Notes on Abbeyshrule, 1987

These pages include a home page on Abbeyshrule, this page, which is 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, and, for a full treatment of what we know about the Joneses in Abbeyshrule, a link to my David Jones page.

[What follows is the account I originally wrote for family after my visit to Abbeyshrule in 1987. I have not updated it beyond some updates made immediately after the trip. I have left in some stuff I probably would edit out today. A similar description of Athlone will be posted soon.]

     Abbeyshrule, a village in County Longford, Ireland, is the place where John Jones was born in August of 1828. Beyond this fact, little more was known for certain about the connection of the village to the Jones family prior to my July 1987 visit to the village. Since that time, some additional information has emerged.

   John Jones came to America in 1859, but since he followed his future wife Frances O'Reilly, and since it is more likely that he had moved to the large town of Athlone than that she had met him in the small village of Abbeyshrule, the logical assumption is that as a result of the Famine of 1847-48 and the flight from the land (he would have been about 20 at the time), he is likely to have moved to Athlone, unless both had moved to some third place. Although there was considerable population shift in the 19th century due to Abbeyshrule's position on the Royal Canal, there is no reason to doubt that the Jones family had been in the village for a generation or more. [Note: these notes remain as written in 1987, before I had information about David Jones of Wales.]

    "Jones'' is a Welsh name by origin, but there are Joneses found in every county of Ireland and many of them are Catholic, suggesting they have been there a long time and are not part of the Anglo-Irish, Protestant immigration. There are a number of Jones families in Longford, though none still in Abbeyshrule; there are Joneses in Taghshinny, a few miles away, but these are said to be Protestants. More will be said shortly about Joneses in Abbeyshrule.

The Village

     Abbeyshrule today [1987] is a tiny village, the central part consisting of only a handful of buildings and the total population of the area being today fewer than 200, counting neighboring farmsteads. It is, however, of considerable antiquity.

     Abbeyshrule is located in County Longford but only about a mile from the border of Westmeath. It is about four miles from Ballymahon by road (less as the crow flies) and about 15 miles west of the important town of Mullingar. It is perhaps eight miles south of Edgeworthstown (Mostrim), and about 18 miles from Athlone, which lies to the southwest. Some six miles to the west is the eastern shore of Lough Ree on the Shannon. Abbeyshrule is close to the traditional center of Ireland, the Hill of Uisneach, where the historic kingdoms of Ireland traditionally joined; Uisneach lies some eight miles to the southeast. (To reach Abbeyshrule from Dublin: take the N4 to Mullingar and then the R392 west until a crossroads about 13 miles west, with a sign for ``The Rustic Inn''. Or, take the R393 from Mullingar west through Ballynacarrigy until it intersects with the R399 to Colehill; before reaching Colehill there is a road to the left with a marker for Abbeyshrule.)

     Abbeyshrule lies on the River Inny, a tributary of the Shannon which flows into Lough Ree a few miles west of Ballymahon. It also lies on the Royal Canal, the early 19th century canal from the Irish Sea to the Shannon; at Abbeyshrule an 1817 aqueduct carries the Canal over the Inny. Along the Inny is some red bog land.

     Abbeyshrule is known as Mainistir Sruthra in its Irish (Gaelic) name. It takes its English name from a ruined Abbey, once known as Srohill or Shrule, in the traditional Barony of Shrule. The Abbey's origins are quite ancient; there is a record of the death of an Abbot there dating to 901 AD. A cross in the ruins of the Abbey is said to date from the pre-Viking period; the VIkings, coming up the Shannon, destroyed the Abbey. It was rebuilt in 1340, according to one account, by O'Farrell, Prince of Annally, as a Cistercian Monastery and a daughter Abbey of Mellifont, the first Cisterican Abbey in Ireland and modeled on the reformist Clermont model of St. Bernard. Abbeyshrule remained an Abbey until the suppression of the monastic orders after the Protestant Reformation, in the reign of the first Elizabeth. She granted it and all the lands around to Robert Dillon, Earl of Roscommon.

     The historical marker on the Abbey ruins reads as follows in English:

     "The Abbey of Shrule (Flumen Dei), founded from Mellifont about the year 1200, through the generosity of the ruling family of the district, the O'Fearghail (O'Farrell), is often confused with another Cistercian foundation, that of Kilbeggan (Benedictio Dei) in Westmeath, founded c. 1150.

     "Shrule Abbey, which was burned by an Army of the English of Meath in 1476, was dissolved in 1539 and its possessions alienated. The Cistercian succession, however, was apparently maintained, as Gerald O Fearghail appears as commendatory or titular Abbot of Shrule in the middle of the 17th Century.

   The ruins of the Abbey of Abbeyshrule stand adjacent to the town cemetery just south of the village proper.

    The country is generally flat by Irish standards, with a gentle rolling nature. It is heavily agricultural and pastoral, mostly the latter, with cattle raising apparently the primary economic enterprise. The cattle are black and white. The country lanes in the area appear to run along very old paths, and are ``sunken roads'', often several feet below the level of the surrounding farmland. In some areas, trees alongside the road bend over to provide a closed canopy over the road.

     Only about two miles from Abbeyshrule lies the site of Pallas, where the poet and playwright Oliver Goldsmith was born. The area between Abbeyshrule and Lough Ree likes to bill itself as ``Goldsmith country'', and more than one town reportedly claim to be the original of Goldsmith's ``Auburn'' (''Sweet Auburn, Loveliest Village of the Plain...'') in his famous ``The Deserted Village''. The realtively empty nature of Abbeyshrule today tempts one to quote:

Sweet smiling village, loveliest of the lawn,
Thy sports are fled, and all thy charms withdrawn;
Amidst thy bowers the tyrant's hand is seen,
And desolation saddens all thy green ...
Princes and lords may fluorish, or may fade;
A breath may take them, as a breath has made:
But a bold peasantry, their country's pride,
When once destroyed, can never be supplied.
Indeed it seems clear that the famine not only destroyed the agricultural survival of the countryside but that it helped contribute to the overall economic collapse of the area, which the land agitation of the 1850s helped exacerbate. Abbeyshrule in the 1830s must have been much larger and more prosperous, when the canal was vigorous and the famine still in the future.

     The author of  "The Rising of the Moon'', the well-known Irish patriotic song, came from the area, and the Inny is apparently referred to in the lines ``Far along that shining river/That dark mass of men was seen''.

Abbeyshrule Today

     Abbeyshrule today consists of only a few buildings at a crossroads in the center of the village (where the road running southeast from Colehill meets the road which runs southwest towards the Ballymahon-Mullingar road). In addition to a small shop/post office and a modern church building, there are a few houses and ``The Rustic Inn'', a modern inn/pub/auditorium which is the only real business in town. ``The Rustic Inn'' is the only building in town, other than the modern church, which is not, in fact, rustic. The Rustic Inn's owner, Teddy McGoey, advertises the inn as a place for outings from as far away as Dublin and holds periodic weekend concerts which draw attendance from the Midland region and beyond. During one drive through the Midlands, a live or taped concert from The Rustic Inn was playing on the Mullingar radio station. (It was American country music, no less.) McGoey also advertises holiday homes for rental in the Abbeyshrule area, but the brochure notes that ``Abbeyshrule village is not a holiday complex as such and holiday activities and entertainment is limited''. Still, The Rustic Inn appears to be the only real source of outside income except for a small airport, for general aviation, built across the canal from Abbeyshrule. The airport was apparently located near Abbeyshrule (it is called Abbeyshrule airport) because of the central location and flat character of the land. [For more up-to-date information, see the main page on Abbeyshrule.

     There is a bridge which carries one road over the Royal Canal and the bridge-aqueduct complex which carries the Canal and the other road over the River Inny. The Canal runs directly behind The Rustic Inn and the other buildings on the "main'' road.

Abbeyshrule and the Joneses

     Teddy McGoey of The Rustic Inn said that his brother Charlie, who works and lives near Dublin, has collected much information about the Abbeyshrule area in the 19th Century. Charlie McGoey was on holiday during my visit and was subsequently contacted by mail. His information has been of major importance, but in order to preserve the account of what was learned during the visit (since I did not have the information which I would obtain later), I will reserve the new material until later.

     With the help of Teddy McGoey of The Rustic Inn, an elderly man named Tom, who lived across the road from the inn, joined me. Although at times hard to understand, Tom remembered two Jones connections: a blacksmith named Jones had once lived along the Royal Canal, and there was a place nearby still called "David Jones' Gardens'' after four "gardens'' or small farms. "Gardens'' locally is pronounced as "Garredens''.

     Tom and I then went to the home of one Pearce Butler, an old man living in a thatched-roof cottage along the old canal, who rembered a Kitty Burrows (prounounced ``Borus'' in the dialect) who, some 70 years ago, used to bring him sweets. He said that Kitty Burrows either married a Jones or was herself a Jones and married a Burrows; he could not remember. Mr Butler's mind wandered considerably and he rambled on about Galway shawls, the days of the Black and Tans, and England and America.

     Butler also remembered the name "David Jones' Gardens'' and it was agreed that long ago, the Jones house there had burned, but that the area was still known by the name David Jones or Davy Jones to this day. There was considerable confusion between the two old men, who, counting back in 30 year generations, could not agree whether the fire occurred 90 or 120 years ago (I could not even rule out 60). They both agreed that this Jones was more probably our relative than the blacksmith, but I could make out no clear reason other than that he was more prosperous and respectable and maybe they therefore assumed it was better to say this. Obviously, neither Jones under discussion is a direct ancestor, since both are much more recent than John Jones' departure in the 1850s.

     Tom and I then visited the "David Jones' Gardens'' area, which lay "on the edge of the bog''; there is red bog country running along the Inny valley and its tributaries. Following a rough back road, Tom pointed out a clump of trees roughly where the David Jones house had lain.

     Tom made considerable fuss about whether the David Jones land was part of the townland of Abbeyshrule or not, but since Abbeyshrule was the nearest village this doesn't bother me as much as it seemed to bother him. We stopped at the home of a man living on part of the property, but his wife said he was away. Another elderly gentleman, however, also remembered the ``David Jones'' connection, though with little detail. There was some sense that "Father Lynch has an old book'' which he had once loaned to someone. Although earlier letters to the local parish produced no records, it was decided to contact Father Lynch, whose pastoral base for the parish is at Carrickedmund, some miles away. That will be done by mail. [More recent note: Ultimately it was done through borrowing the parish register microfilm through the Mormon library. Little was learned; it does not contain births during John Jones' birth period, and is in Latin. I could not conclusively find an entry for a Jones. I may try again someday.]

     A number of people mentioned that there are a number of Joneses still in County Longford, including some very close by at Taghshinny, only a couple of miles away. The Joneses at Taghshinny were said to be Protestants however, and from another part of Ireland originally.

     The cemetery at Abbeyshrule is said to be quite old, but is overgrown and the weather was extremely wet, making examination impractical. One of the elderly informants said that he had been through the cemetery and that he was pretty sure no Joneses were buried there. Many of the crosses appear extremely worn down.

[For more on the Jones connections in Abbeyshrule, including what I learned after my visit, see my David Jones page.]