Chapter Four: Philip The Thumb

Philip Leonard  (1820-1911)

and Jane McManus (1825-1890)




Great Grandfather Philip was a son of Terence of Graffy. Philip was born in 1820, according to the 1901 census, when he gave his age as 81.[1]   According to family lore, he was known as ‘Philip the Thumb’ having lost the thumb of his right hand when it got caught in a bollard while he was working as a deck-hand on a boat plying between Melbourne and Tasmania.

He married Jane McManus who was apparently connected to a McManus family of Derryhowlagh, adjoining Clonursin.  They settled on a small farm in Clonursin, Mackin, about three miles north of Graffy, where they had seven children, of whom six survived.  Philip had a reputation as a fist-fighter, brawler and wild man.  For some unknown reason he relinquished the ownership of his farm during his lifetime to his son Terence in America.

Shadow to Substance

Great-grandfather Philip would have been as shadowy a figure as his father Terence had it not been for our cousin Brendan Leonard, who in 1994 found a photograph of him (above) where it had fallen behind a dresser in the family home. Philip came to life then! It is a studio photograph which appears to have been taken in the 1890s after his wife Jane had died, probably at the behest of his sons in America (Few of his neighbours had their photograph taken in a studio or indeed anywhere else.) He would then have been in his 70s.

The significance of the photograph is that it confirms what we had heard of him; that he was a vigorous little man who had lost the thumb of his right hand. The right hand is clearly visible minus the thumb. His small stature is confirmed by the frock coat several sizes too big for him (the coat, the cravat and the hard hat were probably supplied by the photographer). The confirmation of these features lends credibility to the other tall tales of him retailed to us by my father and Uncle Patrick. According to them he was a legendary figure, handy with the fists, who could beat up men twice his size and frequently did. In fact, according to them, he was reputed to be something of a brawler.

This reputation was due in part to the culture of our times (the 1930s) when fist-fighters were held in high regard. As children we were regaled with stories of the legendary Irish-American boxer and world champion, John L Sullivan, who took his place in the halls of the Irish heroes with St Patrick and Daniel O’Connell. It may also have arisen from a romantic notion of Philip as a David who slew the Goliaths of his time. In fact there were only two stories of his fighting qualities on which the legend was based.

The first was when he was working on the Weir’s Bridge, a railway bridge outside Enniskillen. The foreman, a giant-sized bully, began to push him around. A fistfight was set up at lunchtime in which the foreman got such a hammering that he had to be taken home, and never returned. Philip’s secret was, as a small man, to get inside his opponent’s guard and attack upwards with great ferocity using his very strong forefingers (clearly visible in his photograph) to poke his adversary’’s eyes and temporarily blind him.

The other story was told by Uncle Patrick. As a treat, his father took Patrick as a small boy on the cart to Enniskillen market. As was the custom they left soon after dawn, taking care to go quietly so as not to waken the old grandfather who invariably got into a fight. They had only gone a short distance when the old boy, taking a short cut over the fields, caught up with them. When the market was over they had to search for him. They noticed a crowd and  found him in a fistfight with a shopkeeper. Old Philip had his adversary on the ground held firmly by the beard while he belaboured him with the thumbless right. The row was over a disputed halfpenny. The story lacks credibility in that Patrick’’s father died when he was only seven and old Philip was at least ninety-two. To have any basis the small boy would have been my father, who was eleven years older than Patrick.

The fact is that Philip came from a poor peasant family and had to make his way in the world where there was no social security. He bought a farm, reared a large family and lived well beyond his allotted span. According to the family lore he made his way to Australia where he worked as a sailor, and later as a tailor.[7] That he worked on the building of the Weir’s Bridge at Enniskillen suggests that he took work where he could find it to supplement the family income. This man was no slouch.

Philip and Jane had at least seven children, five boys and two girls[8]. The eldest so far as we know was Catherine, born 1854. We learned of her from the Leonard burial records in New York and from her death certificate. The others we know from the Killesher RC baptism records, which commenced in 1855, the year after Catherine was born. If Catherine were the eldest, as seems probable, it would indicate that Philip and Jane were married about 1853 when Philip was 33 and Jane 28. Philip died in Clonursin on 25 November 1911. Jane, according to her tombstone in Kinawley graveyard, died in 1890 aged 65.

I have memories of some of the people from Philip’s times. As a small boy accompanying my father in the horse-cart on a visit to Granny Leonard in Clonursin, I was present when he stopped in the laneway to have a word with Thomas Maguire and wife Margaret (owners of the other half of the Clonursin farm) who lived nearby Granny’s home. Margaret, we believe, was a Leonard, daughter of Philip’s brother Hugh. She seemed shy and left the talking to her husband, a tall man with a white beard and bowler hat. We think he had been a policeman. In his will after Margaret’’s death he left the farm to be sold by public auction, the proceeds to go to members of his Maguire family. The will mentions a John Leonard of Dublin as ‘having an interest.’ We believe this John was a brother of Margaret, and also a policeman.

I knew Ketty Murphy (née Ketty Leonard, daughter of the second Terence of Graffy), and her husband Andy well. They were close friends of my parents who visited them often in their roadside house in Cnocknacrieve. Ketty was an attractive, gentle lady, popular in the community. They and their family were devout Catholics, especially their son Paddy, who had been interned with uncle Patrick Leonard in the putsch against the nationalist community by the unionist government in 1922.

The Clonursin Farm – A Divided Legacy

The Griffith Survey, taken about 1857, shows Philip Leonard as the occupier of fourteen acres and five perches in Clonursin, Mackin, Co Fermanagh. The only other Leonard in Clonursin at the survey was Rose Leonard[2] with fifteen acres, one rood and twenty perches lying alongside Philip’s. The family history has it that these Leonard farms were originally one holding divided between Philip and Rose. Rose had a daughter Margaret (1849-c1928) and evidently also two boys, so that she was obviously a widow when the census was taken. She was probably the widow of Hugh, Philip’s brother, who along with Philip had acquired the holding about 1850 and divided it between them[3]. (It is tempting to speculate that Philip and this brother both went to Australia where they earned the price of the farm. A search of the shipping records might confirm this.) Rose owned one half of the divided farm and Philip the other. By an unusual turn of events both halves went to public auction before being restored to one unit in the ownership of the Leonard family.

Our grandfather Philip returned with his family from Australia in 1893-4 to look after his father, old Philip, who was then a widower in his seventies in Clonursin. In the event he died in 1909, two years before his father’’s death. In his will the Clonursin farm was not included in his estate, because it was not his property. When old Philip died two years later he made no will, probably because he had nothing to leave. His half of the farm was in fact the property of Terence, his eldest son. Terence died in 1913 in Annaghmore, Co Armagh and, in his will, left the farm to be sold at public auction and the proceeds, after the payment of two legacies,[4] to go to his nephew, our uncle Patrick. Having their home put up for public auction came as a bolt from the blue to Granny Leonard and to her children living with her, including my father, who was then twenty-two. To be exposed thus in the local community was most distressing for them. In the event when the auction was held nobody bid against them, and after the payment of the legacies, the farm became the property of the family and eventually of Uncle Patrick.[5]

Rose’’s daughter Margaret, who inherited Rose’s half, married a Thomas Maguire who outlived her and died in 1930 aged 90. They had no family.  After Thomas’ death Rose’s half of the Clonursin farm went to public auction and to the delight of the Leonard family was purchased by uncle Patrick, who restored the two holdings to the original unit.

Two questions arise: One, why did Terence take this roundabout and potentially hurtful way to leave the farm to Patrick? Two, how did Philip’’s half of the Clonursin farm become Terence’s property? At the Griffith Survey c1856, old Philip was the named as owner. Did Terence, who had gone to America about 1878, get the farm as security for a loan never repaid? Or did he acquire ownership by providing the down payment required to buy out the farm under one of the earlier Land Acts?  (The later ‘Wyndham’ Act in 1903, by which most Irish farms were transferred, required no down payment).[6] The answers must remain in the realm of speculation.

Another question is, how and when did the Leonard brothers acquire this holding in Clonursin?  Clonursin was Glebe (Church of Ireland) land. The 1828 Applotment Book of tithes for Killesher parish (and the 1871 edition, when the two Leonards were in occupation in Clonursin) shows only three payees in Clonursin: Robert Berry, John Chambers and John Willis. The smaller holdings may have been exempt from tithes, or the tithes may have been included in the rent and payable by the landlord, or they may have been exempt as Catholics. It is said that the Graffy Leonards had a close relationship with the Berry family of Clonursin, and that they emigrated together to Australia.  Did the Berrys have a hand in helping the Leonard brothers to acquire the Clonursin farm?


The Graffy Leonards’ family grave in Kinawley old graveyard

(situated in the south-east corner beside St. Naille’s well)


  graffy grave

The headstone erected by grandfather’’s older brother Patrick circa 1900 to the memory of his mother Jane (McManus), in Kinawley old graveyard. Patrick’’s text reads:

”Erected by her son PATRICK LEONARD of New York, USA in memory of his beloved mother, JANE LEONARD who died 30th Oct 1890 aged 65 years. RIP.”

In 2000 AD the faded text was renewed by me and the following added:

“Grave of the LEONARD family, Graffy, including TERENCE, died 1870 aged 92, his wife and their son TERENCE, Graffy, died 1873 aged 44, and his wife, ELLEN died 1904 aged 90 also PHILIP, Clonursin, husband of JANE (above) died 1911, aged 91, their son PHILIP, Clonursin, died 1909 aged 50, PHILIP’’s wife MARGARET, died 1932, aged 73 and their children, MAGGIE ANNE, died 1894 aged 1 month and JOHN, died 1901 aged 4 also  babies, JAMES JUSTIN LEONARD, Kinglass, died circa 1933, MARY JOSEPHINE LEONARD, Clonursin, 1934 and her sister THERESA, 1940.”

The headstone stood out in the old graveyard for its high quality. It appears to be of Newry or similar granite, judging by the dark egg-shaped xenolith (foreign body) characteristic of Newry granite, to the right of ‘RIP’

[1] Father made him four years older on his death certificate but I take the census figure as more reliable.

[2]Kinawley RC baptism register records the birth of three children to Hugh Leonard and Rose Reilly. Family tradition has it that this was the Rose Leonard who owned half of the Clonursin farm.

[3]See ‘The family of the first Terence’ previous chapter.

[4]Terence’s two legacies from the proceeds of the sale of the Clonursin farm were £40 each to his brother John in America and his brother Hugh in Australia. Out of his personal estate he left £40 for Masses for his own soul and £10 for Masses for the repose of the soul of his brother Patrick.

[5]My father used to tell us of how a party from Catherine Leonard’s home place in Armagh arrived at the auction to bid up the price, only to be threatened by him if they opened their mouth they would end up in Lough Erne. The story lacks credibility in that there was no advantage to Catherine to bid up the farm. The party was there probably to see the terms of Terence’s will carried out. There were no counter-bids presumably because prospective purchasers among the neighbours would shy away from intruding in what was obviously a ‘family difficulty’.

[6]There was a story in the family that grandfather Philip, when in Australia, had sent his father the money to pay off Terence and that the old boy used it for other purposes. The story is questionable on a number of grounds not least that Philip could simply have paid the money directly to Terence.

[7]My father would tell of how, as a boy, he watched him mark the cloth with a burnt stick (instead of chalk) held awkwardly in his thumbless hand.

[8] In June 2019 Kate Woodward in Australia passed on the information that one of Philip the Thumb’s sons, James, born between 1846 and 1848, emigrated to America at the age of 17. For more information on James and his US descendants see the Addendum.