The Fays of Rathcogue

The Fays of Rathcogue

Michael Fay, my 4th great grandfather, was probably born around 1770. There are no extant records of his baptism or marriage, but we do have records of his children, including my 3rd great grandfather, William Fay,  who resided  in Rathcogue Townland, County Westmeath in 1834.

Westmeath is located in the flat central plains of Ireland, about 60 miles due west of Dublin. Rathcogue today is a completely rural section of southwest Westmeath, and consists  primarily of sprawling farmland and bog. Even in 1834, when the population was nearly double what it is today, Rathcogue was composed of vast tracts of estate land, small plots of which would be leased out to tenant farmers.

The nearest village to Rathcogue is Moyvore, about 2 miles away. According to the “Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland”, published in 1846, Moyvore had a population of 213 people in 1831 and 190 people in 1841. Moyvore was listed as a Fair Town in “Wilson’s Directory of Ireland” (1834). The Fair Towns were considered important  regional towns, and people would walk for miles on a fair day to sell their produce. People would have very little money until  Fair Day arrived.  Once their  produce or animals were sold then the bills could be paid. Moyvore held their fairs on May 4, August 20, and Dec. 5. The other nearby Fair towns listed in Wilson’s Directory were Milltown  ( 4 miles away) and Ballynacargy (6 miles).

Although Moyvore had a dedicated fair grounds and a police barracks it did not have a Roman Catholic church. That was located about a mile outside of Moyvore in Ballinacurra, about halfway down the road to Rathcogue. It was constructed in 1835, probably on the site of an older church built circa 1781.

Ballinacurra  RC Church

In “The Diocese of Meath – Vol 2” by Anthony Cogan, published around 1867, the author reports

“There is a chapel at Forgney, and another at Ballincurra, in the parish of Piercetown. The chapel before the present was on the townland of Rathcouge. At the visitation of Dr. Plunket, on the 22nd of June, 1788, he found “three chapels rebuilt, and three schools.”

So apparently Rathcogue had its own chapel and school at the turn of the century.

We don’t know for sure where Michael Fay grew up, but judging from the number of Fays in the area it was probably close by. If so, he would have certainly lived through the depredations described in the previous chapter, that occurred in and around  Moyvore during the 1798 rebellion.

Both Michael Fay and his son William were Catholic tenant farmers. The Parliamentary Gazeteer reported that in 1831 Moyvore Parish consisted of  765 Catholics and only 17 Protestants. Those Protestants were most likely resident Estate owners or the management personnel of absentee English landlords.

In the 1834 Tithe Applotments we find William Fay occupying a plot of over  4 ¾ acres in Rathcogue. Since the acreages in the Tithe  Applotment Books were given in Irish or Plantation measure, which is 1.62 times larger than statute measure, this amounted to about 8.2 acres. Adjacent to William was another Fay – James. There is no way of knowing for sure if James was a brother, a cousin  or some other relative, since no ages or personal details were given in the Tithe Applotments.  James occupied a slightly bigger plot, amounting to about  8 ¼ acres.

All of Rathcogue Townland only amounted to about 128 acres and the bulk of that land, about 86 acres, was “occupied” by John Devenish Meares. In fact, Meares owned all of the land but leased out the rest to the tenant farmers, who could then work their own plots as well as assisting with the estate lands to pay their rent.

John Devenish Meares was the son of William Devenish Meares, who in 1811 had inherited the Mearescourt Estate ( of approximately 180 acres)  that was located just a few miles east of Rathcogue. The estate had been originally been granted to Lewis Meares , who was a soldier in the English army sent to crush the 1641 Irish rebellion. His descendents had occupied it ever since


William Meares had been appointed a Magistrate for the County of Westmeath around 1820 and he later recommended his son John Devenish  for the same position. There are even a few records that have been  preserved of correspondence between  Meares and his supervisors in Dublin.

In February of 1821 in a letter  to Charles Grant, Chief Secretary, Dublin Castle, Meares described the agricultural distress of his local area. He recommended the “interference” of the legislature to protect the rights of the poor farmer selling butter and corn at country town markets. He also highlighted the evils resultant from the practice of buyers paying these farmers in public houses, and at a late hour. While this letter depicts a somewhat paternalistic sympathy for his tenants, another letter makes it very clear that he would have no tolerance for any challenges to the existing social order.

In his letter of  Dec. 24, 1821 he reported on his efforts to maintain the peace in his neighborhood. He requested government sanction to establish a local yeomanry to assist in governance. He stated that he, his two sons, and 28 other Protestants were prepared to enroll, as well as “some Roman Catholics of known propriety & loyalty.”

In 1828 Meares wrote the Under Secretary recommending that his son John Devenish Meares be appointed magistrate, noting that John had an unencumbered estate valued at L2000 per year and he could also supply the names of 20 potential yeoman.

The other account we have of John Devenish Meares comes to us more than  a century later. From 1937 through 1939  the Irish Folklore Commission initiated a program to record a fast disappearing tradition of folk history and story-telling. More than 50,000 schoolchildren from 5,000 schools in the 26 counties of the Irish Free State were enlisted to collect folklore in their home districts. This included oral history, topographical information, folktales and legends, riddles and proverbs, games and pastimes, trades and crafts. The children recorded this material from their parents, grandparents, and neighbors. This  scheme resulted in the creation of over half a million manuscript pages, generally referred to as ‘Bailiúchán na Scol’ or “The Schools’ Collection”.

Here is one account by Mary J. Murtagh of  nearby Piercetown, from that collection.

“The local landlord was General Meares, who was the landlord of Mearscourt and Skeagh.

The landlord was very cruel to the tenants. There were several  evictions  in Mearescourt and Skeagh. The landlord used to raise the rents when he liked, and lower them also, and he used to put one family out of their house, and let in another family.

He punished the people if they did not obey him. At the time when the Land League started  (1879 – Ed.), the people were looking for better rights. Several men suffered and were put out of the country for daring to rise against the landlord.”

The 1820’s in Ireland had seen the push for some form of Catholic Emancipation , chiefly through the efforts of Danial O’Connell, later known as “The Great Emancipator.”   In 1811, O’Connell had  established the Catholic Board, which campaigned for Catholic Emancipation, that is, the opportunity for Irish Catholics to become members of parliament. In 1823, he set up the Catholic Association  which embraced other  aims to better Irish Catholics, such as electoral reform, reform of the Church of Ireland, tenants’ rights, and economic development.

In 1826 Westmeath  elected a pro-Emancipation candidate to the House of Commons, paving the way for O’Connell’s own successful election bid from County Clare in 1828. However, because he was Catholic, O’Connell could not legally be seated in Parliament.

The Prime Minister, the the Duke of Wellington, and the the Home Secretary, Sir Robert Peel, even though they opposed Catholic participation in Parliament, saw that denying O’Connell his seat would likely cause outrage and could lead to another uprising in Ireland, which was about 85% Catholic. They convinced George  IV that Catholic emancipation needed to be established and with the help of the Whigs it became law in 1829.

After Emancipation in 1829, an organized campaign of resistance to the collection of Tithes began. Quite apart from the obvious dislike for paying hard earned money to a minority church, the tithe was hated among Catholics because the poor (as ever) bore the brunt of it. Indeed, some wealthy landowners paid nothing while some tenants were required  to pay tithes even though they farmed little more than a tiny potato patch.

Following a period of passive resistance, the tithe issue came to a head in 1830 after an incident in Graiguenamanagh in Co Kilkenny where the authorities turned up with the police and yeomanry to collect taxes, which a group of Catholic farmers had withheld.

This confrontation triggered widespread support for the anti-tithe campaign, especially among the Catholic clergy, and protests spread throughout Leinster and Munster. Although these meetings were meant to be peaceful, there were inevitable conflicts. Tithes were soon being collected by the police in the form of livestock seizures, and riots and deaths ensued. In 1831 alone there were reported 242 murders, 1,179 robberies, 401 burglaries, 280 cattle maimings, 161 assaults, 203 riots, all associated with tithe collection. This so-called “Tithe War” continued through 1836.

Eventually, the authorities introduced The Tithe Rent Charge Act of 1838, which reduced tithes and converted the tithe into a tax payable by landlords. What this actually meant was that the landlords simply included the tax as part of the tenant’s rent. This was by no means welcome, but it was certainly less contentious. The Irish tithe was finally abolished in 1869 when the Church of Ireland lost its status as the Established Church.

We of course have no way of knowing where William Fay of Rathcogue stood in all of this, but he  probably felt no different than the majority of  Catholic tenant farmers in Ireland, who greatly resented this imposition. In 1834 his annual Tithe had been set at 5 shillings, 7 pence, and that of James Fay at 4 shillings, 11 pence.

As I stated earlier, we don’t know the exact relationship between James and William Fay, although I suspect James was his cousin . Moyvore Parish records show the death of a William Fay in Rathcogue on May 1st of 1834. Although no age is given, I suspect that this was James’s father, and that he had been living with James at the time of his death.

Another likely relative was  found just down the road in 1834. Thomas Fay was listed in the Tithe Applotments as occupying a lot of almost ten acres (3.5 of which was bogland) in Kilpherish townland, which was a mere two miles away on the road from Rathcogue towards Abbeyshrule. Once again, however, there is nothing in the Applotments to tell us directly how Thomas, James and William were related.

To try to get a clearer picture of family relationships we must inevitably turn to church records. However this presents a bit of a problem in the Rathcogue area because it was right on the border of two different Catholic parishes. Rathcogue was in the Catholic Parish of Moyvore-Forgney, which actually spanned the border of Westmeath and Longford ( Forgney being the portion found in Longford). But any place directly north  or east of Rathcogue would have been included in the Milltown Catholic Parish. Milltown church archives go back to 1781, whereas Moyvore records have been preserved only from 1831 forward. If a family was moving  between those parishes, crucial family records could be missing for the years preceding 1831.

The year that  the Tithe Applotments were recorded in Rathcogue  was a pivotal one for the Fay family. Not only did the elder William Fay of Rathcogue pass away on May 1st, but the Milltown Parish  records show the younger  William Fay (age 29) was married in Irishtown (about 5 miles away) to  Elizabeth Lyons on February 16, 1834. That William Fay, the son of Michael, was to remain on that plot in Rathcogue for the rest of his life.

The Fays of Rathcogue – 1834

Michael Fay  (1775?- 1831)

My 3rd great grandfather William was baptized on June 1, 1806, in Milltown Catholic Parish. His father was Michael Fay and his mother was named Margaret Dogherty. The records, unfortunately, don’t include the name of the townland where they resided.

However the names of  William’s  baptismal sponsors – Christopher Ford and Mary Donnelon –  give us a clue. (Mary Donellan (b. 1781) was, I believe, Chris’s wife).  Christopher  Ford (b. 1784), or more likely a descendant, showed up in 1854 farming in Balrath townland, and his relative William in Curraghboy. Both of these townlands are located directly south of the Mearescourt estate, and their lands were owned by John D. Meares. (see map below).  If  the Fords had  remained in that area since the turn of the century then it might suggest that Michael Fay and Margaret were living around Curraghboy or Balrath (in Milltown Parish) at the time as well.

A further search of the baptismal records shows that William had an older brother named Bernard, baptized on Dec 13, 1804 (Margaret’s nephew Daniel Doherty was a sponsor). Following the traditional naming pattern, Bernard was probably named after Margaret’s father. We have records of her (probable) older brother Bernard Dogherty who had married in 1783 and already had eight children by 1801.

There are no Church records of Michael and Margaret’s marriage, or of any other children born to them. Of course if they had been previously living in Moyvore Parish, whose registries only began in 1831, we would not expect to find any records. And so we certainly cannot exclude the possibilities of other siblings .

Why didn’t Michael himself show up in the 1834 Tithe Applotments? The answer is revealed  in one of the earliest death records in the  Moyvore Parish registry. On Oct 20, 1831, Michael Fay was laid to rest. It was stated that he lived in Relick. There were actually two adjacent townlands named Relick in Moyvore Parish – Relick Malone and Relick Longworth, each named after the principle landowners. Both were within a mile of Rathcogue. Based on typical Irish marriage patterns, Michael was most likely born between 1770 and 1780, and we know he married before 1804. He was therefore probably between 50 and 60 when he died, a relative early age. I have found no death record for Margaret, his wife.

                The Townlands of Moyvore and Milltown Parishes        

Bernard Fay  (1804-?)

What became of Bernard, William’s older brother? There are several possibilities:

There was a Bernard Fay that died on April 11th, 1852 in Painstown (Davidstown), Milltown Parish.  As usual, no age was given. If that indeed was William’s brother he would have been only 48 years old. For a number of reasons I think it more likely that this was an elder Bernard Fay that was cited as a sponsor  in the  1805 baptism in Milltown of Nora Fay (daughter of John and Mary).

There was another Bernard Fay found in Shrule, Longford not far to the southwest of Moyvore. That Bernard married Mary Kearny in 1839 and had seven children by the time of his death in 1859. However his death records estimate his age at 50, born in 1809. The names of his children also do not encourage a likely match.

The last, and perhaps most likely possibility is to be found in the Census of 1901. There was a Bernard Fay that was listed living in Bracknahevla (Killare Parish), about 9 miles southwest of Moyvore. That Bernard, a bachelor, was 98 years old, born in 1803. He died of pneumonia the following February.

The path that leads me to believe that this was “our” Bernard is thin and somewhat obscure. I located a marriage record from Moyvore Parish dated April 9 of 1836. Peter Lynne married Ann Nolan, and Bernard Fay and Mary Wrinkle were the witnesses. In the 1901 Census Bernard Fay’s home was nearly adjacent to one owned (but not occupied) by Peter Lynne.

How did Bernard end up in Bracknahevla? We are not sure but it appears there might have been  a Wrinkle connection.  Griffith’s Valuations , published in 1854, showed that one William Savage, who was leasing 55 acres in Bracknahevla,  had rented out the house on the property to Bryan Fay and an adjacent shop to  Edward Wrinkle (blacksmith) who had set up his forge in it.  (That shop also appeared beside Bernard Fay’s house in the 1901 Census )

Edward Wrinkle had been born around 1798 in Milltown Parish, and was probably a cousin of Mary Wrinkle’s (She was born in Milltown in 1799). He married  Rose Hadigan and had at least two sons, Christopher and Patrick Wrinkle, while in Milltown Parish. When he relocated down to Brachnahevla his sons were probably married (they ended up living in nearby Killare and Killaroo) and so Edward might  very well have been living with Bryan Fay in the farmhouse.

And who was Bryan Fay? We don’t know for sure but we can’t rule out that he might have been another  brother of Bernard and William’s born in Moyvore parish long before its baptismal records began (1831). Bernard also had a cousin Bryan (son of his uncle Thomas) born in 1814. Whatever the relationship, Bernard seems to have ended up living in that same house decades later.

Thomas Fay (1804-?)

Before we talk about William Fay, however, I would like to speculate a bit about Thomas Fay, his probable relative who was living just down the road in Kilpherish townland (Moyvore Parish) in 1834.

As previously stated there are no Baptismal records for Moyvore Parish prior to 1831, but we do find a Thomas Fay who was baptized in Milltown Parish on August 14, 1804. That Thomas was the son of  John Fay and Catherine Gallagher, who had wed in 1797.  One of the witnesses at their wedding was Patrick Legrange, who was later listed in the 1827 Tithe Applotments as living in Paddenstown.  And, true to form, we subsequently find the death records of  John and Catherine Fay in 1838 and 1839 in Paddenstown.

Paddenstown was the Townland  just to the east of Relick (where Michael Fay died in 1831). It is hard to imagine that John Fay was not related to Michael, and of course to William and James in Rathcogue, when they were all living within a couple of miles of each other. It also makes sense that  John’s son Thomas, when he came of age, would have found a tenancy in Kilphierish, which was just to the west of where he was raised. (See map above)

On January 26 of 1841 Thomas Fay married Catherine Conlon in Moyvore Parish. The witnesses to the wedding were Thomas Mullaly and Margaret Cormick. I believe that this had to be the same Thomas Fay found in Kilpherish in 1834, because among his neighbors cited in the Tithe Applotments were a Thomas Mullaly, Hugh Cormick  and a Patrick Conlon.

Thomas Fay and Catherine went on to have two children that we know of – John, baptized April 18th of 1846, and William baptized Dec.20, 1848. John, the firstborn male, was certainly named after Thomas’ father. Who was William named after? The Tithe Applotments also show a William Conlon just down the road in Ballinacurra, leasing land from the Digby Estate. This was no doubt Catherine’s father.

(As an aside – although Thomas  and his siblings were baptized in the Milltown Parish church, it appears their social life oriented around the Moyvore church – which was a little closer to Paddenstown than was the Milltown church. As a consequence it appears every one of them ended up marrying a spouse in the Moyvore Parish.)

Perhaps we can use the typical Irish Family naming tradition to try and further clarify the relationships between all of the Fays around Rathcogue. If we go back one generation to Thomas’s parents,  John Fay and Catherine Gallagher, and look at how they  named their children, a potentially revealing pattern starts to emerge. Here is a list of all of their progeny set into  the template of  the traditional naming pattern.

  • First born son named after his father’s father                                  Thomas  (b.1804)
  • Second born son named after his mother’s father                           Patrick    (b. 1807)
  • Third born son named after his father                                                     John         (b. 1814)
  • Fourth born son named after his father’s oldest brother                 William   (b.1821)
  • First born daughter named after her mother’s mother                    Catherine  (b.1799)
  • Second born daughter named after her father’s mother                  Mary         (b. 1802)
  • Third born daughter named after her mother                                     (Already a Catherine)
  • –    therefore  –
  • Third born daughter named after her mother’s oldest sister            Margaret   (b.1809)
                       The Family of John Fay and Catherine Gallagher

If this naming pattern is true to form, it would tell us that John’s father was named Thomas Fay and his mother named Mary. Catherine’s father would be named Patrick Gallagher and her mother named Catherine. Unfortunately baptismal records in Milltown Parish do not go back far enough for us to verify all of this.

What of Catherine  having an older sister Margaret? We do have a death of a  Margaret Gallagher in Milltown Parish on May 26, 1820. Perhaps that is she. But more importantly we definitely have a William who could have been John’s oldest brother living just down the road in Rathcogue – the William Fay who died in 1834, just a few years before John’s death.

A likely scenario then would  give us at least three sons of Thomas and Mary Fay – the eldest William (deceased 1834), and his brothers Michael (deceased 1831), and John (deceased 1838).

Are there any other Fays in the area that might qualify as children of Thomas and Mary? Indeed we find a James Fay (married to Mary) who had three daughters – Ann  (b. 1810), Mary  (b. 1812) and Catherine (b. 1821), all in Milltown Parish. What links this family to ours is that the sponsors at Catherine’s baptism were William Fay and Mary Murtagh  (Female sponsors were often listed by their maiden names). Although it is only conjecture that Mary Murtagh was William Fay’s wife, the Murtagh family was a large one in the Milltown area and the dates seem to fit well –suggesting that this James was a younger brother of William.

The one brother we seem to be missing would be one named Thomas, after his father.  However there was a Thomas Fay married to Catherine  in Milltown Parish who had two children that we know of – Bryan (b. 1814) and Mary (b. 1818).  Once again they might have been moving in and out of Moyvore Parish, because there are no marriage records, and only the two baptism  records. This  does however  present a possible connection with Bernard Fay. If Bryan (born 1814) was the same Bryan Fay in Bracknahevla in 1854 then Bernard would have been his first cousin.

Bryan was actually a fairly rare name in Westmeath at the time. We would expect it to show up elsewhere in the family if this Thomas was indeed related. We don’t however have any Bryan Fays that show up in Milltown parish at the time. Interestingly though we find that there is a Bryan Fay in the next generation. James Fay ( 1808-1890)  named his first two children Nora (Honora)  and Bryan – presumably after his parents. And  a probable sister , Catherine Fay, who married Thomas Keegan in 1840,  named her children Bryan and Nora, as well.  Neither James or  Catherine have baptismal records, meaning they were probably born in Moyvore Parish to Bryan and Nora Fay. This might explain the choice of the name  Bryan for the son of Thomas Fay.

Much of this is highly speculative, and based largely on Irish Family naming patterns, as well as piecemeal church records. Yet all these Fays were living in close proximity during the same period. If I have not deduced the correct relationships, there is little doubt that they were related in some fashion.

A Proposed Family Tree follows