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Strokestown and the Great Irish Famine

This book is available to purchase at our exhibition

'The most in-depth study of the effects of the Famine on a landed estate and its community … With the help of this book, we are brought deep inside the actuality of life during the Famine era. Some of our preconceived ideas of what actually transpired during that appalling era are challenged. Highlighted too is the important role played by the Irish National Famine Museum at Strokestown'
Mary McAleese – former President of Ireland

Strokestown and the Great Irish Famine

 

'The Strokestown Park House archive is one of the largest Irish estate collections in existence, with more than 50,000 documents comprising rentals, leases, accounts, correspondence, maps, drawings, architectural plans and photographs. Of particular importance are the papers that relate to the Great Irish Famine. This book aims to introduce the reader to the archive and to provide a fascinating and detailed insight into the many and varied experiences of the Famine for those who inhabited the estate in the 1840s.'

strokestown park house

Strokestown Park House

 

major denis mahon strokestown

                                    

The Killing of Major Denis Mahon

Major Mahon, had inherited a large estate around Strokestown, just before the famine. The estate was heavily indebted, having been neglected for years. In the spring of 1847, at the height of the potato blight, Mahon decided to rid his property of nearly 1,000 destitute tenants. Keen to keep costs downs, he chose an unreliable shipping agent and the cheapest available destination, Quebec.

One third of those shipped out perished. To compound the tragedy, Mahon then proceeded to evict most of those who remained on the estate. Major Mahon knew he was a marked man. A few months later, he was shot dead as his carriage travelled a country road four miles from his home. His murder was greeted with widespread jubilation. Within hours, celebratory bonfires were lighted on neighbouring hills.

Mahon’s murder made the headlines in England, prompting Queen Victoria to complain in her diary that the Irish “really ... are a terrible people,”.
In the end, two men were hanged for Mahon’s killing: James Commins and Patrick Hasty. Such was the divide between the ruling elite and the famine poor
that to get a conviction, the prosecution bribed a string of shady witnesses, all of whom had initially given false evidence to the police.

The events leading up to Mahon’s death epitomised much of what was wrong with pre famine Ireland: the largely parasitical landlord class, the deep sectarianism that further divided rulers and the ruled, and an underclass largely dependent on the potato and living on the margin of subsistence.