Watch the history of Ireland unfold in front of your eyes at Glen Keen
By the early 1600s, less than 5% of Irish people owned land in Ireland. Britain owned 95% of all of the land in Ireland and controlled the country. The land was divided into large estates owned by British landlords who charged the Irish tenants rent for small parcels of property on the estate.
Gleann Caoin (Irish: the gentle/mild glen)
In 1641, the proprietor of Glankenie was Richard McWalter McJordane. In Petty’s map of 1683, Glankenie becomes Glankeyne, and prior to the Irish Famine, the village of Glankeen had a large population. In fact, the 1836 OSI Heritage map shows a number of cluster tenant farm cabins at Glen Keen. One of these clusters still remains to the present day.
The Great Hunger of the 1840s devastated the region, and by 1851, the Glen Keen population had plummeted to 31 males and 34 females. A total of 108 had fallen to 65, and 22 homesteads became only 12.
Landownership in early 19th century Ireland was the preserve of a small minority; the overall population in 1804 was slightly under 5.5 million of whom no more than 10,000 were land proprietors. Confiscations through Plantations and later under Cromwell, Charles II, William III and the Penal Laws had resulted in Protestants owning 95% of Ireland’s total acreage by the late 1770s.
In early 19th century Ireland, the letting of land in communal partnership was common. This joint tenancy was known as “rundale.” Many landlords were absentees and allowed middlemen to run their estates. There was an over-dependence on the potato as a staple food, and between 1816 and 1842, there were at least 14 partial or general failures of the potato crop.
Philip O’Malley and others had arrived in the Glen Keen area, having endured forced migration from the Killmilkin/Maam Valley area of north Connemara. Philip married Mary Burke, who was from the Ugool area, and in 1824, the cess/tax levy imposed on their Glenkeen tenancy by the Grand Jury of Mayo was a hefty £0-15-00.Philip and Mary’s son, William (1826 – 1889), who was married to Mary Kilcoyne (1830-1905), succeeded as tenant on the holding, but sadly, the family and others were evicted around 1847. The evictions took place on a market day when the majority of the males would be at the local market in Louisburgh. They returned to devastion at Glen Keen. Their homes (stone & thatch cabins) had been completely levelled. Luckily, the O’Malley’s had some coins buried in their garden, which gave them the means to move to another holding.
The family moved to Bouris, which was not part of the Lord Sligo estate and was owned by Sir Roger Palmer. While William and family were tenants in Bouris after 1847, William had also become tenant of 58 acres in Old Head by 1867. The landlord there was Lord Sligo. Their family continued to do well. In the family, there were two priests, Fr. William O’Malley, a Catholic priest who went to the Rocky Mountains in the United States, and his brother, Fr. John O’Malley, who stayed in Ireland. It was Fr. John, the chief organizer of the struggle, who brought Captain Boycott to his knees, won a noted victory for the Land League in Ireland, and invented the word ‘boycott’. There is a monument dedicated to the memory of Fr. John located in the Neale near Ashford Castle, Co. Mayo.
William and Mary’s daughter, Mary, married John McNamara of Crickeen, and in 1909, their grand-daughter, Margaret McNamara, married Hugh O’Grady. The young couple settled in the O’Grady family home in Shraroosky. Hugh was a former herdsman on the Houston Farm; in 1854, this huge area of the parish had been leased by Lord Sligo to William Houston for 31 years. The area included all of the lands at Glen Keen.
In 1885, the Ashbourne Land Act prepared the way for tenant proprietorship. The Wyndham Act of 1903 led to the abolition of landlordism, and the tenant farmers were becoming the owners of their holdings.
Hugh O’Grady and his wife, Margaret (nee McNamara), who was grand-daughter of the evicted William O’Malley, acquired the present Glen Keen property through a land purchase agreement with the Land Commission. Margaret had received some assistance for the deposit from her uncles, Fr. William and Fr. John.
Together with their young family, Hugh and Margaret moved to the former Lord Sligo’s Farm Manager’s House at Glen Keen in 1922. Hugh passed away in 1948, and Margaret continued the land purchase payments and looked after the farm with the help of her family. There are a number of historical documents and land purchase receipts on display at the visitor centre at Glen Keen.
In 1970, Margaret passed away, and her sons continued to run and operate the large estate at Glen Keen. The farm was stocked with Scottish Blackface Mountain sheep, cattle, horses, and poultry.
Today, it is Margaret’s grand-daughter, Catherine, and her husband, Jim, who are the current owners of the Glen Keen Estate.