Table of Contents
Lough Rynn before the 1600s
The Plantation of Leitrim
The Clements family
Nathaniel Clements 1705-1777
Rynn in the 1700s
The Rebellion of 1798
Robert Clements, 1st Earl of Leitrim 1732-1804
Nathaniel Clements, 2nd Earl of Leitrim 1768-1854
Robert, Viscount Clements 1805-1839
William Sydney Clements: 3rd Earl of Leitrim 1806-1878
Taking over at Lough Rynn
Life at Lough Rynn
The Great Famine
Mohill Board of Guardians
After the famine
A transformed land
From benevolent paternalism to autocratic control
Lord Leitrim assassinated
After Lord Leitrim
Colonel Henry Theophilus Clements
Lough Rynn in the 20th Century and today
The mention of the name Lord Leitrim can still evoke strong feelings and memories in the people of Co. Leitrim. Although nearly 130 years have passed since the local Landlord was assassinated, the impact of his time and tenure on the people of the area has only in recent years begun to dissipate.
As in much of Ireland, South Leitrim suffered greatly during the 1800s. Famine, disease and emigration were a constant in the lives of many for much of the first half of the century and of course hit a terrible peak mid-century with the Great Famine. After the Famine, the emigration continued and a new era of political unrest and social change gained increasing pace. It was in this context that Lord Leitrim, William Sydney Clements, 3rd Earl of Leitrim, dominated the lives of thousands of people in ways that was in turn beneficent and destructive. By the end of his life, he was seen as one of the most disreputable landlords of 19th century Ireland and owned estates that stretched from Kildare in the east to Galway in the west and right up to Donegal in the far North of Ireland. He ran this huge landholding from his base at Lough Rynn Castle, near Mohill in the southern end of County Leitrim.
The manor house at Lough Rynn has always been referred to as Lough Rynn Castle. It was built in an idyllic position on the shores of the lake from which it takes its name. It lies at the end of a long, tree-lined drive, some five kilometres from the town of Mohill. The Castle still stands (now transformed into a luxury hotel) and it, along with the outhouses and extensive gardens, present a tangible legacy from Lord Leitrim's time. Less visible, but arguably more potent, was the Earl's influence on the lives of the people in the area. In the mid-19th century, he was responsible for thousands of people who lived on and off his estates and exercised immense control over the local economy and social structures. The Earl's persona makes an interesting study on its own, but given that his era coincided with a period of enormous social, economic and political change in Ireland, a review of his life and times yields fascinating insights into the lives of all the people who lived and worked during this time.
In many ways the history of Lough Rynn represents a microcosm of the history of the country, but in other ways it is an exception. Unusually, the first major settlement (by the MacRaghnaill clann) would last nearly a thousand years, until the 1600s. Leitrim largely escaped the Viking raids between 874 and 950 and was one of a handful of counties that escaped the 12th century Norman invasion. Subsequently, however, it was one of the first to be settled by the English in the 1600s. This meant that the old Irish feudal system and traditions continued in Leitrim far longer than in other counties but then disappeared much quicker with the arrival of English settlers. The significant social, economic and political shifts that took place during the mid-nineteenth century thus had their roots in the changing patterns of land ownership and society in the centuries and decades before.
Through the 18th and 19th centuries, under descendants of the English settlers, Lough Rynn experienced greater levels of benevolence and reform but also of autocracy and tyranny than in many other areas. The Clements family who owned Lough Rynn for 250 years were noteworthy and distinct from many of their ascendancy peers in terms of their financial acumen, artistic interests and talents, politically activism, liberal and radical views and strongly held sense of duty. And unlike most of their peers, they considered themselves Irish.
For many reasons, the history of Lough Rynn in the 19th century is of most interest to us. The consequences and impact of events and people of this time still live with us and it is close enough in time to touch us personally: our great-great grandparents could have lived on the Lough Rynn Estate during Lord Leitrim's time. Certainly the names listed in the census and rent books of the time remain common in the area: names like Reynolds, Moran, Shanley and Conefrey.
In studying the history of Lough Rynn, we are fortunate that a collection of unique manuscript and archive materials from Lough Rynn has survived. Early Annals provide an overview of events that shaped people's lives in the middle part of the millennium; records like Lord Leitrim's personal account book, contemporary local newspapers, the estate account books and rent ledgers, as well as state and local papers, provide a unique and superlative record of day-to-day life in the 19th century.
While the main part of this book recounts the life and times of the 3rd Earl of Leitrim, it also attempts to place his life in a wider context. It traces the lives of those who came before and after him and sets all of these against a background of major national and local events.