Population Changes in the Knox Townlands of Ballinrobe between 1841 and 1851

The Lucan evictions of 1847 to 1850 in Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo, saw the populations of many townlands decimated and some completely cleared. Jim Kierans wrote an article about those clearances in The Bridge Magazine year, which you can read here.[1] While Lord Lucan’s estate stretched east from Ballinrobe towards Hollymount, much of the land to the west and north of the town was controlled by Colonel Charles Knox. This article looks at the fate of the Knox townlands between 1841 and 1851 – pre- and post-famine –  using the figures in The Census Report of 1851 for the (total) number of houses in 1841 and 1851.

The impacted townlands

The townlands in questions are: Ballinrobe Demesne, Cahernabudogy, Carn, Carrowmore, Carrownalecka, Cartron, Cavanquarter, Clooncorraun, Cloonee, Cloonenagh, Cloonkeery, Cloonliffen, Creagh Demesne, Curraboy, Cushlough Demense, Friarsquarter East, Friarsquarter West, Gorteenlynagh, Kilkeeran, Knockadoon, Knockanotish, Knockferreen, Knockglass, Knocklahard, Knocknagulshy, Knocknakillew, Lisananisky, Rahard, Rathcareen, Rathkelly, Rathredmond, Rocksborough North and Rocksborough South.[2]

Plotting the population change

Comparing the number of houses in each townland in 1841 with the number of houses in 1851, the following results are seen:

Townland18411851% change
Ballinrobe Demesne217-0.67%
Creagh Demesne6717%
Cushlough Demesne32-33%
Friarsquarter, East202315%
Friarsquarter, West29290%
Rocksborough, North2317-26%
Rocksborough, South1412-14%

While the overall number of houses reduced from 777 to 654 (a decrease of nearly 16%), many individual townlands showed much greater variation as seen below. In fact, 24 of the 33 townlands experienced a decline, three showed no change and six had an increased number of houses in 1851 compared with 1841, in contrast to the overall trend.

Why then would six townlands experience growth? One likely answer would seem to be geography. The townlands of Carrownalecka, Rathkelly and Friarsquarter East are close to the town of Ballinrobe and suggest that some tenants moved closer to town, perhaps to try to find work, though others may also have been moved to a different farm.

Dramatic reduction

The dramatic reduction in the number of houses in Rathredmond (78%) and Knocklahard (68%) suggests that clearances may have taken place in those townlands. Knocknagulshy, while appearing to have the most dramatic drop (100%), had only two houses in 1841 therefore it is difficult to draw many conclusions from such a small number.

The absence of names in the Census Reports means that we cannot track individual families to see where they went between 1841 and 1851 and in the years after. Some families will likely have been victims of the famine, the workhouse or emigration but, without the names, we can only speculate.


In the case of my own townland of Rathredmond, however, we can see from Griffiths Valuation that by 1857, that James Kirwan – presumably a land agent – was living in Rathredmond and was renting 322 acres from Colonel Knox. John Meenahan, who was subletting nine acres from Kirwan, was the only small tenant left. The fact that John had land but no house, suggests that he was living elsewhere, most likely in Knockgloss.

Tracing forward again through the 1861, 1871 and 1881 census reports, we can plot the population decline (or likely clearance of) in the townland.

Rathredmond18411851186118711881% change
Number of houses184121-94%

Rathredmond in current times

In 2014 current and past residents of Rathredmond, or ‘villagers’ as we say,  came together in the racecourse to celebrate 100 years of the townland in its current guise. The old road and village were closer to town, with only a few styles and fallen-down walls to hint at their existence now. The existing houses were built when Knox sold his land to the Congested Districts’ Board in 1913 and the townland was divided into seven farms. Joyces were the first family to live in ‘new’ Rathredmond, moving from Teernakill in Maam to act as Herds for Colonel Knox. The Walshs, Morans, Coynes and Mackens followed in later years, all of whom continue to live in Rathredmond. Other families have come and gone, but all have contributed to the history of the townland, which we hope will carry on for generations to come.


[1] The Lucan Evictions of 1847-50 http://www.historicalballinrobe.com/page_id__305.aspx (xx Dec 2020)

[2] The townland of Cornaroya, which includes most of the town, was excluded so as not to distort the figures. Uninhabited townlands were also excluded.

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