Contributed by Joanne McEntee
One could be forgiven for supposing that the contemporary terms ‘ghost estates’ or ‘abandoned estates’ merely exist as part of the historic nomenclature of the now defunct world of operating Irish landed estates. Yet the ghost estates of yesteryear are now as visible and accessible to the public as their twenty-first century brethren thanks to the recent launch of the Munster Landed Estates Database. Complementing the already existing Connacht database and maintained by the Moore Institute for Research in the Humanities and Social Studies, National University of Ireland, Galway, the Landed Estates Database provides a comprehensive and integrated resource guide to landed estates and historic houses in Connacht and Munster, c. 1700-1914. Seeking to assist and support researchers working on social, economic, political and cultural Irish history, this user-friendly website should not confound even those claiming not to be au fait with the rapidly expanding world of digitization. The fact alone that the website records over 4500 houses and provides images for approximately half of those bears testament to the Trojan work of the researchers Marie Boran and Brigid Clesham in undertaking such a monumental task.
For novices to the site, perhaps an exploration of the ‘estate’ option would prove must fruitful starting point. Containing a description of the estate, the names of the families associated with it, the houses it contained, and details of reference sources for more information, for this resource alone the database should be highly commended. Researchers armed only with a surname are also able to complete searches under the ‘families’ option. Although over 2700 families are included in the database it comes as no surprise that an overlapping of surnames frequently occurs. Within an Irish context many families sharing surnames did not, and do not even to this day, necessarily share a direct bloodline. In order to address this, attempts have been made to distinguish between different family groupings by reference to either the name of their residence or the name of the barony where most of their land was located. In some instances, environmental boundaries are even extended to county parameters in order to classify a particular family unit. Examples include the Kellys in Roscommon and O’Briens in Clare. The map search option also deserves special mention for contributing to a more comprehensive understanding of local between such gentry houses.
Another welcome aspect of the database was the decision to include some estates <500 acres where there is evidence that these were part of the family, social, and political network which constituted landed society, thereby providing a more nuanced and richer depiction of contemporary Irish society. Consequently, the more humble 164 acres owned by Sarah Helena Kelly, wife of Edmond Walter Kelly (Dunkellin) receives the same attention as the Browne estate (Westport), which was comprised of some 114,881 acres in 1876. The project can be accessed through (http://www.landedestates.ie/) or contacted via email: (firstname.lastname@example.org) Unfortunately, a similar resource does not exist for Ulster and Leinster although Tarquin Blake’s Abandoned Mansions of Ireland (Cork, 2010) (http://www.abandonedireland.com) sheds a glimmer of light on the big house in these as yet neglected provinces.
Spanning over two centuries, the Landed Estates Database provides a comprehensive and integrated resource guide to landed estates and historic houses in Connacht and Munster, c. 1700-1914. It remains to be seen whether a similar database will be constructed of building developments in Ireland in the two decades straddling the recent turn of the century.
Joanne McEntee is completing doctoral research on the nineteenth century Irish landed estate, as part of the Texts, Contexts, Cultures programme in the Moore Institute, NUI Galway. This project is funded by PRTLI 4.