ONE DOON RICHARDSON FAMILY.
By Michael Cotter.
This story involves poitín, two, possibly three murders, one manslaughter, contested wills, lots more poitín, emigration to Australia, and whatever you are having yourself!
In the early 1800’s there were 2 Patrick Richardsons in Doon, each of whom was married to a Margaret Ryan, and each with an eldest child named Susanne. These Richardsons were first cousins, at least one of whom was the son of a stone mason who built some bridges around Doon, one being the old bridge at Bilboa. One of these Patrick Richardsons was an ancestor of the present generations of Richardsons, and the other family is the one about whom I am writing this little account.
Around 1830 Patrick Richardson was renting some 65 acres of land in Bilboa from the Earl of Stradbroke, but appears to have had a much more profitable sideline going for himself. Among the essays collected by the Irish Folklore Commission in 1937 is an essay by a pupil from Castlegarde, who wrote of Patrick finding treasure in a field in Bilboa. This story would seem to have derived from the fact that in 1840 Patrick bought the freehold of 131 acres of land in Cooneen, Bilboa from the Earl for £2,175, which was an unimaginable amount of money at the time. To put the cost price of this land into context, less than ten years later, Queen Victoria made a contribution towards the relief of misery from the Famine in Ireland, amounting to £2,000, quite a bit short of the cost of this farm. In those days all treasure trove in Ireland was the property of the Crown, and had Patrick found such treasure, and sold it for his own benefit, he would at the very least have spent a lengthy spell in jail, that is, if he missed the drop!! Furthermore, for him to find sufficient treasure as would make him £2,175 on the black market, he would have had to find a pharaoh’s tomb, and a pyramid sticking up out of a field in Bilboa would surely have been spotted before then. One possible source of this man’s wealth was poitín, and the fact that he owned 2 pubs, and in 1831 obtained a license for a third one, would point in that direction. He also owned 6 houses just on the edge of the village of Doon, probably financed from an earlier vintage. The other possible source of his wealth relates to his known business interests in Limerick, and in January 1837 the business premises of a William Richardson, a gunpowder dealer in Limerick blew up, killing 10 people. This William Richardson had a brother (unnamed), who was partly involved in the business, supplying William with “hot” gunpowder, and possibly, after the disaster in 1837, Patrick, if he was this unnamed brother, might have decided to take his money, leave the explosive solids, and concentrate on explosive liquid , poitin!
Patrick seems to have married three times; he had at least one child, Susan from the first marriage. She married a man named Matt Cosgrove and they emigrated originally to upstate New York, possibly encouraged to leave by Patrick’s second wife, who had her own son, and would not have wished her son’s future prospects muddied in any way. Susan subsequently moved north to Loughborough, near Kingston, Ontario, no doubt to be with her old neighbours from Cooga, who had emigrated there, fully funded by Lord Derby, when he took over lands at Cooga.
Patrick’s second wife was Winifred English and they had a son Michael, but mother and child seem to have died very young, and Patrick then married Margaret Ryan with a minimum of delay and this marriage produced 4 children, Denis, Thomas, John and a daughter who became Mrs. Kirby, and things got interesting at this point.
In 1832 when cholera swept across the northern hemisphere, it did not bypass Doon, and a committee, which included Patrick, was set up to gather money and to try to alleviate the suffering of those who caught the disease. The committee did its work but was left with over £50, which, (as in the tv series, Father Ted) “rested” in Patrick’s bank account for almost 10 years, until 1843, when, following a “belt of the crozier”, Patrick was persuaded to hand back this money to the parish, and it was used towards the building of a school in Doon. And then things went awry!
As the old seanachai used to say “things rested so” until Denis, the eldest of the family, grew up a bit, and in February 1846 Patrick’s pub in Doon was robbed and it was believed that Denis was the person behind this. This soured relations between father and son and Denis then left home and joined the British Army. This did not please the father one bit, so he bought him out of this situation and gave him his fare to America and that seemed to solve one problem. Meanwhile, son No 2, Thomas ran the farm in Cooneen in Bilboa, plus the two pubs, in Doon and Cappawhite, but the father still kept his hand to the tiller and by 1848 he also had £710 in a bank account for his 3 Kirby grandchildren.
Unfortunately, life did not go smoothly, and Thomas was involved in the killing of a John Joye in a pub in Cooga on 12th April 1846 (Joye called him a “boucagh”, not noting carefully enough that Thomas was carrying a two and a half foot long dagger at the time) and Thomas was sentenced to two months in prison, although he later stated that he spent 18 months behind bars for this little indiscretion.
With all these goings-on, is it any wonder that Patrick Richardson had a stroke in June 1848, and was greatly incapacitated, but he managed to make a will, assisted by a Mr. O’Neill, the local hedge-school master, and with possibly too much help from Thomas, and this was the cause of much trouble later. Patrick lasted until 27th October 1849, when he died. He was most likely buried in Clonbeg cemetery in the Glen of Aherlow, where all the Richardsons up to that time were buried.
Before Patrick died Denis must have heard that his father was unwell and he returned home post haste, no doubt to mind his father, but he might also have been thinking of the fine businesses that his father would be leaving behind, although by now Thomas was firmly in charge of these businesses. On Denis’s return, Thomas brought about temporary peace between Denis and his father and persuaded Patrick to let Denis back into the business in Cappawhite, but this must not have satisfied Denis, as he went to law in 1856 against Thomas in an effort to overturn their father’s will. His first effort failed, but in March 1857 it again went before the courts and this time Denis got his way and the will was set aside. With this infighting within the family, the matter of paying rent on the Doon premises was quite overlooked, and in March 1857 the family barely avoided being evicted for this oversight.
With the deterioration in relations in the early 1850’s between Denis and Thomas, life must not have been too harmonious in the Richardson household in Doon and so John Richardson, Patrick’s youngest son, had enough, and in December 1854 he left the area, with a nice £300 legacy, and headed for Melbourne. He was reported to have made a lot of money in mining speculation, but this must have been lost and he died in a mining accident in 1863 in Rokewood, Victoria, where Thomas lived at the time. His sister, who married a John Kirby was also gone from Doon by 1860.
With the setting aside of Patrick’s will, Thomas lost all his property, as Denis was the eldest of the family, but it would appear that Thomas may have had “Plan B” up his sleeve, should the courts go against him, and he promptly left for Liverpool to travel onwards to Australia. At that time Australia seems to have been the destiny of choice for almost everyone emigrating from the Doon area. He probably was also mindful that some old lady had told him in his youth that he would make a lot of money from a horse, although he never went to the races.
Amazingly, now with Thomas out of the way, and the future nice and secure for Denis, he died, aged about 30, even before the title to the various properties could be transferred into his name. Perhaps there might have been a connection between Thomas’s quick departure (more on that later!) and Denis’s rather untimely death, or perhaps, Denis might have got such a shock at winning the case and everything that went with it, that he keeled over and died, or maybe the celebrations at his win got a bit out of hand, but in any case, Denis died.
With Thomas’s Plan B put into effect, Denis’s widow, Sally now found herself like ‘Old Mother Hubbard’ “and when she got there, the cupboard was bare”, but in this case, so was the cow house, the horse boxes, the sheep pins, the pig sty, the chicken coop, the cash tills in the pubs, the swear jar, and the Trocaire box (they were ahead of their time!). Even the duck pond was eerily quiet. Perhaps, following her own reaction to the ‘clean out’, she might have owed a generous contribution to her own swear jar!
Anyway, on 5th April 1857 Thomas, with his wife Mary Ann (nee Coffey, a Pallas woman) and her 11 year old niece, Mary Ann Coffey, embarked on the “Ocean Chief” to Melbourne, costing “£14 and upwards” each, describing himself on the ship’s records as a merchant, and he did not go with empty pockets, as the “Age, Melbourne” of 16th November 1857 suggests: “Farewell entertainment – On Thursday evening last, a select and influential party was entertained at the residence of Mr. Thomas Richardson Esq., late of Doon, Co. Limerick, Ireland, to do honour to and bid a parting farewell to one of the genuine sons of the old soil – Patrick O’Meara Esq.,”.
Thomas apparently now had the financial freedom to pursue his dreams and for the next ten years or so he was to be found in the gold fields of Victoria. Maybe he reckoned that if his father was supposed to have found treasure (gold) in Bilboa, surely he should be able to find tons of the stuff during the gold rush in Australia. However, the nuggets must not have been big enough or come regularly enough, so he had to take a more mundane job, and he worked with Victoria Railways until shortly before his death on 23rd June 1895. In September 1894, no doubt, remembering what the old lady had earlier told him, he invested 5/- in Tattersall’s sweep, and he drew the horse Paris, which won the Caulfield cup, and won £6,243.15.0d for Patrick.
Mary Ann, and the six remaining of their seven children survived him, and Mary Ann died in 1900.
All the properties that Patrick had built up, and which were to go to Thomas, went to Denis’s widow, Sally. However, Sally did not last long either, and she was dead by 1865. The businesses didn’t do much better; the Cappawhite pub was sold and closed up by 1860 and the Doon business was sold in 1862 to John Moore. Maybe Sally didn’t have the right recipe for the poitín!
Denis and Sally’s children were now ranging in age from 14 to 11, and they went to live with a relation in Rathkeale. The eldest, Patrick came back to Doon and married there in 1879, and they had a daughter Eva in September 1880, but Patrick was rather partial to the sup and died in March 1881, aged 31, from some drink-related condition. Meanwhile, his brother William died in 1877 of TB. His sister Margaret also seems to have died young, but the records are not very revealing regarding her.
The last of these children, Michael, following a family habit, decided to contest his brother’s will, and made a bit too much noise about this in Doon on the night of 15th July 1881, when he and his Doon cousin Thomas Richardson went visiting one of his late brother’s tenants in Bilboa, and on their way back to Doon the two of them were murdered (although the Inquest into their deaths found that it was all a nasty accident. On the other hand, Thomas Richardson, the second victim, who was knocked unconscious in this incident (his skull being split open, as was Michael’s), later regained consciousness and told a number of people who were there at his bedside that “I was murdered, I was murdered, I know them well”, as reported by the Limerick Chronicle). He later lay back and died.
What were left of Patrick Richardson’s properties, were now in the hands of the widow of his grandson Patrick, who was left with a small baby. This baby, Eva, contracted TB and died at 18 years of age and her mother then sold off the land in Bilboa and the houses in Lisgaugh.
See, I never used the word CURSE in relation to this land ownership!!
(If any reader of this story has any further details of this family, I would greatly appreciate if you could send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org M.C.)