Let’s meet Skeffington Gibbon

For various slightly complicated reasons, a lot of my recent research has been less online, and has been wrestling with the problems of researching Ireland. It has however narrowed itself down, slightly surprisingly to co. Roscommon. One of the people it has thrown up is the splendidly, and obviously bogusly, named Skeffington Gibbon who published a book privately in 1824, which was then re-published in Dublin in 1829. He very snappily called it

The Recollections Of Skeffington Gibbon, From 1796 To The Present Year, 1829; Being An Epitome Of The Lives And Characters Of The Nobility And Gentry Of Roscommon: The Genealogy Of Those Who Are Descended From The Kings Of Connaught And A Memoir  Of The Late Madame O’Conor Don.

Printed By Joseph Blundell, 187, Great Britain-Street. Dublin : 1829.

It is one of the strangest, weirdest, campest, books I have ever read. It’s 170 pages long, without chapters, and is basically a mixture of gossip, sycophantic fawning, and alleged family history. Sir William Wilde [Oscar’s father] was apparently of the opinion that he [Skeffy]  used his knowledge of family skeletons to make a living from the wealthy. Presumably on the basis of  “If you pay, I’ll keep you out of the book, and if you don’t, I’ll publish.” It would be interesting to know Sir Bernard Burke’s opinion of Skeffy’s work, but possibly his view published in the 1912 edition of Burke’s Landed Gentry gives an idea. ” Of course, one knows that every Irishman is the descendant of countless kings, princes and other minor celebrities. One admits it, the thing is unquestionable. One knows, of course, also, that every family is the oldest in Co. Galway, or Co. Sligo, or somewhere else, and that, for some reason or other, every Irishman is the ” head ” of his family.”. For now, I’ll let Mr Skeffington Gibbon introduce himself. The following is the first few pages from the book. [Oh, and, Madame O’Conor Don is the wife of a fourth cousin of (5x) great-uncle Owen O’Conor.]

” The reader will not accuse me of egotism for being candid, when, contrary to the acknowledgment of other writers, I tell him of the obscurity of my birth and the poverty of my parents.

I was born in a rural, but humble, cottage on a small farm called Fairfield, on the Glinsk Manors, in the County of Galway. My father, who was descended from a respectable family in the County of Cork, at one time possessed the chief of that barony, which still retains the name of that ancient family, well known in and about the beautiful Fermoy as the Barony of Clan-Gibbon. In tracing the origin of my ancestors I find that the Province of Gibbelonian in the Italian States is their inheritance, from which some assumed the name of Giblon, a junior branch of which family inherited, about a century ago, the noble seat of Bally- giblon, now in the possession of Wrixon Beecher, Esq., who recently married the beautiful and esteemed Miss O’Neill, of the late Theatre-Royal, Crow-street.

The first of my ancestors who landed in Great Britain accompanied William Duke of Normandy in his invasion of that Empire in the tenth century, and obtained by their valour extensive manors in the Counties of Kent, Middlesex and Northampton, of which their descendants still retain a small remnant. The head of the family is now recognised by the title of that illustrious Baronet of Staines, (Sir John Gibbon,) in the County of Middlesex.

The celebrated Edward Gibbon, so esteemed for his ‘Roman History’ and his ‘Letters to Lord Chesterfield, etc.’ was descended from the same ancestors. He tells us his father was a merchant in the City of London — that he was born at Putney on the banks of the noble Thames — that his mother was a Miss Porten, of the enchanting Richmond Hill in the County of Surrey, and after her lamented demise, which was premature after his birth, he was brought into life by his maiden aunt, who spoon-fed him for nearly nine months. However, I pass by that honourable and revered gentleman for the present, to give an account of the first of my ancestors, who accompanied Fitz-Stevens into Ireland in 1172, and obtained large manors in the Counties of Wexford and Waterford, and afterwards, on the reinforcement of Strongbow, aided by MacMurrough, King of Leinster, took possession of several strong castles in the Counties of Cork, Limerick and Tipperary. Catherine Gibbon, the celebrated Countess of Desmond, who fell by the side of her hoary-headed lord, in the eightieth year of his age, in a sanguinary battle between the Cromwellian Condons of Castle-gibbon, now called Castletownroche, on the banks of the copious and navigable River Blackwater, in the territory of the great MacCarthy, was daughter of the ancient but unfortunate family from which I am descended.

The noble ruin called the ” House of Desmond,” in the town of Mallow, now in the possession of Mr. Jephson, the representative in Parliament for that borough, deserves the tourist’s notice, being one of the most magnificent structures that antiquity can boast of. It is situate in a beauteous and verdant glen, embracing a multiplicity of spontaneous boons, mountain air, a salubrious spa adorned by the River Blackwater, and a country delightfully diversified — besides a town, to the credit of the respected inheritor, much and highly improved.

From the various sanguinary commotions and civil wars that distracted this kingdom during the reign of Elizabeth — the paramount sway of Oliver Cromwell and his rapacious freebooters, under the cloak of fanaticism, and latterly, the unrelenting atrocities committed on the natives during and subsequent to the sanguinary war between the unfortunate James II. and his nephew and son-in-law the Prince of Orange, such of the nobility as were not expatriated took refuge in the woods and forests in the province of Connaught, where thousands of them expired either by famine, an incurable flux, or a contagious epidemic, then called the long scarlet fever. Amongst these was my ancestor Richard Fitzallen Gibbon, for whose head a large reward was offered by Colonel Carew, and General Boyle, ancestor of Lord Cork ; however, by changing his name to MacGibbonne or MacGibbolone, he evaded being apprehended, and got married to the daughter of FitzMaurice, of the noble house of Clare-Maurice in Mayo, a family who only possessed a remnant of their former principality at the time, as the Binghams and the Gores, under the false surmise or accusation of the heads of that puissant and illustrious family being suspected Papists, and outlawed for not joining the ruthless Cromwell and the Saints under his pious guidance, engrossed the chief of their patrimony and that of Burke the Lord of Mayo, and which, except what was sold through the prodigality of those unsought-for intruders, their heirs retain at the present time.

In Mrs. O’Mooney’s “ Sketch of her Own Times,” she observes, in her view from the lofty Crough- Patrick, the wide districts in the possession of the Earls of Arran and Lucan, (the latter title once justly bestowed on the illustrious heirs of Sarsfield) — ” Those demesnes,” adds she, ” ill got, one day or other will be ill gone.” However, to return to the subject of the family from which I am paternally descended : the progeny by the marriage with Miss Fitz-Maurice, by intermarriages, got settled in the Counties of Mayo and Galway. The chief of the Gibbon estates, which was part of the dowry of Miss Fitz-Maurice, was lately in the possession of that great diamond. Big Denis Browne, (recently deceased,) on which he built a family mansion, called ( to immortalize his name) Mount-Browne. My grand-father, who married the daughter of O’Shaughnessy, of Gort Castle, fell in defence of his family and property, where he lived, in a rural villa in the vicinity of Mylough, in the County of Galway. In consequence of the undeserved outrage committed on my grandfather, (at the head of which was a tyrant of the name of Ormsby, well known as Robert Ormsby, of Tubberavaddy, near Roscommon, a notorious partisan with the celebrated Lord Santry, as  Chairmen of the never-to-be-forgotten Hell-Fire Club, in College-green,) the land is now in the possession of an heiress of the house of Netterville, who is (I believe) married to Mr. Gerrard, of Gibbstown, in the County of Meath. Much to the credit of Sir John Burke, of Glinsk Castle, (who married Miss Cicily Netterville, of Longford, in that neighbourhood,) and a few Dominican Friars, who occupied a secluded convent and a few acres of land on the Burke manors, under the west wing of that lofty peak, called Mount-Mary, which separates the wide demesnes of those two ancient feudal Chieftains, (the Baronets of Glinsk Castle and the heirs of Castle-Kelly,) which at one time comprised upwards of twenty miles of the County of Galway, and the chief of the Barony of Athlone, in the County of Roscommon, they took compassion on the forlorn situation ol a destitute widow and her four infant children, and provided the harbourless with a small hut on the verge of this romantic mountain, on the site of a wood, called Cappa Wood. In this desolate wilderness did the unfortunate daughter of the once noble house of O’Shaughnessy and her orphans live on the scanty produce of a barren mountainy garden, mingling their anguish and poignant destitution with their tears, and a multiplicity of privations. I recollect myself having seen this farm ; it was recently held by an opulent grazier of the name of Kyne, who died suddenly at the fair of Fuerty, in that neighbourhood, a few years back.

My father told me that his elder brother, who was a proficient in the common rudiments of education, eloped from his mother, when about eighteen years of age, and sailed from Cork for the United States. How he could get out to that lovely country at that time, without friends or money, as he was not possessed of a farthing when he left his mother’s humble cottage but one guinea, which had been sent her by the Catholic Bishop of Tuam, her maternal uncle, (Doctor O’Kelly,) who lived some time in the house of Ossy, near Glinsk, where a man of the name of Glynn keeps extensive nursery gardens at the present time. The mother’s grief for her husband, their property, and her son was such, that it was impossible for her exhausted constitution to bear it any longer; she fell into a fit of despondency, and in a few weeks after the departure of her son, expired in the arms of her faithful friend, and the participator of her misfortunes — a foster-sister, who never forsook her in all her complicated disasters, till she saw her interred in the Abbey of Kilbegnad, in the ancient vault of the Skeffington family, to whom she was maternally allied through the O’Kellys of Aughrim Castle, so celebrated from its memorable battle in 1689. From this my uncle worked his passage on board as a seaman, to that land of promise. The only account my father had of his arrival in that country was from Doctor Nesbitt, who practised for some time as an eminent physician there, and visited his friends in the County of Leitrim, where he remained but a few weeks, as his wife and family remained in the City of Washington, anxiously waiting his return. The account he gave was that my uncle got married to the daughter of a Scotch merchant of the name of Douglas, who resided some distance from Washington — that he was accumulating wealth, and made a most respectable connexion on his marriage with Miss Douglas — that he heard of his mother’s death from a Mr. Fallon, the kinsman of an ancient family of that name in the Barony of Athlone — and that he intended to assist his friends in Ireland in a short time. My father had another brother, who died at Fairfield, of a malignant fever, in the 24th year of his age. I never knew my poor father to mention this brother without changing his countenance, which he strove to conceal from his auditors or his own family, and his whole frame undergoing that panic of grief that one recognizes in the aspect of those who are suffering deep affliction and sensation for the loss of some worthy friend, which wealth, luxury, or amusement cannot remove. My only sister, adds my father, who married a farmer of the name of Magrath, in the vicinity of Mylough or Mount-Bellew, died, after giving birth to three children. As it would only bring other melancholy recollections to my mind, and as my brother-in- law married about nine months after my sister’s premature demise, I never saw any of that family afterwards. We were obliged, says he, (observing about my uncle, who died unmarried,) to leave our handsome cottage at Cappa, which was surrounded with beautiful shrubs that sprung up on the site of that large wood sold to pay off some family incumbrances, which were weighing pretty heavy on the estate of Sir Festic Burke at the time. Then my brother — that brother, adds he, who was the companion and the participator of my early, innocent and rustic amusements, took the handsome farm of Fairfield, watered by a beautiful river, which proceeds from that deep moor that separates the Glinsk manors from the small patrimony of Mr. D’Arcy, a magistrate, and a respectable gentleman, allied to the ancient family of Kiltulla, in the upper part of this great and populous county. I think Mr. D’Arcy’s rural residence is called Newforest or Blackforest. Mr. James Kelly, a tanner by trade, possessed the house of Fairfield, and some fields adorned with tan-holes of no sweet odour ; when the wind blew westward, we felt it intolerable. James Kelly was uncle to William Kelly, of Buckfield — a farm which they hold from the Earls of Clanrickarde ; as also to William Kelly, now of Gardiner-street, who kept a spirit shop many years in that noble seat that Oliver Cromwell threw into the possession of the Mahon family, called Strokestown. Our residence at Fairfield (considerably augmented since my early days) was delightfully situated on the banks of a murmuring rivulet. My father, a few years before his death, said that the tenantry in the surrounding villages were draining and reclaiming those deep bogs which inundate the adjacent pasturage, the fog of which swamps caused contagion and typhus fevers through the country. The people are getting prodigiously enlightened ; nor do I think that their propensities are so vicious as they were some years back. “

We’ll come back to his father’s views in another post, but let’s leave Skeffy with a soundtrack

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