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My Paternal Line Part Three – Those Troublesome Dillanes

Sheep paddock at Sally's Gap in Wicklow, Ireland. Photograph with permission by Laura Jane.

Sheep paddock at Sally’s Gap in Wicklow, Ireland. Photograph with permission by Laura Jane.

Edmond Dillane was born about 1814 in or near Athea in Limerick, Ireland.  He was the eldest in his family that we know of, and had at least three younger brothers.  His brother John was about three years younger.  Timothy, the third known boy was born in 1821 and William seems to have been the youngest of the four. His birthdate is not known.

The boys grew up in Athea and stayed in the area.  Edmond, as I said in my last post, married Maria Woulfe in 1834, and they stayed in the area.   John married Johanna Moore in 1841 in Athea.

Children of both couples can be found in the baptism transcriptions from the Rootsireland website, as follows:

Edmond Dillane and Mary Woulfe

Bridget   24-Jan-1835 Athea Sponsor Catherine Woulfe

Edmond 03-Feb-1837 Athea No parents or sponsors recorded

John      05-Feb-1842 Athea Sponsor Margaret Guinea

John Dillane and Johanna Moore

Edmond  18-Jul-1843 Athea Sponsor Helen Woulfe

John         18-Jun-1848 Athea Sponsors Martin and Helen Sheehy

As well as these recorded children, we know that Edmond and Mary had a daughter Johanna born around 1843, and that John and Johanna had a daughter Mary born in 1842.  One researcher provides a baptism date of 21 Jan 1842 for Mary, but I am not sure where he found it.  Possibly it has not been transcribed and he viewed the original registers.

There is a missing child for each, as a later record shows Edmond with five children and John with four.

Timothy married Margaret at a date unknown, and by 1849 he had no children so either they were newly married, or they had lost all their children.  William, it appears, married Margaret Murphy in 1839 in Monogea, still in Limerick but away from the regular stomping ground.

Kerry and Limerick in the region of my Dillane ancestors.

Kerry and Limerick in the region of my Dillane ancestors.

We know a few things about their life.  The papers are full of crimes being committed, and laments about bad landlords. One Dillane descendant heard that when her ancestor Dillanes from Athea were on the run from the authorities, they would hide with family in Glin.  The Glin residents would likewise hide out in Athea.  They were farmers and farm labourers, not particularly respectful of anyone’s authority.

They enter the official record in a more personal way in early October 1848, with an appearance at court in Abbeyfeale.  I haven’t found the actual record of this, but it is referenced later.

Apparently in October, someone stole a sheep from Patrick Richard Woulfe of Dromadda.  Patrick accused the Dillane brothers and named Edmond and Patrick Delane who has never been referenced before. They were arrested and taken to court.  In those days, the accused were kept in jail until trial.  The Dillane brothers probably had a few days to dwell on their wrongs.

It seems clear the bad feeling between Maurice Woulfe and the Dillane brothers had not started with this incident, but this was the last straw.  It must have been a tough position for Mary if this was her father.

The Dillane brothers were cleared of the stealing charge … or maybe there was not enough evidence to convict.  Maurice’s sons were in court to give evidence against them.  As they all emerged from the courtroom, one of the Dillanes said to one of the witnesses that he would have a sorer tale to tell soon enough.  This witness was named Patrick Richard Woulfe.

As a result of this threat, Maurice Woulfe anticipated trouble.  He arranged for his sons to take turns watching their stock at night.  As it turns out, he was not just being paranoid.  He knew the Dillane boys – who were now well into their thirties and not boys at all.  From this point, the court record tells the story quite well.

The Limerick and Clare Examiner of 14th March 1849 has a good account, but it is puzzling that it references Patrick Dillane who is not mentioned anywhere else.

Patrick Stack, John Dilane, Timothy Dillane, Patrick Sullivan, Patrick Delane and Edward Delane, were indicted for setting fire to four stacks of hay, on the 3d October, the property of Maurice Woulfe of Drommadda. 

Patrick Wolfe was the first witness called.  He deposed as follows:- “Lives at Drommadda; recollects the 3d October; my four brothers and father live with me; my father has a farm; there were four stacks of hay on the meadows made up; watched it the night it was burned; my brother Thomas was with me; five men came with winds of hay in their hands lit, and burned the four stacks. Pat Sullivan had the fire; knows the whole of the party (identifies them); knew them a long time; it was a dark night; was within a few perches of them when the hay got blazed; we saw them quite plain; they could not see us for we hid behind a ditch.”

This is a story that descendants of Edmond, John and Timothy Dillane have gone over again and again, seeking clues. Thomas Woulfe gave his evidence next.

Thomas Wolfe sworn; – Is a brother of Patrick Wolfe; recollects the 3d October; was along with his brothers watching the hay; the hay belonged to his father, Maurice Wolfe; saw the party; mentioned their names; identified them; witness here went on to corroborate the foregoing witness; swore that the party told him after the Petty Sessions at Abbeyfeale, that they would give him a fresh story that would injure them more.  He was witness then for Patrick Richard Wolfe, who lost a sheep; the Dillanes were charged with stealing it, but were discharged.  This was the reason he and his brother watched the hay that night.

To me, this seems a somewhat vindictive and petty reaction for five grown men, but I really don’t know the particulars. There are so many events which can lead men to unwise behaviour.  Desperation, hunger, the loss of a loved one …. we don’t exactly know so I will try to reserve judgement.

Patrick Richard Wolfe sworn and examined .. recollects the night the hay burned; Patrick and Thomas Wolfe were with him; knows the prisoners at the bar (identified them); saw them coming towards the hay; saw the four stick the fire under the hay; Patrick Sullivan had no fire …

…. the jury .. returned a verdict of guilty. His Lordship said it became his duty, considering the present state of the country and the heavy amount of crime on the calendar, to sentence Timothy Delane, John Delane, Patrick Stack, Patrick Delane and Edward Delane to seven years’ transportation, and Patrick Sullivan to 18 months imprisonment and hard labour. 

Was there really a Patrick Delane?  If so, his sentence may have been transmuted from transportation as he did not arrive in Australia with his brothers.  Or maybe he died in jail?  Edmond, John and Timothy Dillane were duly transported some three years later, along with Patrick Stack.  The four men were close associates for the rest of their lives.

In the convict records, each Dillane man listed his wife as his family – Mary, Johanna and Margaret.  Edmond stated that he had five children, John that he had four, Timothy that he had no children.  All were Roman Catholic, none could read or write.  Patrick Stack was also a married man, aged 36, and left a wife Mary and four children behind in Athea.  The indent record lists his mother Mary, his brother Mick and his sisters Mary, Ellen, Biddy and Margaret. If only the Dillane’s indent report had been so helpful!

With their transportation, my branch of the Dillane family ceased their association with the Woulfe family.  After completing his sentence, Edmond sent home for his family.  The elder four came to join him in Australia, apparently bringing word of the death of Maria – or maybe she had forged a new life without him?  We don’t know.  For the purposes of DNA matching it could be useful information.

In the year that Edmond’s children arrived, John Dillane remarried declaring himself a widower.  Two years later, Edmond and Timothy also had new wives, also marrying as widowers.  Was this because they received word that their wives were deceased?  This information is not yet available.

However it was, the Dillane brothers turned their energy and tenacity to taming the virgin forest on their own land in the district of Port Cygnet, Tasmania.  It was a tough life, but it suited them to a tee.   The Dillanes – morphed into the Dillons – are now remembered as successful pioneers of the district, leaving us with all their unresolved Irish mysteries.

Edmond Dillon and his second wife Hannah's grave at St James Catholic Cemetery, Cygnet

Edmond Dillon and his second wife Hannah’s grave at St James Catholic Cemetery, Cygnet

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  1. I’ve enjoyed your writing about these early Woulfes immensely. Would you be willing to share some of the research you’ve done? I’m putting together a family history, and regarding this particular line there is very little solid information to be found. Thank you!

  2. We must be related as well. I am descended from Edmond. Hss daughter Johanna, who Edmond arranged assisted passage from Ireland, is my great-great-grandmother. I have some information on their trial and transportation to Australia and this aligns with what you have. I am writing a book on our family history which has a section on the Dillanes / Dillons so I am in the middle of a lot of cross checking of data. One source you may be interested in is the work of David Coad. He has written 7 books on Cygnet and his work is very good and well referenced. Thanks – great blog!, Lee