Robert Macan,Newry Bank 1807-16

Family background

Robert Macan (b. 25 October 1774) a banker of Ballinahone House, Armagh and Canal Street, Newry, was the only surviving son of John M’Can, (later Macan), (1729-1801), grandson of Robert McCann (b.circa 1685) of Cloghoge, Co. Armagh. Robert is listed as a freehold landowner in Armagh in Coote’s Statistical Survey, 1804 and was High Sheriff of Armagh in 1814.

Robert’s father, John was a tailor of Armagh and by his wife Catherine had eight children. Only Catherine, Margaret, Mary Ann and Robert survived their father’s death on 20 July 1801 and only Robert survived his mother’s death on 20 August 1814. Robert married Margaret Gillespie on 18 November 1799. Margaret was the younger daughter of Clements Gillespie, a merchant of Newry and who was a business partner with Robert in the Amicable Co. of Newry. Robert and Margaret Macan had eleven children, the last child James (b. 17 May 1816) survived his mother’s death on 31 May 1816.

The Bank of Newry

The Bank of Newry was established on 1 March 1807 for what Canavan (1989) describes as political and economic motives. Sir John Moore, M.P. of Drumbanagher, an opponent to the Act of Union (1800), Robert Macan, and Meredith Foxall of Killevy Lodge opened the Bank of Newry in Canal Street Newry in opposition to one owned by Isaac Corry and John Ogle.

‘Of Corry, we already know; Ogle came from a prosperous commercial

family who first came to prominence in the mid-eighteenth century.

They lived in a mansion in Fathom, on the Omeath Road, and Fathom

Park was for a long time called Ogle’s Glen. Isaac Corry was still much

resented in Newry and it was as much this resentment as commercial

motives that brought the rival bank into existence. Sir John Moore

owned the building in which the bank was set up and also a considerable

estate at Drumbanagher, near Newry. He had been one of Newry’s two

representatives in the Irish parliament and was a committed opponent to

the Act of Union….Foxall was also a man of property and the third

partner, Macan, was a merchant of the town but little is known of him.

….The bank flourished during the Napoleonic Wars when the Irish

economy was buoyant. However, the economy was hit by the depression

that followed the end of the war. Despite attempts to save the bank,

it was forced to close in 1816. This was not an uncommon occurrence

in Ireland at the time.’ Canavan 1989 pp117-118.

Meredith Foxall died in January 1815 bequeathing his interest in the Bank to his father Joseph and brother Thomas Foxall. The bank prospered for a time but then faltered in 1815, an economic slump eventually causing the Bank of Newry to stop payment on 22 March 1816.   

Under the Statutes of the period, a Deed of Trust (PRONI T577/31) was made by John Moore, Robert Macan, Joseph and Thomas Foxall on behalf of the Bank’s creditors represented by Trustees George Matthews, Trevor Corry and John Quinn on 21st June 1816. Property, real and personal, in the possession of the partners was agreed to be entrusted for the payment of their debts. Robert Macan had accumulated a significant income generated from the leasing and subleasing of properties in Co. Armagh and Newry. [refer Appendix 1: forfeited properties of Robert Macan]

Legal proceedings

On 1 November 1816 the children of Robert Macan filed a Bill of Complaint in the High Court of Chancery of Ireland against the Trustees for the Bank of Newry, George Matthews, Trevor Corry and John Quinn, their father Robert and Executors of several family wills, Randall McDonnell, John Irwin, Rev. Daniel Kelly, Arthur Irwin Kelly and Thomas Wilson.

The complainants, John, Anna Maria, Clements, Robert, Charles, Catherine, Thomas Townley, Margaret, Elizabeth and in some clauses James, charged that they were entitled to several lands, tenements, estates and legacies from the wills of their grandfathers John Macan and Clements Gillespie, their grandmothers, Catherine Macan and Anne Gillespie, their aunties Margaret and Mary Ann Macan and Catherine Hall and their mother Margaret Macan. These entitlements were part of, or contributed to, the forfeited properties of Robert Macan vested in the Trustees for the Bank of Newry.

Robert Macan filed his statement to the Bill on 12 February 1817 admitting that he had failed to administer several legacies of the family. In his defence he stated that he had given certain amounts to his sisters and mother from time to time after the death of his father and had not taken advantage of their alleged ignorance of legal and business matters. He also stated that his mother, Catherine had lived with his family until her death in 1814 and that the amendments to her will were not intentionally concealed. Robert added that being under “pressure of urgent necessity” he admitted having used the proceeds of Government debentures bequeathed by his father-in-law Clements Gillespie to his wife Anne, denying that his motives were fraudulent. In addition, Robert admitted that he had not paid Anne Gillespie rental for a building which he used, an amount totalling 1500 pounds. He denied having used rents, profits and monies of his mother Catherine to erect flour mills and other improvements on the lands of Lurgivallen.

The Trustees for the creditors of the Bank of Newry, George Matthews, Trevor Corry and John Quinn filed their joint statement on the 10th July 1817 alleging that Robert Macan had concealed or supressed the ammended will of Catherine Macan until it was proved 25 October 1816. Thus, the contents of the will were not subject to being vested with the Trustees. All forfeited estates, real and personal of the partners were to be declared by 21 June 1816, three months after the Bank of Newry stopped payment. They added that they had obtained many of the leases, papers and documents relating to the lands and premises conveyed in the Trust Deed but despite going through their solicitor, there were some still outstanding. From the verdict of the Court of Assizes at Downpatrick, Co. Down against Robert Macan, a large amount was owing to the Trustees due to the suppression of leases, papers and documents by persons unknown.

In an Indenture dated 25 February 1823, the High Court of Chancery of Ireland‘s summation of the Original Bill noted that the defendant Robert Macan had died intestate in Paris in February 1820 and that Richard Nixon had obtained the authority of administration for goods, chattels and credits from the Court of Prerogative dated 29 June 1822.

As a result of the settlement hearing, the Court ordered that the land and premises in the will of John Macan together with those lands of Drumard O’Kennan, lately in the possession of Robert Macan or under tenants containing 86 acres, 1 rood and 20 perches, also part of Drumadd and Ballinahone otherwise known as Ballinahonemore, lately in the possession of Robert Macan containing 3 acres and 20 perches together with the property mentioned in the Indentures between Robert Macan and Rev. John Robinson (dated 1 June 1803), and John Singleton (dated 16 May 1805), be auctioned.

The lands and premises were auctioned in Dublin on 21 February 1823 and were sold to Lee McKinstry for 2,900 pounds.  A directive of the Court of Chancery of Great Britain and Ireland under King George IV dated 1 April 1823 ordered the Sheriff of Armagh to put Lee McKinstry in possession of the lands and premises auctioned.

Author’s (i.e. John Macan, Australia) comments

I often ponder on the circumstances of my great-great-great grandfather, Robert Macan, the banker.

I know that his grandfather, Robert McCann [b.c. 1685] of Cloghoge, grew up in very difficult times.  Robert’s [snr] clan leadership was decimated at the Boyne and Aughrim. He was of middle class Catholic background, and was affected by the injustice of the Penal Laws, in particular, the Gravelkind Act. Robert [snr]. He would have found it necessary to conform in order to maintain traditional clan land, by holding favorable leases for kinsfolk and neighbours.  In fact, Robert [snr] was an unsuccessful defendant in a court case in 1748 when a Redmond Jennings accused him of holding lands in Loughgilly Parish for a Catholic neighbour.  In the Poll book for Co. Armagh, 1753, records Robert’s [snr] vote as rejected because his daughter, who was living with him, ‘was a papist and educated as one’.  Robert [snr] was a freeholder at Cloghoge in 1753, then resident at Meigh Desart, in the Parish of Newry, the only portion of McCann property not to be confiscated in the 16th Century.

It seemed that in the 18th Century in Ireland, that no matter how a native Irishman attempted to conform to the establishment, he would always be regarded as belonging to an underclass. The United Irishmen movement late 18th century may have given hope to many Protestants and conformed Catholics who had embraced merchant opportunities. Enter Robert Macan the Banker. Considering his grandfather’s experience of having ‘a foot in each camp’, the political unrest of the time, and his family connections by marriage to the merchant class of Newry, perhaps Robert saw a way forward.

Was Robert Macan the greedy and dishonest merchant as portrayed by the court proceedings against him? Or was Robert the Patsy?

Given the power and influence of pro-Act of Unionists in Newry, and knowing something of Robert’s life, the plight of his ancestry, and what became of his descendants, I am inclined to think there is more to the court case that ensued, to his self imposed exile, and to the unanswered questions regarding his death in Paris in 1820.

It is reasonable for me to consider the fact that Robert, the only native Irishman of the Bank of Newry partners, was ethnically disadvantaged in the legal proceedings associated with the collapse of the Bank of Newry.

The opinions given by the author in this article do not necessarily represent the opinions of family members or other descendants. I am eternally indebted to the ancestors of my lineage and I do not intend to discredit my forebears in any way. I hold no judgement on those decisions that were made in difficult times, in difficult circumstances, without the benefit of hindsight.”

John Macan,  September 11, 2005

Appendix 1: Forfeited properties of Robert Macan

 In the Indenture of 21 June 1816, Robert’s forfeited properties were as follows: a plot of ground in Canal Street commonly known as the Garden, bounded on the north by John Lee’s holding, on the east by the street, on the south by William Young’s tenement and on the west by Edward Corry Esq.’s ground commonly called New Garden, being in Lisdrumgullion in the Lordship of Newry and the Co. of Armagh; a tenement on the northside of Corry Place, Newry; a tenement formally in the possession of Clements Gillespie (Robert’s father-in-law), bounded on the east by the Barrack Wall, being in Lisdrumgullion in the Lordship of Newry, Co. of Armagh; tenements, dwelling houses and out offices in Canal Street; tenements, dwelling houses and premises along the street leading to Linen Hall; tenement on the south side of Corry Place; town and lands of Aghanore (Grange Parish) and sections of Drumacanver, Drumgreenagh, Cavangarvan, Tamlaght, Lisglynn, Farnaloy, Maghery Kilcrany situated in the Parish of Derrynoose, Barony of Armagh being 2,706 acres, 2 roods and 6 perches; tenements in part of Drumard O’Keenan being 86 acres, 1 rood and 20 perches in the Co. of Armagh; part of town and lands of Kennedies (otherwise known as Cannadies); part of town and lands of Enagh, Lisbenoe, Magherarville, Killynure, Aghavilly and Listagh in the Parish of Lisnadill, Co. of Armagh being 18 acres and 15 perches; land at Ballinahonemore being 95 acres, 3 roods and 39 perches; townland of Crossmore being 76 acres and 2 roods together with lands, bog and moss of 7 acres, 2 roods and 10 perches; tenement and garden in the town of Keady formally in the possession of David Blakely together with part of the townlands of Crossmore and Dunlarge being of 7 acres, 2 roods and 33 perches; tenement with house and buildings on the east side of English Street, City of Armagh; parcel of land called the Town Parks adjoining the Barracks near the City of Armagh, being 14 acres, 3 roods and 31 perches; part of the townland of Carnbane, 21 acres in the Lordship of Newry; dwelling house, office, tenements and garden in English Street, City of Armagh, together with part of the fields and lands of Mullynure (Grange Parish) being 6 acres; part of the townlands of Drumadd and Ballinahone being 3 acres and 20 perches in the Parish of Armagh; town park known as Clemens Gardens situated on the east side of the Jail of Armagh (2 acres and 34 perches); part of Drumort near the Jail together with houses, gardens and lands in the possession of Robert Jackson, George Mason, Samuel Johnston and Edward Kern and their undertenants being total of 5 acres; that parcel of land called Tullyasanna and part of Tullyasanna adjoining the road to Callan Bridge in the possession of Dr. Edward Atkinson, Nicholas Carlon, James Cummins, Barbara Olpherts and Thomas Quinn together with the parcels of land called Lurgivallen, Tabbermuck, Tarry McGeough being 15 acres; a parcel of land called Carrickaloughran, being 14 acres; portion of lands of Lurgivallen being 1 acre and 18 perches.

Newry Journal comment:

We will soon add our own comment and assessment, especially of the role of the other principals, Moore and Foxall, in the failed Bank of Newry.

We are pleased and honoured to publish the above account of our friend and long-time supporter, John Macan!



Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.