John Sexton G3 c.1795-1847
John Sexton G3 (c.1795-1847) was the eldest son of Timothy Sexton who had held land in both Scobaun and Toehead. John was one of at least four sons – the others being Cornelius (c.1800-1876), Patrick (c.1805-1899) and Michael (c. 1810-??). John appears to have taken on his father’s lease of the Lot 4 at Scobaun – possibly on the death of his father in about 1835 and also had a lease on land at Gortacrossig. John was married to Mary Sexton (nee Hourihan, 1797-1887) who lived until the ripe old age of 90 and who therefore outlived her husband by some 40 years. Mary Sexton’s death certificate is available and indicates that she died at home in Scobaun on the 15th March 1887
We have seen that John’s father, Timothy Sexton, had leased holdings in both Scobaun and Toehead so it seems probable that the two holdings were effectively all held in the extended family group. We also know from the Tithe Applotment Records of 1825 that the Sextons also leased land at Gortacrossig – though this may have been rougher summer grazing as much as land for tillage. We know that there were at least four sons and possibly daughters whose names are not recorded and, in the pre-famine years, it might be presumed that the Sextons were reasonably comfortable leaseholders. In the early 1840s, John appears to have been responsible for Gortacrossig in addition to the lease he had inherited from his father at Scobaun. His younger brothers, Cornelius, Michael and Patrick appear to have had shares of the land at Toehead.
The fate of John Sexton
The Castletownsend Loan Society was active in the area in the years before the famine issuing small loans from £1 to £10 to be repaid at the end of the year. These loans enabled farmers who leased land from landlords and their middlemen to buy seed and carry out improvements on their land and were seen as highly successful. Unfortunately, the famine brought the whole enterprise to a crashing halt and John Sexton seems to have been one of those who got caught up in the mayhem. John had taken on a series of small loans from £1 to £3 between 1843 and 1846 and had also acted as guarantor or surety in November 1846 for two neighbours – John Brien of Rea and Batt Holland of Lahern who took on £3 and £1 loans respectively. By this stage, the famine was setting in and things quickly went form bad to worse. Both Brien and Holland died leaving John responsible for their loans and presumably unable to pay. John’s fate is made clear in the Supplementary Statement for John Brien which was drawn up some time after the famine to investigate the status of the outstanding loans. The return reads, ‘Sexton a pauper, the other parties are dead‘. The statement for Batt Holland’s loan reads, ‘Borrower dead – Sexton a pauper – the other party [the other guarantor, Michael O’Sullivan of Gortacrossig] has left the country – parties were decreed but no effects‘. As regards, John’s own loan, the Return to the Clerk of the Peace lets us know exactly what happened to John: ‘Resided on the … [land on the] … date … [written but unreadable in column 3], held a small farm, was in Very Poor Circumstances, died in Union Work House in 1847‘.
How exactly John Sexton came to die in the infamous Skibbereen Workhouse isn’t known but a likely possible explanation is that, as a result of having a debt he could not pay, John presented himself to the workhouse as a pauper and that his wife and family somehow managed to survive – perhaps through the support of the extended family. Perhaps by presenting himself in this way, the family was no longer responsible for the debt. There is probably some truth in this as the family somehow managed to retain the lease on the Lot 4 farm and the Lot 4a house. The other house on Lot 4 (House 4b) was occupied by John’s first cousin, the other John Sexton who had the lease of Lot 5.
The fact that the Sextons managed to retain the lease on Lot 4 does, in the light of John’s death in the workhouse, seem rather extraordinary. Somehow it appears, the family escaped the evictions that were a common happening in the aftermath of the famine. Oliver Murphy has, however, offered a plausible explanation.