Shannonbridge A History of Raghra c.1600-c.1900 was published in 2019. Research for it began many years ago when I decided to learn more about my family and family home in Shannonbridge, County Offaly. That interest spread to other houses in the village. When Brendan Ryan and I decided to write a book about Shannonbridge I concentrated on the genealogy of those who lived there in the past. Gradually the history and stories of families emerged. My main goal in writing the book was to pull the names of the people of Shannonbridge out of the past. Sometimes we found interesting stories but often we just learned their names and the bare facts of their lives. However it felt wonderful to put those names in a book, to prove those people had been there, to acknowledge their existence. They all played a part in the story of a village. Oh, they had hard lives! And yet, many survived and thrived. Their descendants span the globe. What struck me most in learning about them was that often their stay in the village was short-lived. Many of the families who settled in the village only stayed for a generation or two and are long gone now. Keeping track of people moving in and out was a challenge.
Image 1, Shannonbridge A History of Raghra c.1600-c.1900 Available from http://www.offalyhistory.com
The records of the Valuation Office were fundamental in providing a timeline to track who lived in each house and for how long. In this blog post I would like to share how we used these records to research every building in Shannonbridge built before 1940, using Luker’s pub as an example.
The very first and most important thing to do when researching a place in Ireland is make sure you know what it is called and what it was called in the past. It is vital to know its townland, civil parish, poor law union, barony and county. Most official historical records are based on these subdivisions, and their names were standardised for the 1851 Census of Ireland. Have a look at http://www.townlands.ie or https://thecore.com/seanruad if you are unsure. Bear in mind that placenames and street names may change over the centuries, civil/Church of Ireland parishes do not always match Catholic parishes even when they have the same name, these places may span more than one county, and spellings vary wildly. Shannonbridge spans two townlands, Raghra and Cloniffeen, in the civil parish of Clonmacnoise in the poor law union of Parsonstown (Birr) in the barony of Garrycastle. The modern name for the county is Offaly but for much of British rule in Ireland it was called King’s County. Fortunately, Shannonbridge is within both the Protestant (civil) and Catholic parishes of Clonmacnoise and there are not TOO many ways to spell it.
For most of us a great place to start when researching a house or a place is The Primary Valuation or Griffith’s Valuation. This was a valuation of land and buildings carried out between the 1830s and 1860s. It was named after the first Commissioner of Valuation, Richard Griffith, and was designed to determine the amount of tax a property holder had to pay in support of the poor and destitute in their poor law union.
Image 2, Excerpt from Griffith’s Valuation, Town of Shannonbridge, Cloniffeen, Clonmacnoise, King’s County, 1854, p.135, online at http://www.askaboutireland.ie/griffith-valuation/.
Griffith’s valuators walked every acre in the country. In the process they recorded the size and quality of every building, garden and field. They noted details like soil types, crops grown and the building materials of houses. They recorded the name of the Occupier – the person who occupied the property and was to pay the tax, and the Immediate Lessor – the party to whom the Occupier paid rent. The Immediate Lessor was not necessarily the owner of the property – they might have been subletting it. If the owner was also the Occupier then the Immediate Lessor column will have “In fee”. Griffith’s Valuation is often used as a replacement census for the heads of household in the mid-1800s. It is not a full census but it helps to fill the gap of the lost censuses.
The type of property or “Tenement” included house, hotel, office (outbuilding), garden, mill, land, fishery, mine bog etc. The land was measured in acres, roods and perches. The “Rateable Valuation” – the tax to be paid – was calculated in pounds, shillings and pence. The more valuable the property, the greater the tax to be paid. A number was assigned to each property and a corresponding number was entered on the valuator’s map. The valuators used copies of the Ordnance Survey maps to plot the properties they valued. Shannonbridge is part of map S.13 on the Ordnance Survey. A comprehensive database of Griffith’s Valuation is available for free at http://www.askaboutireland.ie/griffith-valuation.
Image 3, Map of the Town of Shannonbridge from http://www.askaboutireland.ie/griffith-valuation, dated about 1854.
In theory one should be able to match the number on the Valuation page to its location on the map but in some cases the surviving maps are newer than the printed valuation so be wary when trying to match them.
If you find the building you are researching in Griffith’s Valuation then you may be able to use other records of the Valuation Office to work backwards and forwards from there. The valuators recorded their early findings in hand-written books, Valuation Manuscript Books, many of which survive today at the National Archives of Ireland. Take a look at https://www.nationalarchives.ie/article/guide-archives-valuation-office/ to learn more about them. Most of the Valuation Manuscript Books have been digitised and are available at http://www.findmypast.ie. Many of them are also free to view at http://census.nationalarchives.ie/search/vob/home.jsp.
We used the surviving House and Quarto Books for Shannonbridge village. They date from 1844, 1845 and c.1853. These books give us the names of some residents from before the famine who don’t appear in the official 1854 publication of Griffith’s Valuation. They include notes about a few of the households such as the occupation of the householder, the age of the building, the annual rent paid and if the tenant built the house themselves and was paying just ground rent. The c.1853 House Books for Shannonbridge also include hand-drawn maps of each building in the village After the publication of Griffith’s Valuation for King’s Co. in 1854 the valuators returned every five to ten years. They updated their record books with the names of new Occupiers and Immediate Lessors and with any significant changes to the property or rates. Once their books were full they were ‘cancelled’ and a new copy started. These Cancelled Books trace the occupancy of property in the village until the 1960s.
The Valuation Records were the backbone of our research into the properties in the village. We used the numbering system from Griffith’s Valuation to number each building, a technique Brendan used in earlier books. We drafted a matching map to reflect the layout of the village in the 1850s. A pull-out version of the map was included in the book.
To make the most of the Valuation Records don’t just look at your own house. Look at the whole street, village or townland. Make a note of the neighbours. A person’s appearance or disappearance in these records is significant. Did they move, emigrate, marry, die? They could be gone to America or to a house across the street. Bear in mind that the valuators only visited every five years or so. Any changes they recorded in the Cancelled Books could have happened several years before the date written in the book.
Let us take Luker’s pub as an example. The pub is first mentioned in written records in 1810 when Francis Searson leased the property. The Searson family had arrived in the village in 1805 when Francis was appointed Master Gunner in the newly opened Army Barracks.
Situated between the River Shannon and the Army Barracks, Luker’s pub is easily identifiable in all the Valuation records. It is property #3 on the Cloniffeen side of Shannonbridge in Griffith’s Valuation in 1854:
Image 4, Excerpt from Griffith’s Valuation, Town of Shannonbridge, Cloniffeen, Clonmacnoise, King’s County, 1854, p.135, online at http://www.askaboutireland.ie/griffith-valuation/.
The Occupier was John Charters and he was renting directly from Lord Ashbrook who owned the whole village at the time. However, when the valuators had come to the village ten years earlier, in 1844, the occupier was Robert Sarson (Searson). Robert was the son of Master Gunner Francis Searson.
Image 5, Transcription, Buildings #1-2, House Book of Shannonbridge, townland of Cloniffeen in Parish of Clonmacnoise, Barony of Garrycastle, King’s County, 1844, OL 5 3211, online at http://census.nationalarchives.ie/reels/vob/IRE_CENSUS_1821-51_007246901_00450.pdf.
Looking closely, we see the entry was created in February 1844 and updated in April and November of that year. The numbering system is slightly different to the later Griffith’s Valuation but the pub is identifiable between the Shannon Commissioner’s (Lock House) and the army barracks. The property included a fowl house, stable, pig house, cow house and barn. There was also a basement.
The name Robert Sarson has been crossed out and replaced by John Charters. So, in February 1844 Robert Sarson was the Occupier of the public house. This is an example of how the Valuation Records can trigger research questions. What happened to Robert Sarson and who was John Charters? The Clonmacnoise Church of Ireland register records the burial of Robert Searson on 14 April 1844, giving his age as just 32. The baptism register records the baptisms of Henrietta and Maria Searson in 1841 and 1843, the daughters of Robert and Lucinda Searson. So, Robert died leaving a widow and two very young children.
We see from another page in the House Book that John Charters, a shoemaker, had been living across the street on the Raghra side of the village in February 1844 but his name was crossed out by November:
Although the marriage register for the period has not survived we learned from other sources that John Charters (usually spelled Chartres) married Robert Searson’s widow Lucinda née McLain. John was the official Occupier of the premises by November of 1844. John and Lucinda ran the business as a hotel.
The Quarto Books of 1845 (OL 7/0049) describe the buildings as a “Hotel, in good order” with John Chartres as proprietor:
There is another small detail in House Books that is very useful in learning about a building. In the column called “Quality Letter” valuators entered a shorthand description of the age, building materials and condition of the building. This shorthand is described on page 50 of Instructions to the Valuators and Surveyors…for the Uniform Valuation of Lands and Tenements in Ireland published in 1853 and online at http://www.nationalarchives.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/OL_1_2_7VO-Instructions-1853_Part-2.pdf
Classification of Buildings, with Reference to their Solidity
- Slated house or office built with stone or brick and lime mortar
- Thatched house or office built with stone or brick and lime mortar
- Thatched house or office with dry stone walls with mud mortar, with dry stone walls pointed or with good mud walls
- Basement of 1
- Office with dry stone walls
Classification of Buildings, with Reference to Age and Repair
New or nearly new
A+ Built or ornamented with cut stone, and of superior solidity and finish
A Very substantial building, and finished without cut stone ornament
A- Ordinary building and finish or either of the above when built 20 years
B+ Not new, but in sound order and good repair
B Slightly decayed, but in good repair
B- Deteriorated by age and not in perfect repair
C+ Old, but in repair
C Old and out of repair
C- Old and dilapidated, scarcely habitable
The front of the building is classified as 1.B “Slated house or office built with stone or brick and lime mortar” and “Slightly decayed, but in good repair”. The extension at the back (the Return) is 1.B+, built with similar materials but in slightly better condition than the front part. The height of the house from ground to eaves was 16’ 6”, so it had two storeys.
The later House Books (dated c.1853) have more interesting details of the village: hand-drawn maps by the valuators and fairly detailed descriptions of the dimensions of the houses, outbuildings etc. They include every building in the village, unlike the 1844 version which only included the more substantial ones. Again, the numbering system is different but the hotel is unmistakable beside the barracks. As in 1844, the main part of the house/hotel is described as 1.B while the return is 1.B+. A summary of the c.1853 House Book was printed as Griffith’s Valuation in 1854. According to Griffith’s John Chartres had to pay a tax of £15 on the property, one of the highest taxes in the village. In comparison, the tax on a small single-storey thatched house was usually ten shillings.
So, we have got to 1854. What next? Next are the Cancelled Books. These books are held in the Valuation Office in the Irish Life Mall in Dublin https://www.valoff.i e/en/archive-research/genealogy/ To see them you either have to visit the office (closed to the public at the moment because of Covid-19) or pay a fee and have them post out printouts.
Each parish has its own book, with an index of townlands at the beginning.
Image 6, 1855-1862, Cancelled Book, Electoral Division of Shannonbridge, Parish of Clonmacnoise, Union of Parsonstown, Barony of Garrycastle, King’s Co., Index Page, image courtesy of the Commissioner of Valuation.
The first Clonmacnoise book covers the years from 1855 to 1862. We see below the entry for the hotel is the same as the house book and Griffith’s Valuation.
Image 7, #3, Chartres, 1855-1862, Cancelled Book, Shannonbridge, Townland of Cloniffeen, Parish of Clonmacnoise, Union of Parsonstown, King’s Co., p.8, image courtesy of the Commissioner of Valuation.
In the next book John’s name has been crossed out and the name of Lucy entered instead. The date on the end of the line is 1870. So, by the time the valuator called in 1870 John was no longer the Occupier. Civil death records told us that John died of heart failure on 17th Jan 1870. His widow Lucinda (Lucy) became the Occupier:
Image 8, #3, Chartres, 1863-1874, Cancelled Book, Shannonbridge, Townland of Cloniffeen, Parish of Clonmacnoise, Union of Parsonstown, King’s Co., p.10, image courtesy of the Commissioner of Valuation.
In 1880 a new name appeared in the Cancelled Book, that of George Luker. Who was he and why was he the Occupier?
Image 9, #3, Luker, 1875-1881, Cancelled Book, Shannonbridge, Townland of Cloniffeen, Parish of Clonmacnoise, Union of Parsonstown, King’s Co., p.8, image courtesy of the Commissioner of Valuation.
He was George Henry (called Harry) Luker, the husband of Henrietta Searson. Henrietta was the daughter of Robert Searson and Lucinda McLain, the step-daughter of John Chartres. Harry and Henrietta Luker took over the running of the hotel from Lucinda and thhey raised a large family in Shannonbridge. So, the name of Luker had appeared over the door by 1880 and has been there ever since.
Image 10, #3, Luker, 1881-1895, Cancelled Book, Shannonbridge, Townland of Cloniffeen, Parish of Clonmacnoise, Union of Parsonstown, King’s Co., p.10, image courtesy of the Commissioner of Valuation.
In 1886 the Rateable Valuation of the hotel changed, from £15 down to £12. In fact, most of the properties in the village had their rates reduced. There is also a note “pt. offs. down” beside the hotel. Part of the offices (outbuildings) are down, possibly contributing to the reduction in the tax.
Image 11, #3, Luker, 1895-1908, Cancelled Book, Shannonbridge, Townland of Cloniffeen, Parish of Clonmacnoise, Union of Parsonstown, King’s Co., p.11, image courtesy of the Commissioner of Valuation.
According to the 1901 census Harry and Henrietta were living in the hotel with their two youngest daughters and Henrietta’s mother Lucinda Chartres, aged 90. By the 1911 census Lucinda was dead. Harry and Henrietta’s eldest surviving son, Robert Searson Luker, had returned home from serving with the London Metropolitan Police. He married a neighbour, Lizzie Cooke, in 1916 and they had three children. Henrietta Luker née Searson died in 1918.
The 1908 to 1933 Cancelled Book shows when the pub was bought by the Land Commission in 1919:
Image 12, Detail from #3, Luker, 1908-1933, Cancelled Book, Shannonbridge, Townland of Cloniffeen, Parish of Clonmacnoise, Union of Parsonstown, King’s Co., p.7, image courtesy of the Commissioner of Valuation.
L.A.P. stands for Land Act Purchase. L.A.P. in the Immediate Lessor column indicates that the holding has been purchased under the Land Purchase Acts.
It is interesting that while this book spans the period before and after Irish independence the work of the Valuation Office seems to have continued seamlessly. Indeed, as Helen McGee says in her excellent book The Archives of the Valuation of Ireland 1830-1865, published by Four Courts Press in 2018, “The title ‘commissioner of valuation’ continues in use for the head of the Valuation Office and is one of the few titles nearly 200 years old still used in the public service”. The only obvious change in the 1908-1933 Cancelled Book is the addition of “Co. Offaly, District of Birr No. 1” in one of the blank pages near start of the book.
The next Cancelled Book shows that Eric Luker’s name replaced that of Harry in 1944.
Image 13, Detail from #3, Luker, 1934-1969, Cancelled Book, Town of Shannonbridge, part of Cloniffeen, Electoral Division of Shannonbridge, Registration District of Birr No. 1, Co. Offaly, p.8, image courtesy of the Commissioner of Valuation.
Civil records revealed that Harry died in 1936. His death was registered by Eric Luker, his grandson. Eric’s father, Robert Searson Luker, had died in 1933. Eric inherited the pub from Harry, though only a teenager, and the pub licence was held for a time by Christopher Cooke, his maternal uncle.
In summary, the Valuation Records allowed us to track the occupancy of Luker’s from the 1840s to 1969, from Robert Searson to his great-grandson Eric Luker. They also contained useful information on the building over the years. Although only five names appear in the records (Robert Searson, John Chartres, Lucinda Chartres, George Henry Luker and Eric Luker) it was enough to give a structure to the research of the pub. Each of these people
named appeared in many other sources which allowed us to build up a bigger picture of their lives. The pub was mentioned in newspapers many times over the centuries: in a notorious murder trial in 1832, a famine relief committee meeting in 1847, a tourist fisherman’s account of his visit from London in 1859, a court case involving missing grain from the quay in 1861 and a celebration after a day of coursing in 1864. The most exciting was an account of when Robert Searson Luker (Eric’s father) defended the pub from an attack by an armed gang during the Civil War. Robert, armed with just a bill-hook and a hammer, drove away the gang and rescued the police trapped in the barracks next door. Church, civil and census records, deeds, rentals, military and police records, maps and pub licences all helped to draw a picture of the building and the people who lived and worked in it. Local people were generous with their memories of the pub and the Chartres and Luker families, bringing the story up to date. John Joe and Helen Ryan bought the pub after Eric Luker’s death in 2002 and are working hard to restore the building, making the most of its long history.
Image 14, Luker’s Pub in the present day, image courtesy of John Joe Ryan.