Estate's lasting legacy
Shirley estate just outside Carrickmacross was the largest
estate in the county covering some 26,386 acres. We take
a look at the origins of the estate and the Shirley's influence
on the locality.
Carrickmacross came into existence as a plantation town
in what was known as the Barony of Farney. Queen Elizabeth
I gave the Barony of Farney to the First Earl of Essex,
Walter Devereaux in 1576.
He planned to 'plant' the area with settlers and build a
walled town in Donaghmoyne, but he died the following year,
before his plans came to fruition. His successor, Robert
Devereaux, the second Earl of Essex, was a minor aged 10
on his inheritance and the estate was put into the hands
In 1599, Robert was made Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. He
set about putting down a rebellion in Ulster but achieved
little. His failure saw him fall from grace with the English
monarch and resulted in his execution in 1600 for treason.
Upon his execution, the estate was forfeited to the Crown.
In 1603, Queen Elizabeth I died and was replaced on the
throne by James I. He returned the estate to the third Earl
of Essex (also Robert) in 1606. Much of Farney had been
invaded by the Gaelic chief MacColla McMahon going back
to 1594. On the reinstatement of the third Earl of Essex,
McMahon was allowed to lease the land from its official
owner. This arrangement lasted until 1620. The estate remained
in the Essex family until 1646 when the third Earl died
From 1646 until 1692 the estate underwent several partitions.
Firstly it was divided in half between the third Earl's
co-heirs, the Marquis of Hertford and Sir Robert Shirley.
Sir Robert Shirley died in 1656, while imprisoned in the
Tower of London for supporting the Royalist cause in the
English civil war. His first son and heir, Sir Seymour Shirley
inherited the estate and on his death in 1667, the estate
passed to his brother Sir Robert Shirley
In 1677 Sir Robert entered the House of Lords, as Baron
Ferrers of Chartley and was later promoted to Earl Ferrers
and Viscount Tamworth in 1711. In 1692 the estate underwent
another division which came out of an agreement between
the heirs of the two daughters of the second Earl of Essex.
Earl Ferrers, the grandson of Lady Dorothy inherited her
share and Thomas Thynne, first Viscount Weymouth inherited
the share of Lady Frances. The division was uneven and favoured
Weymouth but he behaved generously in order to rectify the
injustice to Ferrers.
Earl Ferrers died in 1711 and his estate was divided in
equal parts between his four sons, Robert, George, Sewallis
and John Shirley. Of the four brothers only George survived,
and the whole estate passed to him. He was the grandfather
of Horatio, Henry and Evelyn John Shirley, the 19th century
owners of the estate.
The Shirleys were absentee landlords and spent most of their
time in Ettington in Warwickshire. In 1750, they built a
house near Carrickmacross for their occasional visits, but
it wasn't until 1826 that Evelyn John Shirley laid the foundations
of a mansion on the banks of Lough Fea.
This house remains today. It was built entirely of free
stone found on the estate and was constructed in the manner
of a college. The ground floor holds a great hall, chapel
and the principal living rooms.
At the end of the 19th century the estate had approximately
25,000 acres but much of this land had to be sold off due
to the Land Acts before the First World War. The estate
now has less than 1,000 acres comprising grass and woodlands.
In 1904 when the present Major Shirley's grandfather died,
his father moved from the family home at Ettington Park
to Carrickmacross. Between 1904 and 1977 Major Shirley's
father and his family lived there permanently.
In 1977 the family moved to the Isle of Man and thus reverted
to its 19th century role of absenteeism. However, since
Major Shirley and his sons were brought up on the estate,
they have a great affinity with the area and visit regularly.
The most famous of the Shirleys was Evelyn Philip, the historian,
antiquarian and Member of Parliament. He documented much
of the information about the Shirley family and the estate.
He also documented a rich vein of information about the
county of Monaghan, with particular emphasis on its nobility
His 'Antiquarian Compilations', Farney Bubble Books and
genealogical and historical papers offer an important social
commentary of the time.
As predominantly absentee landlords, the Shirleys hired
a succession of agents to oversee the estate of their behalf.
In many cases these agents carved out their own little bit
of local history.
Sandy Mitchell was the agent between 1829 and 1843 and has
been described as the most tyrannical estate agent that
the people of Farney had ever known. One taking up the appointment,
he surveyed the estate and increased rents by as much as
30 per cent. He even imposed a rent of between £4
and £8 per acre for bog land that had been free since
Mitchell died of apoplexy while attending the Spring Assizes
in Monaghan in 1843. When the news of his 'sad parting'
spread, bonfires were lit on every hilltop to celebrate
the death of the "unscrupulous monster".
Mitchell's successor, William Steuart Trench alternated
between the Bath and Shirley estates in County Monaghan
in the 1840s and 1850s. He was the instigator of the assisted
emigration schemes, where the rent realising commodities
of the farmer were sold at very low prices. This made it
almost impossible to pay the increased rent.
In 1843, the tenants petitioned the landlord for a reduction
in rent. Shirley agreed to meet them in the rent office
in Carrickmacross on Monday, April 3, but changed his mind
at the last moment.
He left Trench to face the tenants with the bad news that
there would be no reduction in rent. Trench made the matter
worse by announcing that he would collect the rents at bayonet
point if necessary.
On hearing the news the tenants rushed towards Trench and
carried him off to Lough Fea to seek out Shirley. The landlord
wasn't at Lough Fea, rather watching proceedings from Shirley
House opposite the rent office.
A local Priest, Father Keelaghan came to Trench's rescue
and it took all of his powers of persuasion to disperse
Not all of the memories attached to the Shirley estate are
negative. In 1846 the Bath and Shirley Lace Schools were
established in Carrickmacross. Tristan Kennedy, who managed
the Bath estate, obtained a Privy Council grant of £100
to assist in building seven lace-making schools on the estate.
Captain Morant the agent of the Shirley estate gave the
use of a vacant house in the town as central school from
which designs, instructions and orders for work were sent
out to the other seven schools.
Significantly this initiative was undertaken during the
Great Famine and proved to be an important source of income
for the workers, at a time when the potato crop failed all
For more than 450 years the Shirley name has been synonymous
with County Monaghan, most especially in the hinterland
of Carrickmacross. Throughout the period, the Shirley family
has played a significant role in the political, social and
cultural landscape of the region and will be forever engrained
in the history of the county.
Taken from Monaghan's Match