Mill Lane, Abbeyshrule

On the right: Ruined Cabins in Mill Lane, Abbeyshrule, in the mid-20th century. None stand today.

These pages include a cover page on Abbeyshrule, the account of my 1987 trip that I wrote soon after it, a more lightweight account of the joys of dealing with octogenarians in Abbeyshrule called Touring with Tom, this page of information about Mill Lane where our Joneses seem to have lived, and, for a full treatment of what we know about the Joneses in Abbeyshrule, a link to my David Jones page.

As mentioned, the brother of the owner of the Rustic Inn was said to have much information on Abbeyshrule. After returning to the US, I mailed, on July 30, letters to him and to the parish priest at Abbeyshrule. The latter had not replied as of mid-October. In September, however, Mr McGoey belatedly answered. The major part of his letter reads as follows:

     "There are a few sources which we can tap with regards to your great grandfather John Jones. The obvious ones are the Griffith Valuations of 1850 and the earlier Tithe Records of circa 1820. Both of these have been catalogued by the National Library of Ireland and I acquired microfiche copies of these some years ago. I am glad to relate that in the name indexes there is one family ONLY of the name JONES in the entire area of South County Longford. The head of this household was one DAVID JONES living at the time of the famine in Mill Lane in the village of Abbeyshrule. This man in all probability was your great great grandfather. He held a tenancy in a mud cabin together in the same area of Mill Lane with twenty like cabins from the Royal Canal Company. It is highly likely that these people were originally employed by the Canal Company during the construction of this waterway in 1819 and were migrant families there when the canal was completed in 1827. It is not behyond conjecture that your ancestors were of Welsh origin who migrated into Abbeyshrule where they escaped the worst ravages of the famine by working for the large flour mill of the family of Coates situated at the end of Mill Lane (Ref Lewis Topographical Dictionary 1852). Mill Lane was an area of some notoriety in the village and indeed had a national dimension. You might find some amusing reading on this hallowed spot in James Woods "Annals of Westmeath'', Wm Bulfins "Rambles in Erin'', and Rolt, "Green and Silver'' all of which should be available in a good reference library.
     "It is my intention of looking further and the old book you mention in your letter is in fact the old catholic register of briths, marriages and deaths of the district. Unfortunately it does not commence until circa 1845 but I am hopeful I can trace some other ancestoral data on the Jones family. There are also the King Harman Rent Books extant for later peirods and indeed before which might yield something. I will also get a photo copy of the Griffith entry showing the actual Lease entry of David Jones. this must wait until the coimng winter when I generally look at this manuscript material.''

    McGoey never wrote again, and I ultimately had to get the Griffith's Valuation entry through other channels. His comments about Mill Lane, however, were puzzling: what did he mean by "an area of some notoriety in the village and indee dhad a national dimension"?

     The location, in Mill Lane, may also connect with a later David Jones, discussed elsewhere in these pages. The Jones who was a blacksmith and married Kitty Burrows (or was she a Jones?) was "in the houses down by the Canal'', referring to where Mill Lane once stood. But the name David Jones appears again, as the owner of  "David Jones' Gardens'', the date of the fire of which was uncertain but certainly much later than 1850 and probably early in the 20th century.  As will be seen, Mill Lane became a somewhat disreputable spot, and the later David Jones probably was prosperous enough to be well away from it, since he could own land. This is of course conjecture; neither the later David Jones nor the blacksmith Jones are ancestors of ours, though they may also be descended from the earlier David Jones.

     Mr McGoey's somewhat curious reference to Mill Lane's ``notoriety'' with ``a national dimension'' took some time to unravel, since the books he referred to were not found in Georgetown University Library and had to be consulted at the Library of Congress. Mill Lane, it seems, had early on become a camping ground for tinkers (the Irish version of Gypsies), and the old thatched cabins in which Jones and others had lived when the Canal was being built apparently remained as a rather decrepit part of town. James Woods' 1907 Annals of Westmeath Ancient and Modern has this to say:

     "Abbeyshrule a pretty little village and well fertilized by the waters of the Inny and Royal Canal. It contains three public houses, a Catholic Church, and a police barrack. All great cities in their palmy days had their privleged haunts; London had its Alsatia; Dublin its Coombe; and Abbeyshrule has Mill Lane. The inhabitants of this classic locality are principally composed of chimney sweepers, tinkers, marine dealers, and a small sprinkling of sieve makers. From a community formed from such incongruous materials the place is in a state of chronic revolt against authorities, civil and sanitary. The houses are low structures formed into tenements separated by partitions about six feet high, which form admirable barricades for offensive or defensive operations whenever the war hatchet is exhumed. In times of feud these artless people amuse themselves by throwing large quantities of water, stones and other missiles across the walls at each other, and such is the desterity of these untutored children of nature, that a favourite boast of theirs is -- that a neighbours hen can be stolen, cooked and eaten, before the owner discovers the loss.''
William Bulfin, an Irish expatriate from Argentina, whose Travels in Eirinn was a bestseller, is quoted in Woods at somewhat greater detail than in his own book:
     "It all flashed upon me then. I was in the notorious Mill Lane of which I had heard many a time and oft far away on the Pampas, in corral, or chiquero, or at the wool tables in the shearing time, when the sun-tanned exiles of Longford or Westmeath recalled some story of ``The Tinkers of Abbeyshrule'' ... Abbeyshrule is not to blame for Mill Lane, nor do the people of the village or the district around believe in anything but a policy of arm's length for the outcast wanderers.''

     While Bulfin makes it sound as if the Tinkers had lived in Mill Lane for many years, McGoey's remark that the mud cabins in Mill Lane were held in tenancy from the Royal Canal Company suggests that they were originally built for workers along the Canal (like David Jones?) and later became the disreputable area of a tinkers' camp. A later account, and the only pictures I know of of Mill Lane, appears in the 1949 book Green and Silver mentioned by McGoey, an account of, among other things, a trip down the Royal Canal:

     "The row of cabins at Abbeysrule [as the author spells it] between the canal and the river ... With their moss-covered, leaky thatch and windowless ruined walls, they would have made poor shelters for cattle, yet all were occupied ... Turf smoke was pouring out of the doorway and through the roof of one of them.'' A xerox of the photo is attached as perhaps the only record of what a cabin in Mill Lane looked like before it was removed. Nothing stands there today except grass.