The Bowles of Canada and their Roots in Ireland and England 

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The following article was published on the World Irish website on Jan. 6, 2013


by Tom LaPorte

Ballickmoyler, co. LaoisIn 2008 we visited my ancestor's farm in Ballickmoyler, co. Laois.  The earliest record that I have found for my motherís Bowles family in Ireland is a John Bowles, shoemaker, in Carlow town in 1726.  By 1744 he had leased some land in nearby Ballickmoyler, Queens county (now co. Laois) with a shop and house right at the SE corner of the central square. There he raised a family, sons John and Joseph both becoming shoemakers.  John in Ballickmoyler and Joseph on Burron Street in Carlow.  At the end of the 1700ís there was a third generation John Bowles, shoemaker, there with a small landholding sloping downhill behind the house to a small creek.  There would eventually be five unbroken generations of Bowles shoemakers in Ballickmoyler and Carlow and three more in Canada after they emigrated.  

Bowles house in Ballickmoyler

In 1793 a brother William Bowles leased a farm across the main road from their shop on which he built 8 small tenant houses.  Together that made up the entire east side of the hamlet. This photo is one that I took of the last remaining tenant house on William's land.


It would seem that my Bowles were one of the very few Protestants in the little town but to that point that may not have been a difficulty as there were Bowles marriages to Catholics recorded at both of the two closest Catholic churches, in Arles and in Carlow. William Bowlesí son Robert was baptized 5 days apart in both the Church of Ireland church and the Catholic Cathedral in Carlow in 1774. By this point, after all these generations, I believe they would have thought of themselves as being Irish and quite distinct from the larger and often absentee landowners who thought of themselves as being English.  But things were soon to change quickly in the area and throughout Ireland.  A movement developed as many of the Protestant and Catholic Irish found a common ground and a common resentment in being ruled by the English landlords and by England.  In 1798 this would come to a head in an open rebellion by the United Irish that would mark a turning point in my familyís history in Ballickmoyler.

1798 Rebellion plaque in Ballickmoyler This next photo is of a memorial to the people who died in that area during a battle in the United Irish Rebellion of 1798. The major losses had been in Carlow but in this area the local battle, likely with deaths on both sides, was at Providence Lodge just a mile or so west of town where an overnight firefight ensued when the rebels surrounded a group of their own neighbours who had chosen to remain loyal to the government.  Those in the lodge had fled there from Ballickmoyler when their houses had been burned but they were pursued there by the rebels.  Both of the Bowles houses were amongst those burned that night so I can only assume that my ancestors would have been amongst those at Providence Lodge firing out of the windows at their own neighbours.

1798 Plaque by house in BallickmoylerThe next photo shows that the 1798 Memorial plaque is right on the wall leading to where my ancestor's house was.  There's a newer house on the spot now but his house, which was burned in the rebellion, would have been right through that door in the wall.  The last photo is from behind the house looking down across the land my ancestor had farmed.  I imagine we were the first of the family to stand there since the family left Ireland for Canada in 1819.  They had to make a decision that day in 1798 between loyalty to their government and loyalty to their neighbours and afterwards they could not have found their lives there as comfortable as it had been.  They did try to stay.  They rebuilt their houses and replaced the old chapel, which had been in one of the burned houses, with a new church but they couldnít have felt that they belonged there living amongst their neighbours any longer.

Gradually each member of the family moved on, mostly emigrating to Canada until no Bowles remained in Ballickmoyler.  My own direct ancestor, a fourth John Bowles, shoemaker, moved first to Dunleckney, co. Carlow about 1808 and then he moved his whole family to Quebec City in 1819.  The Tithe Applotments for Ballickmoyler of 1824 show a Michael and William Bowles holding the two family farms.  The Griffith Valuation of 1850 shows that the original family farm had been sold and the second farm was owned by a next generation William Bowles who lived in Carlow.  The land was occupied only by his tenants in those 8 tenant houses along the main road.  By that time every other male member of 5 generations of the Bowles family had emigrated to Canada.  Many of the daughters married local men so the blood line remains in the area to this day but not with the Bowles name.  Only that one William Bowles remained until he died alone in the Carlow Workhouse in 1886.

During the 1800ís the Agrarian Wars pushed many more Irish out from their homes, as the Irish tenants tried to hold onto their land in the face of land clearances to accommodate new farming techniques by their English landlords. The Potato Famine years forced many more Irish to leave their land to settle in whatever countries would take them.

Now we have so many countries around the world but principally Canada, the United States and Australia which were so greatly enriched by that infusion of Irish blood.  In Canada the Orange and the Green gradually merged into just being Irish Canadians.  When my ancestors arrived here they built an Orange Lodge as the social centre for their community but in the depression years of the 1930ís when the poorest people in town, mostly Catholics refugees from Poland, were suffering the most, it was the Orange Lodge which fed and supported them.

Based on their first census records in the 1820ís until those of 1870ís and 1880ís the Bowles in Canada identified themselves as being Irish until they simply claimed to be Canadian by the end of the 19th century.

Bowles farm in BallickmoylerWhy did I return with my family to Ballickmoyler in 2008?  It was to stand on that spot to take this last photo of the beauty of the land which we had left behind and to think about how it might have been if we had learned our lesson earlier and worked together in Ireland as so many others did instead of fighting against our neighbours.  

But as I've said the world is richer for the Irish immigrants who helped to build this country and now we are who we are but we can still love the country which gave birth to us, to the benefit of much of the world and we can still return to pay our respects.  We returned again to stand on that same spot in 2011 and on that visit we toured throughout the southern half of the country.  Thereís still so much to see so I hope to return again and again to learn more and more about my motherland (well my father was French Canadian so I canít call it my fatherland) and to speculate what it might have meant to our family and our country if we had remained to support our fellow countrymen.

See The Bowles of Canada

See  The Bowles of Ireland

See The Bowles of Great Britain

This page was last updated 12/21/18