Chapter Seven: Philip Leonard and Margaret Breen

Philip Leonard (1859-1909) and Margaret Breen  (1858-1932)

 (Our grandparents)

Grandfather Philip was the fourth child of Philip (the Thumb) and Jane McManus. He married Margaret Breen of Corrameen, Kinawley in 1887. They went to Melbourne, Australia, where their first child, Janie, was born the following year and my father in 1891. They returned to Ireland, 1893-4. Our grandparents were hard workers and they scrimped and saved. In 1899 Philip purchased (and later willed to my father) the Kinglass farm on which we were reared.

Danks Street

Dympna Leonard standing outside the house which is now at 76 Danks Street, Melbourne, where James was born in 1891.  The photo was taken in January 1981.

What we know of our grandfather comes almost entirely from the records of father’s Australian birth certificate[1], from the 1901 census from an old bank book and from grandfather’s Will and Probate papers.

Philip was baptised in Killesher RC church on 4 September 1859, father Philip ‘Lynnard’, sponsors John McManus and Catherine McManus. Philip married Margaret Breen in Kinawley RC church on 22 February 1887. The marriage register records that Philip was a bachelor and a  farmer and his father was also Philip.  Margaret Breen, a spinster was the daughter of James Breen and they were both aged 26[2]. Margaret, we know, came from the townland of Corrameen, immediately south of Kinawley village. Their eldest child, Janie, was born in the following year, 1888, and James, our father, in 1891, both in Australia, and there was a boy between, Hugh, who was dead when our father was born. They had six children altogether; the other three, Maggie Anne, John and Patrick, were born in Ireland. Only three survived to adulthood, Janie, James and Patrick.


We do not know when Philip and Margaret went to Australia or if they travelled with his brother Hugh and his wife who also went to Australia. (The shipping records might disclose this) We know they were in Australia in 1888 when Janie was born and were back in Ireland in 1894 when Maggie Anne was born. An old Australian bank-book shows regular entries from 8 January 1891 to 25 April 1893 when the entire balance was withdrawn and the account closed. This could be due to their return to Ireland.  Assuming they left in February 1887, after their marriage, and returned in April 1893 would mean their exile in Australia lasted just over six years

A Prudent Labourer

On my father’’s birth certificate Philip’’s occupation is given as ‘labourer’. Father did say once that Philip worked in a gas works in Melbourne and left to return to Ireland during a general strike[3].  It is obvious however that Philip’s main reason for returning to Ireland was to look after his aged father, then in his late 70s and living alone in Clonursin.  Philip’’s short sojourn in Australia appears to have been highly profitable, especially for a labourer. At the Probate of his Will in 1909 his estate was valued at £414 11s and 9d. This included the Kinglass farm purchased in 1899  and the stock and crop on the Clonursin and Kinglass farms and cash in the Ulster Bank.  This money and property could only have been obtained by scrimping and saving in Australia. The Australian bank-book shows regular savings in the order of £3.10s per month with a singularly massive withdrawal of £181 in December 1891. This could have been for an investment in Australia or the purchase of a house there, or it could be money sent home to an account in Ireland.  It is a chastening thought that we owed our Kinglass farm to the hard work and sacrifice of Philip and Margaret in their early married years.

I do not recall my father James ever discussing his father Philip with me except for a few brief comments, one of which was  to the effect that his father was a ‘great worker’ and died from pneumonia as a result of getting soaked when mowing a meadow. In spite of the rain he would not give up until he had the job finished. Grandfather Philip died in Enniskillen infirmary on 17 August 1909, one month short of his  fiftieth birthday and two years before his father’s death on 29 October 1911.  Margaret died in Clonursin 29 October 1932.

Granny’’s Home

Margaret Breen, our grandmother,  was the only one of my grandparents I knew.   Yet I recall little of her face beyond a vague memory of an  oval-shaped unsmiling countenance  and  grey hair combed straight back and tied in a bun.  She was dressed in black, with a black  apron, heavy black stockings and boots.  I was a little wary of  her as a bit of a scold; at least she scolded my father a lot.  I remember how he would meekly say, “Yes Mammy”, or “No Mammy”, which I found odd since he was such an authority figure in my eyes. But she was kind to me.  Her great treat to me was Maple Syrup, a viscous  liquid sugar ,spread liberally on a slice of home-made cake.  We never seemed to have any at home.  I recall the anticipation as she reached for the tin with its distinctive green pattern and watched her spread the gooey contents, which to me seemed so sweet that I thought it must be nectar  from heaven.

Like all small boys, I loved to visit my granny’s place.  I always went with my father; I never remember my mother going there.  Later I learned that at a reception in Clonursin for father and mother after their marriage Granny got a little drunk and made some disparaging remarks on my mother’’s family because of having two brothers in the police (the Royal Irish Constabulary), for which  offence  my mother never spoke to her again. The way to Granny’’s took us towards Enniskillen over  Mackin hill when we turned right  into Clonursin lane. We passed  Thomas Maguire’s and about a quarter of a mile turned left into the short laneway to the house.   Near the house there was a small byre on the right.

Inside the house was an open fireplace with a turf fire and a blackened crook, from which hung an equally blackened  kettle.  Around the fire in the ashes would be a pot-oven, a skillet pot, and other vessels.  It was an infinitely more interesting house than ours. Along the wall facing the fire was an open dresser with willow-pattern delph and underneath crocks of  milk and buttermilk. There was a fold-down table hinged to the back wall with its covering a shiny blue checked oilcloth.  Over the kitchen was a half-loft on which I could glimpse bits of harness, ropes and reaping hooks and turf spades; sharp-edged tools, which I am sure were the reason why my pleadings to go up there and rummage around were firmly refused.  Granny sat between the table and the fire.  Behind her was a small window in which were kept sewing things, and a miniature travelling trunk with imitation straps and hinges in brass in which she kept the tea.

Granny’s Death

I was acolyte at the funeral Mass which was celebrated in her  house.  A small table at the window served as an altar.  In those days the priest brought an altar stone on which the Mass was said; a small marble slab with a cross embossed at the centre, said to contain a saint’s relics.  As I knelt behind the priest in that cramped room with all the white linen around, I remembered a story my father told me of a priest who would say mass in the poorest houses.  At one such, a hen flew in and scattered the sacred species all over the place.  The demented priest spent the rest of the day scraping the floor.  As a result the Bishop had laid down restrictions on the celebration of Mass in houses.  With some trepidation I kept a wary eye out for any stray hen coming towards the door in case a similar catastrophe occurred at my Granny’s funeral. Nothing so terrible happened.  Later I was disturbed to see my father weeping and Uncle Patrick sobbing and calling out, “Mammy! Mammy!” as they put the lid on her coffin.  It was my first acquaintance with death.

Dan Breen

Granny’s  brother Dan Breen lived on the home farm at Corrameen  At the 1901 census Dan’s age was given as 43 and that of his wife, Isabella, (Belle) as 40. (Dan was baptised in Kinawley RC church on 1 June 1856). They had no children. Isabella was dead when I knew Dan in the 1930s.  He was, or had been, a shoemaker by trade.  I remember him as always well-dressed and of clean appearance, but most of all for his steady blue eyes, his sallow complexion, and his great moustache, waxed at the ends. His house was a half-house, that is, the other half was occupied by a separate family, also Breens who shared the curtilege with Dan. Another feature, not uncommon at that time, was that the other half had been reconstructed, raised and slated, while Dan’s half remained a single-storey thatched cottage, but nevertheless a model of neatness, always with its cheerful turf fire.

Dan was very good to us and when he died, about the middle 30’s, he left small legacies to my sisters Margaret and Eileen. Dan had another sister married to a Costelloe in Clondavill townland, near Kinglass, on the shores of Lough Erne. A son Tom Costelloe, father’s first cousin,  inherited the farm and reared a family there who were contemporary with us as we grew up in Kinglass. When Dan Breen died he left his home farm to the Costelloe family.

Dan Breen’s Munificence

At my Confirmation Dan Breen took me to Enniskillen in Johnny Brennan’s hackney car, probably my first ride in a motor car.  He rigged me out from head to toe: suit, shirt, tie, socks and shoes, all brand new.  I remember being quite overwhelmed at all this munificence, which took me totally by surprise, and heading for the shop door so that it would be over, but he grabbed me and reached for a large brown skull-cap, which he plonked on my head, saying, “Let’s finish the job right while we’re at it.” About the subsequent confirmation ceremonies I remember little.  For me the highlight was that day in town with my granduncle Dan and my new brown serge suit, my brown and yellow tie and my gleaming shoes.  For many years in my prayers for the dead Dan still has first place on the list.

The Family of Philip and Margaret

Janie: (Jane) (1888-ca.1977) Married James Monaghan of Rossavalley, (pronounced locally ‘Rossawella’) about 1½ miles north of Clonursin, near the Enniskillen Road.  They lived out their married lives there and had five children: Vincent, Mary Josephine (O’Reilly), Jane (McBrien), Margaret (Breen) and James.  Janie outlived her husband by a number of years.  She was the firstborn of the family and the last to die, in her late nineties, and is buried in Arney RC churchyard.

Hugh: died an infant in Australia (1889-90)

James: my father (1891-1974)

Maggie Anne: baptised in Killesher church 14 July 1894, died aged one month.

John:  baptised Killesher church 30 June 1897, died 1 October 1901.

Patrick: (1902-1973)  Married Mary Ellen (Cissie) Maguire (1903-1983) of Boho, County Fermanagh ).  They had four children: Brendan, Philomena, Cahal and Gerald.

Uncle Patrick

Of the Leonard connection Uncle Patrick was the best known to us.  My father and he ‘coered’ (co-operated with horses and machinery) so there was a regular to and fro of traffic between them, especially in the cropping season.  He was a quiet, gentle person with a wry sense of humour and we children felt at ease with him.  He was also something of a hero to us because we knew he had been in prison for Ireland.

Patrick was interned for two years at the foundation of the Northern Ireland state.  In May 1922 he, with many other young Catholic men throughout the North, was arrested and imprisoned until 7th March 1924.  He was never charged with any offence.  A fellow internee was his cousin Patrick Murphy, son of Ketty (Leonard) of Graffy, another quiet, inoffensive person who was noted for his piety and his Christian way of life.  Two more unlikely conspirators it would be hard to imagine.

The new unionist government, not unreasonably, considered themselves in danger from a nationalist uprising and responded by wholesale internment of those, who in their eyes, were potential leaders. Patrick it is said was marked out as one such because he had the misfortune to be secretary of the local GAA club.  The unionist strategy was to assert control and cower the nationalist community. For Patrick, then only twenty, his arrest and subsequent imprisonment was a terrifying experience. Throughout the journey to Belfast Prison the internees  were subject to insults and threats from bands of loyalists and indeed at times were in real danger.  My father told me that Patrick admitted to him that he wept constantly in the first weeks. The fact is that, for the nationalist population, these were frightening times, and indeed the people were cowed.  But the price was a terrible legacy of humiliation and anger.  These were the dragon’s teeth sown which  in the course of time would grow to  yield a bitter harvest.

Patrick came home and lived with his mother  till her death.  He married Cissie and their family is another generation of Leonards growing up in Clonursin. Patrick lived out his life in quiet dignity, never showing the slightest rancour or bitterness.  Firm in his views, but courteous and considerate always, he grew to be much revered by those who shared his religious and political beliefs and those who differed.  He was in every sense a good man.

Unanswered Questions

According to the folio in Land Registry (Folio Fermanagh 221) the Kinglass farm of 34 acres, 1 rood and 15 perches was bought out from the landlord, The Earl of Enniskillen,  on 29 of July 1882 by John Veitch, Mackin, for £387 repayable at £15 :9s: 8d per annum for 49 years. This annuity was later modified to £11 :3s :10d per annum (£5 :11s :11d per half year) over a much longer period, something like 70 years.  The farm was sold to Philip Leonard, Clonursin, Mackin, on 21 September 1899, price unknown. There is a story credited to my grandfather’’s cousin, Pat McManus of Ashwoods, that he went with Philip to the auction. They first visited John Leonard in Graffy who was digging potatoes in a field adjacent to the Kinglass farm and from there to the auction returning a short time later having made the purchase.  The significance of this story is that John Leonard, grandfather’’s first cousin, was in residence in the Leonard homestead in Graffy late in 1899. He was gone at the census in 1901 when the farm was occupied by a Drum family ‘caretakers for John Veitch’.

Why did the Clonursin Leonard family not move to Kinglass after the purchase in 1899? The new Kinglass farm was three times the size of the Clonursin farm with better land and a large dwelling house, one of the best in the country at that time   It had a block of office houses, byre, stable and barn and a separate large piggery. The Clonursin home was small in comparison, with only a few poor quality office houses.  At the 1901 census the Kinglass farm was occupied by a McCaffery family as caretakers and it was maintained as an outfarm until  father and mother took up residence there at their marriage in 1919, twenty years after its purchase. The possibility of intimidation by local Protestants resentful of a Catholic acquiring a Protestant farm comes to mind. Yet if this was so we would certainly have heard of it as we grew up. Nothing of the kind was ever mentioned.

Why did John Leonard depart the Graffy farm c 1900 and sell it to the Veitch family and not to grandfather Philip whose Kinglass farm adjoined it? Philip would have thereby acquired direct access to the Graffy road and by Graffy to the church, shops and schools in Kinawley village.  One possible explanation for selling it to Veitch is that, in those days,  the new owner had to be approved by the landlord (the Crawford estate) who, in this case, might have been persuaded that the exchange of a Protestant for a Catholic owner in Graffy was quid pro quo for the Catholic owner replacing a Protestant In Kinglass. But again nothing of the kind was mentioned in our young days.

How did grandfather Philip, who started off penniless, worked as a labourer in Australia, and later as a small farmer in Ireland, achieve his relatively well-off position at his death? His Australian bank-book showed that he was a regular saver there, but scarcely sufficient to account for his relatively substantial financial resources later. It is possible that, in addition to his own earnings,  Margaret brought a substantial dowry into the marriage.

[1] Australian birth certificates of the time give an exceptional amount of information, parents’ ages and occupations, country of birth, date and place of marriage, mother’s maiden name, issue (other children).

 [2] According to the data on father’s birth certificate, Philip was actually 27 at his marriage which agrees with his baptism record which makes him 28 in the following September-1887. Martgaret’’s age on the marriage certificate, entered as 26 (i.e. born 1861), agrees with the age she gives to the censor in 1901 as 40 but not the age given on father’s birth certificate in 1891 as  28. Baptism records show that Margaret was baptised in Kinawley RC church on 21 June 1858 and Philip in Killesher RC church on 4 September 1859.

[3] In Inga Glendinnen’s book “Tiger’s Eyes” she records that there was a gas works at the end of Dank (Danks) St.p 121. Text Publishing  2000 (Paperback)