Rachel Murphy

Rachel Murphy

The Courtown Estate, Co. Wexford, 1858 – 1931: A Virtual Estate

Research Topic

This research aims to understand the dynamics between the disparate communities that together made up the Courtown Estate, and the extent to which changing political, social, economic and cultural factors changed the balance of power over time.  It will identify the key communities in the Courtown estate, reconstructing their social networks using primary sources from the Courtown papers and other archives in order to build a ‘virtual estate’.
The reconstruction will place the estate in its physical location using GIS and mapping techniques.  Using sources such as estate records, parish records, land records and civil records, it will be possible to create a database of information relating to the individuals that lived and worked on the estate.  Additional sources such as diaries, letters, account books, newspapers and photographs will help to create detailed profiles of some of these individuals and the communities they represent (e.g. landlord, servants, agent, tenant farmers, labourers).

Key Research Question

What were the key communities that made up the Courtown Estate, how did they interact, and to what extent did internal and external factors (economic, political, social, cultural) impact on relationships between these communities during this period?

Research Objectives

The objectives of the research are to:•   place the Courtown Estate within its historical and geographical context•   analyse the role of the Estate within the local and national context•   understand the interaction between family and estate•   identify the various communities that together made up the estate•   assess the roles of particular groups and classes of people on the estate: women, estate workers, servants, tenant farmers, landless labourers, clergy•   determine the relationships of these communities and groups with each other•   evaluate the economics of the estate, determining how it was organised and how successful it was as a business.•   determine the extent to which a paternalistic approach to landlordism was taken•   understand how rents were agreed and leases organised•   assess the extent to which there was regional variation in the treatment of tenants across the various geographies of the estate•   determine the extent to which external events such as the Land War, Plan of Campaign, Revolutionary Period and subsequent Independence affected the social and economic conditions of the estate, and the relationships within it•   digitise the Courtown Papers, achieving the dual objectives of preserving them as primary sources while making the information more accessible•   develop a database of information relating to individuals, land and finances extracted from the Courtown papers and other sources•  present the digitised primary documents in conjunction with the database via a web interface, enabling further analysis and comparison of the information which will lead to a more complete understanding of the subject

Relationship to Existing Research

Given the centrality of the landed estate to the lives of so many people, it is surprising that there has not been more research into how these estates functioned as a whole. Prior to W.E. Vaughan’s overview of the relationship between landlord and tenant in the mid-nineteenth century (Vaughan, 1994) the majority of research into landed estates focused on studies of the elite, often family histories of the landed gentries. Vaughan challenged the existing interpretation of landlord/tenant relationships, drawing on analysis across a number of estates in order to demonstrate that rather than there being a binary relationship, in fact there was a plurality of relationships – under the description of tenant fell middlemen, small farmers and cottiers alike, and often there were tensions between these groups also.
Vaughan recognised the need for studies of individual estates in order to assess the extent to which assumptions about relationships were correct. To date, however, most research has focused on particular aspects of estate history, such as estate management, or on the history of a specific estate such as Dooley’s work on the Clonbrock and other estates, Lyne’s research into the Lansdowne estate in Kerry, Proudfoot’s analysis of the Devonshire Estate. Purdue’s recent analysis of the Big House in the north of Ireland assesses the impact of social, economic and political factors that challenged the landed elite, and assesses the extent to which these undermined their influence – but here the focus is on one community.
The research outlined in this proposal is unique, because it is the first attempt to explore the history of an estate and reconstruct the interactions of all the communities within it. The value lies in the fact that once one Irish estate has been researched ‘in total’ (as far as this is ever possible) it can be used as a benchmark for analysing the experiences of other Irish estates.
It is also unique in that, as well as aiming to develop a book as an output, the intention would be that the databases can be rendered in GIS and the findings presented online.