SHORT HISTORY OF THE BRISCOES OF SOUTH KILKENNY
The Briscoes are important in that they preceded the Dowleys in Tinvane House and Tybroughney. Their story, like so many others, starts with the Act of Settlement of 1662 which gave land to soldiers in settlement of arrears of wages during the Cromwellian Invasion.
Cromwell came to Ireland in 1649 to put down the rebellion of 1641. Cromwell’s eventual victory precipitated one of the largest transfers of land in Irish history and consolidated the foundations of the anglophone aristocratic elite in Ireland. Sir John Ponsonby, from Haile in Cumberland, not far from the Briscoes was one of Cromwell’s soldiers and was rewarded for his military services with a knighthood and an extensive parcel of land in south County Kilkenny. Unlike many Cromwellian soldiers, who were content to realise the financial value of the lands they were granted, John Ponsonby aspired to build up a large estate in Ireland. He was enabled to advance his ambition by the acquisition of several parcels of land in the county, in which he was confirmed in possessed by the Act of Settlement. The largest of these, previously in the possession of the Anglo-Norman family of D’Alton, after whom it was named Kildalton, was located in the Suir Valley in south Kilkenny. Ponsonby signalled his intention of make this his place of residence and of creating an estate according to the English model he esteemed by building a large house and by renaming the estate Bessborough in honour of his second wife, Elizabeth “Bess” Foliott. His first wife was a Dorothy Briscoe from Cumberland. What happened to her is not clear but it confirmed the relationship between the Ponsonbys and the Briscoes.
Ponsonby also harboured political ambitions and, having served during the 1650s as sheriff of counties Wicklow and Kildare, he was elected in the early 1660s to represent County Kilkenny in the Irish parliament. Ponsonby was not a high profile member of the House of Commons, and the refusal of Charles II to authorise a further parliament during his lifetime limited his political opportunities. However, by the time of his death in 1678, aged 60, he had successfully established the Ponsonbys in County Kilkenny and on the Irish political horizon. The Ponsonbys went on to acquire land, titles and political position in Ireland. One Lord Bessborough was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland at the outbreak of the “Great Famine” and died in office in 1847. By the 1870’s, the Earl of Bessborough owned 129 acres in Tipperary (mainly Tinvane), 23,967 acres in Co. Kilkenny and 10,578 acres in Co. Carlow. Both Mount Richard and Tinvane were “held from” the Earl of Bessborough. As all the Briscoe land was close to Bessborough, it is assumed that it was also “held from” the Earl of Bessborough.
The Briscoes of south Kilkenny
The Briscoes came to Ireland in the late 1600’s from Crofton Hall, Cumberland in the North East of England. Crofton Hall was located in Wigton, south-west of Carlisle. The family name at the time was spelt Brisco while all those in Ireland seemed to be spelt Briscoe.
The first Briscoe to settle in Ireland was Edward Briscoe (1651-1709) of Crofton Hall Cumberland. He was the son of John Briscoe of Wampool and settled in Tinnakilly, just north of Bessborough House and is buried in Fiddown. Many of the Briscoes were subsequently buried in the Ponsonby/Briscoe Mausoleum in Fiddown which confirms the association between the Briscoes and the Ponsonbys of Bessborough House.
The Protestant Church in Fiddown where the Ponsonby and Briscoe families are buried
The Ponsoby-Briscoe Mausoleum in Fiddown, Co. Kilkenny
Many of the male Bricoes produced very large families and over time they occupied many different properties close to Bessborough House on Ponsonby land. This would again confirm the close relationship between the two families. The map at the end of this section shows the relative position of these properties compared with Bessborough House. The Briscoe properties in south Kilkenny include, Tinnakilly, Garrynarea, Willmount, Tinvane, Clonmore, Cloncunny, Harristown, Muckalee, Tybroughney, Bleachville, Whitechurch, Garryricken, and Craigavine. Other members of the Briscoe family moved to Dublin, Waterford, Trim and Omagh while many emigrated to the US and Australia as well as moving back to England.
Willmount House, Piltown, Co. Kilkenny
At a later stage, the original Briscoes may have been joined by other family members from Cumberland, as some of the families can not be directly traced back to the original Edward from Crofton Hall. An attempt to relate all the Briscoes of south Kilkenny is given in “The Briscoe Tree” in a separate section.
Edward had three daughters Judith, Rebecca and Mary as well as two sons, John and Henry. John (1682-1752) moved to Garrynarea near the Three Bridges and appeared to remain unmarried. Henry (1680-1737) married his cousin Abigail Briscoe and they lived in Tybroughney House. Henry was also known as “Henry of Backborough” which may be another name for Tybroughney. Henry and Abigail had seven children, Edward, John, Henry, Richard, Robert, Rebecca and Mary.
Edward (1713-1793) married Judith Bagnall and they had four children and the family remained in Garrynarea for at least three generations up to the mid nineteenth century. John (1715-1788) lived in Tybroughney Castle and later the Sandpits just north of Bessborough. John Briscoe (1715-1788) married Mary Jane Whitby which gave rise to a long line of Whitby Briscoes. John and Mary Jane had three children, Abagail, Edward Villiers and Henry Whitby.
It was this Henry Whitby Briscoe (1753-1808) that commissioned and was the first to live in Tinvane House. I would guess that the house was first inhabited towards the end of the eighteenth century. A census at the time describes the house as a four story building on forty acres. Henry married Ann Sneyd and they had nine children including Henry Whitby Briscoe (1777-1834) and Edward Whitby Briscoe (1795-1866) who was the originator of the Harristown Briscoes. Henry pursued a career in the army as well as being a Justice of the Peace. Henry’s brother Edward Villiers moved to Willmount on the Tybroughney Road just outside Piltown while Abigail married Edward Fitzgerald of Limerick.
The next occupant of Tinvane was Henry Whitby Briscoe (1777-1834). He was also a Justice of the Peace and married Alicia Whyte with whom he had seven children including another Henry Whitby Briscoe (1808-1881). This Henry Whitby Briscoe married Deborah Shaw and they had thirteen children. It was of this Henry that the people of Carrick are reputed to have said that he was afraid to throw a stone at any child in the town in case it might be one of his own. One of his thirteen children was another Henry Whitby Briscoe (1836-1878). This Henry Whitby Briscoe predeceased his father but not before producing three children, including Henry Whitby Briscoe (1865-1947) with his wife Caroline Ann Smyth. This was the final Briscoe in the Tinvane line as he was unmarried. He again pursued a military career and died in a military hospital in Montreal, Canada.
Edward Dowley purchased Tinvane in 1890/’91 from the Irish Land Commission, 25 Upper Merrion Street, Dublin. The first payment of £54-7-8 was due on May 1st, 1891. As the Briscoes were bankrupt at this time and the last Tinvane Henry Whitby Briscoe was unmarried and in Canada it begs the question as to which Briscoe represented the family in signing over the property to the Land Commission. My information suggests that it was the Henry Whitby Briscoe, son of Arthur Wellesley Briscoe, Leinster Road, Rathmines, Dublin. This Henry Whitby Briscoe was a barrister by qualification, but had joined the army and was drowned off Greece in 1917 when the ship in which he was travelling was hit by a torpedo from a German U-boat. The signing was said to have been completed in Gibraltar.
The Piltown Briscoes of the 1940’s
The final question I have, is where did the Briscoes who attended the Piltown Boys National School in 1946 come from?. The answer to this question is that Alfrred Whitby Briscoe of Piltown was one of the many children of Edward Whitby Briscoe of Mucalee House, Harrisstown, Co. Kilkenny.
As my family lived immediately opposite the Boys National School in Piltown, I would have attended this school from a very early age and some of my fellow students were Briscoes. The photograph from 1946 below includes three of the Briscoes who were attending the school at that time. These were Percy, Alfred and Noel.
The Briscoes lived in the old Piltown schoolhouse which was located beside the current Girls National School on Pill Hill. As Noel was the same age as myself, we became friends and I spent a lot of time in their house. I remember Mr. & Mrs Briscoe being a very pleasant couple but somewhat older than my own parents. They had a large family of which most were considerably older than myself. The others that I can remember were Henry, Mervyn and Christina, but there were many others. On one occasion I recall Mr. Briscoe telling me that his ancestors originally owned Tinvane.
The names of the children all reflected the Briscoe names in use over the years in the different families. As Garrynarea and Tinvane Briscoes had disappeared from the area at that time, it is reasonable to assume that the Piltown Briscoes are part of the Harristown Briscoes. The Briscoes in the photograph were the children of Alfred Whitby Briscoe (1902-1989).
Leslie J. Dowley