Bloody, tumultuous Paris of the French Revolution is a long way from the tranquility of County Roscommon. Yet as the tumbrels carried their victims to the guillotine during the Reign of Terror in 1792-1793, two of our cousins, Mary MacDermotRoe and Colonel Thomas MacDermot Roe waited anxiously in French jails awaiting news. Would they be returned to freedom or were they to join the long line of condemned prisoners?
Mary MacDermot Roe, born 1758/9 was probably the youngest of the four children of Charles MacDermotRoe of Alderford, Kilronan Parish, County Roscommon and his wife Eleanor O'Conor, sister of the Irish historian and Catholic rights leader Charles O'Conor of Belanagar.(1) Fortunately, Mary gave an interview recorded in the Mundy-O'Reilly manuscript history of the life of Turlough O'Carolan. So we are able to piece together some important details of her life.(2)
Charles MacDermotRoe, a Catholic, had been given a long term lease of Alderford in 1752 by his mother Mary Fitzgerald, widow of Henry Baccach MacDermot Roe and the patroness of Turlough O'Carolan, shortly before her death. However, after Charles' premature death in 1759, Charles' older brother John, a lawyer who had become a Protestant, dispossessed widow Eleanor and her children of Alderford. The court records are not available but it would appear that John's case was based on the English imposed penal laws which greatly restricted the property rights of Catholics.
As the result, Mary, an infant, and the rest of her family were turned out of Alderford and lived, according to Mary, in "reduced circumstances" at various homes in the area. When she was about 18, Mary traveled to London. Her brother Denis had gone to England to apprentice as an apothecary and she apparently stayed with him.
While in England she met and married William Taylor, a Protestant merchant, about 1778. She subsequently became a Protestant herself. This was a matter of great chagrin to her uncle Charles O'Conor, the historian, who alludes to the event in his correspondence. In a letter dated February 6, 1789, O'Conor wrote:
In the Mundy-O'Reilly manuscript, Mary states that she and her husband William went to Paris in July of 1791. It would appear likely that William was there for business reasons. There were a great many English merchants in Paris at the time.
Why would Mary and her husband have gone there during such a dangerous time? While the French Revolution had begun two years earlier, it appeared to many that it was essentially over by the summer of 1791. It seemed that the King Louis XVI had, albeit reluctantly, accepted the reality of a constitutional monarchy and that France could look forward to stability and prosperity.
However, in the summer of 1792, the Austrians and Prussians attacked France with the apparent complicity of Louis XVI. The Revolution then turned into a radical phase. On August 10, 1792, a mob attacked the Tuileries Palace where King Louis was residing, killing his Swiss guards and threatening the royal family. In September, 1792, a mob, incited by Marat, a writer and leader of the Paris Commune, brutally massacred 1,500 people, mainly clergy, and looted the victims' possessions.
Soon thereafter, King Louis was arrested and put on trial for treason. After the execution of the King on January 21, 1793, the radicals assumed complete control of the government under the Committee of Public Safety. They appointed a new state prosecutor, Fouquier-Tinville, to arrest and convict all real or supposed enemies of the revolution. So began the infamous Reign of Terror.
The arrests were authorized under a "Law of Suspects" passed by the Convention September 1793. The Law gave the government broad authority to arrest anyone suspected of disloyalty. Additionally, citizens could be arrested merely for failing to possess a certificate of loyalty from a local revolutionary official. Under the "Law of Suspects", all English and other persons of foreign origin were considered suspects and to be arrested.(4) So while aristocrats and others with ties to the Old Regime were apprehended, foreigners were, also, targeted on the ground that they might be intriguing with foreign governments to overthrow the Revolution.
Mary states in her interview that she and William were arrested during the Reign of Terror. While were don't know the exact date of her arrest, it would have been the latter part of 1793 or early 1794. Although Mary was Irish, Ireland was, at that time part of the United Kingdom. As British subjects she and her husband would have been caught in the round up of foreigners.(5)
What was her experience like in prison during the Reign of Terror? Prison conditions may not have been as harsh as those depicted in Hollywood movies. French historian Jean Robiquet states:
According to Robiquet, the prisoners were not held in old prisons of the former regime, but rather in convents closed by the Revolution and turned into detainment centers. The prisoners at the convents were generally not restricted to a room but were allowed to roam throughout the convent and socialize with other prisoners.
The convent turned prison at Saint Lazare is given as an example of conditions William and Mary may have experienced,
In addition to being allowed to move freely about the Saint-Lazare convent to visit friends, prisoners could participate in games organized in the convent's yards. Some prisoners occupied their time with all kinds of work, played music, painted and sketched. According to Robiquet, numerous accounts of life in Revolutionary era prisons suggest that conditions at other convent/prisons were similar to Saint-Lazare.(7)
On the other hand, there
was the daily anxiety that one might be called before the Prosecutor
for trial. These affairs were speedy. A person could be tried,
sentenced and executed in one day.
Mary and her husband were saved when Robespierre the leader of the government during the Reign of Terror was, himself, executed on July 27,1794 and the Reign of Terror ended. The people had had enough of the chaos and killing. However, Mary and William must have suffered the worst fear during the final days of their imprisonment. The pace of executions reached its peak just before Robespierre's downfall. Between 10 June 1794 and 27 July 1794, 1,366 were executed.
Surprisingly, William and Mary stayed in Paris after their release from prison. Perhaps William returned to his business and resumed a fairly normal life. Unfortunately, William died just two years later in 1796 leaving Mary a widow.
Mary soon returned to Ireland where she lived in County Roscommon with her mother for a time. She later remarried William Coulter, an old acquaintance of the family. William, an engineer, was originally from County Down but lived with Mary's family around 1780.(8) He may have come to Kilronan to work on the new coal mining industry in the Arigna Mountains. Mary and William Coulter were living in Arigna at the time of his death in 1829.
In the Mundy-O'Reilly manuscript, Mary recalls that she and her mother Eleanor used to walk together to the burial place of O'Carolan in the MacDermotRoe family chapel at Kilronan Abbey near Alderford. There, her mother would place a ribbon in the skull of her old friend Turlough who died in 1738. Eleanor who lived to be, at least, 100, died about 1808.
Mary lived to the age of 76 dying in 1835. She apparently remained in KIlronan after the death of her husband William Coulter. She was buried in Kilronan Abbey. However, her gravestone no longer survives.
While Mary and her husband survived their ordeal in the Reign of Terror, her cousin Colonel Thomas MacDermot Roe was not so fortunate. He was among the many victims of the Terror, dying in Temple Prison in Paris in 1793.
Thomas was a representative of an important branch of the MacDermots Roe that flourished in the 18th century in an area known as Emla not far from Roscommon Town.(9) This area is located between Tulsk and Roscommon Town, about 25 miles south of the MacDermot Roe base of Kilronan in the northeast corner of County Roscommon. Covering several different civil parishes including Baslick, Oran and Kilbride, it is called Emla, meaning marsh, because of the many townlands including the word Emla in their names.
In MacDermot of Moylurg, Sir Dermot MacDermot suggests that the Emla MacDermots Roe descends from a MacDermot branch that migrated to County Louth around 1600 upon the marriage of Edmond McDermott to Margaret daughter of Patrick Bellew of Kilcurley, Louth. The Bellews were large landowners and their business included flour mills.
Sir Dermot notes that members of the Louth branch were well established in business in Dublin by 1700.(10) The Dermotts of Usher and Arran Quay Dublin were prominent merchants, owning ships and carrying on an extensive trade in provisions. Their Dublin business may have been operating in the 17th century with Edmond's son Thomas Dermott and was certainly well established by the time of Thomas' son Christopher, d. 1727 of Usher Quay. It was continued by Christopher's sons Thomas of Francis Street, fl. 1764,75, , and Anthony 1700-1784 of Usher's Quay. Anthony's sons, Anthony, Owen and Francis continued the business at 19 Usher's Island, 15 Usher's Quay and 30 Arran Quay, respectively, near the end of the 18th century. Anthony and his sons were members of the Catholic Committee of which their friend Charles O'Conor, the historian, was a leader.(11)
However, it may be that they were in business in Dublin much earlier - long before the Bellew marriage. An Edmond Dermott was Master of the Merchant Taylor's Guild in Dublin 1575-1576. Thomas Dermott, the son of the Edmond who married Margaret Bellew, married Margery Bath. Not only were the Baths prominent in Dublin business but Patrick Bath was Master of the same Merchah Taylors Guild in 1631-1632. Perhaps the Edmond of the Merchants Guild is the Edmond who married Margaret Bellew or his father.
Sir Dermot theorizes that several brothers of the Louth/Dublin branch settled in the Emla area of County Roscommon around 1700. They include Edmund whose daughter Catherine married Owen O'Conor of Corrusduna, Bryan of Castletehen, d. 1727 and Michael of Castlemehen, d. 1735. From the early 1700's, the MacDermots Roe of Emla flourished. Their nephew, Thomas MacDermot Roe of Castlemehen, d. November, 1765, was a successful Dublin merchant and large landowner in the area. It appears that he was the grandfather of Colonel Thomas, perhaps through a son Edmond.
With respect to the Louth connection, Sir Dermot suggests that Edmond of Emla, the father of Catherine, was the son of Clement McDermott, born circa 1600-40, fl 1664 per Hearth Money Roll who residences included Kilcurley and later Thomastown in County Louth.(12) Clement was married twice and had an enormous number of children. Many of his children went to France after the Treaty of Limerick of 1691 ending the war between William of Orange and King James II.
The Louth McDemotts generally did not use the appellation Roe and while in business in Dublin went by Dermott. However, there is an entry in Burke's Landed Gentry where Clement's name is given as MacDermot Roe. Additionally, there are numerous 18th century documents referring to the Emla MacDermots with the appellation Roe. Thus, if the McDermotts of Emla descend from the Louth McDermotts, the Louth McDermotts would have been MacDermots Roe as stated in Burke's.
It is not clear what brought the MacDermots to Emla around 1700. It may have been a marriage to a local family such as Kelly or O'Conor. An interesting possibility is they came to Emla via France.
Among the many sons of Clement MacDermot Roe who went to foreign military service after the Treaty of Limerick was Bryan. He served the King of France probably in the Irish Brigade until an army reform after the Peace of Ryswick reduced the forces. After leaving the army, Bryan became a merchant in Rouen, France. The firm of Dermott and Paine which existed at Rue d la Savonniere, Rouen in 1702 may have been his.(13)
It is known that the Anthony Dermott of Usher's Quay, Dublin carried on a wine trade with cousins in Rouen later in the 18th century. So it seems likely that Bryan of Rouen was, also, trading with Anthony's father Christopher of Usher's Quay, d. 1727, son of Thomas who was the older brother of Clement. Keeping the export/import business in the family would have been both common and prudent.
If Bryan MacDermot Roe, d. 1727, of Castletehen was one of the sons of Clement, as indicated by Sir Dermot, he would be the Byran of Rouen. As time passed from the Treaty of Limerick, ex-patriates like Bryan were able to acquire seats in or near the old family territory with profits from foreign trade.
Additionally, there was a Michael McDermott, merchant of Rouen who flourished there in August 11, 1724.(14) If Bryan of Rouen was the Bryan MacDermot Roe of Castletehen, is it not possible, even likely, that Michael of Rouen is, also, Michael MacDermot Roe of Castlemehen, d. 1735?
The Dublin/Louth/ Emla MacDermots Roe, also, produced the most important freemason of the 18th century. This was Lawrence Dermott, 1720-1791, founder and long serving Grand Secretary of the Antient's Grand Lodge of England. In the late 18th century, the Antients eclipsed the Grand Lodge of England and had a close ties with the Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland. The son of Thomas of Francis Street, Lawrence was active in freemasonry in Sligo city and Dublin before settling in London where was a painter. His family had a country residence at Strokestown, County Roscommon.(15)
Lawrence was probably not the only freemason in this branch. Christopher McDermott of 2 Hoey's, Court, Dublin was a member of Lodge,Warrant Number 353 which grew to 224 members. Meetings of Lodge 355 in Sligo City were held at the house of Stephen McDermott per resolution of July 6, 1778.(16) The Dublin/Louth branch seems to have had a business office in Sligo at this time. This Stephen may be the younger brother of Anthony of Usher's Quay. In 1760, Mi.(Michael) McDermott, merchant, possibly a descendent of Michael of Castlemehen, d. 1735, was a member of a Lodge 340 in Strokestown.(17)
Freemasonry, also, flourished
in France in the years before the French Revolution. French freemasonry
of this time had a strong tie to the Jacobite movement. After
his defeat by William of Orange, King James II spent many years
in residence at a palace given to him by the Louis XIV, the French
King, where his court included Irish Jacobites. The progressive
ideals of Freemasory attracted a strong following among French
intellectuals and French freemason lodges of 18th century are
thought to have been incubators of political thought that led
to the revolution.
That the MacDermots Roe of Emla became in their own right an important branch of the family is indicated by the wealth of Thomas MacDermot Roe of Castlemehen. His obituary states, for example, that he maintained a pack of fox hounds for over 50 years. Deed and lease records, also, show him with numerous holdings in the Emla area through a large part of the 18th century.
Additionally, the family's prominence is indicated by the fact that Bernard and Edmond MacDermot Roe of Emla were among the leading Catholics in the area whose opinion was solicited in a 1748 "postulation" regarding the selection of the next Bishop of Elphin. Also, Michael MacDermot Roe was the parish priest for Oran in 1756 when the Catholic Church was still under heavy pressure from the English.
Colonel Thomas MacDermot Roe was born about 1751. From a well to do family, he devoted himself to the military. By 1785, he was a Colonel in the Athleague Rangers.(20) Sometime after January 1786, Colonel Thomas went to France as a Lieutenant Colonel in Dillon's Regiment. He was at one point at Harfleu, in the departement of Seine Inferiure (now Seine Maritime) and was a member of the French Jockey Club.(21)
Dillon's Regiment (France) was formed in the aftermath of the victory of William of Orange over King James II at the end of the 17th century. After the Treaty of Limerick, many Irishmen who supported King James left Ireland to join newly formed Irish regiments in Catholic countries such as France. Dillon's Regiment (France) was among three Irish regiments comprising France's Irish Brigade.(22)
During the course of the18th century, sons of Irish gentry continued to go abroad to join foreign Irish regiments. This was the result, not only, of an antagonism to British colonialism in Ireland, but also, to a lack of opportunity at home. Under the Penal Laws, Irish Catholics suffered severe restrictions on their property and political rights and they were barred from many occupations including the law. Furthermore, they were not permitted to hold commissions in the British army.
During almost its entire history, Dillon's Regiment (France) as part of the Irish Brigade was kept distinct form native French regiments. However, in 1791, Dillon's Regiment (France) was incorporated into the French Army on an equal footing with native French regiments and redesignated the 87th Regiment de Ligne. After its incorporation into the French Army, many officers with royalist sympathies left the regiment and France.
Colonel Thomas MacDermot Roe evidently stayed in France following the beginning of the Revolution. Like many, he may have hoped that 1791 represented the culmination of the Revolution and that life would continue as before.
However, the execution of King Louis and the radicalization of the Revolution changed everything. As a royalist officer and a foreigner, Colonel Thomas was a prime target of the Reign of Terror. He was probably caught up in the first wave of arrests.
It would appear that Colonel Thomas' prison conditions at the Temple Prison were much more difficult than those experienced by Mary MacDermot Roe. As evidenced by his correspondence from prison, he anticipated that he might not survive his ordeal. He, in fact, died while imprisoned. One assumes that his death was from disease brought on by the conditions of his confinement. The exact date of his death is not known, but it appears to have occurred in September, 1793.
Fortunately, Colonel Thomas' prison correspondence survived and is kept at the French archives with a microfilm copy at the National Library of Ireland in Dublin. In a June 3, 1793 letter to his brother Owen, Thomas charged Owen, as his heir, to take care of citoyenne Noel who was kind to him while he was in prison.(21)
In his letter to Owen, Thomas only refers to his mother, Owen's wife, Honor Kelly, and to Honor's father William Kelly of Springfield. Thus, he does not appear to have had a wife or children.
Colonel Thomas MacDermot Roe was not the only Irish officer in French service to fall victim to the Revolution. Colonel Theobald Dillon, the commander of Dillon's Regiment, was killed by his own troops on April 29, 1792 as a royalist sympathizer. His cousin General Arthur Dillon, who preceded Theobald as commander of Dillon's regiment before his promotion, was arrested the following year and executed on the guillotine on April 14, 1794.
While stationed in Santo Domingo, West Indies in 1793, the former Dillon's Regiment, now the 87th de Ligne, surrendered to the British Army. About 180 soldiers in the regiment transferred to the British Army and their new British unit reverted to the old designation as Dillon's Regiment. In 1796, this Dillon's Regiment was disbanded in Santo Domingo. Its personnel were incorporated into two new British regiments, Henry Dillon's Regiment and the Comte de Walsh's Regiment. They became the British Irish Brigade organized in Ireland in 1794.
So Dillon's Regiment (France), the ex-patriate unit officered by Irish ex-patriates like Thomas MacDermot Roe, was re-invented by the British as a unit of the British army. The new Dillion's Regiment (British) was officered by Irish Catholics. The British dropped the bar to Catholics as officers in the British Army out of fear that the ideals of human rights represented by the French Revolution might find favor among the oppressed Irish Catholics.
The MacDermots, including the MacDermots Roe, continued to be represented in the new Dillion's Regiment (British). Among the MacDermots serving in the regiment were Lieutenant Colonel Thomas MacDermot, Ensign Hugh MacDermot, son of Myles of Coolavin, Ensign John MacDermot and Ensign Patrick MacDermot Roe, this author's ancestor who was appointed Ensign in May 15, 1797. This is an extraordinary representation by the MacDermots in what was a much sought after regiment.
The amazing presence of not one, but two, MacDermots Roe in Paris during the French Revolution reveals much about their times and about the personal relationship that we all have to history in the broadest sense. Let's consider both aspects of their stories.
We tend to think of travel and mobility as a phenomena of modern times. Yet the lives of these two 18th century members of our family tell a quite different story. Mary though born and raised in rural Roscommon lived in both London and Paris. Her travels reflected the tremendous boom in trade which occurred in Ireland and elsewhere during the last quarter of the 18th century. This economic expansion at the dawn of the industrial age required a high degree of mobility especially in the merchant class.
Likewise, Colonel Thomas MacDermot Roe's presence in Paris reflects the 18th century diaspora of important Irish families like the MacDermots for military service and business. During this period, a great party was held at the house of Clement MacDermot Roe in Thomastown, County Louth where twenty four MacDermots, all officers in foreign military service, "danced in the parlor to a patriotic air struck up by the family harper."(24)
Examples of the commercial diaspora are Bryan MacDermot Roe and Michael McDermott, merchants, who operated out of the port of Rouen, France in the early 1700's. As discussed they were part of an international family owned trading business. This business may have extended to the United States in the late 1700's. An S.C. Dermott built a flour mill on the Hudson River at River Road and Mill Street (later 4th Street) in West Troy aka Watervliet, NY in 1795. He may be Stephen Christopher of the Dublin/Louth MacDermots Roe.
Finally, the experiences of Mary MacDermot Roe and Colonel Thomas MacDermot Roe during the French Revolution remind us that family history is simply "History" written close up. Their lives and our lives are an integral part of the larger historical events around us. War, depression, technological innovation and political upheaval affect every one us, shaping our lives and those of our descendants.
(1) MacDermot Roe Pedigree. National Library of Ireland. GOMs 169, pages 393-404. Denis, the youngest son of Charles MacDermot Roe and Eleanor O'Conor, does not appear on the pedigree.
(2) Mundy-O'Reilly Manuscript on the Life of O'Carolan. National Library of Ireland. Microfilm Positive 4132.
(3) Letter #313 dated February 6, 1779, Letters of Charles O'Conor ed. by Robert E. Ward and John F. Wynne, S.J., Catholic University Press, Washington, D.C., 1988, original at Clonalis Library #8.4 SE 148.
(4) Paris in the Terror, June 1793-July 1794, Loomis, Stanley, Dorset House Publishing, 1990, at pages 329-330.
(5) An important source for the life in Paris during the Revolution is Helen Maria Williams (1761?-1827), English poet and novelist who wrote and eye-witness account of the French Revolution. An English liberal and religious dissenter sympathetic to the Revolution, Helen moved to Paris in 1790 to observe it close-up. Like the Taylors, Helen was imprisoned during the Terror and later released. See "An Eye-Witness Account of the French Revolution" published in Volume 19 of the Age of Romanticism, Jack Fructman, Jr, editor, Peter Lang Publisher 1997, ISBN 0820431206 and Helen Williams and the French Revolution, Jane Shuter, Editor, 1996, ISBN 0811482871.
(6) Daily Life in the French Revolution, Jean Robiquet, MacMillan Co., NY, 1965, translated by James Kirup at page 148-151.
(7) Ibid, citing Almanachs des Prisons, Memoires sur les Prisons and the Memoires d'un Detenu by Riouffe
(8) House of Lords. Roscommon Peerage Case. Peerage Claims, Volume II. British House of Lords Records Office., see testimony of William Coultard dated February 15, 1798 at page 21, ordered to be printed July 17, 1823.
(9) I consistently use the appellation Roe
in referring to MacDermot Roe descendants in this article. However,
records are extremely inconsistent in including the Roe especially
for descendants living outside northern Roscommon. For example,
Thomas MacDermot Roe of Castlemehen, discussed infra,
is referred to with the Roe in many leases but the Roe is omitted
from his listing in the Elphin Census of 1749. All available
records of his grandson, Colonel Thomas, omit the Roe.
(11) See A Dictionary of Members of the Dublin Book Trade 1550-1800, Pollard, Mary, Oxford University Press, 2001, at page 149 and MacDermot of Moylurg, supra, at pages 315-318.
(12) Hearth Money Roll, 1664, Castletowne Parish, Bellew Castletowne Townland and Shortstone Townland, listed as Clement Dermody. Also, Ferrell McDermody appeared in Keane Townland.
(13) Old Irish Links with France, Richard
Hayes, 1949, quoted in MacDermot of Moylurg, pages 314,316.
Below is additional information provided by Philippe de Rostolan
a descendant of Clement MacDermot of Kilcurley and later Thomastown,
(14) Collectonea Hibernica, No. 34-35, 1992-1993, cited in MacDermot of Moylurg, page 314. Also, on November 11, 1723, Michael MacDermott, merchant Rue des Jacobins, St. Sauveur Parish, Rouen, France deposited with Fromont documents related to the death of Jane McDermott (widow of Chevalier Terence MacDermott) with French translations. August 11, 1724, Michael MacDermott, merchant Rouen, appoints as his attorney, James Merick who was, also, attorney for Jane MacDermott.
(15) History of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Ireland, Volume 1, Lepper and Crossle, Dublin, 1925 at page 238.
(16) Irish Masonic Records, Rt. Wor. Bro. Keith Cochrane, Belfast, Ireland, privately published CD containing records of Irish lodges from the early 18th century, CD issued about 2001.
(17) History of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Ireland, supra, at page 239.
(18) The Concise History of Freemasonry, Gould, Robert Freke. 1994 at page 278.
(19) Benjamin Franklin Papers, University of Pennsylvania, index online at http://www.amphilsoc.org/library/mole/f/franklin/franklinpenn.htm#scopecontent
(20) An entry in Walker's Hibernian Magazine, 1771-1812 shows that he was "of Emla" in January, 1786 when his sister married Sterling St. Clair of Finglas, County Dublin.
(21) We are fortunate that many of the details of Colonel Thomas MacDermot Roe's career are set forth in an article in the Irish Sword, Vol. XII, No. 46. They are summarized by Dermot MacDermot in MacDermot of Moylurg at page 328-340.
(22) History of the Irish Brigades in the Service of France, O'Callaghan, John Cornelius, London, 1886, pages 26-29, 46-53.
(23) Thomas' brother Owen, a lawyer at 26 Queen Street, Dublin, was secretary of the Dublin Society of United Irishmen in 1793. MacDermot of Moylurg, supra at page 328
(24) "Poets and Poetry of Kilkerley", Father Larry Murray, Louth Archaeological Society's Journal, Vol IV, No. 1, 1916, page 49, quoted in MacDermot of Moylurg, page 324. Father Murray says that the harper was Turlough O'Carolan.
Copyright Biatach 2014