Major Denis Mahon’s murder

Major Denis Mahon portrait, owner of
the Mahon Estate, where Strokestown
is and where our Connellys came from.

There was a theory put out by a Connelly researcher that the reason Dennis Connelly had to leave Ireland when he did was because he was somehow involved in the murder of Major Denis Mahon.

I wanted to see if it was possibly true, so I found a book that had been written about the subject, the killing of Major Denis Mahon, by Peter Duffy. I highly recommend it as a read.

In the 1700s an English writer by the name of Arthur Young was touring Ireland. When he came to Strokestown and the Mahon Estate his description of the land was “flat and featureless, due to the sheep grazing,  having a general atmosphere of being dreary and cheerless. The people were not industrious or better housed. They lived on potatoes, milk and butter. There were few cows, pigs are not allowed, poultry was tolerated. To earn a bit of coin the men dug turf, planted potatoes and work for their landlord, while the women spun.” But on the whole he said the land was deemed tolerable. Land was divided up the old fashioned way on the Mahon estate, 2-300 acres would hold anywhere from 10-15 families. Leased and sub-leased. There were many very small plots of land for a family to survive on. In actual fact the situation was not good, and in time only worsened.

It was in the early 1800s that the Mahon estate was poised on the brink of disaster. Another English writer, Edward Wakefield, visiting the estate in 1809, described the area “I…found everywhere, cabins of the most wretched aspect, infamous stone roads, very minute divisions of land, and  a superabundant but miserable population.” Unlike the author Young he did not see any beauty in the land and in his eyes no estate in his travels represented such a “scene of desolation,” as that of the Mahon estate.

There is much that has already been written about the politics, and consequences of the famine. Too much to go into here, but it was the winter of 1846-47 during the famine that changed Strokestown’s course forever. Major Mahon was preparing to go to England for the hard winter, leaving his land agent John Ross Mahon (unrelated) to handle the estate. He was a hard-hearted, penny-pinching, no nonsense advocate for his clients. In Strokestown he is remembered as a ‘very cruel man’.  He set up an office in Strokestown to oversee the handling of the estate and in looking over the property, he later testified that “…of course they were absolutely starving…It saw the impossibility, not only of rent being paid, but of the people living.”

His plan was to remove two thirds of the tenants and let the remaining third expand their holdings and grow profitable crops. Subsidized emigration was his answer to the removal of the two thirds. The Major was against a major eviction of the tenants, and the Mahon family was not in any kind of financial condition to pay for the tenants transport out of the country.

But by early spring of 1847 he capitulated on the removal issue. We know that our ancestor Dennis Connelly arrived at the port of New York in May of 1847, because his declaration of intent tells us so. This means that sometime in April is when, at least he, packed up to go to America. It is unclear to us if the whole family left at the same time, because we can find no passenger lists with the Connelly’s on them. This does mean that at least Dennis was not one of the 1000 who were sent to Canada on the ‘coffin ships‘.

It is possible the Connellys left because they received eviction notices, although records indicate that Major Mahon didn’t sign any until April, to be delivered in early May, and it appears that the Connellys had already left by then. Maybe they had heard the rumors. Shortly after Mahon’s removal of the first 1000 families on the ‘coffin ships’ he had his land agent either pay off the families with a few pounds, or use the sheriff, to evict another two thousand more off the estate.

His actions were now going to have consequences. It was in the evening of November 2, 1847 that Major Mahon was murdered while driving home in a horse drawn carriage. According to witnesses at the event two men were involved. Before his murder he was making plans to evict another 6000 families off the estate. Some believe that it was his land agent John Ross Mahon who was actually the target as they had switched places on the carriage before the drive and the Major was holding the reigns. We will never know. The murder was never solved.

So to answer the question – No Dennis Connelly didn’t run away from Ireland because he was involved in the murder of Denis Mahon. He was already in America working to make a better life for his family.

So this Thanksgiving I will be sure to thank my Irish ancestors who survived a devastating famine, and a horrendous sea voyage to make a new life in America, making my Thanksgiving dinner possible.

More DNA testing

FamilyTreeDNA, the company that has done all of our genetic testing in the past, had a holiday sale at the end of 2011. So I decided to upgrade a few of our samples that they have in their freezers.

Firstly, I upgraded Robert Cain’s sample to 67 markers. It had previously only been tested at 37 markers along with a specialized SNP test that is being used to help sort out the CAIN lines. That is probably all I will be able to do with his sample for a while, and I am crossing my fingers that we won’t need many more tests with his DNA, samples can go bad and with Robert having passed away, I am left without a source for this genetic line.

Secondly, I upgraded grandfather’s (William Shepard) sample. Grandfather’s maternal DNA was never tested, so I remedied that situation, and I added the FamilyFinder test. This is the one I had done, sometime in early 2011, to my DNA. The results help you to find cousins in their database (male or female, it doesn’t matter) and your ethnicity. Grandfather’s maternal DNA will give us genetic information on g-grandmother Dick’s maternal line back to Sarah Asher who married Thomas Headlee in Pennsylvania in the very early 1800s.

Results are expected sometime around February 20th. If we are lucky it might be a little earlier. But I imagine with the sale that they had, lots of folks have decided to jump on the upgrade bandwagon.

I will keep folks updated.

On the same note, I periodically receive updates from surname group administrators on the progress of the testing, the sorting out of the lines, and other news related to that surname. The most active group so far has been the CAIN line, and it has come to our attention that there is a particular marker that is showing up with our CAINs, that will be confirmed with the upcoming upgrade results, indicating a Briefne connection. Part of what this means is that our CAINs are descendants of original Irish/Celts, not one of the invaders who later integrated into the population. It also points to Martin Cain possibly coming from the Northern Ireland area, as I was beginning to speculate.

The future is looking very interesting.

NOTE: The Kingdom of Breifne or Bréifne (anglicized BreffnyBrefnie or Brenny) was the traditional territory for an early Irish tribal group known as the Uí Briúin Bréifne. The Bréifne territory included the modern Irish counties of Leitrim and Cavan, along with parts of County Sligo. [from Wikipedia]