Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Leonards of Portraine Ireland

Leonard is an Anglicized surname used by Germanic, English and Irish cultures.  The name Leonard, when used in Ireland, comes from the Gaelic name O Leannain (derived from the word leann, which denotes a cloak).

My Leonard ancestors were from The Burrow, a township in Portraine ("Portrahan") Parish, Donabate District, North County Dublin, Ireland (now annexed as part of County Fingal).  The Leonard and related families have lived in The Burrow for over 400 years, according to family legend.

Portraine is a 110 acre township located along the eastern seaside of Ireland.  It's known for having Ireland's foremost mental hospital, St. Ita's, as well as a bizarre array of mobile homes placed right along the coastline facing Lambay Island/Liverpool across the Irish Sea.  What a view!



Emigrants Leave Ireland
Engraving by Henry Doyle (1868)

The eldest Leonard ancestors I've traced to date are Thomas Leonard (supposedly born in Spain ca 1776) and his wife (maiden name Byrne).  Their son, my 4th great grandfather Patrick Leonard, was born in the Burrow (ca 1795) and was a tenant farmer during the Great Famine.  Thomas had other children (Charles and Thomas Jr., according to verbal family history - and Mary Leonard-Finegan, based on my own assumptions regarding baptismal records at the time).

I've uncovered some old records involving men named Patrick Leonard, born at around the right time.

An 1823 prison record in Dublin shows a 25 year old Patrick Leonard incarcerated on the suspicion of stealing blankets on November 7th, and released the day after Christmas.

On December 12, 1835, a 39 year old Patrick Leonard was arrested for "Stealing a Vanity of Articles", and was tried on January 2, 1836, sentenced for six months, and then released from prison on July 2.

On May 6, 1840, a 40 year old Patrick Leonard was arrested for "Stealing a Metal Pot", and was tried on July 1, sentenced for three months, and then released from prison on July 29.

In this 1843 record from a Dublin workhouse, a single laborer named Patrick Leonard died of bad health on January 12, 1843.  My Patrick was indeed married, and I think he was still married at this time, so I'm doubtful that this is him.

Patrick (aka "Pat") appears on the Burrow tithe books in 1833 below:

A word about the tithe system from above:

From 1823 to 1838, there was a law called the Tithes Composition Act.  This required all Irish citizens to pay a monetary compensation to benefit the Irish Anglican Church (instead of an amount representing a portion of fee land holdings), regardless of whether the citizens attended this church.  I believe my ancestor Pat Leonard was a Catholic, so it's likely that he is listed above as having paid money to a church he didn't attend.  There was a rebellion in the 1830s whereby the peasants refused to tithe the church.  The rebellion was so popular that Great Britain couldn't enforce the Act.  In 1838, the Act was repealed, and a new law was put in place, requiring all Landlords to do the titheing.  Of course, Landlords simply raised the rent on their tenant farmers in response.  But it calmed the masses, as they didn't feel robbed by the Crown.

Patrick was a tenant farmer on his land in 1847, but it's not clear if that was the case prior.

See Patrick's listing below on line 22 and 34 of the Burrow section of the 1847 Griffiths Valuation, where it shows the Burrow's majority landlord to be Joshua Evans, Esq (who lived at the end of the street in house 49).  Also below are the Wade and Smart families, also figuring into the Leonard family:

A word on Burrow Landlord Joshua Evans, Esq.:

Joshua Evans (1782-1864) was born in Portraine, as were his father and grandfather.  He was one of the commissioners of the Court of Bankruptcy.  He succeeded to his brother George's role when he passed in 1842.  Joshua was married to Eleanor Harrison of Portraine.  When he died, his nephew George Jr. took over as landlord.  By the Wyndham Act of 1903, landlordism had ceased to exist and the Irish government assisted tenant farmers in the act of buying out their landlords.  Therefore, I believe that the Leonards finally owned their land by 1903.  By that time, Patrick was dead, and his son Mathew was to die a year later.  The homestead went to Francis Leonard after Mathew's death, so it's likely that Mathew lived to see the day where his family finally owned their farmland in fee.

Patrick Leonard the tenant farmer had at least six children with his wife Elizabeth Horish

1. Elizabeth Leonard, who married a John Harrison.  I wonder if John was a relative of the wife of the landlord?  There was a James Harrison in Donabate Parish records whose son Nicholas had Mathew Leonard as his godfather in 1850.

2. Mathew Leonard (1821-1904) (my 3rd great grandfather), who inherited the land from his father Patrick.  Mathew married Anna O'Brien, and had at ten children, most of whom migrated to Portland Maine.

3.  John Leonard appears in a Donabate Parish baptismal record on April 16, 1826.

4. Thomas D. Leonard, (1828-1912) nicknamed "Prod," a gardener who emigrated in 1850 to Portland Maine, and married Alice Wade.  Prod started the wave of Leonards in his family moving to Portland from Portraine.

5.  Mary Leonard appears in a Donabate Parish baptismal record on April 9, 1831.

6.  Charles Leonard appears in a Donabate Parish baptismal record on November 25, 1834.

7.  Ellen Leonard (and her husband Thomas Keane) are offering their son Patrick for baptism September 10, 1848.  Mathew Leonard is listed as godfather, so it's quite likely that Ellen is another daughter of Patrick.

It's not the most unique story, but it's a fateful tale as any other stemming from the Great Famine.



  1. Hello,
    My family lives only a few houses away from yours in the Burrow. In 1901 our families lived at house 11 and 13 and in 1911, they lived at houses 19 and 21! I have many Leonards in my tree, but they were from just over the water in Rush. Thanks for posting your site.

  2. That's very interesting. Please email me at We may actually be related.

    Scott Leonard

  3. It is looking good Scott :)

  4. Here is a link which gives some information on another family of Leonards in Fermanagh.

  5. We have traced our Family history to a Thomas Leonard born in Spain in 1776. His father Patrick Leonard born in Cork County 1752, married to Mary Wescott. Could this be the same family? Email me with your thoughts.....

  6. Hi,

    What a great website this is!!! Lots of good information, lots of family connections!!! Great job, whoever set this up!!


  7. Hi everyone,i'm in south-africa!my great grandfather was in the boer-war!he was irish. Jack Leonard