandparents may have come from England when the Wandesfordes recruited tradesmen from Yorkshire in the 1600s or 1700s.

There’s family lore in Debbie Large Fox’s family that Thomas Large was a British soldier. That’s possible, too. Here’s the story:

The family stories all have the same arc. Thomas Large is a British army officer from a prosperous family. Protestant. He marries Bridget, a Roman Catholic Irish woman. Large’s family disowns him. He later dies.

The army refused to give a pension to Bridget because she was Catholic and Irish. The Large family refused to help Bridget, and demanded custody of the boys to be raised Protestant.

The one variation at this point is missing in my branch’s telling, but big in Thomas’s branch:

Bridget sailed to Canada to escape the Larges who want the boys. Her sister-in-law Molly Large followed. Bridget then ran to Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania with the kids.

I just feel that the story survived so intact and so long among family branches that were parted for a century, that there must be something to it.

Deborah Large Fox

The military in Castlecomer

The British Army stationed troops in many counties in Ireland, depending on the local levels of dissent and violence.

There had been British Army presence in Castlecomer off and on since 1717. After the Irish Rebellion of 1798, the need for a permanent military force at Castlecomer was recognized.

There were between 50 and 100 British soldiers stationed at a permanent barracks in Castlecomer. Some of the soldiers remained in Kilkenny after their military service.

In 1831, Protestants in county Kilkenny constituted a distinct and definite minority and were concentrated in certain areas of the county and were entirely absent in large parts of the county. Only in two parishes did their number constitute more than ten percent of the Catholic population – St. Mary’s in the centre of Kilkenny city with fifteen percent, and the colliery district of Castlecomer with over eleven percent.

The military in Kilkenny 1800-1870 – Liam Böiger


The Wandesforde Estate contained over 20,000 acres of farms and woodlands. More importantly, it contained large coal reserves.  The Wandesfordes developed and exploited these coal fields for over 300 years.

The Castlecomer coal fields were where our Large ancestors lived and worked.

Ed. Note: The family name is variously spelled Wandesford and Wandesforde. I don’t know which is correct, but we’ll use Wandesforde for consistency.


3 thoughts on “234 – Castlecomer and the Wandesfordes

  1. deborahlargefox0764 August 17, 2022 / 2:50 pm

    Mark, you have set out the evidence and analyzed the family mystery so nicely! Thank you! We MUST solve the story of Thomas and Bridget!


    • Mark Jarvis August 18, 2022 / 10:51 am

      Thank you Deb. Yes, but how? It would probably take another of your trips to go through the papers again knowing what we now know. If we’re lucky, one of the next gen will get bitten by the bug and pursue it.

      Liked by 1 person

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