Contributed by Elaine Callinan
An exploration of the background and livelihoods of those who deposed in 1641 produces a wealth of information, not initially expected. Taken collectively the depositions fashion towns and villages, and society emerges by scanning the wide range of occupations carried out by people in the 1600s. Slowly but surely seventeenth-century Ireland begins to spring to life. Data in these depositions gives insight into the Protestant social and economic activities in Ireland before they were disturbed by the 1641 rebellion.
There are 95 depositions taken from or referring to the County of Carlow. A surface examination of occupations in Carlow produces a large number of Gentlemen, husbandmen and Yeomen. There are Merchants, Clergymen, a Blacksmith, Innkeeper and Tanner to name a few. Deponents also gave evidence of lost lands and goods with many mentions of stolen cattle, sheep and other farm animals and implements, giving proof of a rural economy. For example, John Peerson (MS 812, fols. 024r-024v) who is described as a British Protestant in the County of Carlow lists the items that were taken from him on 6th November 1641. They include: a yearling calf, a saw and two sythes, 16 horse shoes and nails, iron, steel, trees and fuel for fire, money and – he was being very specific – a pail of butter. Edward Lyons (MS 812, fols. 020r-020v), on the estate belonging to Sir John Temple’s mother, claimed that he had been robbed of sheep, cows and other goods, and he names the Bagenals of Dunleckny, the Byrnes and Nolans as his attackers. Identification of the rebels allows further research to ascertain their backgrounds, thus providing perhaps some of the causes of the 1641 rebellion.
In Carlow the main rebels, or soldiers following these rebels, named by the deponents were all substantial landowners. For example, Walter Bagenal possessed 631 acres, and members of the Wall family possessed 1,879 acres. The Wall family, especially Edward of Ballinakill, were heavily implicated in the wars on the side of the Irish Confederation. (Source: William Nolan, ‘County Carlow 1641-1660: Geography, Landownership and society’, in Carlow History & Society, ed by Dr. Thomas McGrath (Dublin, 2008), p.368 & Conleth Manning, ‘Transcripts from the Civil Survey of Counties Carlow & Kilkenny’ in The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Vol 132, (2002), pp. 57-76, www.jstor.org/stable/25549888, accessed 09 November 2010 07:10PM).
Some of the accounts are harrowing, providing a graphic insight into the horrors suffered by Protestant families at the hands of Irish rebels. Edward Briscoe (MS 812, fols. 083r-083v) is a good example. Briscoe, a farmer from Carlow, also lists goods stolen from him and he names those who committed the crime: Murtough Cavanagh and soldiers under the command of Captain Bagenal. He is referring here to Walter Bagenal, who is named or referred to often by many of the deponents in this county. Briscoe’s account is tragic in that his nine children were stripped and cast out with him and his wife. They managed to escape to Carlow Castle – this seemed to be place of refuge for many Protestants – where they endured ‘great want and misery’. Seven of his children died. At Christmas 1641 the castle was besieged by the rebels, leaving those inside bereft of food and water. A maid was killed when she attempted to fetch water. Others were likewise slain, and when the rebels heard that relief English forces were imminent they burned Carlow town and fled. Those who besieged the castle were followers of Edmund Wall, Captain Bagenal, Captain Fox and Captain Cavills – all of whom Briscoe refers to as ‘papists’.
Carlow was a strategic location, located on the River Barrow, just outside the Pale between Dublin and Kilkenny. The depositions tell us that a substantial English settlement had been established in this county by 1641. Mentions of Hacketstown, Leighlinbridge and Castledermot (strictly speaking located in Co. Kildare) occur often. These 95 depositions, if studied in far greater detail than has been allowed for this brief account, could no doubt rebuild the town of Carlow in 1641.