The Swantons of County Cork, Ireland,
Boston, Massachusetts
and Brooklyn, New York

Ginni Louise Swanton

The Swantons: From England to Ireland

My Swantons were either descendents of the few Swantons who lived in Ireland during Cromwellian times, or of the Swantons who fought under King William of Orange against King James II in 1690, or the Swantons who fought under King James II. There was a James Swanton in Berwick's Regiment on King James' side. Swanton is an English name derived from a place in Norfolk, England.

There are three parishes in Norfolk with the Swanton name:

There were Swantons in Wincanton, Somerset, England documented from the 14th century

Source: Letter from Ernest Swanton of Haslemere to John Reed Swanton

In 1653, Cromwell formed a new mode of government called the protectorship. The Catholic officers and nobility were forced to abandon their estates in the other provinces and cross the Shannon into Connaught and the County Clare, where Cromwell enjoined them to remain, under pain of death, with express permission to leave them. Here they were subjected to the insolence, oppression, and cruelty of the tyrants who ruled over them.

Cromwell, in the meantime, either wishing to conciliate the Irish by kindness, or give them a favorable opinion of his benevolence, established at Athlone a court of claims, by which it was decreed to grant in those parts of the kingdom, to the proscribed proprietors of lands, (who would be found not to have been implicated in the rebellion,) a portion of land sufficient for their subsistence, and befitting their qualify and pretensions. By this regulation it happened that some of these noblemen enjoyed in Connaught and the county of Claire a fourth, others a third, and some one-half of the revenues they possessed at home.

Two of the recipients of these Connaught Certificates were Michael and Margaret Swanton. Michael is not a common first name for Swantons, and in the 1800’s, it appeared primarily in the Catholic Swanton lines in Dunmanway and Midleton. My great great grandfather was named Michael Swanton.

Most of the Swantons, however, arrived in Ireland in 1690 to fight under King William III against King James II. In the History of Bandon, written by George Bennett in 1862, Mr. Bennett notes that:

“A great many of those that fought in the last campaign under William, settled in and about Bandon, amongst whom were Captain William Scott, who commanded a troop in one of William’s horse regiments at the Boyne, Hornibrook, Swanton, etc.”

In The Story of West Carbery, I found the following Swanton reference:

"The Swantons are still another family which must have arrived in West Carbery about this time as we are told that Swanton was a Williamite arrival in Bandon about 1690. During the following century, the family acquired large estates, and founded the town of Ballydehob, which at one time was called "Swantons Town". Smith does not mention it at all, so apparently it did not exist in 1749 but in Lewis's Dictionary of 1837 we are told that it had 100 houses and 601 inhabitants, and that a "new line of road, formed by the Board of Works, from Skibbereen to Rock Island runs through it".

In 1768 Richard Tonson demised lands, in and near Ballydehob to William Swanton for lives, renewable for ever, which suggests the two families were then on very good terms. A William Swanton made his Will in 1825, and refers therein to property owned or rented by him in over 70 different townlands, mainly round Ballydehob, but extending westerly to Goleen, Dunmanus and Durrus, and easterly round Skibbereen and beyond Leap."

Edward MacLysaught wrote that:

“...though Swanton is an English name derived from a place in Norfolk, it has become closely identified with West Cork since the 17th century. There are no less than seventeen references to Swantons in Ireland in the 15th century, including two Connaught Certificates.

The name occurs frequently in the Cork and Ross wills and in the marriage license bonds for the same diocese from 1690. Practically all the fairly numerous Swanton births of the 19th century were registered in County Cork. In 1853, Griffith found as many as fifty-eight Swanton families in West Cork, and in 1878, there were seven of the name among the large landowners of County Cork, owning between them 11,750 acres. Click here to see a list of the Swantons who appeared in Griffith's Valuation.

“A few Swantons do appear in our records elsewhere; e.g., a sheriff in County Kildare in 1675. The most notable of the Cork Swanton family were those who distinguished themselves in France. James Swanton (1760-1820) who at the age of 12 was adopted by his uncle, the Abbe Swanton, served in Berwick's regiment of the Irish brigade and afterwards as a colonel in the French army. Hilaire Belloc was his grandson. His son, Armand (c.1785-c.1830), was also an officer in the Irish Legion. He was said to be the handsomest officer in the French Army.”

Michael C. O'Laughlin mentions the following in his Book of Irish Families, Great and Small :

Swanton, of English origins, Swan

“Swanton families are assumed to be of English settler origins. The family is found in County Cork in the 17th century. Cork is traditionally considered the home for the name. The 1890 birth index and Griffith's survey give the name centered in Cork as well. The 1890 index finds 5 of the name in Cork and 2 of the name in Dublin. "Swanton" is found in Dublin and Antrim then. Several are found in the works of O'Hart, and some are found as 'wild geese", in the ranks of foreign armies on the continent, as was one James Swanton of the Irish Brigades in France, 1760 - 1828. Several of the name held estates in Cork in the last century. At least one of the name is found as a sheriff in County Kildare in the latter half 17th century.”

Swanton Wills Probated in Cork between 1548 and 1855

Historical Background

The Williamite War

The Williamite War began in 1689, when the Catholic King James II of England, was removed from the throne by Parliament. He was replaced by his son-in-law, the Protestant William of Orange, a Dutch prince, who was crowned the King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland on April 11, 1689. William of Orange was known as the Defender of the Faith, and was married to Mary, the daughter of King James II.

After he was deposed, James fled to France, but the following year, he went to Ireland with French support, hoping that the Roman Catholics would help him to recover his throne. The Irish had welcomed the ascension of King James II to the English throne in 1685. James was a Roman Catholic, and they hoped that he would help them recover the land which had been taken from them by Cromwell. Ironically, William of Orange counted the Pope among his close friends.

In March of 1689, James and his troops landed at Kinsale in County Cork. They besieged Derry for three months but failed to take it. William of Orange sent his first battalion of troops to Ireland on August 13th 1689, and William himself arrived at Carrickfergus in Antrim on June 14, 1690 with a large army.

The war was short and decisive. On July 11,1690, James was defeated at the Battle of the Boyne and he returned to France. The Irish and their French allies continued the fight. But they were again defeated, at Aughrim, and driven back to Limerick. Patrick Sarsfield, Earl of Lucan, defended the town, but when no French help arrived he surrendered.

The Treaty of Limerick and the Wild Geese

On October 13,1691, the Articles of Capitulation, known as the Treaty of Limerick, were signed. Shortly after Sarsfield signed the Treaty of Limerick, a French fleet arrived with reinforcements and many of them urged Sarsfield to disregard the Treaty and to continue fighting. He had given his word of honor, though, and he refused to break it.

All who submitted under the Treaty of Limerick were to be allowed to keep their lands if they took an oath of allegiance to King William. One clause of the treaty seemed to promise that Roman Catholics would be free to practice their religion. Believing that they had negotiated a treaty that guaranteed the rights of their people, perhaps as many as twenty thousand Irish soldiers sailed with Sarsfield to France. For the next hundred years, the French Army would include an Irish Brigade which began with Sarsfield's soldiers, and which was fed for the next hundred or so years by a constant stream of young men from Ireland.

The majority of the recruits for the Irish Brigade came from the counties of Claire, Limerick, Cork, Kerry and Galway. French ships which arrived on the west coast to smuggle in brandy and wine would depart with recruits for the Irish Brigade. In the paperwork of the ships, the recruits were listed as "Wild Geese", which is how the term originated.

Although the term "Wild Geese" usually refers to the men of the France's Irish Brigade, France was not the only destination of these "Wild Geese. " Many went to Spain, where Irishmen had actually been serving for many years in great numbers, forming a number of regiments in the Spanish army. Irishmen served in the Armies of Austria, Russian, Poland and the various German Kingdoms.

James Swanton of the Irish Brigade

Although I have no known connection with this James Swanton, I have included this information to provide additional historical background information about the Swantons of County Cork.

One of these “Wild Geese” was James Swanton. He was born in Cork around 1760. As a boy of twelve years, he was sent to France by his widowed mother, and was adopted there by his uncle, the Abbe Swanton. Upon completing his education, he entered Berwick’s regiment of the Irish Brigade in 1780, and by 1789, he had reached the rank of captain.

After the outbreak of the Revolution, he, with eighteen other officers of the old royalist army, was imprisoned at Perpignan, France, in 1792. When a rumor reached his wife that he was in danger of execution, she hastened to Paris and, through the influence of a deputy of the National Convention, secured his release. Unlike so many others of the old royalist officers, he remained loyal to his adopted country and did not emigrate.

Promoted to the rank of colonel, he fought through the Revolutionary and early Napoleonic campaigns, during which he was an intimate friend of Henry Clarke, Duke of Feltre and War Minister of Napoleon. His great-grand-daughter, Mrs. Belloc Lowndes, the notable English novelist and sister of Hilaire Belloc, describes him as a typical officer of the old school: “stern, narrow-minded, very brave and with a high sense of duty.” He died in 1828 in Paris at the house of his daughter, Madame Swanton Belloc.

While still a young lieutenant, Colonel Swanton married Mademoiselle Chasseriau of La Rochelle, a lady of remarkable beauty, by whom he had a son and three daughters. One of the daughters, Louise, married Jean Hilaire Belloc, an eminent painter and professor of drawing at Paris, whose portrait of his wife is in the Louvre. His grandson, Hilaire Belloc, the brilliant writer, was named after him.

Louise Swanton Hilloc was interested in English literature and acquired a wide reputation for her French translations of Moore, Byron, Dickens, etc., and particularly for her critical study of Byron. I recently acquired an original letter written by Madame Swanton Belloc, which I’ve included in the appendix of this book.

Armand Swanton, son of Colonel Swanton, followed his father’s profession, and he was an officer of the Irish Legion in the French army from 1804 till 1814. In the latter year, he was taken prisoner at the French disasters on the Boher during the Napoleonic campaign in Germany. Sent as a prisoner to Russia, he was exchanged in the following year and fought at Waterloo.

After the Hundred Days he followed a course of military studies and, in 1827, was appointed captain in the royal corps of the headquarters staff. He died at Gap, a little town near Aix in Savoy, in his forty-fifth year. Captain Swanton was regarded as the handsomest man in the French officer class of his time. Interested in genealogy, he paid a visit to Ireland to look up the Swanton family records.

The Penal Laws

The treaty that Sarsfield had signed at Limerick would never be honored by the British. With cruel irony, the British tore up the Treaty of Limerick and replaced it with the Penal Laws, which stripped the Irish Catholics of their land, persecuted them for their religion and removed every right of their citizenship.

As a foreigner from the Netherlands, King William was not as successful in his dealings with Parliament as he might have been. When he was sworn in as king, he was required to take an oath swearing that he would obey the laws of Parliament and to be guided in his actions by their decisions. The course that Parliament pursued, particularly with regard to the Penal Laws, was not that selected by King William, who favored tolerance.

As a result of the harsh Penal Laws, persons of property could not enter into mixed marriages. Catholic property was inherited equally among the sons, unless one was a Protestant, in which case he received it all. A Catholic could not inherit property if there was any Protestant heir. A Catholic could not possess arms or a horse worth more than £5; Catholics could not hold leases for more than 31 years, and they could not make a profit greater than a third of their rent. Cases against Catholics were tried without juries, and bounties were given to informers against them.

Under the Penal Laws, Irish Catholics were forbidden to receive an education, enter a profession, hold public office, engage in trade or commerce, live in a corporate town of within five miles thereof, own a horse of great value than five pounds, purchase land, vote, keep any arms for their protection, hold a life annuity, be a guardian to a child, attend Catholic worship, or educate their own children themselves.

During the Penal Law days, Protestants and Catholics regarded each other with mutual suspicion and hatred. Secret societies, such as the Whiteboys, were formed by the Catholics. They would go out at night and tear down the enclosures the Protestants erected around the common areas, and would occasionally cut the ear off a tithe collector .

Priests and other educated Irishmen who were faithful to the Catholic Church, conducted schools in inaccessible caves or tiny huts, or behind hedges. They were known as “hedge schools”. Seumus MacManus, in his book The Story of the Irish Race, describes them as follows:

"Throughout those dark days, the hunted schoolmaster, with price upon his head, was hidden from house to house. And in the summer time, he gathered his little class, hungering and thirsting for knowledge, behind a hedge in remote mountain glen where, while in turn each tattered lad kept watch from the hilltop for the British soldiers, he fed to his eager pupils the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge.

Latin and Greek were taught to ragged hunted ones under shelter of the hedges whence these teachers were knows as "hedge schoolmasters. A knowledge of Latin was a frequent enough accomplishment among poor Irish mountaineers in the seventeenth century and was spoken by many of them on special occasions. And it is authoritatively boasted that cows were bought and sold in Greek, in mountain market-places of Kerry."

Catholics worshipped secretly at Mass Stones, holy outdoor places where the faithful would gather. Priests were hunted down, mercilessly persecuted, and even hung. These were terrible times for the Irish Catholics. Most of the Penal Laws were repealed by 1793, but some continued until 1829 when the Catholic Emancipation Act became law.

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