Book is pride of the parish
The dairy farmers of Wexford are gearing up for expansion. Every little scrap of land capable of supporting a cow that comes to the market attracts recession defying high prices as the milk men (and the milk maids, of course) break the bank to invest in fresh fields.
With the EU regime governing their industry poised to change, progressive dairy operators fancy their chances of cashing in by increasing the size of their herds and their holdings.
But they are only in the ha'penny place when it comes to the property scene in Victorian times, as the just published 'Monageer – Past & Present' reminds us. The book, edited by my esteemed colleague Seán Nolan, is a parish journal on steroids, with more than 220 pages packed between the covers – a bargain at €10 per copy.
The contents cover a range of subjects that give the lie to the narrowness implicit in the word 'parochial'. There is room for family trees, farriers and African adventures. It seems that every sports club, every christening, every character rates a mention.
One of the biggest and most learned articles is provided by PP Bill Cosgrave, who recalls the days when landlords with vast property interests dominated the Irish landscape. Father Bill notes that Lord Carew, who lived at Castleboro near Clonroche owned 20,000 acres – an enterprise on a scale unimaginable nowadays this side of the Argentinian pampas.
In the 19th century, one Colonel Harry Alcock of Wilton Castle fame drew rent from 7,346 acres – not quite as big as his lordly Castleboro colleague but still a spread far beyond the aspirations of even the most ambitious of our modern dairy farmers. Meanwhile, the far ranging Colclough estate based at Woodbrook in The Duffry was estimated at 7,800 acres.
In and around Father Cosgrave's Monageer, the scene was dominated by the Earls of Portsmouth, whose family links to County Wexford originated in 1579, and by the Richards clan who built the now demolished splendour of Solsborough House.
Mel Brooks said 'it's good to be the king' but it was pretty good being the earl too. The Wallop family who had the Portsmouth franchise were so well endowed that the massive 4,140 acres over which they held sway in Monageer constituted less than half of their Irish land, which in turn was dwarfed by their massive estates back in England.
Happy to receive their rent cheques in the post, they never bothered to construct a house in Monageer.
Father Bill notes that a visit of the fifth earl to Enniscorthy in 1867 prompted extensive press coverage at the time.
Meanwhile, the Richards's 3,000 acres included 910 acres in Monageer. In contrast to the very English earls from Portsmouth, they took root in the area and the townland of Solsborough is named after Solomon Richards.
Eat your hearts out, dairy farmers.