Visitors to Kilbarron Castle Part 2 (1814)

The next distinguished visitor who wrote about Kilbarron castle was the Reverend Henry Major who contributed an article on Kilbarron Parish for a publication called “A statistical account or Parochial survey of Ireland” by William Shaw Mason, a book with facts and observations from a selected number of parishes around Ireland.

The Reverend Henry Major was the Rector of Kilbarron Parish. His ancestors had come to the district in the early 18th Century. Henry Major was a lawyer who became an agent for the Conolly estate sometime before 1745.

In 1719 William (Speaker) Conolly, whose father was an innkeeper in Ballyshannon, bought the Ffolliott estate which comprised of most of the land in the parishes of Kilbarron and Inishmacsaint as well as part of the parish of Drumhome.

Portrait of Speaker William Connely

William Conolly was Speaker, the presiding officer, in the Irish House of Commons. Due to his modest background he never got a title even though he was one of the richest and most powerful men in Ireland in the 18th Century.

A native of Ballyshannon, Conolly’s chief residence was at Castletown House in Co Kildare but they kept a summer residence at Cliff House overlooking the Cliff falls on the Erne between Ballyshannon and Belleek.

A view of Cliff House from the River Erne looking upstream. This picture is from the William Lawrence Collection held in the National Library of Ireland.

Henry Major also became one of the major landholders in the area by the 1770s leasing the townland of Camlin Erwin, which would later become known as Camlin Major, the other part of the townland known as Camlin Tredennick.

The Reverend Henry Major, possibly a grandson of the elder Henry Major, was born in 1770 and on his tombstone in the graveyard of St Anne’s Church in Ballyshannon it further states that became “rector and vicar of the United Parishes of Killireran and Knockmoy in the diocese of Tuam and vicar of Kilbarron in the diocese of Raphoe.”and that he died in 1819.

The essay gives a very general view of life and times in the parish of Kilbarron. He states that there is about 1,051 families in the parish, allowing for six persons per family giving a total 6,306 persons. He remarks that “the lower orders are generally lively and docile; quick in apprehending the trades to which they are apprenticed to and friendly and well disposed. They generally speak English but Irish not unfrequently. In stature they are of a size usual in most other parts of the Island”.

The full essay by Reverend Henry Major can be read on Google Books.

Essay on the parish of Kilbarron 1837

In 1837 Samuel Lewis published his book called the “Topographical Dictionary of Ireland“in which he gives a description of the main features and landmarks in every civil parish in Ireland. Main towns are given a separate description.

The Parish of Kilbarron in the Barony of Tirhugh, in the County of Donegal, in the Province of Ulster, has a very interesting entry. It tells us that there are over forty townlands and a population of 10,251 people living in the Parish. The main town in the parish is Ballyshannon. In its own separate entry Ballyshannon’s population is given at 3,775 people with over 1,000 living in the “Purt” situated on the south side of the River Erne and in the neighbouring parish of Inishmacsaint. (In 2016 Ballyshannon’s population is given at 2,229).

He stated that the parish comprises of almost 23,933 acres of which 900 acres are under water, half the parish was arable land, the remainder meadow, pasture and mountain bog.

The principle seats listed by Samuel Lewis were

  • Parkhill belonging to the representatives of the late J. O’Neill, Esq;
  • Cavangarden, the residence of T. J. Atkinson, Esq;
  • Cherrymount of Dr Crawford;
  • Camlin Tredennick of I. Tredennick, Esq;
  • Fort William of W. Tredennick, Esq;
  • Danby of J. Forbes, Esq;
  • Wardton of J. Ffolliott, Esq;
  • Laputa of J.F. Johnson, Esq and
  • Cliff House of Col. Conolly.

In fact most of the parish belonged to the Conolly family of Castletown House in Kildare (Speaker Conolly who was born in Ballyshannon, bought the Manor of Ballyshannon from the Ffolliott family in 1718) The above mentioned gentry owning leases from the Conolly estate and others such as John Ffolliott, a descendant of Henry Ffolliott, the first Baron Ballyshannon, held a lease of Ballymacaward townland from Trinity College.

The ruins of Wardtown Castle at Ballymacaward today. The house was the residence of John Ffolliott at the time of Samuel Lewis’s essay on the parish of Kilbarron.

Wardtown Castle, built in the 1740s by the Ffolliott family, was abandoned in 1916 and was in ruins by the 1920s.

The tragic tale of Colleen Bawn (Cáilín Bán) is reputedly based on an elopement at Wardtown Castle in the 18th Century by Helen Ffolliott.

Today, the Castle Adventure Open Farm is based in the grounds of the ruins of Wardtown Castle.

Demolition

Many of these grand houses were demolished and flooded as a result of the Erne Hydro Electric Scheme in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Cliff House overlooking the Cliff Falls on the Erne some one mile from Belleek in Co Fermanagh.
In 1837 it was the summer residence of Col Conolly of Castletown House in Co Kildare.
It was demolished in the 1950s to make way for the Cliff Hydro-Electric power station.
A view of Cliff House from the River Erne looking upstream. This picture is from the William Lawrence Collection held in the National Library of Ireland.
Camlin Castle residence of J Tredennick in 1837. It was demolished in the 1950s. The waters of Assaroe Lake never reached the house and the foundations of the house can still be seen.
Laputa House on the north side of the River Erne and the residence of J. F. Johnstone in 1837. It was also demolished as part of the Erne Hydro-Electric Scheme.

Freebooters

Samuel Lewis in his essay on the parish of Kilbarron goes on to mention Kilbarron Castle stating that “near the glebe house on a stupendous rock rising almost perpendicular out of the sea, are the ruins of the castle of Kilbarron which is supposed to have been inhabited by freebooters”.

This latter statement seems odd but it is possible that in the years after its destruction or decay of the castle in the 17th Century, that it may have been used as a lookout point for smugglers landing contraband at the castle flag situated below the castle. We know that there was a brisk illegal trade in Spanish and French wines their import being prohibited during the Napoleonic wars between France and England between 1793 and 1815.

However apart from this assertion we have not heard or seen any other spoken or written evidence that Kilbarron was ever used by freebooters.