Beloved Sarah

Sarah McDowell, fourth daughter of William and Sarah was a dark, pretty girl, born sometime around her parents move to Tipperary from England.

Sarah McDowell

Sarah McDowell

Not much was written about her but she is described as “beloved” on the family gravestone. In 1884, she married James Fraser, son of Robert Cumming Fraser, a land agent from Aberdeen, Scotland. James is described in the memoirs as  ” a cattle dealer, a feckless man who made money and enjoyed spending it …”

In 1885, a son, Robert was born, followed by Margaret Isabella in 1887 and Rose Isabel in 1890. As stated before, Sarah contracted puerperal fever and died in 1893. At that point, Robert and Margaret were taken in by Sarah’s younger sister , Agnes in Dublin. Rose Isabel went to the Tilery, James apparently not fit to look after the children himself. By the 1911 census, the children now in their 20’s were back living with him on Charleville Road in Dublin. Robert Fraser emigrated to Australia, Margaret (Madge) married Thomas Finch who worked for the British Colonial Service . She lived for a period of time on the Gold Coast (now Ghana) and had 3 boys. Rose (Isabel) sang on stage in London. James died in Dublin, 29 March, 1912.


After their marriage in 1883, “Ebby” followed George up to Parsonstown, Kings County where my great-aunt Sophie, was born. It is interesting that she did not go home to have her children but perhaps her youngest sister Sophie came to help her, hence the naming of the baby. I am quite certain that George was a bookkeeper for the estates. His son’s ship’s record states that he is a bookkeeper. Parsonstown, now Birr, was an elegant market town known for it’s Georgian architecture.

The birth of Sophie was followed in 1896 by that of William Henry, in 1888 by George Holmes Jr., who was born at Woodlands, Parsonstown. There were reports of William dying of typhus when he was young but I have not found an appropriate death record for him. Then the family moved to Ollatrim, down the road from Dublin, where Richard Walker, my grandfather was born at Carraway, in 1890. In 1893, Ebby had a little boy, Evan who died within a year.  In the previous year, her mother had died, and in the same year her sister Sarah died of puerperal fever right after Evan .

Shortly after that Ebby had a little girl, Evelyn baptized in May 1894. Then in 1896 Ebby  died from an embolism (blood clot), commonly occurring during pregnancy. The duration of illness was 4 hours so one wonders if she didn’t die during childbirth. The family story is that she was buried with twins in her arms. She died at Curraghaneety, Toomevara in Tipperary. Below is her obituary from the Nenagh Guardian.
Nenagh Guardian, Weds Aug 2nd 1896.
Deaths :On the 31st July, at Curraghaneety, Elizabeth (Ebby) the dearly beloved wife of George Phillips, aged 35 years. Deceased was interred in Ballycormack (now Borrisnafarney Church of Ireland) churchyard on Sunday last, the funeral being attended by a large number of the gentry and farmers of the district.

 A few years later, in 1899, George, died of typhus in Moneygall.    


Things pick up a bit when we get to my great-grandmother, Elizabeth McDowell, better known as “Ebby” Below with her husband, George Holmes Phillips

Elizabeth and George Phillips c.1885

Elizabeth and George Phillips c.1885

We know that the only son in the family had died in 1863. He was just two years older than Elizabeth. She would have attended school at the Presbyterian Manse with the other children and lived that busy life with the rest of the girls in the family. On September 12, 1883, she married George Holmes Phillips with the good Reverend Holmes abiding.
As closely as I can tell, George came from a family in Oakhampton, Newport, Tipperary who were land agents for Lord Bloomfield. There are no birth records for his date of birth, c.1858 but I have found his name and his sons names in this family, that is , Evan, George, Richard and Harry. My great uncle George was registered at Kings Hospital School in Dublin with his father’s occupation as “clerk in a land agents office”. Close enough for the time being. George’s occupation kept him and Elizabeth on the move up  along the road to Dublin  to Parsonstown, Kings County, now Birr, Offaly.

So, lets us talk about the life of a land agent. From Wikipedia: ” Traditionally, a land agent was a managerial employee who conducted the business affairs of a large landed estate for a member of the landed gentry in the United Kingdom,[1] supervising the farming of the property by farm labourers and/or tenants and collecting rents or other payments. In this context a land agent was a relatively privileged position and was a senior member of the estate’s staff. The older term, which continued to be used on some estates, was steward, and in Scotland a land agent was usually referred to as a factor. Today the term estate manager or similar is more common.”That is fine and well but being a land agent in Tipperary would be just a little different than in England. You would have been “standing in ” for the hated  “landlord” who often was absentee, would have been the one responsible for overseeing the horrible evictions that took place all over Ireland. Most of all, you would have been tough. A lot of this would have passed by the time of George and Elizabeth’s marriage but the memories would have still been there. I have an example of that in this article that was sent to me by Mary Guinon-Darmody of the Thurles Library in Tipperary .

“In 1922, Oakhampton House was broken into by thugs, claiming to be from the I.R.A. They demanded the key to the drawer where the money was kept. Evan Phillips refused to hand it over so they fired a shot over his head. The bullet lodged in the wall of the drawing room and they left without anything. Evan complained about this to the local I.R.A. leader, Paddy Ryan Lackan, who was a most upright man. He was furious about this as it wasn’t an authorized action and he was very keen on discipline. He brought a gun to Evan and instructed the family on how to use if they were ever molested again. They weren’t.”

This article mentions the family names as well as the Kingscote name which was the married name of Harriett Bloomfield who came into the estate when her brother died childless. How George fit into this scheme of things is hard to tell. He remained a clerk all of his short life, (he died at 43) but if they were moving frequently he may have been handling the accounts for these estates.

You can find Oakhampton House on the Landed Estates of Ireland database.


Alice McDowell  became the mainstay of the farm at Lisheenamalausa, Tipperary in later years . There is no evidence that she married. She had a reputation as a cattle dealer in her own right and worked along side the men in the family. In 1901, we find her at the Tilery with four of her nieces Sarah Hansard, Isabel Fraser, maternally orphaned, and my two great aunts, Sophie and Evelyn, whose parents had also died. Isabel’s brother and sister were staying with my great aunt Agnes in Dublin and my grandfather Richard and his brother George were at the Kings Hospital School in Dublin. These were the siblings of Sophie and Evelyn.
I sometimes get a sense that things were sometimes a little wild  at the farm. Alice died “of the drink” you might say, cirrhosis of the liver and dropsy. That was in 1904. To me, this somewhat parallels the way that William died. He took off for some reason in a pony trap and ended up with his neck being cut. What had taken place prior to that is hard to tell but it appears there was some disagreement about the sale of the Tilery. The cart tipped and he apparently cut his neck on a scythe which he had just bought. He got home and had a large amount of cash on him. Later, talking to Agnes, he said he had been forced to sign something but didn’t know what it was about. To me, this hints at the possibility of dementia. But it is certainly understandable that William wouldn’t want to sell the farm. There was a codicil to his will but there seemed nothing untoward in it. A change in the way the properties were dispersed to his granddaughters and the addition of more executors.


One of the very first thoughts I had when starting this venture was about the Great Famine in Ireland and of how my family survived it. We now know that William was in England during the famine but his family was probably still in Down. My grandfather did not emigrate until 1907 nor did most of the family. This ran in opposition to what I knew of Ireland. So immediately I began to think of how they could have survived those times. The answer of course was money. The money that the family here talked about for years.

There is no doubt that William did well. Below a report from the House of Commons citing Lord Derby’s tilery as providing the best in Tipperary.

Report on Tile Quality

Report on Tile Quality

In later years William secured the contract for the Tipperary Army Barracks which made him quite well off.  In the end , he owned the farm at Lisheenamalausa, a row of houses on Nelson Street in Tipperary Town and 2 houses at Galtee View, this according to his will.

Also, William was Presbyterian, not Catholic, making me further wonder how he survived the civil unrest that surrounded him. He was in the employ of Lord Derby, that in itself could be a blessing and a threat.

Was it just luck or had William cultivated friendships with people in the area so that they bypassed his property?  It could also be that the tenants received fair treatment from Lord Derby and there were fewer evictions if any on his land. This civil unrest became known as the Irish Land Wars. To add to the irony of the situation, I have discovered that my grandfathers immediate family, including his father were land agents. You know, the ones that did the evicting? So, there I have my answer, my family was basically on the “other” side! I have heard from many people though that for the main part the different people in and around Tipperary Town managed to dwell together in relative peace.

In 1867, Sarah presented William with his 6th and final daughter, Sophia.  They had a house full of girls and would live through the joy, sorrow and loss of watching them grow into bright and beautiful women.