Ginni Swanton's Web Site

Protestant or Catholic?

My Swanton line (at least going back to my g-grandfather), is Roman Catholic. However, since the Swantons originally came to Ireland from England, it's very likely that they were Protestant and at some point switched over to Catholicism. When I was at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, I found a book that touched upon this subject.

Of particular interest to me is the reference to the class of Protestant in the south that was neither 'gentry" nor 'poor cottier' nor 'land agent'. The names Swanton and Bradfield are listed as belonging to this group. Bradfield was the maiden name of my great-great-grandmother. The geographic area in which this group lived corresponds to where my g-grandfather was born, so I suspect there's a connection.

The Demographic, Economic and Social Background

Taken on their own, these figures merely emphasize the scattered nature and erratic distribution of the Protestant community in the south of Ireland. However, if compared with the figures for another area of the same county, it seems that the Protestants of south west Cork were uncomfortable bunched together! Compare these latter statistics with those for the parishes in the barony of Duhallow in the north west of the county: Clonfert parish: 250 acres/Protestant; Tullilease: 625; Knocktemple: 1,660: Subulter, Kilcorcoran, Kilroe, no Protestants; Castlemagner: 131, Clonmeen and Roskeen: 212.

Only in Kilshannig and Mallow parishes (49 and 7.8 acres per Protestant respectively) did the densities approach those of the south west -- and this only because of the relatively high number and concentration of Protestants in the town of Mallow. The third analysis was of those parishes which straddled the river Blackwater; here the densities fell between two extremes of north west and south west. On the evidence of the proportion between Protestant and Roman Catholic in this area, this is what might have been expected.

Some generalization can now be made concerning the existence of "clusters" of large groups of Protestants in small areas. Of the three sub-regions into which the county can be divided, about 58% of the total Protestant population of the county (excluding the city parishes) lived in the south west region; about 29% in the eastern region; and only about 12% in the north western region. Given opening of  county politics that occurred after 1832 (on the Protestant as well as on the Roman Catholic side) it would be expected that much of the new Protestant political action should have been found in the south west areas of the county. And if one considers the Protestant population in south west Cork, another significant statistic is found: over 40% of the Protestant population in that area was resident in, or very close to, the towns such as Kinsale, Clonakilty, Dunmanway, Skibbereen, Bandon, Rosscarbery, Innishannon.

What a brief analysis of some population statistics has done is to show, first, the patchy dispersion of Protestantism within the county considered as a unit area: secondly, that vis-a-vis Roman Catholicism, Protestantism was strongest in the south and west: thirdly, that a very large proportion of the Protestant population probably lived in or near to the many scattered urban areas. In terms of place of residence and occupation it cannot  be said that Cork Protestants were solely landlords of country dwellers.

Landed society in Cork

Rural Protestantism was not the exclusive preserve of the land-owning ascendancy classes in southern Ireland. While not in the great numbers found in the northern counties, there did exist a class of rural Protestant in the south that was neither 'gentry' nor 'poor cottier' nor 'land agent'. This class of farmer was found in pockets throughout the south, usually the result of long-forgotten plantation policy (sometimes by individual lords of the soil over a long period). One such pocket was in the area from Bandon west to Bantry and south to Skibbereen. Prosperous Protestant tenant farmers inhabited this section of the county, such as the families of Good, Bradfield, Shorten (Bandon), Shannon, Dukelow (Durrus), Sweetman, Trinder (Clonakilty), Swanton, Attridge, Young (Ballydehob), Levis, Roycroft (Schull) Love (Kilmore), and numerous families of Kingston in Drimoleague.

These families intermarried over generations, maintaining their Protestantism with some difficulty since they were so economically close to many Catholic families around them, and producing an intermarriage pattern more complex than that of the gentry. Such Protestant farming families provided the raw material in the 1830s when, through the medium of the Orange Order the gentry tried -- for a brief period -- to imitate Catholic 'mass' politics.

When observed from afar, county landed society in early nineteenth century Ireland seemed self-contained, introspective almost unitary. In many respects, it was almost an extended familial unit in itself -- a conclusion buttressed by the complex interrelationships built up over generations between various families in the county. This notion of an 'extended family' covers more than a concept of two-dimensional relationship -- of cousins marrying, of rows between families. Rather, it represents more mundane matters -- of money, of patterns of land ownership, of the very basic means by which families and individuals within landed society held their positions, improved and disimproved their lot relative to each other. While therefore, our concern is not to describe and analyze in minute detail the economic construction of landed society in Cork for its own sake, some salient features should be noted, as affecting the social and political fabric of that society.

The pre-Famine number and type of landed proprietors in the county give an indication of the general structure of landed society. However information concerning county landlords in aggregate is quantitatively scare; and what is extant is qualitatively rather dubious. If De La Cour's valuation -- made for the grand jury in the 1820s -- had survived, it might have been of some indicative value. Even if it had, however it, like Richard Griffith's extensive and detailed townland valuation, would probably be of little use in the determination of of the number and acreages held by head landlords. Tithe applotment books can perhaps offer a better hope; but the collation and ordering of the information contained therein is an enormous task.