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SOME weeks back, I was exploring the connection between the Longford and de Vesci estates. In the course of that exercise, I came across Strokestown Park House, former seat of the Pakenham Mahons. The Pakenham element provides the connection to the Earls of Longford, who, with the de Vescis, shared some of the spoils of archbishop Michael Boyle’s extensive estates.

On the last occasion I visited this subject, I was bemoaning the fact that I had yet to visit Strokestown Park House, the venue for the recent annual famine commemoration, and I promised to rectify this gap in my historical research.

I would like to be able to tell you that I have done just that, but in truth, though I have visited Strokestown Park House as lately as last week, I’m afraid I have left the job half done.

The only excuse I can offer is that my visit wasn’t entirely planned. I was cycling in Roscommon, on one of those lovely summer days we have had recently, and finding myself within striking distance of Strokestown, I decided  to take a look.

Of course, I had completely underestimated the extent of Strokestown Park House, and left myself frustratingly short of time. Even so, though I opted not to wait for a house tour, I tried to take in both the famine museum and the walled garden, but I still found myself with insufficient time to do either place justice.

The matter was not helped when, unexpectedly, I came across a few names in the famine museum records which took me aback. The first was an 11-year-old inmate of one of the workhouses. Described as a ‘healthy orphan’, his name was Thomas Vesey. Though it is unlikely that there is a connection between this healthy orphan and the de Vesci landlords, it’s a thread you would love to pull at.

The second name really stopped me in my tracks. Staring out at me, from a list of 366 souls evicted from an area known a Mahon’s Yard, was Thomas Cox, the head of a household of seven. Also listed were John Cox, Michael Cox and Pat Cox.

Whatever about the latter two, both Thomas and John are recurring family names, and family lore suggests that my forebears came from the Longford/Roscommon area.

As if to taunt me further, there were also a number of Murrays listed for the Mahon’s Yard evictions. And according to family records, my great great grandfather, Thomas Cox, married Mary Murray in 1830.

Well, as visitors to museums go, I would have to say that I was leaving the Irish Famine Museum with more food for thought than most, and, to be honest, my whistle-stop perambulation of the wonderful walled garden was not helped by the thoughts of possible family connections to those poor souls evicted from Mahon’s Yard.

However, all that aside, there are stories aplenty with regard to this estate, not least the manner in which the restoration of the estate came about.

Tune in next week, when I will let you in on some on the stories connected to this most interesting of estates. I will introduce you to an intrepid garage man and you will also get to meet Broomhilda, a somewhat scary lady who can be seen in the garden at a certain time of year.

Tom Cox
Tom Cox
Tom Cox column 'An Eye on the Past' appears weekly in the Laois Nationalist newspaper.

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