Saturday 14 July 2018

The Byrne cottage, Athgarvan

In the nineteenth century, Irish newspapers generally only catered for the upper- and middle-classes of society, and unless they had found themselves on the wrong side of the law, they rarely mentioned my working-class ancestors, but on this occasion, they have delivered a real gem:-

At some point, following the death of her brother, Edward Byrne, in 1881, my Dad’s great-grandaunt, Mary Byrne, and her husband, Owen Doran, 'inherited' the Byrne cottage, at Athgarvan Cross, Co. Kildare. This cottage, or one standing on the same site, was once the home of my third great-grandparents, Andrew Byrne and Anne Clynch.

After a few years, the Dorans emigrated to New York, and the little cottage passed out of the Byrne family for good.  Before they left, they held an auction, to sell off all the stuff they were leaving behind. The auction was advertised in the county newspaper and the advertisement tells much about our ancestral home, and hints at the perceived attraction of living in Athgarvan, at the end of the nineteenth century. 

The Byrnes never owned the cottage in Athgarvan, nor the acre of land on which it stood. They held it under some kind of lease, at an annual rent of £1 and 10 shillings. Due to the low rent, their 'interest' in the property had a value, and could be sold on. They also hoped to sell their furniture, a bit of timber, Owen Doran’s carpenter’s tools and a heap of manure.

Owen Doran, Emigration sale, Athgarvan, 1891
Kildare Observer and Eastern Counties Advertiser, 
28 February 1891, p. 4

What would bring someone (and by someone, I really mean my ancestors) to live in Athgarvan? It was barely more than a hamlet of houses. It's a beautiful part of the country, no doubt, but that didn't put food on the table. The only business was seemingly an old corn mill. Owen Doran was a carpenter, so he was selling its proximity to the market towns of Newbridge and Kilcullen, with the Curragh Camp on its doorstep.

The British Army had built a large barracks on the Curragh, housing potentially thousands of men, but not until the mid-1850s. The Byrne family had lived in Athgarvan from the early 1830s, or maybe even earlier. Plus, Andrew Byrne was a gardener, not a tradesman or a dealer, and the 'big towns' weren't exactly 'big', before the army came. Maybe, Andrew was just born in the area and stayed put.