Strong Farmer

The Denniston family of Co. Longford is an interesting example of the ‘strong farmer’ class, the family in question being southern Presbyterians who emigrated to America in 1729. The Irish location of the family was given as ‘Greenbrard’ but the General Alphabetical Index to the Townlands and Towns in Ireland contains no reference to such a toponym. According to the Index to Surnames for Co. Longford, the surname Denniston, although rare, was found to occur in the parish of Granard near Edgeworthstown as early as 1823. This item of information corroborated family tradition which pointed to Edgeworthstown as the place where the emigrant party was formed.

The particular member of the family sought was one Alexander, born between the years 1700-10, the son of Alexander. As is frequently the case in Ireland, Presbyterian church registers in this instance are far too late to be of any assistance in tracing his birthplace.

With a view to enlarging our information on the Denniston family the next set of records consulted was wills. Up until the year 1858 the administration of wills was in the hands of the ecclesiastical authorities. As Co. Longford falls mainly within the diocese of Ardagh, the Index to the Diocese of Ardagh Wills 1695-1858 was consulted and yielded the following entry:

  • Alexander Deniston of Drimeele, Co. Longford 1723-24.

Next the alphabetical list of the Marriage Licence Bonds for the Diocese of Kilmore and Ardagh 1697-1844 was checked under Denniston. The purpose of such bonds was to indemnify the bishop or local ordinary against any loss resulting from the granting of a licence to the contracting parties. The actual bonds perished in 1922, however the surviving index has the following Denniston items:

  • Alexander Denniston and Agnes Little 1716
  • Alexander Dennison and Elizabeth Beaty 1727
  • Alexander Denison or Dennison and Catherine Montgomery 1715

Family tradition has the ancestor fighting under St Ruth. St Ruth, it will be recalled, commanded the Irish Catholics under James II in his struggle against William of Orange who led the Protestant supporters in Ireland. D’Alton’s King James Irish Army List 1689 which recorded officers on the Catholic side was searched without result. Assuming that the family more than likely sided with King William, a search of Dalton’s English Army Lists and Commission Officers 1689-94 produced one entry for the surname:

  • And. Denniston was an ensign (flag bearer) in 1690 in the Earl of Angus’s Regt. of Foot, The Cameronians, a Scots Regiment.

A search in the Registry of Deeds produced some further interesting references to the family in question.

  • Hume to Denniston, 26 27 14536: Deed of Indenture dated 20 March 1718 between Elizabeth Hume of St Johnston, Co. Longford and Alexander Denniston of Drumeeles, Co. Longford…to Alexander Denniston jun. of Aughnahane, Co. Longford … for the lands of Coundon, Corrintown, Teggarroe and Rockellbry in the parish of Cloonbrany, Barony of Granard. Witness: Samuel Denniston.
  • Denniston to Ford, 41 275 258 70: Memorial of an instrument in writing imparting a Demise dated 1 June 1723 between Alexander Deniston and Samuel Deniston of Drimile, Co. Longford Gent., and one Ford, gent … to let part of Tullycorke, Dromongavagh and Groaghrovagh. Witness: Alexander Denniston, Junior of Letrym, Co. Longford.

From another deed we learn that the family of Alexander Denniston was still extant in the Granard area in 1771.

As indicated above one branch of the family left for America in 1729 while the records point to some of those who remained behind taking sides in the Rebellion of 1798. The early List of Electors, Co. Longford 1790 records those who remained at home:

  • Alexander Denniston, abode Leitrim, freehold Glanvagh, Granard Barony 1789
  • James Denniston, abode Edgeworthtown, freehold same, landlord, Richard L. Edgeworth, 1785
  • John Denniston, abode Leitrim, freehold Granard, landlord, Littleton, 40 shilling freeholder, 1769 and 1776
  • Hans Denniston, abode Leitrim, freehold Springtown, Barony Granard, 1789 (want of freehold, never rec’d any of the rents to his own use.

In the next two editions of this roll, Hans has no entry and we soon find out why. Jones’s An Impartial Narrative of the most important engagements … during the Irish Rebellion, 1798 contained this reference to the family:

  • Alexander and Hans Denniston, both of them men of property and respectability in the neighbourhood of Granard. The former of whom was the first Lieutenant in the Mostrim yeomen cavalry … raised the rebel standard, and armed their followers against their king.

Their story is told in Pakenham’s The Year of Liberty

This case underlines the necessity of the precise townland which would have identified the exact Denniston family in Granard parish. Although it was not possible to trace the genealogy of Alexander Denniston born c.1700-1710, we found much information on the family and have acquired an awareness of the past which is one of the rewards of genealogical research.