Bree parish and the census of 1659 AD

In 1659 a census of Ireland was undertaken and its results for Bree parish are revealing[i] (see Table 1. below). The census was compiled by Sir William Petty to assess the country for poll tax purposes and it details the names of the major landholders (tituladoes) as well as the number of people by nationality (English/Scots and Irish) in each townland. The census, however, was not a census in the modern sense and it undoubtedly underestimated the number of people living in each townland, especially the poorer classes (for example single adult women were not included). It has been suggested that a multiplier of 2.5 be used to estimate overall adult population .

Table 1: 1659 census returns for Bree Parish

Townland in census Modern name Tituladoes No. of people English Irish Overall adult population?
Clogh Wilton Robert Thornhill 103 10 93 258
Clonmore Clonmore 6 6 15
Ballikeoge Ballyhogue 64 4 60 192
Bree Bree Francis Randall 18 18 45
Ballybrettas Ballybrittas 10 10 25
Barmony Barmony 6 6 15
Ballybrenane Ballybrennan 19 19 48
Garrinstokole Garrenstackle 3 3 8
Edermyne Borrmount John Smyth 13 7 6 33
Killgibbon Killgibbon 3 2 3 8
Konott Kereight 6 6 15
Macmaine Macmine 26 1 25 65

 The landowners

Wilton castle, bree, wexford
Wilton Castle, home to Robert Thornhill in 1659

The three principal landowners mentioned in the census for Bree, John Smyth, Robert Thornhill and Francis Randall were all new arrivals to the parish having first come to Ireland as part of Oliver Cromwell’s victorious army. They had been rewarded for their loyalty with extensive land grants in what had formerly been Pierce Butlers large estate at Kayer (centred on Wilton castle). Thornhill, a cavalry captain, had been granted Wilton castle and the surrounding lands, which in 1659 he complained were being ravaged by wolves[ii]. In the census ten English people are mentioned at Wilton (Clogh) and these are likely to have been the Thornhill family and their retinue. The Thornhills were to remain at Wilton until 1695 when Robert’s son sold the estate to William Alcock[iii].

Randall's Mill, Crossabeg (source)
Randall’s Mill, Crossabeg (source)

The second landowner mentioned, Francis Randall, was originally from Hampshire in England and again had been a captain in Cromwell’s army.  He was subsequently rewarded with lands in Wexford, including property in Bree and Clonmore townlands. He and his family resided at Randall’s Mills, Crossabeg and this probably explains why Bree townland contains no English people on this census return. Randall was an interesting character and in 1655 he became a Quaker, for which he suffered much persecution in later life[iv].  He was a supporter of James II and in 1690 the King himself sought refuge at Randall’s home after the Battle of the Boyne[v]. Just two years later in 1692 Francis Randall passed away and was buried in the Quaker graveyard at Corlican, Glynn. In 1713 his son Samuel sold their property at Clonmore to the O’Donovan family, thus bringing an end to the Randall family’s association with the parish.

Little is known about the third landowner in the census, John Smyth. A former captain in Cromwell’s army, his association with Bree was fleeting as he quickly sold his land at Edermyne[vi] to Christain Borr a wealthy merchant of German decent.  Borr subsequently renamed his new estate Borrmount, a title the townland has retained up until the present day. 

How Clogh/Wilton village may have looked (after the medieval village of Wharram Percy
How Clogh/Wilton village may have looked (after the medieval village of Wharram Percy) Source 

The missing village

What is most noticeable about the census returns for Bree parish is the very large number of people resident at Clogh (103 in census, which may in reality be closer to 258 adults). In this instance Clogh most likely represents the large townland of Wilton, where Robert Thornhill was then resident.  Wilton was given its present name in 1695 by William Alcock, but previous to this it had been known as Clogh-na-Keraghe (and other variations of this name)[vii]. The population of Clogh/Wilton is considerably larger than any of the other townlands in the parish and indeed in the Barony of Bantry in general[viii]. A comparable figure of inhabitants is found at the important medieval town of Fethard-on-Sea, which in 1659 is recorded as having a population of 119. This suggests that there was sizeable village in the vicinity of Wilton castle, something which is attested to in a survey from 1618. This describes Peter Butler as the owner of the manor, castle and significantly the town of Cayer (Wilton)[ix], otherwise known as Clogh na Keraghe[x]. With a population of over 100 people this ‘town’ would have been one of the largest rural villages in county Wexford and its total disappearance from the modern landscape is startling. Its exact whereabouts are unknown and locating where it formerly stood will make an interesting avenue for future research.


[i] After: Ranson, J. 1949. A Census of Ireland, C. 1659: Baronies of Bantry and Shelbourne, Co. Wexford. In The Past: the organ of the Uí Ceinnsealaigh Historical Society, No. 5, pp. 150-60 & Pender S. 1939 A Census of Ireland circa 1659, The Irish Manuscripts Commission, Dublin

[ii] Walsh, D. Bree, The story of a County Wexford parish. Enniscorthy. p.46

[iii] Hore, P. H. 1911. History of the Town and County of Wexford, Vol. 6, E. Stock, p.560

[iv] Smith, R. 1841. The Friend, A Religious and Literary Journal, Vol. XIV. Philadelphia. P. 311

[v] ibid

[vi] This Edermyne was also known as Ederminebege. It was located in Clonmore parish on the western side of the Slaney and was a separate entity to the similarly named townland/parish of Edermine, on the eastern banks of the Slaney. The name Ederminebege (literally Little Edermine) was often used to distinguish it from its larger, eastern, namesake.

[vii] The name still survives in the tiny townland of Clogh, which is located on the northern side of Wilton townland.

[viii] See Ranson, J. 1949. A Census of Ireland, C. 1659: Baronies of Bantry and Shelbourne, Co. Wexford. In The Past: the organ of the Uí Ceinnsealaigh Historical Society, No. 5, pp. 150-60

[ix] Cayer or Kayer was a large medieval manor/estate centred on Wilton castle

[x] Mac Eochaidh, M. 1970. ‘An Inquisition of James I: Dated 24 March 1618’ in The Past: The Organ of the Uí Cinsealaigh Historical Society, No. 8, pp. 68-74