Censuses of Ireland 1901 and 1911

Census returns for 1901 and 1911 show eight Gillespie households remaining in the Stonebridge area. The returns were in two parts. One part (‘B’) described the buildings and the other (‘A’), the occupants. An ordinance survey map from 1860 shows the area in great detail and a modern aerial photograph shows the same lands to approximately the same scale. From the ordinance survey map, each household can be identified and although only one building still remains, in a derelict state, evidence of others is still apparent in the aerial photos.

The 1901 census return shows that great grandfather William Gillespie, son of Henry Gillespie lived at the home marked as Henry’s in Shanmullagh South from the Griffith’s Valuations of 1860 (plot number 9 on the survey map). When we visited the area in July 2009, we walked past the end of the lane that would have lead to this house but it is quite far back from the road in undulating countryside and we couldn’t see anything. This is just a few yards up the road from the ford across the river that leads to the site of another Henry Gillespie in Mullinacloy.

Here are the census records for all Gillespies in the area in 1901 - 1911

The House

Information gleaned from the census ‘B’ sheet, describes the building as a private dwelling made of stone and with a thatched roof. It had four rooms, seven outhouses and three windows in the front wall.

It would have been similar in size, shape to the derelict house still standing - which was also originally thatched and of traditional Irish cottage layout.

The house at Shanmullagh South would have been similar in size and layout to this one.
Traditional Irish Cottage

The building was a long rectangle made of stone and most likely, whitewashed. According the survey map of 1860, it had a yard in front and outhouses in a line opposite. In this part of Ireland, it would have a gable wall at each end and two internal partition walls, one containing the chimney/hearth. Wooden purlins (beams) ran transversely along the length of the house from gable to gable resting on the internal partition walls. The thatching, which would have been dried cereal or flax stalks, would be fixed to the purlins.

The three windows would be small with, typically, four panes of glass. These were usually hinged or sometimes of sliding sash type. A front door on an Irish farmhouse would have had a split, half door. The bottom half would keep the animals from coming into the house whilst opening the top would allow a substantial draft of air to control the peat fire. Usually, there would be an inner, full size door to keep out the wind on chilly nights.

The front door opened directly into the main living room. It would have had a compressed earth floor, possibly with flagstones on top and maybe some kind of rush matting in places. Apart from sleeping, everything would happen in this main room.

This reconstruction of a traditional Irish kitchen is at the Ulster Folk Museum at Cultra, just to the south of Belfast.
Traditional Irish Cottage kitchen

My maternal grandparents lived in a similar house some forty miles away in Fermanagh. Although that house had been extended in Victorian times, the original house was still the main living room. I have vivid pictures of it in my mind from my childhood and I revisited it again in 2007 where little had changed other than the decoration.

The hearth and chimney were at the centre of the house – an excellent arrangement for ‘central heating’. The stone hearth would have been substantial with a heavy lintel, or an arched top, and the sheer mass of stone used in its construction would have heated up during the day, when the fire was lit, and then radiate the stored heat during the night. Apart from being the focal point of the living space, all cooking and bathing would have been done in front of a peat or wood fire. A heavy metal cauldron would have hung from a hook over the fire in which broths and stews would have been cooked and it would also have provided hot water for bathing. There would have been metal stands for a kettle and other smaller cooking utensils and a griddle for baking Irish soda and potato bread. The sweet smell of burning peat would have completely dominated the living room, permeated throughout the house and wafted some distance down the lane.

Again, from the Ulster Folk Museum, this is how the main bedroom in William’s house might have looked but would probably have had a child’s cot or two!
Traditional Irish Cottage bedroom

To the side of the hearth, would have been the door to the main bedroom. Sharing the central chimney/hearth, this would have been a cosy room. It may have had a small fireplace sharing the same chimney but the heat from the stonework was usually sufficient. Any babies or small children would have shared this bedroom with the parents where the attic/roof space might have been used as sleeping quarters for the older ones. Again, the stone chimney stack provided the heating and the thatched roof would have provided a high degree of insulation against heat loss. Sometimes the attic space would have a small window in the gable wall but often as not, it was dark and unlit.

At the other end of the living, was a second room. In earlier times, this would have housed animals in what was called a ‘byre-dwelling’. Animals were kept indoors to protect them from the elements during winter months. In later years, the animal room would be put to better use and the animals moved to an outhouse. Depending on the number and the ages of the house’s occupants, this third room would serve as another bedroom, an office, or be a formal parlour decked with fineries and unused except when visitors came. As it is some way from the fireplace, it would inevitably have been cold with the characteristic, musty smell of dampness.

The outhouses would be built from stone or wood. One would have be a toilet and the others would house the chickens and animals along with a barn for hay and feed. There would be a cowshed or ‘byre’, a chicken house and pigsty. A dryer building might have houses farming implements such as spades, scythes and plowshares – and the family pets.

Parallel to the tree-lined lane leading to the house was a mill race feeding into the River Finn, which runs alongside the main road. There’s no evidence of any mill house along this stretch of water on the 1860 survey map although there was, and still is, a mill house further downstream at Stonebridge.

This derelict cottage at Garran (James, plot 2a) was once a Gillespie home and the ruins of another are just to the left of the lane.
Garran cottage

The Work

Farming was the predominant occupation in the late 19th Century County Monaghan. During the Napoleonic wars at the beginning of the century, Ireland had become the main source for grain to feed the armies – dubbed ‘The Granary of England’, in fact. With a rapidly expanding population, farmers were forced to expand into lower quality land, previously considered marginal. This was usually dug into ridges and planted with potato crops but the reliance of potatoes and the ensuing blight of the mid 1800s led to the ‘Great Irish Famine’ and starvation. The population declined very rapidly in the mid to late century due to death and immigration to England, Scotland and the Americas.

Having learned a lesson, in the latter part of the century, Irish farming became more diversified, relying increasingly on livestock. Cattle could be farmed for milk and beef and much of the land would have been pasture or crops to provide hay, yet, we know that there were both flax and corn mills in the immediate area and these had to be supplied with local crops. A couple of horses would have been kept for ploughing and operating threshing machines, and also as a means of transport, but farm work was still very labour intensive and physically demanding for the menfolk. From Griffith’s Valuations, we know that Henry had just over 19 acres of land, which was eventually passed down to William. This is a small farm by today’s standards and on the borderline for sustaining a family but it is fairly typical for the area.

Potatoes would still be grow, and remained a staple part of the diet, especially with poorer families. It was discovered that the potato blight could be prevented by spraying with a mixture of copper sulphate and lime – so much for organic growing! Irish Stew, made from potatoes, carrots and a small amount of mutton or beef would have been a common evening meal. Chicken and eggs would have been alternatives. At other times, Irish breads, spread with home made butter and washed down with buttermilk, would have provided sustenance during the day.

Continues: The People »