The Marquis of Sligo (George John Browne, the 3rd Marquis of Sligo): A Major Landlord in County Mayo, Ireland in the 19th Century

The Marquis of Sligo (George John Browne, the 3rd Marquis) was unquestionably the largest landholder in County Mayo Ireland in the mid to late 1800's. George John Browne was born January 31, 1820 and died December 30, 1896.

According to the "Return of Owners of Land of One Acre and Upwards" compiled by the Local Government Board in 1876, the Marquis of Sligo had a residence at Westport House in Westport, County Mayo and held 114,881 acres in that county at that time. (Local Government Board, 1876, p. 312). The Marquis of Sligo, unlike many others, was somehow able to maintain possession of almost all the property he held before the peak famine years when many landlords lost their shirts. He held 130.7 (area per 1000 statute acres) in 1838 dropping only to 114.8 in 1876 (as noted above). Over this same time period, of the largest landholders, Viscount Dillon's acreage kept constant, Denis Bingham gained land, as did the Earl of Lucan. (Gillespie; McCabe, 1987, p.110). These landlords were the exception to the rule. The Marquis of Sligo sold a small portion of his estate in 1854, but was able to keep the vast majority until it was sold to the Congested Districts Board around 1914.

A fair amount of detailed information is available on the exploits of the Marquis of Sligo in J. F. Quinn's "History of Mayo" (particularly in volumes 2 and 4). This resource is often available at University Libraries and would be worth a look if he was your ancestor's landlord.

The Marquis of Sligo not only owned vast amounts of land in County mayo, but also exerted significant influence through his civic connections. In 1859 he was Chairman of the Westport Union Board of Guardians and was acknowledged as being a "Mayo Subscriber" (8 copies) for Westport in County Mayo. (Quinn, Volume 2, Chapter 21, p. 228 and Volume 1, Chapter 2, p. 12). The residence he held at Westport House was in the Browne Family for more than 300 years; their influence was long ingrained in this area.

The vast majority of what you will read about the Marquis of Sligo and how he dealt with his estates and tenantry is fairly negative. The following overview of the actions of Lord Lucan, the Marquis of Sligo and Lord Oranmore probably best sums up their actions and how they were viewed: "the people of Mayo can never forget how Lord Lucan, Sligo and Oranmore at a time when famine was sweeping over the county, and the people dying like flies depopulated whole countrysides and forced the remnant of the people remaining to leave the country on the free emigration ships." (Quinn, Volume 2, Chapter 21, 215).

The Marquis of Sligo defended his family's acquisition of lands in County Mayo. He denied that they were confiscated lands; swearing they were obtained ethically by purchase. Interesting how the O'Malleys' confiscated, uncompensated lands in and about Westport (including their castle) became the home of Westport House.

A large portion of the Marquis of Sligo's Demesne was located in Kilmeena, which lies in close proximity to Westport and extends all the way to Newport (Quinn, Vol. 2, Chapter 12, p. 115). His Demesne had Racing Stables as well as a private Course. Smugglers made good use of a cave on his Demesne to hide their elicit goods.

For the most part, you will read about the Protestant Planters he planted pre-famine, the vast numbers of he evicted peak famine and the workhouses that were filed with his victims I found only one notation of some things the Marquis of Sligo did to aid his tenants during the peak of the crisis. He apparently "imported two cargoes of potatoes for sale cheaply in local markets and distributed 1000 pounds worth of flax to the women of his estate to provide employment." (Gillespie; McCabe, 1987, p. 107).

The Marquis of Sligo did significant evictions and "planting" of Protestants before the famine in Aughagower Civil Parish. He created a colony of Protestants at Clogher and built Protestant Churches at Buckfield and Carraholly. Another note on his evictions is as follows: "Lord Sligo carried out extensive clearances in and around Westport...he devastated a huge territory extending for 53 miles from Dooncastle to Killarly Harbor." (Quinn, Volume 4, Ch9, p. 295). What is interesting is that Lord Sligo's wife was Catholic; it was because of her that nuns were brought to Westport. Apparently the Marquis of Sligo evicted hundreds more between Aughagower and the Kilferies to give his brother-in-law a 22,000 acres passage for his sheep. (Quinn, Volume 4, Ch 9, p. 295). Another entry in the "History of Mayo" describes vast clearances along Clew Bay to give his Brother-in-law Mr. Wilbraham a large amount of land. (Quinn, Volume 2, Ch 22, p. 246). I don't know if this is the same he refers to above or not.

The Marquis of Sligo enlisted the Mayo Militia to protect his assets in Kilmeena as well as those of Sir Richard O'Donel (Quinn, Volume 2, Chapter 28, p. 375). Considering the vast numbers of tenants he evicted during the peak of the famine one can see where both he and his estate might fall victim to assault. Apparently, despite the immense size of the Westport Workhouse, it wasn't nearly large enough to house the "1000's from Achill, Clare Island, Inishboffin (then in Mayo) and the huge section of Connemara in this County, and from which Lord Sligo expelled 1500 people." (Quinn, Volume 4, Ch 7, p. 230). They ended up having to open the corn stores at the Quay as an Auxiliary Workhouse to cover the overflow of his evicted tenants. It was said that people from Achill, Mullranny and Ballycroy were in desperate need of workhouse lodging; apparently the Marquis of Sligo closed Westport Workhouse to these people. This workhouse was twice the size of the one at Swinford but was filled beyond capacity with those Lord Sligo evicted. The bulk of the 1700 families he was known to have evicted from the "Mayo section of Connemara" came from Aughagower and Louisburgh. (Quinn, Vol 4, Ch 9, p. 281). It appears that the extent of his callous behavior knew no bounds. One story described the Marquis of Sligo's victims as having to walk over 16 miles through the mountains to receive outdoor relief. Many died on the way back home. (Quinn, Vol 4, Ch 9, p. 296).

In a Kilgeever section of the "History of Mayo" Monsignor D Alton had a poignant description of the outcome of the evictions imposed by the Marquis of Sligo and the Earl of Lucan:

"Village after village were blotted out, and for miles around the solitude was unbroken by the voice of man. The Marquis of Sligo, false to the religion of his ancestors, sent his Catholic tenants adrift, and a Scotsman named Captain Houston was given, at a reduced rent, a tract of land 200 square miles in extent. Captain Houston was a Protestant and a bigot..." (Quinn, Vol 2, Ch 22, p. 245).

The Marquis of Sligo was one of the primary landlords in the following Civil Parishes when the Griffith's Valuation was conducted in County Mayo between 1855 and 1857: Achill, Aghagower, Burrishoole, Kilcommon (Kilmaine Barony), Kilgeever, Kilmeena, Oughaval and Tagheen.

Perhaps the ruthless nature the Marquis of Sligo demonstrated in dealing with his tenants was what enabled him to keep his lands until they were turned over to the Congested Districts Board in 1914, years after his death, with a final sale documented in the 1920's under the Land Commission.