James Whelan (or Phelan) was born to parents Thomas Whelan and Mary Neile in Wexford, Ireland on 30 July 18121. He was baptised the next day Roman Catholic at Templetown in the Ferns diocese of Wexford1. He was the oldest of three siblings, he had a brother Patrick (1815) and a sister Catherine (1818).
There are a number of Thomas Whelan’s in Wexford, and even in New Ross itself, so it is difficult to know where exactly James lived when he was a child (I will work more on this as I try to definitively establish Thomas Whelan and Mary Neile).
Sometime before 1838, James married Mary Delaney and they settled in Oldcourt in Adamstown, New Ross, Wexford. If they married in 1837, he would have been 25 and she was just 17.
In 1838, James and Mary had their first child named Thomas. This Thomas lived only 8 years. In 1840 they had a daughter Mary, in 1842 a son Edward and in 1845 another daughter Kate. In 1847 they had a third son, whom they again named Thomas, he lived only three years. Dennis was born in 1850. Another son born in 1853 was again named Thomas, this son lived until almost 60 years old and died in 1913. The next son born in 1856 was named James and lived only 10 months. Following that, they had a girl named Bridget in 1857. In 1861, they had another son whom they named James. And finally in 1865 they had a girl named Catherine Maria Theresa. All of the children were born on the farm in Oldcourt.
Oldcourt is a small townland in county Wexford, measuring only 1.12 square miles (718.83 acres). James was a tenant farmer with 25 acres, 2 roods, 15 perches (there are 4 roods to an acres and 40 perches to a rood, so he farmed just over 25.5 acres). He had a house, outbuildings and land, which in 1853 were valued at £12.153. He was listed as a farmer at Oldcourt, Wexford in Basset’s 1885 directory11.
We know he must have been earning at least £10 in income per year from the property. Because of the Catholic Emancipation, Catholics were allowed to vote and hold office only if they earned at least that much in income, this was up from the 40 shillings required for voting privileges prior to that time (although prior to the Emancipation, Catholics could not hold office)20. James registered his right to vote in 18402,6.
James was in a little bit of trouble in 1875 in both April and July of that year he was a defendant in the Petty Sessions Court. In the first instance, he allowed his cattle to wander on the road5 and in the second, he had a dog that had no license4.
While James farmed the land, he did not own it but was a tenant farmer. As was usual in Ireland at that time, the land was owned by a landholder3 (often absentee). He made it through the Irish Potato Famine (1845-49) as he still rented the land in later years. However, he, like many others, was not happy with the status quo and worked to change it.
The Irish National Land League was founded in 187915,16 based on a program of three “F”s: fair rent, fixity of tenure, and free sale of the right of occupancy. Charles Parnell, the leader of the Irish Home Rule Party was the leader of the League. He and others of the “supressed league” called for farmers to refuse to pay the rent as a form of protest. James was among the many that followed this and the landlords would take them to court to sell the lease7. Once it was in court the courts would hear the tenants complaints about over-charging on the rent as well as the landlords claim to collect the rent; these cases sometimes went in favour of the tenants19, other tenants may have paid once it got to court.
Another tactic used by the league was to post signs and notices in the newspaper that the land was poisoned. This was promoted strongly by Charles Parnell who said “it is in the power of every poor man to advertise that his land is poisoned”14. The origination of this may be because in Irish tradition, kings literally married the land and when the king failed in his duty he is punished and the land is poisoned13. James posted in the paper that his land was poisoned in 18838, 18849, and 188510. He is also listed as attending the supressed league meeting in 188718, although the meeting took place after his death, so perhaps it was his son Thomas who was there. Thomas also continued his father’s tradition by posting a poison notice in the newspaper in 188717.
James died 24 May 1887 at the age of 74 at his home in Oldcourt after contracting bronchitis for two months12.
1Baptisms (NCR). Ireland. St. James and Templetown, Ferns. 31 July 1812 (Birth: 30 July 1812). WHELAN, James. Catholic Parish Registers at the National Library of Ireland. MF 04245/02. https://registers.nli.ie/registers/vtls000634120#page/7/mode/1up : accessed August 2019.
2The Wexford Independent. (1840). Registry of Freeholds Concluded. The Wexford Independent. 13 Jun 1840. http://www.findmypast.co.uk : accessed August 2019.
3Griffiths, Richard. (1853) Griffith’s Valuation 1847-1864. Oldcourt, Adamstown, Wexford, Ireland. http://www.findmypast.co.uk : accessed August 2019.
4Ireland Petty Sessions Court Register. (1875) Clonroche, Wexford, Ireland. 05 July 1875. http://www.findmypast.co.uk : accessed August 2019.
5Ireland Petty Sessions Court Register. (1875) Clonroche, Wexford, Ireland. 05 April 1875. http://www.findmypast.co.uk : accessed August 2019.
6The Wexford Conservative. (1840) Registry. The Wexford Conservative. 20 Jun 1840. http://www.findmypast.co.uk : accessed August 2019.
7The People. (1883). Sheriffs Sales For Rent. The People (Wexford). 15 March 1883. http://www.findmypast.co.uk : accessed August 2019.
8The People. (1883). Poison Notice. The People (Wexford). 29 September 1883. http://www.findmypast.co.uk : accessed August 2019.
9The People, (1884). Poison Notice. The People (Wexford). 13 September 1884. http://www.findmypast.co.uk : accessed August 2019.
10The People. (1885). Poison Notice. The People (Wexford). 23 September 1885. http://www.findmypast.co.uk : accessed August 2019.
11Basset, George. (1885) Wexford County Guide and Directory (1885). http:// www.findmypast.co.uk : accessed August 2019.
12Deaths (CR) Ireland. Carrigbyrne, New Ross, Wexford. 18 May 1887 at Oldcourt, Adamstown. https://civilrecords.irishgenealogy.ie/churchrecords/images/ deaths_returns/deaths_1887/06211/4777102.pdf : accessed August 2019.
13Matthews, John. (1997) Sources of the Grail: An Anthology. Hudson, NY, USA: SteinerBooks.
14Report of the Trial of the Queen, At the Prosecution of the Rt. Hon. the Attorney-General Against Charles Stewart Parnell [et Al.] for Conspiracy in Inciting Tenants Not to Pay Rents Contracted for : and Deterring Tenants from Payment of Rent, Commencing Tuesday, December 28, 1880, and Terminating Tuesday, January 25, 1881 (1881). p. 167.
17The People. (1887). Poison Notice. The People (Wexford). 1 October 1887. http://www.findmypast.co.uk : accessed August 2019.
18The People. (1887). Wexford Under Coercion. The People (Wexford). 1 October 1887. http://www.findmypast.co.uk : accessed August 2019.
19The Freeman’s Journal. (1879). Ejectments at Wicklow Sessions. The Freeman’s Journal. 30 October 1879. http://www.findmypast.co.uk : accessed August 2019.