Wednesday, 26 February 2014

THE ANTIQUARIAN: Irish Landed Gentry & "The Radleys of Knockrour"

                                                …Sing the lords and ladies gay
                                                That were beaten into the clay
                                                Through seven heroic centuries;
                                                Cast your mind on other days
                                                That we in coming days may be
                                                Still the indomitable Irishry.
                                                                        Under Ben Bulben – W. B. Yeats

In the above lines, the seven heroic centuries that W.B. Yeats calls all Irish poets to continue to celebrate, refers to the seven centuries of British and Norman rule that, by the Elizabethan age, had been polarized through rebellion and religion.  After the Nine Years War and The Flight of the Earls, this ancien régime, which at one time included both Irish and English nobility alike, evolved into a powerful class of landed gentry that became known as the Protestant Ascendancy. 

For over two centuries, the Irish landowning class represented a link between England and Ireland that manifested itself in the Act of Union.  The Irish landed gentry, as Mark Bence-Jones states, “were, almost without exception, loyal to the Crown…”  As history, stereotypically, describes them, they were made up of ladies and gentlemen who existed in a world of wealth and manners that equaled the noblesse of Europe.

MISS MEADOWS: "Who are those men who have just come ashore in that boat, and are giving themselves such airs?  Peers?"
MR BRIMBLECORN: "Landed gentry, I think."

By the end of the First World War, however, most of the great houses of Ireland were in ruins; where manor homes and castles once stood, soon, only “a few bleached stumps” remained standing (Bowen, xvii). 

For the Radleys of Knockrour and many of the other families of the gentry, the decline had started with the agricultural disasters of the mid 19th century; before long, the garden parties and dances ended in the Encumbered Estates Court.  By then, many of these families had put down roots that had been part of the island since the time of the Elizabethan plantation; through intermarriage with the native Irish elite and the great houses of the old Anglo-Norman families, many of these roots stretched even further back, to the Norman invasion and beyond. 

The decision to leave Ireland, for many of these families, was a difficult one.  When my great grandfather, Richard Francis Radley Kelleher, announced his plan to immigrate to Canada in 1914, my great grandmother, Mary O’Sullivan (who claimed descent from the indomitable O’Sullivan Beare), went into what members of my family have called a fine Irish rage; beginning with tossing his life’s work of transcribed music onto the fire, she staunchly declared, “If Ireland isn’t good enough for you, then neither is her music!” 

Now available through / / is the full history of one of these great families of Ireland.  With its discussion on the Purdons of Ballyclough, the Barrys of Rathcormak, the Halls of Ballycunningham, the Leaders of Mount Leader, the MacCarthys of Dooneen, the Twiss family of Birdhill and many others, The Radleys of Knockrour provides both a record of the Radley family itself as well as a thorough and intimate portrait of the landed gentry in Ireland.

Radleys of Knockrour @ SCRATCH

Bence-Jones, Mark.  “The Changing Picture of the Irish Landed Gentry.”  Genealogical
            and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry of Ireland. Bernard Burke.
            London: Burke’s Peerage, 1958. 4th ed.  xvii-xxi. Print.

Elizabeth Bowen from “The Changing Picture of the Irish Landed Gentry.”  By Mark
            Bence-Jones in Genealogical   and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry of

            Ireland. Bernard Burke. London: Burke’s Peerage, 1958. 4th ed.  xvii-xxi. Print.

Cartoon, courtesy of

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