Routine administrative duties on an estate were carried out by bailiffs, stewards and agriculturalists, so it could be assumed that such roles required a certain competency in reading, writing and arithmetic. “On a large estate, we generally find a resident manager, a land steward, a man who has some knowledge of what is termed country business, and who acts under the control of his employer, who is more conversant in rural concerns, resides some distance from the residence of its proprietor. He needs some knowledge of agriculture, surveying, planting, some knowledge of mechanics, natural history and skill in accounts. He should also be a man of good character, of upright principles and conciliatory manners; to set an example of good conduct to the tenants, and to become their common counsellor and peace-maker.”
For Lord Gort to have any leisure-time, he needed to employ a ‘right-hand man’ to look after the management of the estate. The man in question was the agent or land steward. The estate had a number of heads of departments, such as the head gardener, head gamekeeper, etc. The agent was responsible for all of these departments, paying the wages of the workmen and keeping regular logs and accounts of work done. He kept a detailed set of books recording repairs to buildings, fences or roads, as well as information regarding game, livestock and crops. He was also in charge of collecting the rent from the estate’s tenants, and for this reason he could be an unpopular figure. Lord Gort’s agent spent a lot of his time touring the estate on horseback, dealing with tenants and estate workers face to face. He was required to keep a terrier, a book recording the boundaries and tenancies of the land, which included the rent roll. A good agent needed a head for figures, meticulous record-keeping skills, an all-round knowledge of farm work and land maintenance, and an aptitude for dealing with people. That the job could be dangerous is clear from the newspaper account above.
Michael O’Neill was one of only two houses in Derrycallan North townland, Beagh, that were worth enough to be recorded, with his home being recorded as the most valuable in the townland. His house and offices were worth £4 according to George Robinson, the valuator, on 10 December 1842. It is worth pointing out that the local sub-townland of Croaghrim is contained within the present Derrycallan north townland. On 24 September 1844, George Robinson corrected earlier calculations made regarding the value of Michael’s house. “This is a well finished house of the description and of good materials, but the office is not exactly so. 1/0d per rood, may be deducted from same…”.
It appears Michael took an active interest in agricultural practices, and held some social standing, as he was listed as an attendee at a Gort Union Agricultural Society meeting in April 1846 in Gort. (I have written another blog post about this society here). In fact, when T.N. Bagot toasted to 'the tenant farmers' “Mr. Michael O'Neill returning thanks and proposed 'the officers of the society.”  He again appeared in the newspapers in relation to the Gort Union Agricultural Society in September 1846, when he won the category ‘greatest breath of turnips;2nd class, 1st prize, (prize £1), his landlord Lord Gort’.
By June 1846, Michael, with an address of ‘Croaghrim’, and an occupation of ‘yeoman’ applied at Loughrea Quarter Sessions to enter the Registry of Freeholders, with his house and lands worth £10. A freeholder was someone entitled to vote. That could be because he owned land outright or because he had a qualifying lease (i.e. one where he paid rent above a specified threshold and held a specific category of lease).
It appears Michael was put forward as a candidate for Master of Gort Workhouse on 19 March 1850. We know it was our Michael based on later personal correspondence between Mary O’Neill (Michael's wife) and Lord Gort, as discussed below. “The following persons tendered for the office of master of the workhouse at a salary of £50. Mr William O’Brien, Mr. Patrick Taaffe, Mr. Michael O’Neill, and Mr. Thomas Hardiman. It was resolved that Mr. Michael O’Neill be appointed Master of the Workhouse.” A corresponding letter from the Poor Law Commissioners dated 27 March 1850 sanctioned the appointment of ‘Mr. Michael O’Neill to the office of Master of the Workhouse.’ Michael served as the Workhouse Master for exactly 88 days, or 2 months, 27 days, from 15 March until 11 June 1850 having sent in his resignation on this date. Masters of workhouses for Gort, Scarriff and Tulla union workhouses were advertised for by 15 June 1850. O’Neill’s eventual replacement was Mr. William O’Brien who had previously applied for the job in April, losing out that time to Michael.
Interestingly, in newspaper coverage of a Board meeting in December, reference was made to Michael O’Neill (although he was not actually named), which allows a better idea of his character, and shows he was very well respected in the community by these who held sway.
“The old salary of the master was £65 a year (3 or 4 months since their present master was appointed). He (Lord Gort) then proposed as master (Michael O’Neill) a man whom he knew to bear an excellent character, as he had been long employed by his lordship’s family. He was returned as master, but the moment he was appointed to the office at the old salary (as he took for granted) – the board became seized with an economic turn and reduced his salary to £50. His lordship at the time advised him to take the £50, but the poor man said he would try it. He was a very honest, upright man, as every member of the board knew, and had actually died in the service of the workhouse; because when the paupers discovered that he was honest and faithful to his trust they wrote him letters threatening that they would throw him into the boiler of stirabout; and they actually tried in several places to set a bale of cotton on fire in his office, for the purpose of burning down the house, in order to get him into difficulties; and he believed the poor man had even stated, shortly before he died of fever, that these proceedings had killed him. This too appears to confirm the O’Neill steward located in the 1831 newspaper article was in fact Michael O’Neill, as Lord Gort informs in this newspaper that he had “long been employed by his lordship’s family”.
Interestingly, another newspaper report was located that appears to relate to Michael O’Neill. James Forth Kempster (1816-1893) was the county surveyor for the East Riding of Co. Galway, appointed in May 1838, and held that post for the next 53 years. In a report to the Grand Jury of Galway at the Summer Assizes 1850, he made reference to O’Neill.
“Among them (usual purposes of maintenance and repair) will be found a new contract for the mail coach road from Gort to Ennis, which has passed into fresh hands, by whom I hope the same attention will be shown as by the late contractor, Michael O’Neill, who, during 1? (this could be 10, 12, 13 or 18) years acted under me, spared neither labour nor expense in the faithful execution of his work, being the best contractor in my district. I regret to say, he is now no more.”
Although undated, Katherine Vereker wrote a letter to Mrs O’Neil – references within the letter suggest Michael was still alive, so it must have been written sometime before 5 August 1850. ‘We have this moment heard of O’Neil’s illness and I need not say how much we regret it. I hope you will be able to send us a better account this evening, and also let us know if you would require anything we could send him; wine, porter, medicine etc. I send you a small contribution of 10 shillings for medicine’. To get personal correspondence from the landlord’s family suggest these family were well respected by Lord Gort and his family.
It is not known where Michael was buried, but it seems most likely he was buried in the graveyard in Shanaglish.
Once Michael died (which appears to have been between 11 June and 5 August), it appears his widow, Mary, was struggling to keep the family finances in order. A letter from Mary dated 14 October 1850 pleaded with Lord Gort for money owed to her husband to be paid ‘cheque for the amount of wages, due to my husband as Master of the Workhouse, the present poor rate collector calling on me…and the agent is pressing hard on me for rent’. This was an extremely important reference, as it informs he served as Master of Gort Workhouse for a time. Again, writing on 1 November 1850, ‘as Mr. Power has to come to drive my cattle or to place keepers over me unless I pay a half years rent, I intended what I would have to get at the Workhouse for him as soon as your Lordship could conveniently get it for me’.
By 16 May 1854, Mary continued the family farm, likely with the help of her son William. At this time, she held a little over 14 acres in Croaghrim worth an annual rent of £14 17 shillings. She also held over 5 acres n Knockrubbleshina (modern Foxtailhill), worth £3 10 shillings. Surprisingly, she was a tenant from year to year, without a lease. In total she held close to 20 statute acres (over 33 Irish acres), worth over £18. Just three years later, according to Griffith’s Valuation, in Derrycallan North (previously called Croaghrim in 1854), plot 4a, she rented 25 acres from Austin Butler, and this is where her house stood. It appears he bought Lord Gort’s portion of the estate where Mary was renting. Similarly, she held over 8 acres in Ardamullivan (previously known as Knockrubbleshina) from Robert Lattey, who had bought this portion of Lord Gort’s estate.  Her total acreage was about 33 acres for a total rent of £16 5 shillings. OSI map overlays allows us to determine that Mary’s house stood where Vivian Diviney’s house stands now.
 Dublin Evening Mail, 11 April 1831, page 3
 An Encyclopædia of Agriculture: Comprising the Theory and Practice of the ..., by John Claudius Loudon, written 1826 https://archive.org/details/anencyclopdiaag00loudgoog/page/n4
 Tuam Herald 5 April 1845, page 2
 Galway Mercury, and Connaught Weekly Advertiser, 03 October 1846, p. 4
 Galway Mercury, and Connaught Weekly Advertiser, 20 June 1846, p. 1
 1850, p.19 volume C
 G01 12 9 Part C, p239, 15 March 1850.
 G01 12 9 Part C, p256, 2 April 1850.
 GO1 12 9 Part D, p8, 11 June 1850.
 Limerick Chronicle, Saturday 15 June 1850 p2
 Clare Journal, and Ennis Advertiser, 12 December 1850, page 3
 Tuam Herald, 03 August 1850, p4, col. 6
 Both letters are in possession with the author, September 2019.
 Landed Estate Court Rentals
 Griffiths Valuation, Laughil
 Griffiths Valuation, Ardamullivan