Strokestown House with its adjoining estate and the town built to service it, were just the most visible lands owned by the Mahon, and later Pakenham-Mahon family. Captain Nicholas Mahon acquired land steadily from the late 17th-century onwards, and, by the early 18th century, the estate covered over 11,000 acres across north-east Roscommon. When his great-grandson, Maurice Mahon, was elevated to the Irish peerage as the first Lord Hartland in 1800, he expanded the estate again.
During the Great Famine, County Roscommon was badly affected by the potato blight. The county’s population fell by 100,000, and an estimated 3,000 tenants were evicted from the Strokestown estate alone. Many were shipped off to America or Canada under a scheme funded by the absentee landlord, Major Denis Mahon.
Mahon became the first landlord to be assassinated during the famine. For a while, Strokestown became the centre of international debate and controversy, shifting opinion about the famine in important ways.
But back in Strokestown, the estate’s revenues were badly depleted. And over the years that followed, the fortunes of the Pakenham-Mahon family declined as Irish society transformed around it. The centre of gravity was no longer the great house in Strokestown or elsewhere. Indeed, many of the mansions that had stood around Strokestown in Roscommon have not survived.
When Olive Pakenham-Mahon sold the house in XXX, ending over 300 years of family ownership, she had already sold many of the records collected over the centuries to the National Library in a bid to support the house’s upkeep, but – for reasons we don’t know – Olive had decided to keep Strokestown’s famine records with her on the estate.
After Olive left Ireland to take up residence in a private nursing home, the house was under the stewardship of the Westward Group, owned by Jim Callery. It was Jim found those records, and recognised their huge historical significance.