International Journal of Historical Archaeology

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 700–725 | Cite as

The House of Ussher: Histories and Heritages of Improvement, Conspicuous Consumption, and Eviction on an Early Nineteenth-Century Irish Estate

  • David A. Whelan
  • Tadhg O’Keeffe


Arthur Ussher, owner of the Ballysaggartmore estate in west County Waterford in the early 1800s, was one among many notorious landlords in Ireland during the Great Famine of 1847–52. He is remembered to this day in the locality for evicting hungry tenants and demolishing their houses for the non-payment of rents on his small estate, having earlier secured some improvement of land-quality through their labor. Buildings and designed-landscape features of Ussher’s demesne remain today, and are capable of an archaeological reading. They speak eloquently, even spectacularly, of the self-aggrandizing values of his social class. Relatively little “tenant archaeology” survives above-ground on the former estate, and most of the sites of eviction before and during the Famine are unidentified, but the story of their removal, and of tenant resistance—or non-resistance, more accurately—to it, is of some interest to students of the historical archaeology of the period. This paper documents the rise and fall of the Ussher project, illuminating the social violence that was often unleashed from landlord culture through the agency of Improvement.


Plantation Improvement Conspicuous consumption Eviction Resistance Heritages 


  1. Anonymous (1912). Parochial history of Waterford and Lismore, N. Harvey, Waterford.Google Scholar
  2. Ball Wright, W. (1889). The Ussher Memoirs, or, Genealogical Memoirs of the Ussher Families in Ireland. Sealy, Bryers, and Walker, London.Google Scholar
  3. Barnard, T. (2008). Improving Ireland? Projectors, Prophets, and Profiteers, Four Courts Press, Dublin.Google Scholar
  4. Beames, M. R. (1978). Rural conflict in pre-famine Ireland: peasant assassinations in Tipperary 1837–1847. Past and Present 81: 75–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bence-Jones, M. (1978). Burke’s Guide to Country Houses: Ireland, Burke’s Peerage, London.Google Scholar
  6. Busteed, M. (2000). The practice of improvement in the Irish context: the Castle Caldwell estate in county Fermanagh in the second half of the eighteenth century. Irish Geography 33: 15–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Butler, D. J. (2012). The landed classes during the great famine. In Crowley, J., Smyth, W. J., and Murphy, M. (eds.), Atlas of the Great Irish Famine, Cork University Press, Cork, pp. 265–276.Google Scholar
  8. Carroll, M. P. (1999). Irish Pilgrimage: Holy Wells and Popular Catholic Devotion, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.Google Scholar
  9. Clark, S., and Donnelly, J. S. (eds.) (2003). Irish Peasants: Violence and Political Unrest, 1780–1914, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison.Google Scholar
  10. Commissioners for Encumbered Estates. (1854). National Archives of Ireland, Dublin.Google Scholar
  11. Conant, K. J. (1968). The after-life of Vitruvius in the middle ages. Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 27: 33–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Connolly, S. (1982). Priests and People in Pre-Famine Ireland 1780–1845, Gill and Macmillan, Dublin.Google Scholar
  13. Connolly, S. (1995). Religion, Law, and Power: The Making of Protestant Ireland, 1660–1760, Oxford University Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  14. Cork Examiner, The (1847). May 5.Google Scholar
  15. Cowman, D., and Brady, D. (eds.) (1995). The Famine in Waterford, 1845–1850, Geography Publications, Dublin.Google Scholar
  16. Dickson, D. (1979). Middlemen. In Bartlett, T., and Hayden, D. W. (eds.), Penal and Golden Age: Essays in Irish History, 1690–1800, Queens University Belfast Institute of Irish Studies, Belfast, pp. 162–185.Google Scholar
  17. Donnelly, J. S. (2009). Captain Rock: The Irish Agrarian Rebellion of 1821–1824, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison.Google Scholar
  18. Dooley, T. (2001). The Decline of the Big House in Ireland: A Study of Irish Landed Families, 1860–1960, Wolfhound Press, Dublin.Google Scholar
  19. Feeney, P. (1984). Ballysaggart Estate: eviction, famine and conspiracy. Decies 27: 5–12.Google Scholar
  20. Girouard, M. (1964). Lismore Castle, Co. Waterford (part 1). Country Life August 6, ppp. 336–340.Google Scholar
  21. Guinnane, T. W., and Miller, R. I. (1997). The limits to land reform: the Land Acts in Ireland, 1870–1909. Economic Development and Cultural Change 45: 591–612.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Heffernan, K., and Villensteiner, F. (1999). The History of Strancally Castle and Valley of the Blackwater Between Lismore and Youghal, Strancally Castle Library, Knockanore.Google Scholar
  23. Howley, J. (1993). The Follies and Garden Buildings of Ireland, Yale University Press, New Haven.Google Scholar
  24. James, D. (1998). John Hamilton of Donegal 1800–1884: This Recklessly Generous Landlord, Woodfield Press, Dublin.Google Scholar
  25. Kearney, H. F. (1953). Richard Boyle, ironmaster: a footnote to Irish economic history. Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 83(2): 156–162.Google Scholar
  26. O’Keeffe, T. (2013). Lohort Castle: medieval architecture, medievalist imagination. Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society 118: 60–70.Google Scholar
  27. O’Keeffe, T., and Quirke, S. (2009). A house at the birth of modernity: Ightermurragh Castle, Co. Cork. In Lyttleton, J., and Rynne, C. (eds.), Plantation Ireland, Four Courts Press, Dublin, pp. 86–112.Google Scholar
  28. Orser Jr., C. E. (2005). Symbolic violence, resistance and the vectors of improvement in early nineteenth-century Ireland. World Archaeology 37: 392–407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Orser Jr., C. E. (ed.) (2006). Unearthing Hidden Ireland: Historical Archaeology in County Roscommon, Wordwell Press, Bray.Google Scholar
  30. Orser Jr., C. E. (2012). Ballykilcline. In Crowley, J., Smyth, W. J., and Murphy, M. (eds.), Atlas of the Great Irish Famine, Cork University Press, Cork, pp. 318–323.Google Scholar
  31. O’Sullivan, N. (2004). Imaging the land war. Éire-Ireland 39(3&4): 100–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Pakenham, V. (2000). The Big House in Ireland, Cassell, London.Google Scholar
  33. Pender, S. (1939). Census of Ireland circa 1659 with Supplementary Material from the Poll Money Ordinances (1660–1661), Stationery Office, Dublin.Google Scholar
  34. Royal Commission. (1845). Royal Commission . . . in Respect to the Occupation of Land in Ireland (1845), State of the Law and Practice in Respect to the Occupation of Land in Ireland: Evidence taken before Her Majesty's Commissioners: Part II. Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, London.Google Scholar
  35. Tarlow, S. (2007). The Archaeology of Improvement in Britain, 1750–1850, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  36. Whelan, D. (2010) An Historical Archaeology of Rural Landscape, Settlement and Society in West Waterford and East Cork, AD 1600–1900. Doctoral dissertation, University College Dublin, Dublin.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CulishealDublin 18Ireland
  2. 2.UCD School of ArchaeologyDublin 4Ireland

Personalised recommendations