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Shangarry Nolans – an ocean apart

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By Roger Nowlan

Reference: “Shangarry Nolans – an ocean apart, 300 years ago …” by Roger Nowlan, Nolan Clan Newsletter, December 2006


This article deals with the Shangarry Nolan family of County Carlow and explores the historical context which led to the emigration of three Nowlan brothers to the English Colony of Virginia around the year 1700. Based upon information found in the Nowlin-Stone genealogy published in America in 1916 by a descendant, James Edmund Nowlin, and new information found in the Nolan book by Father John Nolan and Art Kavanagh published in 2000 it is now possible to reconstruct the likely events which led to the eventual emigration of the three brothers.

The article also documents, for future research, an updated genealogy for the Shangarry O’Nolans starting with an O’Nolan chief in the early 1500s and ending with the first generation in Virginia and the cousins in Ireland

Historical Context

In Ireland, the early 1500s was a time of transition which saw the old concept of tribal lands disappear to be replaced by that of land ownership and stewardship as practiced in England. After centuries of fighting, the Gaelic lords, seeking to alleviate the hardships endured by their people, finally agreed to surrender their lands to the Crown and have them regranted under the terms of a Treaty of Peace signed in 1536 by the McMurrough (Charles McInnycross Kavanagh), “principal captain of his nation” (Leinster) and Lord Grey, the king’s “Deputy” in Ireland. However, an undesirable side-effect of the introduction of land ownership was the climate of competition and open hostilities that it created. In Carlow, the two main parties seeking to acquire land were the Earl of Kildare (the Fitzgeralds) and the Earl of Ormonde (the Butlers).

The early 1500s also saw the beginning of the Protestant Reformation and, by the mid 1500s, the concept of planting English settlers in Ireland had become widely accepted, Queen Elizabeth I  being one of its chief proponents. Church lands, crown lands and the lands of presumably disloyal subjects were confiscated and used to settle new arrivals from England and Scotland, thereby displacing people who quite often had been in possession of their lands since time immemorial.

The early Plantations, mostly in northern Ireland, did not have any significant impact on life in County Carlow, however, in the 1620s, the Plantation of much of the north of Wexford had a direct impact. Many of the dispossessed (e.g. Murphys, Kavanaghs, Hanricks, Keoghs, etc.) fled to the “Mountains” then still under the control of the Donal “Spainnaech” Kavanagh and his band of rebels. Moving into areas like Clonmullen, Barragh, Kilbranish and Myshall, the displaced put pressure on the already established local population and local economy. Unhappy with the general state of affairs, the native chiefs who had lost so much in so short a time soon revolted. The Irish Uprising of 1641 marked the beginning of years of civil war which would only cease in the mid-1650s after the incursion into Ireland of Cromwell’s forces, and much devastation.

At the cessation of hostilities, trials were held and anyone found to have been a party to the killing of Protestants or Englishmen was executed. Irish landlords, who were not found guilty of murder but who had actively rebelled against government forces, were ordered, under the Resettlement Act of 1652, to leave their lands and move to Connaught. Only those landlords and tenants who could prove that they had not taken part in the rebellion or had been too young at the time to have participated were allowed to hold on to their lands.

Cromwell died in 1659 and soon afterwards, in 1660, Charles II was restored to the English throne. For many Irish this brought new hope, hope that old wrongs would be righted, hope that religious discrimination would become a thing of the past. Their hopes, however, would soon be dashed. The soldiers, adventurers, and others who had been granted lands in the mid 1650s, fearing that they would be driven from their lands, petitioned the king directly to leave things as they were, and their petition seems to have had the desired effect. Out of the thousands of petitions for the restoration of confiscated lands to former Irish landowners less than 900 were successful and this usually after years of wrangling in the courts.

The bureaucratic climate of petitions and long drawn-out court hearings was the perfect opportunity for those familiar with the court system to acquire even more land. The Earl of Ormonde, created Duke of Ormonde in 1661 and thereby the de facto governor of Ireland, was one of the first former landlords to regain his family’s (Butler) lands confiscated in the mid 1650s. By 1670, in County Carlow, he and his third son, Richard Butler, who later became Viscount Tullagh (sic Tullow) and Earl of Arran, had acquired ownership of most of the Barony of Forth including the lands of Shangarry.

Early Family History

According to the Fitzgerald rent book of the early 16th century, Murrough ‘ne dowre’ O’Nolan was “captain of his nation” in 1518, in other words Chief of the O’Nolans, more popularly referred to as “The O’Nolan” or simply “O’Nolan”.

Based upon the information found in the Nolan book, it would further appear that Murrough ‘ne dowre’ had two sons, Edmund and Donough, who were alive in the early to mid 1500s.

Edmund, presumed to have succeeded his father as “The O’Nolan”, had three sons:

  • Cahir of Ballykealey who had 10 sons
    all born during or before the mid 1500s:
    Gerald, Brian, Teig, Donough, Edmund,
    Muiris, James, Phelim, Shane Duff and Owen

  • William of Kilbride who had 7 sons:
    Fiach, Cahir, Lesagh, Maurce ne Dower,
    Thady, Murrough ne Dower and Dermot.

  • Rosse of Kilknock who had one son: William

Donough had at least one son Donal,  who in turn appears to have had 2 sons:

  • Morgan of Rosslee from whom are descended the Nolans of Ballaghmore, Cappawater and Rosslee

  • Hugh of Shangarry from whom are descended the Nolans of Shangarry, Knockendrane, Ballinrush and Tinnaclash; he had four sons:
    Cahir, Donell, William and Hugh.

Donell/Daniel (c1592-1647) seems to have inherited half of Hugh’s Shangarry lands while his brother Cahir inherited the other half.

Daniel had at least two sons:

  • Edmund (????-1647), by his first wife

  • Patrick (c1615-c1670), by his second wife, Anastace Byrne.
    [Note: The Nowlin-Stone genealogy gives her name as Anastase O’Brien.]

Prelude to Emigration

In September 1640, by “enfeofment”, Daniel settled Patrick, a son by his second marriage, on lands he held in Shangarry. In the course of the following year Daniel seems to have participated in the Uprising of 1641 and, in October 1641, was seized in fee of the lands he held in the Barony of Forth, Co. Carlow. This would seem to imply that he had not given all his lands to Patrick. 

During the ensuing civil war which lasted into the mid 1650s, Donell and his two sons, Edmund and Patrick, actively opposed the government forces. In 1647, Donell and Edmund were killed. Edmund’s son, James, stationed at Clonmullen and later known as Captain James, was also quite active finally accompanying the king into exile as part of Captain Daniel Kavanagh’s regiment.

Sometimes after the Restoration to the throne of Charles II (1660), Captain James, believing that he had a legitimate claim to lands in Shangarry which formerly belonged to his grandfather Donell, leased them out to tenants. However, in 1664, during a court review of the extent of the lands owned by the Duke of Ormonde, the Shangarry lands were judged to belong to the Duke. Patrick Nolan, the former landowner and Captain James’ uncle, even testified to that effect. The legal argument used was that Patrick, having taken lands in Connaught in exchange for his lands in Carlow, no longer had a right to his former lands in County Carlow.  Captain James, however, doggedly believed that he had a rightful claim on parts of the Shangarry lands and continued to lease to tenants until 1669 when he allegedly murdered a Thady Nolan and fled to England.

A year later, in 1670, Captain James appealed to the Duke of Ormonde for the return of his lands but was summarily dismissed with an offering of eight Guineas and told to go back to Ireland. Staying on in London, at the urging of a Colonel Talbot, James petitioned the king directly for the restoration of the Shangarry lands. His petition was referred to the courts and, after first reading, the case dragged on for 7 weeks but, in the end, the case was dismissed due to lack of evidence. Captain James, wanting to be given the opportunity to bring forward credible witnesses, asked leave of the king to have his case heard in Dublin but was refused. At the time of the case, Captain James was married with 9 young children and reportedly destitute.

Captain James’ cousin, John, son of Patrick Nowlan, does not seem to have had as much trouble recovering his part of the Shangarry and Ballinrush lands, probably arguing that he was an “innocent”, too young at the time of the civil war to have participated in it. In 1669, Richard Butler, Earl of Arran and son of the Duke of Ormonde, leased the lands of Shangarry and Ballinrush to Thomas Bagenal to hold “in trust” for a John Nowlan. This was probably an arrangement made just before Patrick’s death (circa 1670 according to the Nowlin-Stone genealogy) securing lands for his presumed eldest son John.

Based upon an analysis of the information in the Nolan book, Patrick seems to have had 2 sons:

  • John Nolan of Shangarry and Ballinrush who, in 1669, was granted by Richard Butler, the Earl of Arran, a lease of 3 lives on the lands

  • James Nolan of Tinnaclash whose will was proved in 1742; this will is assumed to be the one by which Luke, a great-nephew, inherited Tinnaclash “from an uncle James”.

 In 1700, a Lawrence Nowlan, presumed to have been John’s eldest son, was occupying the Shangarry and Ballinrush lands and was forced to forfeit the lands, seemingly for having been a soldier in King James’ army during the Williamite wars. This is probably when the three brothers, brothers of Lawrence, left for Virginia.

However, within the year, based upon the 1669 lease for 3 lives he held from the Earl of Arran, John, the father, appealing the forfeiture was able to regain possession of the lands he and his son Lawrence had been occupying.

Combining the information available from the Nolan book and the Nowlin-Stone genealogy, it now seems that John Nowlan of Shangarry and Ballinrush had four sons:

  • Lawrence (c1670), the eldest son, who apparently took care of the Shangarry and Ballinrush lands for his father but,  in 1700, was mistakenly forced to forfeit them  because of  having been a part of King James’ army during the Williamite wars;
    his father, John, still holding the original lease of 1669 for the lands in question, was successful in recovering the lands

  • John  (1677- ) who, around 1700, went to Virginia and then “Up North”; he seems to have eventually made it back to Ireland and is believed to be the John Nolan (1677-1770), gentleman, who is buried in the Tinnaclash burial plot of the Templepeter cemetery in County Carlow

  • William who, around 1700,  went to Virginia and then to “New England”;  one possibility is that he went to Maine where, prior to the American Revolution, a Richard Nowlan was living; in 1783, he went with his family to Port Roseway, Nova Scotia (now Shelburne, NS); a Patrick Nowlin of Horton, NS, is believed to have been his son. For now this is only conjecture and requires further research.
  • James (1685) who, around 1700, went to Virginia, indenturing himself to an Englishman by the name of Ward, to pay for his passage to America

Two Shangarry Nolan Brothers – an ocean apart, 300 years ago

Lawrence Nowlan of Lisgarvan (c1670), son of John Nowlan, continued to live on the Shangarry lands with his father until 1713 when the lease expired; he then moved to a farm at Lisgarvan where his father John died; Lawrence had 3 sons:

  • Luke (1704-1770) of Tinnaclash who, presumably went to live with his great-uncle James at Tinnaclash and then inherited the estate when he died; Luke married late and had only one son, James (1743-1828).

  • Lawrence (1713-c1746) of Lisgarvan, then Knockendrane, who married Anne Wright (????-1776), a Quaker, turned Catholic, of Lisconnor, Fenagh; after being evicted from Lisgarvan in 1760, the family moved to Knockendrane; they had 4 sons, James (1745/54), Edmond (1755), Lawrence (1755) and John (1765) and 2 daughters, Anna (1761) who married a Sinnott of Buntawn, Co. Kildare, and Mary (????) who married Patrick Byrne of Ballyraggett

  • John (1714) “The Poet” of Ballinvalley who had 2 daughters, Ann (1740-1797) who married Brian O’Brien of Ballinvalley.

James Nowlin of Virginia (1685-1750/51), son of John Nowlan, arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, sometimes around 1700 and after a few years married his master’s daughter, Catherine Ward, believed to have also been born in County Carlow. They settled on Beaverdam Creek, Goochland County, Virginia, where their son James Nowlin II was born.  From family tradition, it is believed that they had a large family but so far only a Daniel Nowlin has emerged as a possible sibling to James Nowlin II.  The first James Nowlin may also have married a second time, marrying a Sarah Wade.


Given the limited amount of source material available for events which happened some 300 years ago, every attempt has been made to avoid jumping to conclusions. Where there is doubt the language has been chosen to reflect this.

It is hoped that this review of the Shangarry Nolan family will help to unite long-lost relatives from both sides of the Atlantic and form the basis for further research into the early beginnings of the Shangarry Nolans.

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