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MacCriomhthainn history - Part 1





Réamhrá
(Introduction)

The story of the McCrohan clan is rich in Irish history; the ancestors of our surname have been in existence in Ireland for over 2800 years. Those who honestly have the knowledge of what their ancestors had to endure to allow this name to exist today hold the name with pride. Even though the McCrohans have always been a small clan, they have made a huge impact on Irish culture. Our ancestors have withstood over 800 years of suppression, more recently famine in the 1840’s; and survival in the new world during the 1860’s. What you are about to read has taken 10 years of research to compile. As a McCrohan you will learn a few things about yourself plus discover a few surprises. There is reason for why this document has been written and you will understand the answer whilst reading it. Once you have finished reading you may view the world differently as a descendant of Clan MacCriomhthainn.


There are small pockets of Ireland where Irish is spoken as a traditional, native language. These regions are known as the Gaeltacht. McCrohan is an Irish Catholic surname that belongs to the Gaeltacht in the County of Kerry (Contae Chorcaí in native Irish). County Kerry, traditionally known as the 'Kingdom', is situated in the extreme southwest of Ireland. The McCrohan clan belongs to the mountainous south coast that includes the Beara, Iveragh and Dingle peninsulas. Ireland (Eiré) is divided into 4 provinces that hold the 32 Counties. County Kerry is one of the six counties from the southern province of Munster. Most Irish surnames originate from a couple of different counties; but the McCrohan name is unique as it is exclusively a County Kerry name.


The McCrohan surname is not your average Irish name; it is one that comes from the very few Irish-speaking regions left in Ireland. There are only a small number of family names in Ireland that hail from these regions that have lasted the test of time in retaining the true Irish culture of the old world. The language is sometimes referred to in English as Gaelic, or Irish Gaelic, but this has a derogatory ring, so it is more generally referred to, both among linguists and in the Constitution of Ireland, as the Irish language or simply Irish. The map of Ireland above shows the Gaeltact regions in dark colour. All those who are blessed with the McCrohan blood in their veins should have an understanding or knowledge of the importance this surname has in regards to maintaining Ireland’s culture and heritage. Did you know that most of the ancestors of todays McCrohans have only been speaking the English language for less than 200 years? And did you know that to this very day that most of the McCrohans that live in County Kerry speak Irish as their first language?


The numerically and socially strongest Gaeltachtaí (plural for Gaeltacht) are the McCrohan ancesteral lands of Iveragh and Dingle Peninsula, in which a significant proportion of residents today use Irish as a community language, in fact children often speak the language among each other children.


Historians and the 1,570,894 speakers of Irish owe the McCrohan ancestors of County Kerry the highest of praise in being able to retain the language after all these years. The Irish (Gaeilge) language spoken in Ireland, Britain, USA and Australia, is constitutionally recognised as the first official language of the Republic of Ireland. Here in Australia, Melbourne has two radio stations that broadcast weekly programmes in Irish. There are also numerous language courses throughout the state. There is also a yearly Summer School in learning the Irish language in regional Victoria. There are also a number of Catholic churches that hold mass in Gaeilge. Thanks to the McCrohans and the other few families from the Gaeltacht, we have now been able to retain the almost extinct native language of Ireland.


One such ancestor of ours is Tomás Ó Criomhthainn (Tomás O'Crohan), who was a resident of the Great Blasket Isle, three miles from the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry. Tomas wrote, with the skill of the true storyteller, the book, "An tOileánach" – "The Islandman" in his native Irish that was published in the 1920's and later translated into English by Robin Flower. At the time of the book being published, the population of Irish speakers was at its all time low, it was believed there was less than a thousand that could speak the language. To this very day the book is used throughout the Universities of the world as an insight to the way people truly lived in the old world.


The McCrohan name is associated with the towns and areas on the southwest coast of Kerry. Places such as Caherciveen, Iveragh, Killorglin, Valentia (Valencia) Island, Blasket Island, Dunquin, Ballyferriter, Dingle Peninsula, Beiginis and Reenard. For centuries our family have been fishermen and farmers upon these parts of the world and to this very day the McCrohan name is strong in these locations of the West Kerry Gaeltacht.


The other families in southwest of Kerry are the O’Sullivan, McCarthy, O’Donoghue, O'Mahonie, Moriarty, O’Connell, and O’Shea.


Clan MacCriomhthainn Eiré 800 B.C


MacCriomhthainn is the correct spelling of our McCrohan surname in its Gaelic form. The surname is strongly associated with the remote seaside town of Cahirciveen on the Iveragh peninsula in County Kerry. Our Irish Catholic clan has farmed the lands and fished the waters around the town of Cahirciveen for well over 1000 years. Cahirciveen was once so inaccessible from the rest of Ireland that it was quicker to send newspapers and mail from Dublin via New York! Today most of the McCrohans reside at a small Gaelic community town called Reenard. It is located between Cahirciveen and Valentia Island.


The Clan MacCriomhthainn had their seat at the Castle of Leiter (Letter or Lettur), south west of Caherciveen. Our ancestral home Lettur Castle had stood for over 500 years and has been through many wars. The castle was a medium sized fort, which was the home base of our ancient Clan. Our surname has history way back to the deep medieval times in the 11th century. One historian reports the origin and migration of the original MacCriomhthainn from the county of Tipperary, roughly the south central area of Ireland, to the county of Kerry, which is of course in the far southwest of Ireland. During this time the MacCriomhthainn clan were a branch of the Ó Súilleabháin clan (O’Sullivan).


The Ó Súilleabháin clan descended from the followers of Milesius who were the first Celts or Celtic tribes to colonize Ireland, their "island of destiny". They had migrated from an area of the northwest coast of Spain, which is now known as the province of Galicia. There they had founded a city they called Brigantia. They had remained there for several generations before embarking on the last leg of their odyssey. They arrived in southern Ireland or Munster in approximately the year 800 B.C. They assimilated with the ancient tribes that had already been in Ireland for over 2000 years, the Firbolg and the Tuatha de Dannan.


Today the majority of the Irish from the southwest region of Ireland tend to have a physical appearance to the Spanish. They tend to have dark brown hair as opposed to the ginger or red coloured hair that most associate the Irish with. This is because they are descendants of the first Celts who arrived from Spain as mentioned. A couple of hundred years later the Celts from central Europe arrived, they were known for their fair skin and ginger red hair. Although the gingery or red hair is found all over Ireland, only 7% of the Irish are true red heads. Scotland has a higher percentage of red heads.


Originally the O’Sullivans were settled around Knockrafann in Tipperary with the other Eoganacht (Eugenian) families of MacCarthy and O’Donoghue. The reason why the first name of Eugene is such a common name within our family is because the MacCriomhthainn clan were an Eoganacht family. Eugene has been in the past one of the most common first names for the McCrohan family.


The Norman Invasion of Ireland in the 11th century drove the Eoganacht families west and so they migrated and then occupied the regions of Cork and Kerry. The Normans were descendants of Danes (Norsemen) that settled in France in what is now Normandy. In 1066 they invaded and conquered England. In 1169 they launched their first military campaign in Ireland that has now resulted in 800 years of struggles for the Irish.


On arriving in Kerry and Cork the O’Sullivan clan divided into two branches – one branch of the O’Sullivans settled in County Cork and made their home near Castletown. They were known afterwards as O’Sullivan Beare. The Beare suffix came from the Beare peninsula that was named for the Spanish princess Bera, the wife of the first King of Munster.


The other branch settled in Kerry and made their home near the town of Kenmare. The family seat was Dunlderron Castle. They were known as O’Sullivan Mor. One branch of the O’Sullivan Mor settled at the base of the mountains near the sea, they were the clan MacCriomhthainn.


The Gaelic clans of MacCriomhthainn and Ó Súilleabháin Mor continued to be harassed by the Normans and so allied themselves with the other Gaelic clans McCarthys and O'Donoghues. The clans defeated the Normans in 1261 at the battle of Caisglin near Kilgarvan just north of Kenmare in County Kerry. They were again victorious the following year. These two battles settled the boundaries between the Normans of north Kerry (the FitzGeralds) and the Gaelic families of south Kerry and west Cork. These boundaries were in effect for the next 300 years. Those that have surnames that start with Fitz are Norman families. For example Fitzpatrick, Fitzsimmons, Fitzmaurice and Fitzgibbon to name a few. Some other common Norman surnames in Ireland are Burke, Power, Harold, Nugent and Fleming.


Castle LetirmacCriomhthainn 1300 A.D.


It was sometime during the next 300 years that the MacCriomhthainn clan built their castle known as LetirmacCriomhthainn or Letter. The castle of the MacCriomhthainns is located near Reenard in County Kerry, on the lower South slopes of Bentee Mountain. Reenard is a small town and today a lot of our relatives are still live there, the town is located between Valentia Island and Cahersiveen. Today, apart from its enclosing earthwork, there are no visible remains of this castle besides the foundations and defensive ditch that are still visible. It has been recorded that Cnogher MacCriomhthainn occupied the castle in 1656, during this time the castle was apparently destroyed and levelled by the English army commanded by Oliver Cromwell. The MacCriomhthainns were then run off their lands, the area was then confiscated and granted to Alexander Eagers in 1667. No trace of the castle survived in 1841, and Delap recorded that it had been demolished to build adjoining farmhouses.


The surviving remains at the site of the castle consist of a low rectangular platform, 30m North-South x 32m East-West internally, which is defined by a bank and 2.25m in width. Here the fosse, which is U-shaped in profile, averages 7m in width and 1.35m in depth. At East and West the bank and fosse are less well-defined. A low causeway, 5.5m wide, interrupts the fosse midway along the slightly curving East side and may indicate the location of the entrance to the earthwork. A deeply channelled stream skirts this feature at East, and may have been bridged at this point. Slight traces of a channel which may have served to direct water from the stream into the fosse are visible extending from the latter’s midpoint at North.


The interior of the site is uneven and is raised slightly above external ground level. A slight hollow of sub-rectangular shape, 18m North-South x 16m East-West, occurs in the North West quadrant and is enclosed by a low back, 3m in average width. In the South East quadrant is a large, sod-covered sub-rectangular mound, 13.3m East – West x 12.7m North – South, which may represent the location of the castle. Raised 1.4m above internal ground level, its flat upper surface measures 8m East – West x 7.2.m North South.


Although the MacCriomhthainn castle location was a small area near Cahirciveen, our lands ran all along the south shore of Valencia Harbour, from Cahirciveen to Reencarragh Point. We were also associated with the Dingle Peninsula and the Blasket Islands. The family also possessed a small district in Killorglin.


The region of southwest Kerry where the MacCriomhthainn clan existed for 1000 years is a relatively isolated location. This remoteness is possibly the reason why there is such a high concentration of early Christian monastic sites in the area. To this very day there are over a 100 monastic sites with a variety of remains such as oratories, cross slabs, holy wells, beehive huts, shrines, burials, sun dials, and enclosing features. The remains have been practically untouched since they were deserted some time in the 12th century. It was from such sites of education, from the 6th century on, that Irish monks travelled throughout Europe converting Christians to the monastic life. It is from this period that the finest art works were produced, such as the Book of Kells and the Ardagh Chalice, among others. Many ring forts still survive from this period and are associated with habitation for both animals and humans.


These sites had a major influence on the clan MacCriomhthainn who had lived along side them for a thousand years. Other major influences upon our family were two Saints, St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland; and St. Brendan, known also as Brendan the Voyager.

St.Patrick


The person who was to become St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, was born in Wales about AD 385. Far from being a saint, until he was 16, he considered himself a pagan. At that age, he was sold into slavery by a group of Irish marauders that raided his village. During his captivity, he became closer to God. He escaped from slavery after six years and went to Gaul where he studied in the monastery under St. Germain, bishop of Auxerre for a period of twelve years. During his training he became aware that his calling was to convert the pagans to Christianity.


His wishes were to return to Ireland, to convert the native pagans to Christianity. But his superiors instead appointed St. Palladius. But two years later, Palladius transferred to Scotland. Patrick, having adopted that Christian name earlier, was then appointed as second bishop to Ireland. Patrick was quite successful at winning converts. And this fact upset the Celtic Druids. Patrick was arrested several times, but escaped each time. He travelled throughout Ireland, establishing monasteries across the country. He also set up schools and churches that would aid him in his conversion of the pagan Irish country to Christianity.


His mission in Ireland lasted for thirty years. After that time, Patrick retired to County Down. He died on March 17 in AD 461. That day has been commemorated as St. Patrick's Day ever since. One traditional icon of the day is the shamrock. And this stems from a more bona fide Irish tale that tells how Patrick used the three-leafed shamrock to explain the Trinity. He used it in his sermons to represent how the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit could all exist as separate elements of the same entity. His followers adopted the custom of wearing a shamrock on his feast day.


St. Brendan


St. Brendan, known also as Brendan the Voyager, was born in Ciarraighe Luachra, near the present city of Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland, in 484; he died at Enachduin, now Annaghdown, in 577. He was baptized at Tubrid, near Ardfert, by Bishop Erc. For five years he was educated under St. Ita, "the Brigid of Munster", and he completed his studies under St. Erc, who ordained him priest in 512. Between the years 512 and 530 St. Brendan built monastic cells at Ardfert, and at Shanakeel or Baalynevinoorach, at the foot of Brandon Hill. It was from here that he set out on his famous voyage for the Land of Delight. The old Irish Calendars assigned a special feast for the "Egressio familiae S. Brendani", on 22 March; and St Aengus the Culdee, in his Litany, at the close of the eighth century, invokes "the sixty who accompanied St. Brendan in his quest of the Land of Promise". Naturally, the story of the seven years' voyage was carried about, and, soon, crowds of pilgrims and students flocked to Ardfert. Thus, in a few years, many religious houses were formed at Gallerus, Kilmalchedor, Brandon Hill, and the Blasket Islands, in order to meet the wants of those who came for spiritual guidance to St. Brendan. Many landmarks of Western Ireland are named after the saint, including Mount Brandon in Co. Kerry.


Daily life for the MacCriomhthainn


Daily life for the MacCriomhthainn clan has not changed that much in Kerry from the time they arrived in the 11th to up until the 20th century. Each branch of the MacCriomhthainn families survived mainly on fishing, a few ridges of potatoes, and a patch of oats or rye. Some of them had a cow or two; others who had none would depend on a drop of milk from the neighbour who had. The land was poor and sandy around the houses and their own plots were scattered here and there. A year's supply of manure would not go far on the smallest of holdings, and the dung had to be supplemented by material from the beach – mussel shells and seaweed; sometimes even the soot from the chimney was spread as fertilizer. The mountains were held in common by all the MacCriomhthainn families in the area, with turbary rights and a right to hunt rabbits.


Although seafood was a part of the MacCriomhthainn diet, they did not use boats for fishing until later on during the 19th century. Fish has always been in great abundance, however, our ancestors satisfied their needs with fish caught on hand lines from the rocks. With the introduction of the seine boat they were able to undertake fishing as a livelihood. Horse-mackerel was their main catch until the 1870s when it was displaced by pilchard. Then came their great sea harvest, the big Spring mackerel. Around that time the changeover occurred from the seine boat to the "naomhóg", or canoe.


The naomhóg was an easier craft to handle and to manoeuvre than the seine-boat. A three-man crew could manage it at their ease whereas the seine boat took a crew of eight and also required a back-up boat, called a "foilár. It was a cumbersome, awkward craft to beach. The naomhóg was much handier and more manageable in many ways. It could take a sail when the wind was right; it was easier to turn and manoeuvre; and, when needed, it could be taken closer to the rocks. It also widened the range of work and variety of catches. Henceforth, they could trawl their lines, set trammel-nets and troll for pollock. The naomhóg's only major drawback was that it was difficult to transport an animal in it. They caught all their large coarse fish with trawl lines – ling, halibut, cod, large halibut, eel, dog-fish, etc. Wrasse, red sea bream, and the like were fished with trammel-nets.

Another major change of daily life for the MacCriomhthainn during the 19th was the discovery that other species of fish never before fished, lobsters and crayfish were also of value. It wasn’t long before the MacCriomhthainns were as skilled as any at lobster fishing.

During the thousand years of living on the coast of Kerry, the MacCriomhthainns lived in a variety of shelters as time progressed. From small mud huts in the 11th century to two-storey stone houses built in the 19th century by the Congested Districts Board. Some of the houses built in the 18th century faced either north or south with the uppermost gable (the hearth wall) bedded into a hillside for shelter.


This time during the 18th century all the houses had a large kitchen, with enough room to dance a set or to wake a corpse, an adjoining "lower room", and in some cases an "upper room" behind the hearth wall. The kitchen had to be large enough to accommodate animals at night or during bad weather. There was a loft above the lower room, in some houses a makeshift bed was placed there, and a narrow loft above the fire for storing nets, fishing lines, trawl lines and other goods.


The houses on the Islands usually had one door only, unlike mainland houses, which had two doors at the front and back, one kept open and the other closed. In the 18th century the houses were usually roofed with rushes and some houses were once thatched with straw. The naomhóg, which has a tarred felt covering, gave our ancestors another idea. Felt was an ideal roofing material and in most cases it replaced the rush thatch in both houses and outhouses. The two-storey houses built by the Congested Districts Board had slate roofs. The walls were built of stone and mortar, with earth floors inside; a couple of flat flagstones in front of the fire comprised the fireplace. The earth floors were constantly damp and to keep them dry they spread sand from the beach on them a couple of times a day.


The McCrohans had their own methods for smoking and homecuring food; they hung cured fish above the mantlepiece to dry, and bacon that was smoked.


The following account of the McCrohan surname is taken from Milltown local history, Milltown is located across the bay on the Dingle peninsula near Dunquin:


"About 1000 A.D. a small peaceful clan acquired land in Kilcolman, Miltown, through purchase. They were the MacCriomhthainns from Renard near Valentia Island." The land acquired was then heavy, wet, rush-covered territory, but it suited their needs for they were flax growers and linen manufacturers. There are stepping-stones across a little stream just below the modern village of Milltown. This crossing was known to the MacCriomhthainn as ‘ath Solais’, meaning the Ford of Clear Water. In that stream the MacCriomhthainn’s steeped their flax. Round about Ath Solais they had buildings where carding, spinning, weaving and dyeing of linen were carried on. They made fine linen which they exported to Spain in their own ships in Valencia. They grew woad and madder locally that produced red and blue dyes for their cloths. It is pleasing to learn that some of this linen graced Continental Alters and was valued highly by the senoritas in Spain. The weaving sheds of the MacCriomhthainn’s at Ath Solais were to grow and develop and so give the future township of Milltown a location, a purpose and a name. The English confiscations (commanded by Oliver Cromwell 1650) swept the MacCriomhthainn’s into poverty and obscurity. But some of them escaped to Spain and founded McCrohon families there.”



Laws that Isolated and Impoverished the MacCriomhthainn Clan


The Statutes of Kilkenny - 1366


So successful was this cultural assimilation that two hundred years after the first invaders arrived (the Normans in 1169) the English crown was forced to take severe measures at a parliament which assembled in Kilkenny, the heartland of Norman Ireland, in 1366. Its purpose was to preserve the racial purity and cultural separateness of the colonizers, thereby enabling the English crown to retain control over them. It is a measure of the adaptability of both the Irish and the Normans that the crown was faced with such a problem. Not only were the Normans militarily superior, but also their political, social and religious systems were different from those adapted by the MacCriomhthainn and all the other native Irish.


The Norman families favored central government, walled land cultivated intensively, inheritance through the first-born male, and large abbeys rather than small monastic settlements; and Norman French was their language. They secured their land by building castles, which functioned first as strong-points in the invasion and later as centers of control and power. The Gaelic MacCriomhthainn clan seemed to accept the new way of life as something they could, and had to, live with. Fortunately for the MacCriomhthainn, Gaelic culture prevailed and although the Normans controlled about two-thirds of the country in 1366, military might and political sophistication had not been sufficiently powerful to obliterate the native way of life of the Gaelic Irish.


The Duke of Clarence, son of Edward III, presided over the parliament that passed the Statutes of Kilkenny. Their purpose was to prevent further assimilation, by legal and religious penalties. The settlers were forbidden to use the Irish language. They were also forbidden to use Irish names, marry into Irish families, use the Irish mode of dress, adopt any Irish laws and play the Irish game of hurling.


The measures were a failure. Gaelicisation had gone too far and by now the native population, having failed to beat the invaders on the field of battle, was in league militarily with the conquerors. By the end of the 15th century the English crown ruled only a small area around Dublin.


During the course of the 17th century the MacCriomhthainn clan where almost eliminated. Armed MacCriomhthainn’s participated in the battles of the Great O'Neil/O'Donnell rebellion, which ended in the defeat at Kinsale in Cork in 1602. In this battle they were recorded as providing forty 40 men for O'Sullivan's army in 1596.


Oliver Cromwell - 1640


On his arrival in Dublin in 1649, Cromwell said: "By God's divine providence" he and his troops would "carry on the great work against the barbarous and bloodthirsty Irish..." After his army laid siege to the town of Drogheda, and killed the entire garrison, he wrote:

"It hath pleased God to bless our endeavors in Drogheda...The enemy were about 3,000 strong in the town...I do not think 30 of the whole number escaped with their lives. Those that did are in safe custody for the Barbados...I wish that all honest hearts may give the glory of this to God alone, to whom indeed the praise of this mercy belongs." Cromwell proceeded to Wexford where he slaughtered 2,000 more.


In the rebellions in the 1650's and in the Cromwellian wars, other MacCriomhthainns fought, and many fell in the numerous battles that occurred in Munster, often indeed under the leadership of the famed Chief of the Gaelic forces, Owen Roe O'Sullivan. Incidentally, it was about this time that the spelling of most Irish surnames was forced to change to suit the English, and also as a means to destroy the Celtic culture of the Ireland. Our McCrohan castle of Letter was apparently destroyed and leveled by Oliver Cromwell’s English forces during the this period. Most of the McCrohan farms and boats where destroyed and a great number of our family were killed including women and children. Our Castle of Letter, unlike other castles, was totally destroyed and today there is nothing standing to even show that it existed. For some reason Oliver Cromwell really had it in for our ancestors.


"Result of the CROMWELLIAN SETTLEMENTS "


As late as 1657 the McCrohans are included, in an English state paper of the day, among the Munster families "Plotting for Trouble"
Loss of our lands in 1657 due to Cromwell.
Cnogher MacCriomhthainn of Leitir. (Wet hillside) Land was given to Eager.
John Og Mc Crohan of Reenard. Land was given to Eager.
Teig Mc Crohan of Leitir. Land was given to Eager.

Treaty of Limerick - 1693


Towards the end of the 17th century the last battles were lost, and the infamous Treaty of Limerick signed in 1693. Many of the families in Kerry lost their lands by licence under the articles of the Treaty of Limerick. Along with the other ‘Wildgeese’, many McCrohans left Ireland for service in the armies of Continental nations, especially France, Spain and Austria, and many McCrohan families relocated en toto to those parts, especially to Spain.


'Tis my grief - that Patrick Loughlin is not Earl in Irrul still.

And that Brian Duff no longer rules as lord upon the hill

And that Colonel Hugh MacGrady should be lying dead and low,

And I sailing, sailing swiftly from the County of Mayo.’ - Tomás Lavelle

Tomas Lavelle, the Irish poet from County Mayo, was not the only Gaelic poet to regret the downfall of his over-lords as he accompanied them into exile following the broken Treaty of Limerick. From many a port, not least from those of Kerry, defeated and dispossessed, they followed King James, most of them to France, "Wild Geese rising on clamorous wing to follow the flight of an alien king."


But not all. The MacCrohans who once ruled in their castle of Letter as "lords upon the hill" left it to sail out of Valentia harbour for a refuge in Spain. Spain, no doubt, they would have known from trading, perhaps smuggling between Valentia and the many southern ports. In Spain they prospered and their descendants are still to be found today.


Our direct line of McCrohan ancestors decided to return to their home soil in Kerry after a short stay in Spain. All of the McCrohans lost title to their lands on returning home and were condemned to servitude as tenant farmers and therefore had to pay rent to their new English landlords. Most of the McCrohans remained homeless and wandered the Kerry countryside until they found suitable living on Valentia Island and the Blasket Islands. The 18th century was a hard time in general for all the Irish folk, and we have no reason to doubt but that the McCrohans suffered also.


The Penal Laws -1695


The Penal Laws, dating from 1695, and not repealed in their entirety until Catholic emancipation in 1829, aimed at the destruction of Catholicism in Ireland by a series of ferocious enactments. The English planned on using the Panel Laws as a way of destroying the Catholic system in Ireland therefore the English would be able to control the Irish. About 90 percent of the population of Ireland at this time was Catholic, which included the McCrohans. For the McCrohan families of County Kerry, the Catholic faith had been their way of life and culture for over 1000 years.


In broad outline, the new laws barred Catholics from the army and navy, the law, commerce, and from every civic activity. No Catholic could vote, hold any office under the Crown, or purchase land, and Catholic estates were dismembered by an enactment directing that at the death of a Catholic owner his land was to be divided among all his sons, unless the eldest became a Protestant, when he would inherit the whole. Education was made almost impossible, since Catholics might not attend schools, nor keep schools, nor send their children to be educated abroad. The practice of the Catholic faith was illegal; sin forming was encouraged as 'an honorable service' and priest-hunting treated as a sport.


Such were the main provisions of the Penal Code, described by Edmund Burke as, “a machine as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement in them of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man”.

The material damage suffered by the McCrohans through the Penal Laws was enormous; ruin was widespread, old McCrohan families disappeared and old estates were broken up; but the most disastrous effects were moral. The Penal Laws brought lawlessness, dissimulation and revenge in their train, and the Irish character.


The upper classes Catholics were able to leave the country and many middle-class merchants contrived, with guile, to survive, but the poor Catholic McCrohans, primarily peasant farmers, bore the full hardship. Our religion made us outlaws on our own land, which we were now leasing off the English. In the House of Commons the Catholic in Ireland was described as 'the common enemy'.


Whatever was inflicted on our family we had to bear, for where could the McCrohans and the other Catholics look for redress? To our landlord, who was almost invariably an alien conqueror? To the law? Not when every person connected with the law, from the jailer to the judge, was a Protestant who regarded us as 'the common enemy'.


"Professor Lecky, a Protestant of British blood and ardent British sympathy, says in his History of Ireland in the 18th Century that the object of the Penal Laws was threefold:

1. To deprive the Irish Catholics of all civil life

2. To reduce them to a condition of most extreme and brutal ignorance

3. To dissociate them from the soil He might, with absolute justice, substituted Irish for Catholics-and added, to expirate (cause to expire) the Race.

  • The Irish Catholic was forbidden the exercise of his religion.

  • He was forbidden to receive education,

  • He was forbidden to enter a profession.

  • He was forbidden to hold public office.

  • He was forbidden to engage in trade or commerce.

  • He was forbidden to live in a corporate town or within five miles thereof.

  • He was forbidden to own a horse of greater value than five pounds.

  • He was forbidden to purchase land.

  • He was forbidden to lease land.

  • He was forbidden to accept a mortgage on land in security for a loan.

  • He was forbidden to vote.

  • He was forbidden to keep any arms for his protection.

  • He was forbidden to hold a life annuity.

  • He was forbidden to buy land from a Protestant.

  • He was forbidden to receive a gift of land from a Protestant.

  • He was forbidden to inherit land from a Protestant.

  • He was forbidden to inherit anything from a Protestant.

  • He was forbidden to rent any land that was worth more than thirty shillings a year.

  • He was forbidden to reap from his land any profit exceeding a third of the rent.

  • He could not be guardian to a child.

  • He could not, when dying, leave his infant children under Catholic guardianship.

  • He could not attend Catholic worship.

  • He was compelled by law to attend Protestant worship.

  • He could not himself educate his child.

  • He could not send his child to a Catholic teacher.

  • He could not employ a Catholic teacher to come to his child.

  • He could not send his child abroad to receive education.


From the 15th through the 19th centuries, successive English monarchies and governments enacted laws designed to suppress and destroy Irish manufacturing and trade. These repressive Acts, coupled with the Penal Laws, reduced the Irish people to "nakedness and beggary" in a very direct and purposeful way. The destitute Irish then stood at the very brink of the bottomless pit.


Submitted by McCrohan.net member, Clinton McCrohan








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Published on: 2006-03-19 (7335 reads)

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