Like many colleagues in this post-Brexit world, I find my British passport is now a hindrance to trade – not only have I lost my freedom of movement and right to work all over the EU, but every entry and exit to the Schengen Zone earns a stamp. My present passport is almost full of these stamps and a couple of visas, but not due to expire until 2029, six years from now!

Wishing for an EU passport, I finally dug into my long-rumoured Irish roots. And it seems I do indeed have a direct connection to an ‘old County Waterford landed family of Anglo-Norman descent’. 1

Apparently, an Irish great-grandparent will not get me a passport without the Minister of the Irish Department of Justice using ‘exceptional discretion’, and why would s/he? 2 Anyway, I’m a bit (one-eighth) Irish and it’s quite a story!

Forever there have been whispers of Irish heritage through Minnie, my paternal grandmother. I set out to discover it. My parents are dead, my grandparents are dead, and although some cousins agree there was talk of an Irish connection, nobody seemed very sure what it was.

Patricia, my father’s second wife, sent me an old photograph of a handsome Georgian house in a rural setting that my father always claimed was where the Irish branch of the family had once lived. Patricia suggested as a place to start my research, which quickly expanded. (Warning, it’s a rabbit hole!)

Here is what I found:

Simon Knolles Corder – that’s me
b 1960 London

Robert Travers Corder – my father
b 1932 Nottingham, England
1958 married Daphne Rosemary Knolles Green in Rottingdean, England – my mother (b 1934, d 2004)
d 2010 Dundee, Scotland

Norah Frances Lewis (Minnie) – Robert’s mother, my grandparent
b 1897 Willingham, Cambridgeshire, England
1926 married Michael Westray Corder (b 1901, d 1966) in Kensington, London
d 1988 Nottingham, England
– 1911 census – a schoolgirl living with mother Emily in Willingham

Dr. Robert Travers Lewis – Norah’s father, my Irish great-grandparent
b 1859 Ireland
1890 married Emily Mary Frances Swamley (b 1862, d 1927) in Twickenham, London
d 1906 Cambridge, England
– educated at Trinity College, Dublin – MB 1885, BS 1886
– 1890 Marriage Banns – Rank or Profession of Father (below), ‘Gentleman’
– 1891 census – a physician & surgeon living in Willingham, Cambridgeshire
… with wife Emily and ‘servant’ Sarah Whitehead
– 1901 census – a physician & surgeon living in Willingham, Cambridgeshire
… with wife Emily, children, a cook and a nurse

“…educated at Trinity College, Dublin (MB 1885; BS 1886); physician and surgeon at Willingham (Cambs), 1890-1906 and local Medical Officer of Health; served as a parish councillor and was closely involved in many village societies and clubs; married, 3 September 1890 at St Stephen, Twickenham (Middx), Emily Mary Frances (1862-1927), daughter of Thomas Twamley, and had issue one son (Sir Richard George Aylward Lewis (1895-1965)) and five daughters; died of pneumonia, 2 December 1906 and was buried at Willingham; will proved 8 January 1907 (estate £2,161).” ((

Norah’s sisters Cicely and Margerie died in infancy. I remember her sister Iva (1891-1973). Violet was Robert’s sixth child (1900-1939).

“The death took place on December 2nd, 1906, of Dr. Robert Travers Lewis, of Willingham, Cambridgeshire, at the comparatively early age of 47. Ever a lover and encourager of healthy outdoor pastimes, Dr. Lewis went to watch the football match at Cambridge between the University and the West of Scotland teams, and on his return home complained of feeling unwell. Shortly afterwards he developed acute pneumonia, and, in spite of the assistance rendered by specialists both from Cambridge and London, succumbed after a brief illness. Dr. Lewis, a Trinity College student obtained his M.B. in Dublin in 1885, and in the year following became also B.S.; after a few years spent In practice in Ireland he settled at Willingham. There he was Medical Officer and Public Vaccinator of the First District of the Chesterton Union. He played such an active part in the general life of the village that his death leaves a gap which will not easily be filled. Gifted with no small share of humour and many other pleasant qualities he enjoyed much popularity among hie patients and neighbours of all denominations, and he had Jong been a recognized leader both in the outdoor life and business affairs of the locality. The funeral took place on December 5th, the coffin being carried to the graveside by eighteen members of the local cricket club in relays and preceded by representatives of various local enterprises and the officials of several friendly societies. Dr Lewis was a member of the Cambridge and Huntingdon Branch of the British Medical Association, and leaves a widow and four children.” ((British Medical Journal Obituary, 12 January 1907))

John Michael Aylward Lewis JP – Robert’s father, my 2nd great-grandparent
b 1827
1853 married Hannah White (d 1913) in Dublin
d 1873 – Ballynagar House, County Galway, Ireland

He inherited the Ballynagar estate from his maternal uncle in 1867. At his death he left his widow a life interest in the estate; she was forced to sell much of the land to the Estates Commission in 1907.” 3

Cicely Connolly Aylward – John’s mother my 3rd great-grandparent
b 1807, born and baptised Alnwick, Northumberland, England
1824 married Richard Tonson Lewis (b1800, d 1851) in Mallow, Cork, Ireland
d 1844 4

This Marriage was the joining of the Aylward and Lewis families. Cicely was the only daughter of Capt. John Michael Nugent Aylward of Ballynagar (1780-1861). She had a brother, John Michael Aylward of Ballynagar (1809-1867) who inherited the Ballynagar Estate on the death of his father in 1861. He died in 1867 leaving no children, so the house and estate passed to his nephew John Michael Aylward Lewis JP (1827-1873) (above).

Capt. John Michael Nugent Aylward of Ballynagar – Cicely’s father, my 4th great-grandparent
b 1780
1803 married Jane Lambert (d 1864) in Alnwick, Northumberland
d 1861

“built c.1807, Ballynagar House was designed by the architect Richard Morrison for John Michael Aylward (1780-1861)”5

“Only son of Michael Widman Aylward (d 1785) and his first wife, Sarah, daughter of Patrick French (later St. George) of Tyrone (Galway), born 15 November 1780. An officer in the 5th Dragoon Guards (Capt.)… He inherited the Ballynagar estate from his father in 1785 and came of age in 1801. 3

And the house in this picture passed down from my father is Ballynagar House!

Ballynagar House

Ballynagar House was built for Capt. (5th Dragoon Guards) John Michael Nugent Aylward of Ballynagar (1780-1861), my 4th great-grandparent. The house was designed by architect Richard Morrison6 in 1807. The Captain later accused Morrison of adultery with his wife Jane!

“…the estate passed to his son, Capt. John Michael Nugent Aylward (1780-1861), then aged five, and the estate was leased out during his minority. He came into possession in 1801, was married in 1803, and in 1807 brought in the architect, Richard Morrison, to remodel the house at Ballynagar. Morrison developed a close friendship with the Aylwards, but after work on the house was completed, Capt. Aylward came to suspect that Morrison was conducting an affair with his wife, and brought charges against him at the Galway Assizes for ‘criminal conversation’. The jury were not convinced, and acquitted Morrison, but Capt. Aylward, who seems to have had a somewhat mercurial temperament, separated from his wife anyway. Within a few years he was chronically indebted (something to which the cost of rebuilding Ballynagar may have contributed), and from 1819 until his death, over forty years later, he was pursued in the courts for debt and was obliged to sell parcels of the estate at intervals. His son, John Michael Aylward (1809-67) made an unsatisfactory marriage and separated from his wife before producing any children, so the reduced estate passed on his death to his nephew, John Michael Aylward Lewis (1827-73). Lewis left his widow, Hannah (d. 1913) a life interest in the estate, but two of his sons, John Michael Aylward Lewis (1854-1917) and Henry Hull Lewis (1860-1940) farmed parts of the property.” 3

“Although the relationship between the brothers and the remaining customary tenants on the estate were generally good, the Aylwards became embroiled in a bitter dispute with the Irish Land Commission over the terms for the acquisition of the estate under the Irish land reform legislation. There is not space here to detail the dispute in full, but essentially the two brothers had taken a large part of the estate in hand when the customary tenants had declined to renew their tenancies (at rates set by the Commission), and had invested heavily in improving the land, for example by planting woodland on some areas. The compulsory purchase price subsequently set by the Land Commission was based on the old rental value and made no allowance for the subsequent investment. However valid the bigger picture of Irish land reform may have been, the Aylwards and many other landowners felt aggrieved at their treatment by the system, and in the 1920s what was left of the estate was sold by John Aylward Lewis (1893-1951).” 3

There’s more – all the way back to John Aylward (d 1662)
“A Roman Catholic in religion, he was an active supporter of the Catholic Confederation, and as Mayor of Waterford, 1650, he must have played a prominent part in organising the determined resistance of the town during the Siege of Waterford that year, and its eventual capitulation. He seems, however, to have been treated as a non-combatant when the Act for the Settlement of Ireland was imposed in 1652, and although he was stripped of his estate in Co. Waterford he avoided exile and was allowed to claim 3,000 acres in Co. Galway in compensation.” 3 7

“The Aylwards came from an old County Waterford landed family of Anglo-Norman descent, who, in the person of John Aylward, were transplanted by the Cromwellians to Connacht and allocated extensive lands about the parish of Ballinakill in the half barony of Leitrim in east Galway.” 1

“The Aylwards of Co. Waterford were transplanted to the West in 1653 and given the land at Ballynagar. It is thought that part of the house may be quite early in date, built shortly after the Aylwards came to the west.” 8

“An Aylward property from the 17th century, which passed by a marriage in 1824 to a branch of the Lewis family of county Cork. The representatives of John M.A. Lewis were recorded as the owners of over 6000 acres in county Galway in the 1870s. The address is given as Ballynagar, Loughrea…” 9 10 11

Google Street View May 2009 Google Street View June 2022

ps – of course, the DNA gets a bit watered down by the time we arrive at 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th great grandparents, but hey – I do (seemingly) have a direct bloodline to the Mayor of Waterford in 1650, and next time I’m in Galway I shall go and have a peek at the old family house.

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