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Saturday, 12 September 2015


My Massy ancestors were, by and large a ruthless lot. They occupied large parts of Counties Limerick and Tipperary and pretty much did as they pleased, considering themselves to be firmly above the law, both moral and civil. 

The Hole in the Wall Gang, who hid out in the Big Horn Mountains, Wyoming, between crimes. Just like the Massys.

Take Hugh Fitzjohn for example, a nephew of my 6x great grandfather. He wanted a wife. More precisely, he wanted the money that a wealthy heiress would bring as a dowry if he were married to one. So he just went out and took one – and I don’t mean that in the archaic patriarchal sense of “taking a wife”. He stole one that not only didn’t belong to him but may well have belonged (in the archaic patriarchal sense) to another man.

Frances Ingoldsby was the daughter of another big landowner. The Massys and the Ingoldsbys had fought alongside each other during Cromwell’s suppression of the Irish, and had both been rewarded with large tracts of Irish land. Their shared history seems to have counted for nothing however when, late on the 13th November 1743, Hugh and a group of his friends and relatives forced their way into the rectory where Frances was staying. The Rev Thomas Royse, a relative of Frances by marriage, was helpless when menaced by the Massy party, which abducted Miss Ingoldsby and took her to a Massy stronghold in the Galtee Mountains.

The Galtee Mountains, home of kidnappers

Things got too hot for Hugh, however, when a reward was placed on his head. Travelling secretly with a reluctant prisoner cannot have been easy, but Hugh fled with Frances to France – Bordeaux to be precise. There, it seems, either Hugh’s charms or his brute force won Frances over; and reluctantly or otherwise the pair were married.

They returned to Ireland the following summer, perhaps because of the imminent birth of their first child Catherine – conceived, one imagines, under less than romantic circumstances. Hugh was tried twice for the kidnap of Frances, once in Cork and once in Limerick. But such was the power and influence of the Massy family in the region that he was both times acquitted. A claim by a servant in the Ingoldsby household that he and Frances had been secretly married before her abduction was never proved. The claim may have been a desperate attempt by the Ingoldsby family to invalidate Hugh’s marriage to Frances.

Frances and Hugh had another child, a son Hugh Ingoldsby Massy, in 1749. Perhaps the middle name was an attempt to patch things up between the two families. Frances died only six years later in 1755. Hugh Fitzjohn Massy died in 1770, and his son followed him to the grave only a year later at just 22 years old. Even at that early age Hugh junior left a widow, and one hopes very much that he won his bride with rather more finesse than his father won his mother.

I have the bare bones of this story mostly from Frank Tracy’s splendid study of the Massys’ history in Ireland, If Those Trees Could Speak. There is a much more detailed account of Frances Ingoldsby’s kidnap in a widely praised book by Toby Barnard, The Abduction of a Limerick Heiress.

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