The Olden Days in Connemara: Nees, Collins, Mannions, Tooles

I have many unanswered questions about the olden days in Connemara.  Perhaps writing will help to crystalise them and assist in the process of answering some.

Having, now, some rudimentary knowledge about my forebears I can’t help but wonder about the day to day quality of their lives. What was it like to be Bridget Nee, whose mother was Mary Collins?  What was it like to grow up and live at Culliaghbeg and Derrynavglaun? Why were my ancestors living exactly there? How did they come to be there? Had their families farmed that land for centuries; or had they recently arrived? Were they musical people? Did they descend from a known sept or a learned family?

It was thrilling to discover, ten years ago now, that we have fourth cousins in Ireland. It was thrilling to meet them. We had grown up, in Adelaide, not knowing, for certain, that we have Irish ancestry so uncovering information and cousins was an affirming revelation. My grandfather (John Marron) would have been very pleased had he lived to know this; his mother Rose Anne Mannion was born at Glencoaghan.

Image 1

However now I find myself wondering about other things.

Michael Gibbons[1] answered one of my questions, at the Mannion Gathering at Clifden in 2012, when he said that, unlike many from Connemara, the Mannion ancestry was Irish only; when the Mannion family from Derrynavglaun, near Glencoaghan, lived in the stone house on the hillside near the spring in the nineteenth century, there were no English or Normans in their genealogy.

When my great grandmother, Rose Anne, came to South Australia with her father and brother in 1879 she was not yet five years old[2].  She spoke Irish. They moved in with her dad’s brother Michael Mannion, and his family, to their farm at Coomooroo. The three of them had sailed, without Rose Anne and Patrick’s mother Bridget Nee. Bridget had died when she was 30 in the infirmary of Clifden Workhouse on November 20, 1876 of dropsy[3]. By then Bridget had had five children. Martin’s brother Michael had applied for passage to South Australia for them in 1877[4] but when they finally came in 1879, on the Woodlark, it was only Martin and the two children.

Bridget Nee was from Cullagh. Culliaghbeg and Culliaghmore are near Leenane.  Martin Nee, Bridget’s father, rented there at the time of Griffith’s Valuation (around 1855).

Civil Marriage Clonbur 1. 13 Jun 1869. 

Martin Mannion of Glancloghin Farmer 30y (bach). His father Patrick Mannion, farmer.

 Bridget Nee of Cullagh 23y (spin). Her father Martin Nee tailor.

Witnesses; Patrick Mannion ,  Margaret Nee

Husband’s father is deceased.


I wonder whether Bridget Nee walked along the footpaths or across the mountains from Culliaghbeg to Derrynavglaun to meet Martin Mannion. Or whether she and Martin Mannion met at a fair.  Perhaps they travelled by horse and cart or perhaps they caught Bianconi’s bus. The Bus Station was at Canal Stage, close to Derrynavglaun[5]. Bianconi’s long cars were in operation since the 1830s. They changed horses at Derrynavglaun (Canal Stage).

Image 2


Our great aunt, Aunty Cis[6], oldest daughter of Rose Ann, told Mum (Eunice Marron) that the name Collins is also significant to our family history. Rose Ann’s mother was Mary Collins. Tobias Collins and Martin Nee were both tennants at Culliaghbeg in the Landed Estate Court Rentals ( 1850 – 1855). Tobias Collins, farmer, of Cullagbeg County Galway, was fined 5 shillings in 1868 for riding a horse furiously in the street in Westport. In Griffith’s, a John Collins rents from Edward Browne in Culliaghbeg; Ellen Collins and Thomas Collins rent in Maumtrasna, nearby. Perhaps there are Collins and Nees in the area today?

I have been informed that the Mannions of Derrynavglaun were large tennant farmers. Certainly, the ruins of their house at Derrynavglaun are substantial when compared to the cabins we know many farmers and labourers inhabited during the mid ninteenth century.

Image 3

I have read that Cromwell pushed the Mannions  west from Menlough[7] or Killoscobe; perhaps this is the ‘further east’ that Karen Mannion mentioned several years ago, saying that the Mannions had come west with the Martins?[8].

Image 4


Certainly Derrynavglaun and Glencoaghan are within the barony of Ballynahinch, the property since the eighteenth century, of the Martin family. It was from the Martins that the townlands were rented; quite close to the castle and the house facing Ballynahinch Lake. Could Irish tennant farmers have lived on a property without knowing the landlords personally? What also, of relationships between tennants?  In the nineteenth century the women who chose to marry a Mannion from Derrynavglaun seem to have come from far parts of Connemara; Island Earach, Culliaghbeg and Omey Island. How did they meet?

I have seen old photographs of young people chatting on the mountains whilst minding the sheep in the summer pastures. I have read that the young people were sent to the mountains where they lived in rapidly constructed shelters for a summer season. Did my ancestors do that? Did they, perhaps, work at Bianconi’s dwelling, stables and forge?

Image 5

Connemara schoolgirls

There was a National School in Ballinafad in 1842. Michael and Martin Mannion were literate; had they gone to school at Ballinafad, across the main Galway to Clifden road from Derrynavglaun? Michael was to marry Mary Coyne at the chapel at Killeen, Ballinafad[9] in 1858.

Image 6

Connemara schoolchildren

When Bridget and Martin baptised their children at Roundstone did they walk from their home in Glencoaghan?  Did they have shoes?  In 1876 a Pat Mannion was paid for “carriage of a pauper” to the workhouse. Could this be Patrick Mannion, brother of Martin and father of Tommy (their father, Patt, had died before Martin married in 1869)?[10] In the Minutes of the Board of Guardians of Clifden workhouse ‘the Master reports that the storm on the night of the 3rd (November) blew some slates off the Fever Hospital and some off the Kitchen. A slater is required for some time to repair them[11].  Repair was ordered. Was my great-grandmother in the Fever Hospital, at the time the slates blew off, with her deadly ‘dropsy’?

Also, in the minutes,  I found – “ Having read the invoice for medicine ordered by Dr Brodie for the dispensary at Renvyle….the Board seeing such an excessive estimate as  £61.4.7…. request that Dr Brodie revise the amount with the view of reducing same. Signed; Walter Wall. J Byrne, Richard Kearney”[12] Could my great-grandmother have lived had Dr Brodie had sufficient money with which to buy medicine?

“It is true that there has not been any neglect by the Clerk reported as that officer is most efficient and attentive in the discharge of his duties and in reference to the failure of the guardians to form a quorum for the discharge of business so frequently that the Poor Law Board should be reminded of the peculiar nature of the District – the great distance between the workhouse and the residences of the guardians and the difficulty of travelling long distances in the country in tempestuous weather.”

One paragraph comments upon the inmates not being provided with shoes. In response “the guardians beg to say that persons of as similar class to those referred to – who are maintaining themselves outside the workhouse  do not wear shoes and the guardians consider it inexpedient to supply shoes to such as never have worn shoes when maintaining themselves – but in every case of an infirm or delicate person being recommended shoes by the Medical officer, shoes are at once supplied.”

In response to a letter of complaint from Rev P J Lydon on December 19th 1876 the following was given – “The Master states that the condition of the workhouse graveyard is not as stated in the letter now read for that same is fenced from trespass of cattle and that no coffins are exposed to view from want of sufficient covering of earth.”[13]

This is not to suggest that life was much easier here in South Australia. I have studied the lives of my other, Irish and non-Irish, ancestors and I have found hardship, shoelessness and sadness there too. (Although the above-mentioned Michael Gibbons suggested  to me that those who went to America had it even tougher.)

Image 7

Interior of house at Maam Cross.

Martin Mannion was only here in South Australia for twelve years. He went back to Clifden in 1890, leaving his two children behind. Rose Anne married  the widower John Marron in 1895 and Patrick worked for the Railways. Both appear to have suffered from depression, possibly exacerbated by hardship during the next decade.  The land here had been too densely settled north of Goyder’s Line[14] and the farms were too small to sustain the people so the process of giving up on farming and learning alternative means of earning a living had to be endured. Martin had tried farming, taking up land at Belton, but Belton is very dry and suitable only for stock on huge properties.

Martin married again a few years after he got back to Clifden. By that time Clifden was different. He seems to have become reclusive and over-protective of the two children he had with his second wife Nora Sullivan.  Perhaps he had idealised Ireland whilst in Australia and was disappointed to find that home did not live up to his memories. Perhaps he had been reluctant to leave Connemara in the first place.

Son O’Rosey Mannion     Words and Music by Steve Perry

                                           these are lyrics to be sung to a song    

something a little bit like what Rory Gallagher

would have done…..


She said I was born to have adventure
And cross the Goyder Line
Dont stay here scratchin from the stubble
Leave ur loved ones way behind
I am the son o’rosey mannion 
n she sent me on my way
An I’m runnin hard f u dear 
n I likely cannot stay 
She said u have a nervous nature
She liked the cut a my jib
I said can u point me to the highway
Ifn u maybe know where that is
O yeah u are a cool one
Butter wouldnt melt in ur mouth
Yes I well know that direction
Its the one that travels south    /       /   bell toll   
I am th son o’rosey mannion 
N she sent me on my way
An I’m runnin here f u dear 
An I likely cannot stay
What u got u better hold it
So much blood n memory
Belong to me if I can take it
I’ll cross that crystal sea  

The images of Connemara schools are reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.

The Maam interior is courtesy of University College Dublin, Library, Folklore Photograph Collection.

The images of rural Connemara (Benlettery and Ballynahinch) taken between 1893 and 1895 are reproduced courtesy of the James Hardiman Library, NUI Galway. They are to be found here – The Balfour Album

[1] A famous County Galway archaeologist.

[2] She had been baptised at Roundstone (Register 1) on 8.11.1874, her sponsors being  Patrick Conry and Margaret Conry. In 1875 Patrick Conry and his spouse Honor Nee, who lived at Glencoaghan, had a daughter, Mary.

[3] After several years of searching I visited the Galway Archives where I read the Clifden Workhouse documents for around 1870. I was shocked to find Bridget Mannion’s death recorded.

[4] Immigration Certificate No. 222 was issued in March 1877. It was for both the Mannion and O’Toole families – Martin and Bridget and  two sons – Joseph and Michael and Michael and Mary O’Toole. In 1877, Mary and Michael O’Toole arrived on the Scottish Lassie with their daughter Mary. They too lived at Mannions’ farm at Coomooroo (for ten years). Michael Toole was a cousin of Michael Mannion, probably a nephew of Michael and Martin Mannion’s mother.

[5] In 1853 at Derrynavglaun (Griffith’s Valuation House Books) we find Patrick Mangan (Mannion) with a house and offices, Christopher Mulkern, Charles Bianconi with a dwelling, stables and forge and John Fitzpatrick with a house. At Glencoaghan are Hugh and Arthur Mcnally, Mary Mangan, Bridget Mangan and John Mangan, all with houses.

[6] Born: Bridget Gertrude Ellen Mary Marron at Morchard, South Australia on July 15th 1898.

[7] Email from Leonard G Manning <>

[8] See also the journal IRISH ARCH. SOC. 9

[9] In the Field Books – National Library of Ireland – there were no houses in Derrynavglaun, Ballinafad and Glencoaghan worth 5pounds per year.

[10] From records of Clifden Workhouse from 15 April 1876.

[11] P 254 Minutes, Clifden Workhouse.

[12]P 225 Minutes, Clifden Workhouse Board of Guardians

[13] P 255 as above

[14] Although the north of South Australia is very dry, immigrants demanded that land be made available there for farming. The Government commissioned a study, to be carried out by Mr Goyder, of rainfall and other conditions. Mr Goyder marked areas where there was too little rain but there was such an outcry that they gave in and allowed the ‘opening up’ of the north. Bitter experience proved Mr Goyder correct.


About the Author:

Jan Perry is from Australia and is a frequent visitor to Ireland.

Whilst growing up we had only a vague feeling that our ancestry was partly Irish on our mother’s side. Mum’s grandparents, on the Marron side, had both died and her grandmother, Rose Ann Mannion, had actually been born in Glenhoaghan. It took years before I uncovered the information,however, once I had retired from work. We were all fascinated; Mum,before she died, Chris, Steve (my brothers) and I.

Mum and Dad had already visited Clifden but they were too shy to ask about the Mannions. Uncle Len, Mum’s brother, had visited too. The first time I visited I just looked around a little. I was with a couple of friends. We did drive up the skinny road into Glencoaghan and talk to some people there – by this time I knew that Rose Ann’s mother’s name was Bridget Nee and her dad was Martin Mannion.

Each subsequent trip was more and more revealing. It all culminated in the wonderful Mannion Family Gathering.





Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *