Arthur Reginald 5th Baron Defreyne 1879-1915 sss

Photo part of The George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress)

Arthur Reginald, or Reggie as he was known, had a testing childhood what with his mother Laura Octavia dying shortly after his birth and his father, Arthur French of Frenchpark House, subsequently remarrying. Reggie was presently sent to boarding school in England and here he found the regimental lifestyle so much to his liking that at the age of 20 he joined the military. Within 2 years he was a Lieutenant with the Royal Fusiliers at Hythe Barracks in Kent but before long would be wed in a union that greatly shocked his family. His new wife, a divorcee named Annabelle Angus, had come from modest stock – her father was a publican, and she herself was working as a barmaid when Reggie first encountered her at Banffshire Scotland. She also came into the marriage with a child from a previous relationship – a son that came to be remembered as Roland True, the convicted murderer who spent the majority of his life in Broadmoor Hospital – a facility for the criminally insane.

While the marriage was never legally dissolved the couple soon parted ways as Reggie, realising his blunder, left his regiment and sailed to the States in 1905. He travelled with the notion of joining the Northwest Mounted Police while a visit to his trailblazing uncle William French on the New Mexico frontier must also have seemed appealing to the young traveller. When he vanished shortly after his arrival into the States foul play was immediately suspected and a country wide hunt involving the British Consulate and American police was initiated, happily reported by the scandal hungry paparazzi. He was eventually discovered at an American military barracks in New York having registered as a private a week after arriving in the States. The nonplussed Reggie declared that he liked his new job and he proposed to stay in the army for the foreseeable future. Furthermore he vowed to never return to England.

His regiment subsequently transferred to South America and Reggie went with it disappearing from public life for a number of year only sending home occasional letters to his father, one of which tellingly referred to terminating his wife’s allowance. Upon his father’s death in 1913 Reggie bought his way out of the American draft and returned home as the 5th Baron Defreyne but alas he would not be home for long. The following year the Great War broke out and Reggie like many others of his age enlisted to fight for the cause. Unfortunately he would be killed on 9th May 1915 in Flanders alongside with his half-brother George Phillip French who fell in the same action. They were both laid to rest in the Cabaret-Rouge British Cemetery at Souchez, Pas-de-Calais in Northern France.

Reggie was succeeded as Baron Defreyne by his half-brother Francis Charles but in the following years the French family began to have less and less association with the village of Frenchpark. By now the French family lived primarily in London and the old residence slowly became more dilapidated as family finances and societal principles changed. The final furniture and fitting effects of the house were auctioned off on 4th November 1953 and the interior was dismantled. Despite objections by the President of the National Trust of Ireland and regional proposals to form an agricultural college for the locality Frenchpark House, which had housed the French family since the mid-17th century, was razed leaving the present day ruins that remind of past greatness.


Leitrim Townland tenant map 1895 sss


1 – Pat Higgins (minor)                                          41 – John Breslin (late Dominick Donlon)

2 – James Forde (Rep. Michael)                            42 – Thomas Connor

3 – Frank Forde                                                     43 – William Higgins

4 – Tom Browne                                                     44 – John Vesey

5 – Mary McDermott                                            45 – Martin McGarry

6 – Thomas Oates                                                   46 – John Peyton (Andrew)

8 – Peter McGarry                                                 47 – Ellen & John Higgins

9 – Thomas Owens                                                 48 – Catherine Higgins

10 – John McGarry (Cleggernagh)                        49 – James Keenan

11 – Bernard McGarry (Cleggernagh)                  50 – John Grady & Pat

12 – John Dyer (Rep. James)                                51 – John Killeen

13 – James Callaghan                                           52 – Thomas Keigher

14 – Catherine Oates (Deceased)                         52a – Peter Flanagan (subtenant)

15 – Thomas Henaghan                                        53 – Luke Raftery (Rep. Wid. Anne)

16 – Catherine Madden                                       54 – Francis Browne

17 – Bernard Staunton                                        55 – John Peyton (Patrick)

18 – Mary Scally                                                  56 – John Kane

19 – Pat Dyer                                                       57 – Bernard Mullaney

20 – Thomas Kane                                                58 – John Higgins (Rep. Wid. Higgins)

21 – James Forde                                                  59 – Bernard Moffit

22 – Owen Peyton                                                60 – Willima Corcoran                  

     -William Beirne – subtenant                          60a – William Corcoran (late Michael Walsh)

23 – Roger Forde                                                  61 – Michael Beirne

24 – Thomas O’Brien                                            62 – Martin Flanagan

25 – Thomas Keigher                                            63 – Margaret Conor (Wid.)

26 – James Armstrong                                          64 – Bertley Mullaney

27 – Bridget Lavin                                               65 – Andrew Webb

28 – Michael Carroll (Rep.)                                  66 – Martin Beirne

29 – Mary Higgins                                                67 – Peter Gara

30 – James Fahey and William Owens               68 – John Kerrane

31 – Pat Connor                                                   69 – Pat Raftery (Rep. Bernard Raftery)

32 – Robert O’Connor                                         70 – Pat Higgins (Cloonfinglass)

33 – Robert Connor & Pat Connor                    71 – Lord DeFreyne – BOG

34 – James & Thomas Creaton

35 – John Peyton

36 – John Peyton

37 – Pat Kirrane

38 – Thomas Oates (Mullen)

– Thomas Towey present occupier

39 – John Breslin

40 – John Lee

(Sourced from the DeFreyne Estate Papers NLI)



Scarlet Fever in 19th century Ireland sss

Before the advent of antibiotics and hygienic practices in the home a serious concern existed for parents of young children who were especially susceptible to infectious diseases common in the Victorian era. Across major European cities poor sanitation and overcrowding meant illnesses like typhus, cholera, influenza and smallpox were greatly feared and in many cases reached epidemic proportions. In 1846 Ireland, as the Great Famine tightened its grip on the country, many sought refuge in places like Glasgow and Liverpool bringing with them a form of typhus, known as ‘The Irish Typhus’ thus adding to problems already facing the city dwellers. By 1847 a new virulent form of this had enveloped the British Isles killing 30,000 in that year alone.

Back in Ireland meanwhile concerns for another infectious disease, Scarlet Fever, was making people anxious. Also known as Scarlatina, this is an illness caused by the Streptococci bacteria which causes sore throat, high temperature and swollen glands but was known to have more serious consequences in the past. Delays in diagnosing the Fever, and lax treatment in the early stages often resulted in a rapid spread of the infection and children caught up in the 19th century epidemics were seen to succumb to it within 48 hours.

Historically, it is known that many infections came from ingesting unpasteurised milk that had been handled by an infected carrier, but more commonly the disease was contacted within the family home from a loved one. Small cramped living quarters allowed the bacterial infection to spread through human contact while it also became airborne through coughing and sneezing, all which unfortunately passed the disease from one child to another. The fatal consequences were that whole families were wiped out within a matter of weeks where had the original patient been isolated, containment of the disease would have prevented extended losses.

Initially presenting as a sore throat with fever and ‘strawberry tongue’ where the tongue appeared coated in a white film, the infection progressed rapidly. A rash covered the body and the glands became swollen along with the tongue which caused breathing difficulties. Severe headaches, nausea and abdominal pain were also common but for the many who were unable to fight off the contagion death swiftly followed.

Even those lucky enough to survive were often left with debilitating long term effects including liver and kidney damage, meningitis, rheumatic fever, and pneumonia as their damaged immune system proved unable to fight off a secondary infection.

Present-day antibiotics, such as penicillin, have reduced the harmful effects of this ailment but as recently as the late 1880’s it was the most common infectious diseases causing death among children in Europe. Some regions recording deaths attributed to the disease exceed 30% fatalities surpassing even that of measles, whooping cough and diphtheria.

In 1892 the Fever visited the family of Moffit of Cloonsheevers, between the towns of Castlerea and Frenchpark, and the result was devastating. In early May the youngest child, Patrick, had contracted the infection and was already displaying concerning symptoms. By the 4th of the month he had died aged just 4½. Two days later his older sister passed away aged 7½ followed the next day by her older brother Edward who died from the disease aged 12½. The following day their brother Thomas died of the infection at 14 years of age and became the last child to die from the disease in the house leaving behind just one brother, John Moffit. He would have been about 10 years old at the time. Sadly within two weeks there was another loss in the house, with the children’s maternal grandmother Mary Quinn passing away of old age debilities while staying at the family home. It is probable that the bacterial infection that was present in the building, though not listed as a causal factor in her death, hastened her passing or perhaps watching four of her grandchildren die within a matter of days was simply too much for her to bear.

On the 29 June the children’s father Patt Moffit travelled the short distance to Frenchpark and registered all of the deaths that had taken place the previous month in his house, including his four young children and his mother-in-law. The location of the resting places of the departed children is unknown but a family plot is present at Fairymount and is the closest cemetery to Cloonsheevers townland.


Civil Death Registers


George French of Innfield sss


As the present political landscape sometimes illustrates the sheer antipathy of opposing parties to each other it is often interesting to note how these campaigns were fought out in the past

Take the Roscommon election campaign in 1770 when George French of Innfield offered his candidacy for the seat alongside an adversary in the shape of Edward Crofton. George had come from a political dynasty stretching back to his grandfather, John French who in 1695 represented Carrick-on-Shannon in parliament; his father Arthur having been elected to Knights of the Shire for Roscommon in 1722.

Crofton’s own ancestral stock appears to have descended from the Lawder family of Scotland who settled in Leitrim county in the 16th century but the election campaign involving George French was his first foray into the Roscommon political scene. This race for election though was one that would be remembered for the intense emotion and hatred that the two candidates had for each other. During a particularly animated debate between the two a vicious aspersion was slung from the hustings by Crofton, alleging fraudulent behaviour of a previous French administration while treasurer of the county. Such was the perceived insult to the family name felt by George that a peaceful resolution was not possible and he sent word of a challenge to Crofton. A duel was duly arranged to take place at the rear of Roscommon Castle ruins with pistols being the weapon of choice. When the time came Crofton fired the first shot striking his rival in the thick part of the thigh. George suffered a vicious wound with the blast nearly blowing off his leg which couldn’t be saved. The leg, once amputated, was carried to a nearby church and buried with George joining it just days later from massive blood loss.

This loss to the French family was great but further misfortune was to follow in the coming years. Georges, brothers John and Robert were both to drown during a crossing of the Irish sea in 1775, and in doing so left the estate in the hands of the unprepared Arthur.

The deceased George French left behind a widow bride and a young daughter, Sarah, who would become the great grandmother of Douglas Hyde, the first President of the Irish Free State.


A genealogical and heraldic history of the landed gentry and commoners of Great Britain and Ireland Burke 1838

John D’Alton, Memoir of the family of French De la Freyne, De Freyne, Frenshe, Ffrench etc, Dublin 1847

Skeffington Gibbon, The Recollections of Skeffington Gibbon from 1796 to the present year, Dublin 1829

Janet E. Dunleavy, Douglas Hyde- A Maker of Modern Ireland, Oxford 1991


Thady Kearns and son sss

ballinasloe lunatic asylum

courtesy of

11 May 1898 the Castlerea Petty Session courts saw a case brought forward by Thady Kearns of Lissergool against his own son Thady jr. The charge levied focused on events at their home two days previously, in which the accused threatened to ‘do away with himself’ and at the same time threatened his father with assault. A returning verdict was reached by the attending magistrates that Thady jr was a dangerous lunatic and was to be committed to Ballinasloe Lunatic Asylum (BLA).

Considering the swiftness at which the case was heard after the row it is safe to assume that the threat was serious enough but just how afflicted was Thady jr and did it warrant institutionalisation. With little other information it is obviously difficult to decide either way but it is worth remembering that very little actual evidence was required in these cases. The Dangerous Lunatics Act of 1838, gave tremendous power to accusers and contrariwise little to the accused. Anybody could in effect make an accusation against another, for instance a troublesome son, who could be arrested and charged. It was then up to the medical attendant to decide if they were actually insane, where the all-encompassing term could conceivably include those suffering from common ailments such as epilepsy and the psychiatric symptoms associated with it.

The time period that Thady Kearns Jr. was being placed into care, corresponds with an era of great increases of mentally ill patients being admitted to the expanding number of mental care facilities being built around the country. In fact Ireland at this stage displayed ‘the most rapid proportionate growths in asylum admissions in the world.’

So what became of Thady Kearns jr? Once convicted it is likely that he would have been placed in a prison until such time as a place became available at Ballinasloe, with some writers estimating that this period could have lasted up to 12 months.

Though great strides had been made in medical health in the preceding century still the patients would have undoubtedly experienced archaic care in this overcrowded facility. This care inevitably still involved electro-therapy or even contemporary instances of the controversial psycho-surgery, where the connective tissue between the two frontal lobes was severed. Opiates were also in widespread use as ways of ‘relaxing’ particularly psychotic individuals who commonly found themselves restrained for considerable periods.

An inmate that found themselves released from any Lunatic Asylum would however have found themselves inexorably linked with the building. A.J. Saris article of 1996 states that you aught to ‘very careful of putting someone in a psychiatric hospital, because once it’s done, you’ve done something to him that can never be undone.’

Consequently if Thady ever found himself being released from BLA, he would have found ridding himself of the stain that he was an inmate hopeless and this same stain would furthermore have fallen on the Kearns family. The prospects of him marrying now would be gone and also the possibility of inheriting anything meaningful from his father.

A search for Thady in the Irish census returns in the years following his admittance into the institution of BLA proves sadly inconclusive. Like all healthcare facility, BLA list the patients simply by initials and so the closest to placing Thady here would be a T. K. (for Thady Kearns) or possibly T. C. (for Thady Cairns) of which there are many.

A civil death certificate listing Thady Carins death on 13 September 1898 while resident at the District Asylum at Ballinasloe certainly refers to Thady Jr and offers up some further information. Cause of death in this instance indicate that general wasting occurred as a result of ‘phthisis’- a disease characterised by wasting away of the body, possibly through Tuberculosis. Sadly this infectious disease was almost certainly picked up in his short four months stay at Ballinasloe where the close quarter of all patients meant any infectious disease was rife.


Electricity: a history of its use in the treatment of mental illness in Britain during the second half of the 19th century
A W Beveridge and E B Renvoize, British Journal of Psychiatry (1988), 153, pg 157-162

Asylums, Mental Health Care and the Irish: Historical Studies, 1800-2010, Pauline Prior editor, Irish Academy Press, July 2012

Saris, A. J. (1996), Mad Kings, Proper Houses and an Asylum in Rural Ireland. American Anthropologist vol 98 issue 3

Oonagh Walsh, ‘tales from the big House’ the Connacht District Lunatic Asylum in the late nineteenth century, Published in 18th-19th Century Social Perspectives, 18th–19th – Century History, Features, Issue 6 (Nov/Dec 2005), Volume 13.

Civil death record of Thady Kearns 1898

Native Ireland