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Strokestown Park House
And The Irish Potato Famine

Strokestown Park House is a characteristic Irish Big House, built in the Palladian style during the peak of the building boom of these residences around 1740.

The big house, seen on the photo below, became famous over the murder of the first of seven Irish landlords that were triggered by the agrarian unrest started by the famine.

Irish Potato Famine Museum, County Roscommon, Ireland.

Denis Mahon took over the estate in 1845. He had been a major in the English army. He had no managerial experience. On arrival he found an estate heavily in debt. Between1842 and 1845, most tenants had not paid any rent for five years.  They did not have the money to pay. They could barely feed themselves. Poverty among tenant farmers all over Ireland was extreme.

The estate at Strokestown had only 750 lease holders, but according to the 1847 census, close to 12,000 people were actually living on the part of the estate that was allocated to be rented. As many as thirty people were living on one acre of land on this portion of the estate, which included space for mud cabins, for grazing animals and for growing the staple, the potato crop. It was an unsustainable situation ultimately, and reflected what was going on on estates all over Ireland.

Read More About The Famine

About the era of the Big Country House

About the lifestyle of the owners

About the lifestyle of the servants

The role of big country houses in the local economy

About Strokestown Park House

This big house and the Irish Potato Famine

The History of this big house

Visit Strokestown Park House

Denis Mahon who had no managerial experience, hired an estate manager. Together they looked at how the estate could be brought out of debt. They calculated that the cost to Denis to pay for tenants who had to avail of the poor house (under the new poor law) would be 11,000 Pounds per year.

They came up with a ‘creative solution’: assisted emigration to Canada was going to be a once-off expense of 6,000 Pounds. In practice, this effort at assisted emigration became a disaster. The boats Denis Mahon leased were hopelessly overcrowded and there was a lack of food and water. As many as half the passengers died. The episode helped to coin the term ‘coffin ships’.

Word of the tragedy got back to Ireland. Denis Mahon got the blame. The local parish priest is said to have said during mass that Major Denis Mahon was worse than Cromwell, ‘yet he lives’. A few days later, on November 2nd 1847, he was shot dead just 8 miles from his home when coming out of a meeting.

Although three local men were brought to court there is a chance that none of them were actually involved. This murder, like other murders of landlords, is still shrouded in mystery.

Just prior to the murder, Denis Mahon’s daughter Grace Catherine married Sir Henry Sandyford Pakenham.

Grace Catherine’s new husband Henry Pakenham-Mahon took over the estate after Denis’ death. He evicted some 6,000 tenants claiming they were connected to the murder.

Today, Strokestown Park House is home to the Irish Famine Museum which illustrates the history of the Irish Potato Famine using audio-visual displays and original documents, enriching visitors knowledge of this part of Irish culture.

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