County Down in the 1830s

1837
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A snapshot of pre-famine local history, as described in the "Topographical Dictionary of Ireland" by Samuel Lewis, 1837. (The information collected here was submitted by members of the local gentry and clergy of the time).

DOWN (County of), a maritime county of the province of ULSTER, bounded on the east and south by the Irish sea, on the north by the county of Antrim and Carrickfergus bay, and on the west by the county of Armagh.

  • It extends from 54° 0' to 54° 40' (N. Lat.), and from 5° 18' to 6° 20' (W. Lon.); and comprises an area, according to the Ordnance survey, of 611,404 acres, of which, 502,677 are cultivated land, 108,569 are unprofitable bog and mountain, and 158 are under water.
  • The population, in 1821, amounted to 325,410, and in 1831, to 352,012.

This county, together with a small part of that of Antrim, was anciently known by the name of Uladh or Ullagh, in Latin Ulidia (said by some to be derived from a Norwegian of that name who flourished here long before the Christian era), which was finally extended to the whole province of Ulster. Ptolemy, the geographer, mentions the Voluntii or Uluntii as inhabiting this region; and the name, by some etymologists, is traced from them. At what period this tribe settled in Ireland is unknown: the name is not found in any other author who treats of the country, whence it may be inferred that the colony was soon incorporated with the natives, the principal families of whom were the O'Nials, the Mac Gennises, the Macartanes, the Slut-Kellys (Sliocht Ceallaigh), and the Mac Gilmores.

The county continued chiefly in the possession of the same families at the period of the settlement of the North of Ireland in the reign of King James, at the commencement of the seventeenth century, with the addition of the English families of Savage and White, the former of which settled in the peninsula of the Ardes, on the eastern side of Strangford Lough, and the latter in the barony of Dufferin, on the western side of the same gulf.

  • It is not clearly ascertained at what precise period the county was made shire ground. The common opinion is that this arrangement, together with its division into baronies, occurred in the early part of the reign of Elizabeth.
  • But from the ancient records of the country, it appears that previous to the 20th of Edward II., here were two counties distinguished by the names of Down and Newtown.
  • The barony of Ards was also a separate jurisdiction, having sheriffs of its own at the same date; and the barony of Lecale was considered to be within the English pale from its first subjugation by that people; its communication with the metropolis being maintained chiefly by sea, as the Irish were in possession of the mountain passes between it and Louth.
  • That the consolidation of these separate jurisdictions into one county took place previously to the settlement of Ulster by Sir John Perrott, during his government, which commenced in 1584, is evident from this settlement comprehending seven counties only, omitting those of Down and Antrim because they had previously been subjected to the English law.

The first settlement of the English in this part of Ulster took place in 1177, when John de Courcy, one of the British adventurers who accompanied Strongbow, marched from Dublin with 22 men-at-arms and 300 soldiers and arrived at Downpatrick in four days without meeting an enemy. But when there he was immediately besieged by Dunleve, the toparch of the country, aided by several of the neighbouring chieftains, at the head of 10,000 men. De Courcy, however, did not suffer himself to be blockaded, but sallied out at the head of his little troop, and routed the besiegers. Another army of the Ulidians having been soon after defeated with much slaughter in a great battle, he became the undisputed master of the part of the county in the vicinity of Downpatrick, which town he made his chief residence, and founded several religious establishments in its neighbourhood.

In 1200, Roderic Mac Dunleve, toparch of the country, was treacherously killed by De Courcy's servants, who were banished for the act by his order; but in 1203 he himself was seized, while doing penance unarmed in the burial-ground of the cathedral of Down, by order of De Lacy, the chief governor of Ireland, and was sent prisoner to King John in England. The territory then came into the possession of the family of De Lacy, by an heiress of which, about the middle of the same century, it was conveyed in marriage to Walter de Burgo. In 1315, Edward Bruce having landed in the northern part of Ulster, to assert his claim to the throne of Ireland, this part of the province suffered severely in consequence of the military movements attending his progress southwards and his return. Some years after, William de Burgo, the representative of that powerful family, having been killed by his own servants at Carrickfergus, leaving an only daughter, the title and possessions were again transferred by marriage to Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, through whom they finally became vested in the kings of England.

DIOCESES, BARONIES & TOWNS

It is partly in the diocese of Down, and partly in that of Dromore, with a small portion in that of Connor.

For purposes of civil jurisdiction, it is divided into the baronies of Ardes, Castlereagh, Dufferin, Iveagh Lower, Iveagh Upper, Kinelarty, Lecale, and Mourne, and the extra-episcopal Lordship of Newry. It contains:

Prior to the Union it sent fourteen members to the Irish parliament, namely, two for the county at large, and two for each of the boroughs of Newry, Downpatrick, Bangor, Hillsborough, Killyleagh, and Newtown-Ardes. It is at present represented by four members, namely, two for the county, and one for each of the boroughs of Newry and Downpatrick. The number of voters registered at the last general election was 3729. The election for the county takes place at Downpatrick. Down is included in the north-east circuit: the assizes are held at Downpatrick, where are the county gaol and court-house: quarter sessions are held at Newtown-Ardes, Hillsborough, Downpatrick, and Newry: the number of persons charged with criminal offences and committed to prison, in 1835, was 468, and of civil bill commitments, 87. The local government is vested in a lord-lieutenant, 19 deputy lieutenants, and 120 other magistrates, besides whom there are the usual county officers, including two coroners. There are 30 constabulary police stations, having in the whole a force of 5 chief and 30 subordinate constables and 114 men, with 6 horses, the expense of whose maintenance is defrayed equally by Grand Jury presentments and by Government.

  • There are a county infirmary and a fever hospital at Downpatrick, and dispensaries situated respectively at Banbridge, Kilkeel, Rathfriland, Castlewellan, Dromore, Warrenspoint, Donaghadee, Newry, Newtownbreda, Hollywood, Hillsborough, Ardglass, and Bangor, maintained equally by private subscriptions and Grand Jury presentments.
  • The amount of Grand Jury presentments for 1835 was £43,103. 7. 0 ¼., of which £5257. 6. 2. was for the public roads of the county at large; £17,226. 19. 2. was for the public roads, being the baronial charge; £11,923. 18. 4. for public buildings and charities, officers' salaries, &c.; £3429. 1. 5 ½. for police; and £5266. 1. 10 ¾. in repayment of a loan advanced by Government.
  • In the military arrangements, it is included in the northern district and contains three barrack stations for infantry, namely, two at Newry and one at Downpatrick. On the coast, there are nineteen coast-guard stations, under the command of two inspecting commanders, in the districts of Donaghadee and Newcastle, with a force of 15 chief officers and 127 men.

TOPOGRAPHY

The county has a pleasing inequality of surface and exhibits a variety of beautiful landscapes. The mountainous district is in the south, comprehending all the barony of Mourne, the lordship of Newry, and a considerable portion of the barony of Iveagh: these mountains rise gradually to a great elevation, terminating in the towering peak of Slieve Donard; and to the north of this main assemblage is the detached group of Slieve Croob, the summit of which is only 964 feet high. There are several lakes, but none of much extent: the principal are Aghry or Agher, and Erne, in Lower Iveagh; Ballyroney, Loughbrickland, and Shark, in Upper Iveagh; Ballinahinch, in Kinelearty; and Ballydowgan, in Lecale. The county touches upon Lough Neagh in a very small portion of its north-western extremity, near the place where the Lagan canal discharges itself into the lake. Its eastern boundary, including also a portion of the northern and southern limits, comprehends a long line of coast, commencing at Belfast with the mouth of the Lagan, which separates this county from that of Antrim, and proceeding thence along the southern side of Carrickfergus bay, where the shore rises in a gentle acclivity, richly studded with villas, to the Castlereagh hills, which form the background.

Off Orlock Point, at the southern extremity of the bay, are the Copeland islands, to the south of which is the town and harbour of Donaghadee, a station for the mail packets between Ireland and Scotland. On the coast of the Ardes are Ballyhalbert bay, doughy bay, and Quintin bay, with the islets called Burr or Burial Island, Green Island, and Bard Island. South of Quintin bay is the channel, about a mile wide, to Strangford Lough, called also Lough Cone. The lough itself is a deep gulf stretching ten miles into the land in a northern direction, to Newtown-Ardes, and having a south-western offset, by which vessels of small burden can come within a mile of Downpatrick. The interior is studded with numerous islands, of which Boate says there are 260: Harris counts 54 with names, besides many smaller; a few are inhabited, but the others are mostly used for pasturage, and some are finely wooded. South of Strangford Lough are Gun's island, Ardglass harbour, and Killough bay Dundrum bay, to the south-west, forms an extended indentation on the coast, commencing at St. John's Point, south of Killough, and terminating at Cranfield Point, the southern extremity of the county, where the coast takes a northwestern direction by Greencastle, Rostrevor, and Warrenpoint, to Newry, forming the northern side of the romantic and much-frequented bay of Carlingford.

AGRICULTURE

The extent and varied surface of the county necessarily occasion a great diversity of soil: indeed there exists every gradation from a light sandy loam to a strong clay; but the predominant soil is a loam, not of great depth but good in quality, though in most places intermixed with a considerable quantity of stones of every size. When clay is the substratum of this loam, it is retentive of water and more difficult to improve; but when thoroughly cultivated, its produce is considerable and of superior quality. As the subsoil approaches to a hungry gravel, the loam diminishes considerably in fertility. Clay is mostly confined to the eastern coast of the Ardes and the northern portion of Castlereagh, in which district the soil is strong and of good quality. Of sandy ground, the quantity is still less, being confined to a few stripes scattered along the shores, of which the most considerable is that on the bay of Dundrum: part of this land is cultivated, part used as grazing land or rabbit-warren, and a small portion consists of shifting sands, which have hitherto baffled all attempts at improvement. There is a small tract of land south of the Lagan, between Moira and Lisburn, which is very productive, managed with less labour than any of the soils above mentioned, and earlier both in seed-time and harvest. Gravelly soils, or those intermixed with water-worn stones, are scattered over a great part of the county. Moory grounds are mostly confined to the skirts of the mountains; the bogs, though numerous, are now scarcely sufficient to afford a plentiful supply of fuel: in some parts they form the most lucrative portion of the property. The rich and deep loams on the sides of the larger rivers are also extremely valuable, as they produce luxuriant crops of grass annually without the assistance of manure.

  • The cattle being generally procured more for the dairy than for feeding, special attention has not been paid to the improvement of the breed: hence there is a mixture of every kind. The most common and highly esteemed is a cross between the old native Irish stock and the old Leicester long-horned, which are considered the best milchers. But the anxiety of the principal resident landowners to improve every branch of agriculture having led them to select their stock of cattle at great expense, the most celebrated English breeds are imported, and the advantages are already widely diffusing themselves. The North Devon, Durham, Hereford, Leicester and Ayrshire breeds have been successively tried, and various crosses produced; that between the Durham and Leicester appears best adapted to the soil and climate, and on some estates there is a good cross between the Ayrshire and North Devon; but the long-horned is still the favourite breed of the small farmer.
  • Great improvements have also been made in the breed of sheep, particularly around Hillsborough, Seaford, Downpatrick, Bangor, Cumber, Saintfield, and other places, where there are several fine flocks, mostly of the new Leicester breed. In other parts there is a good cross between the Leicester and old native sheep. The latter have undergone little or no change in the vicinity of the mountains; they are a small hardy race, with a long hairy fleece, black face and legs, some of them horned; they are prized for the delicacy and flavour of their mutton.
  • The breed of pigs has of late been very much improved: the Berkshire and Hampshire mostly prevail; but the most profitable is a cross between the Dutch and Russian breeds, which grows to a good size, easily fattens, and weighs well; the greater number are fattened and slaughtered, and the carcases are conveyed either to Belfast, or Newry for the supply of the provision merchants, where they are mostly cured for the English market.
  • The breed of horses, in general, is very good. There are some remains of ancient woods near Downpatrick, Finnebrogue, Briansford, and Castlewellan; and the entire county is well wooded. The oak every where flourishes vigorously; in the parks and demesnes of the nobility and gentry there is a great quantity of full-grown timber, and extensive plantations are numerous in almost every part, particularly in the vale of the Lagan, from Belfast to Lisburn, and around Hollywood, and many of the hills have been successfully planted.

GEOLOGY

The Mourne mountains, extending from Dundrum bay to Carlingford bay, form a well-defined group, of which Slieve Donard is the summit, being, according to the Ordnance survey, 2796 feet above the level of the sea, and visible, in clear weather, from the mountains near Dublin: granite is its prevailing constituent. To the north of these mountains, Slieve Croob, composed of sienite, and Slieve Anisky, of hornblende, both in Lower Iveagh, constitute an elevated tract dependent upon, though at some distance from, the main group. Hornblende and primitive greenstone are abundant on the skirts of the granitic district. Mica slate has been noticed only in one instance. Exterior chains of transition rocks advance far to the west and north of this primitive tract, extending westward across Monaghan into Cavan, and on the north-east to the southern cape of Belfast Lough, and the peninsula of Ardes. The primitive nucleus bears but a very small proportion, in surface, to these exterior chains, which are principally occupied by grauwacke and grauwacke slate.

In the Mourne Mountains and the adjoining districts an extensive formation of granite occurs, but without the varieties found in Wicklow, agreeing in character rather with the newer granite of the Wernerians: it constitutes nearly the whole mass of the Mourne mountains, whence it passes across Carlingford bay into the county of Louth. On the north-west of these mountains, where they slope gradually into the plain, the same rock reaches Rathfriland, a tableland of inconsiderable elevation. Within the boundaries now assigned, the granite is spread over a surface of 324 square miles, comprehending the highest ground in the North of Ireland. Among the accidental ingredients of this formation are crystallised hornblende, chiefly abounding in the porphyritic variety, and small reddish garnets in the granular: both varieties occur mingled together on the top of Slieve Donard.

Water-worn pebbles, of porphyritic syenite, occasionally containing red crystals of feldspar and iron pyrites, are very frequent at the base of the Mourne mountains, between Rostrevor and Newcastle: they have probably been derived from the disintegration of neighbouring masses of that rock, since, on the shore at Glassdrummin, a ledge of porphyritic syenite, evidently connected with the granitic mass of the adjoining mountain, projects into the sea. Greenstone slate rests against the acclivities of the Mourne mountains, but the strata never rise high, seldom exceeding 500 feet. Attempts have been made to quarry it for roofing, which it is thought would be successful if carried on with spirit. Feldspar porphyry occurs in the bed of the Finish, north-west of Slieve Croob, near Dromara, and in a decomposing state at Ballyroany, north-east of Rathfriland. Slieve Croob seems formed, on its north-east and south-east sides, of different varieties of sienite, some of them porphyritic and very beautiful: this rock crops out at intervals from Bakaderry to the top of Slieve Croob, occupying an elevation of about 900 feet.

Grauwacke and grauwacke slate constitute a great part of the baronies of Ardes, Castlereagh, and the two Iveaghs: it is worked for roofing at Ballyalwood, in the Ardes; and a variety of better quality still remains undisturbed at Cairn Garva, south-west of Conbigg Hill. Lead and copper ores have been found in this formation at Conbigg Hill, between Newtown-Ardes and Bangor, where a mine is now profitably and extensively worked. Two small limestone districts occur, one near Downpatrick on the south-west, and the other near Comber on the northwest, of Strangford Lough. The old red sandstone has been observed on the sides of Strangford Lough, particularly at Scrabo, which rises 483 feet above the lough, and is capped with greenstone about 150 feet thick; the remaining 330 feet are principally sandstone, which may be observed in the white quarry in distinct beds of very variable thickness, alternating with grauwacke. This formation has been bored to the depth of 500 feet on the eastern side of Strangford Lough, in the fruitless search for coal, which depth, added to the ascertained height above ground, gives from 800 to 900 feet as its thickness. The greatest length of this sandstone district is not more than seven miles; it appears to rest on grauwacke. Coal, in three seams, is found on the shores of Strangford, and two thin seams are found under the lands of Wilnmount, on the banks of the Lagan; there are also indications of coal in two places near Moira.

Chalk appears at Magheralin, near Moira, proceeding thence towards the White mountains near Lisburn, and forming a low tableland. The quarries chiefly worked for freestone are those of Scrabo and Kilwarlin, near Moira, from the latter of which flags are raised of great size and of different colours, from a clear stone-colour to a brownish-red. Slates are quarried on the Ardes shore, between Bangor and Ballywalter, and near Hillsborough, Anahilt, and Ballinahinch: though inferior to those imported from Wales in lightness and colour, they exceed them in hardness and durability. In the limestone quarries near Moira, the stone is found lying in horizontal strata intermixed with flints, in some places stratified, and in others in detached pieces of various forms and sizes: it is common to see three of these large flints, like rollers, a yard long and twelve inches each in diameter, standing perpendicularly over each other, and joined by a narrow neck of limestone, funnel-shaped, as if they had been poured when in a liquid state into a cavity made to receive them. Shells of various kinds are also found in this stone.

INDUSTRY

The staple manufacture is that of linens, which has prevailed since the time of William. III., when legislative measures were enacted to substitute it for the woollen manufacture. Its establishment here is owing greatly to the settlement of a colony of French refugees, whom the revocation of the edict of Nantes had driven from their native country, and more especially to the exertions of one of them, named Crommelin, who, after having travelled through a considerable part of Ireland, to ascertain the fitness of the country for the manufacture, settled in Lisburn, where he established the damask manufacture, which has thriven there ever since. The branches now carried on are fine linen, cambrics, sheetings, drills, damasks, and every other description of household linen. Much of the wrought article, particularly the finer fabrics, is sent to Belfast and Lurgan. for sale; the principal markets within the county are Dromore (for finer linens), and Rathfriland, Kilkeel, Downpatrick, Castlewellan, Ballinahinch, Banbridge, Newry, Dromore, and Kirkcubbin, for those of inferior quality.

The cotton manufacture has latterly made great progress here; but as the linen weavers can work at a cotton loom, and as the cotton weavers are unqualified to work at linen, the change has not been in any great degree prejudicial to the general mass of workmen, who can apply themselves to one kind when the demand for the other decreases. The woollen manufacture is confined to a coarse cloth made entirely for domestic consumption, with the exception of blanketing, which was carried on with much spirit and to a great extent, particularly near Lisburn. The weaving of stockings is pretty generally diffused, but not for exportation. Tanning of leather is carried on to a large extent: at Newry there is a considerable establishment for making spades, scythes, and other agricultural implements and tools; and there are extensive glass-works at Newry and Ballimacarett. Kelp is made in considerable quantities along the coast and on Strangford lough, but its estimation in the foreign market has been much lowered by its adulteration during the process.

There is a considerable fishery at Bangor, for flat fish of all kinds, and for cod and oysters; also at Ardglass for herrings, and at Killough for haddock, cod, and other round fish; the small towns on the coast are also engaged in the fishery, particularly that of herrings, of which large shoals are taken every year in Strangford lough, but they are much inferior in size and flavour to those caught in the main sea. Smelts are taken near Portaferry; mullet, at the mouth of the Quoile river, near Downpatrick; sand eels, at Newcastle; shell fish, about the Copeland islands; and oysters, at Ringhaddy and Carlingford.

TRANSPORT & COMMUNICATIONS

The principal rivers are the Bann and the Lagan, neither of which is navigable within the limits of the county: the former has its source in two neighbouring springs in that part of the mountains of Mourne called the Deer's Meadow, and quits this county for Armagh, which it enters near Portadown, where it communicates with the Newry canal. The Lagan has also two sources, one in Slieve Croob, and the other in Slieve-na-boly, which unite near Waringsford: near the Maze it becomes the boundary between the counties of Down and Antrim, in its course to Carrickfergus bay. There are also the Newry river and the Ballinahinch river, the former of which rises near Rathfriland, and falls into Carlingford bay; and the latter derives its source from four small lakes, and empties itself into the southwestern branch of Strangford lough. This county enjoys the benefit of two canals, viz., the Newry navigation, along its western border, connecting Carlingford bay with Lough Neagh; and the Lagan navigation which extends from the tideway at Belfast along the northern boundary of the county, and enters Lough Neagh near that portion of the shore included within its limits. It originated in an act passed in the 27th of George II.: its total length is 20 miles; but, from being partly carried through the bed of the Lagan, its passage is so much impeded by floods as to detract much from the benefits anticipated from its formation.

ANTIQUITIES

There are two remarkable cairns; one on the summit of Slieve Croob, which is 80 yards round at the base and 50 on the top, and is the largest monument of the kind in the county: on. this platform several smaller cairns are raised, of various heights and dimensions. The other is near the village of Anadorn, and is more curious, from containing within its circumference, which is about 60 yards, a large square smooth stone supported by several others, so as to form a low chamber, in which were found ashes and some human bones. A solitary pillar stone stands on the summit of a hill near Saint-field, having about six feet of its length above the ground.

Among the more remarkable cromlechs is that near Drumbo, called the Giant's Ring, also one on Slieve-na-Griddal, in Lecale; there is another near Sliddery ford, and a third is in the parish of Drumgooland; others less remarkable may be seen near Rathfriland and Comber. There are two round towers: one stands about 24 feet south-west of the ruins of the church of Drumbo, and the other is close to the ruins of the old church of Maghera: a third, distinguished for the symmetry of its proportions, stood near the cathedral at Downpatrick, but it was taken down in 1790, to make room for rebuilding part of that edifice. Of the relics of antiquity entirely composed of earth, every variety is to be met with. Raths surrounded by a slight single ditch are numerous, and so situated as to be generally within view of each other.

Of the more artificially constructed mounds, some, as at Saintfield, are formed of a single rampart and foss; others with more than one, as at Downpatrick, which is about 895 yards in circuit at the base, and surrounded by three ramparts: a third kind, as at Dromore, has a circumference of 600 feet, with a perpendicular height of 40 feet; the whole being surrounded by a rampart and battlement, with a trench that has two branches, embracing a square fort, 100 feet in diameter: and there are others very lofty at Donaghadee and Dundonald, with caverns or chambers running entirely around their interior.

  • A thin plate of gold, shaped like a half-moon, was dug out of a bog in Castlereagh; the metal is remarkably pure, and the workmanship good though simple.
  • Another relic of the same metal, consisting of three thick gold wires intertwined through each other, and conjectured to have formed part of the branch of a golden candlestick, was found near Dromore.
  • Near the same town have been found a canoe of oak, about 13 feet long, and various other relics; another canoe was found at Loughbrickland, and a third in the bog of Moneyreagh.
  • An earthen lamp of curious form was dug up near Moira, the figures on which were more remarkable for their indecency than their elegance.

SOURCE: A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland by Samuel Lewis (pub 1837)

 

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Comments

  • Very interesting review of County Down. Our family begins with John Fagan born in 1816 and lived in the Parish of Seapatrick townland of Checker Hill, Banbridge. There are also other Fagan's that could also be related, one is Samuel Fagan who lived in Scarva Street, Banbridge and William Fagan living in Mary's Row, Banbridge. 

    Our John Fagan moved to Carlisle, Northcumberland, England, a Catholic City of people who moved from County Down and other places in Ireland and settled there.

    John was a Tailor by trade and married Sarah Stewart who came from a Catholic family and both lived and stayed in Carlisle. Their family grew and their First Son was John Joseph Fagan was born in 1847 Carlisle, England and he married Mabel Armstrong and they have more children, three of them. They all left England in 1883 on board the City of Paris and landed in New York. It was rough going for them so they moved to Connecticut where Mabel died 2 years later. John then had 3 children to take care of, and it was suggested that they put the children in an Orphanage but he perservered and kept his children and moved to Fall River Mass. and then John married Annie Sheehan. Annies Father Daniel Sheehan and his brother Patrick served in the Civil War and both were in Irish Regiments and served with great distinction. Daniel was in the "Fighting Irish Ninth Regiment" of Boston one of the first soldiers to sign up for the Cival War. He was also wounded twice, once in Frederiscksburg, Maryland and another time in battle of the Potomac one of the first battles fought in the Civil War..Patrick was in the "Irish Brigade" of New York fame and was wounded in Richmond, Virginia, one of the last Battles of the Cival War, he was taken Prisoner and then after a while was sent back to his Brigade in a prisoner swap.

    John Fagan and Annie Sheehan his wife moved to Rhode Island in Coventry where our family grew again and John's first son was Maurice J. Fagan Sr.. He was my Grandfather as I am Mitchell Fagan and my Fathers name was also Maurice J. Fagan Jr. who was a Dentist who married Ruth MacDonald. We all 7 of us then all moved to a growing city called Atlanta, my father was in the Air Force and was transferred to Atlanta, GA during the Vietnam War. . And the story goes on, I am one of six kids and now we all have kids and grandkids. Many more stories all along the way since my Great Great Grandfather John Fagan born in County Down, Ireland. 

     

    Mitchell Fagan

    Wednesday 15th April 2020, 08:50PM