Sir James Duff, 2nd Earl of Fife and Baron of Braco, Kilbride, Co. Cavan.

Come back Paddy, but what about James Duff?

It has to be said that Percy French put Ballyjamesduff, otherwise known as Baile Shéamais Dhuibh, on the map. But a less known fact is that the town of Black Seamus may have likely got its name from the lordly James Duff, Baron of Fife, and Baron Braco of Kibride, Co. Cavan. In those days Kilbride was spelled Kylbryde. Ballyjamesduff is only a few miles up the road from the town of Mountnugent in the parish of Kilbride.

An early mention of Ballyjamesduff, from 1714, can be found in a record in the Registry of Deeds, on Henrietta Street, in Dublin.

Duff of Dipple

William Duff of Dipple, born in 1697, was a Scottish landowner who became the first Baron of Fife and Viscount MacDuff. He later married Janet Ogilvy on 19th September 1719, and two further marriages followed; in 1723, he married Janet Grant; thereafter marrying a third lady whose name does not appear to have survived. On 28th July 1735, Duff was made Lord Braco of Kilbride, Co. Cavan, under the peerage of Ireland. Between 1735 and 1740, he built a stately mansion, named Duff House, at Banff, Aberdeenshire, in East Scotland. During the Second World War, Duff House was used as headquarters of the Free Norwegian forces and the Polish exile forces, and is today open to the public to visit. From 1727 to 1734, William Duff sat as MP in the House of Commons.

He died on 30th September 1763 at Rothiemay Castle and was interred ‘in the parish church’ at Grange, but was later exhumed and re-buried in the family mausoleum at Duff House.

Sir James Duff

Sir James Duff 1729-1809, was the second Earl of Fife, otherwise the second Baron of Braco (maybe depending on the time of day, or what mood he’d be in, you had the choice of two titles to call him). From 1754 to 1784, he sat as a Whig member of parliament for Banffshire and inherited his titles as second Earl of Fife, second Viscount MacDuff, and second Baron Braco of Kilbryde, Co. Cavan on 30th September 1763. Duff married Lady Dorothea Sinclair, but the couple did not have children. However, Duff already had three children earlier by Margaret Adam, his mother’s personal maid. They were Jean Duff, James Duff, and William Duff; unlike some offspring, each of the children were recognised by their father.

Sir James Duff’s eldest illegitimate son, and namesake, became General Sir James Duff, and fought in the Napoleonic wars and helped to suppress the 1798 rebellion in Ireland. His father, having taken a shine to young James, placed him as a boy in the guardianship of William Rose, and put him through school and paid for his promotions in the British army and he rose through the ranks of the military to reach the most senior rank of major general, holding a commission in the army for more than seventy years.

In Jamaica, General Duff possessed an estate with 202 slaves for whom he received a large pay-out in compensation when slavery was abolished in 1833; the slave compensation bill, assisted former slave owners with their losses in those post-slavery days.

James Duff senior’s second son, William Duff, was educated at the Royal Military Academy in Woolich and a surviving letter from the boy aged sixteen in 1770, reads: ‘Rise at 6 and go for a walk. Breakfast 7.30. Study from 8 to 12. After dinner, military exercises. 3 to 6 study.’

Having served in Canada and Ireland, he retired as Major William Duff. Like his brother Sir James, and their father, the three are all buried in the family Mausoleum at Duff House.

Duff farming

Old James Duff was an industrious gentleman and twice achieved gold in the ‘Encouragement of Arts Manufactures, and Commerce’ awards, all won by him for the work carried out on the 14,000 acres of plantation land he owned in Scotland and elsewhere. The farmers on his estates were supposedly happy with their lot and Duff never failed to give them every encouragement to cultivate and improve their farms. He didn’t mind getting his own hands dirty they say, it seems, and supervised the cattle breeding operations at each of his estates. Whenever crops failed, he’d be known to give twenty percent reductions off the rent to his tenants.

Aside from its proud links to Percy French, the old market town of Ballyjamesduff was an all-Ireland winner in the 1966 and 1967 Tidy Towns Competition. Today, it is a place of industry and agriculture and home to Cavan’s County Museum.

The Book of the Duffs, by Alistair Norwich Tayler and Helen Agnes Henrietta Tayler tells the story of the Duffs.

Come Back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff

The Garden of Eden has vanished they say

But I know the lie of it still

Just turn to the left at the bridge of Finea

And stop when halfway to Cootehill.

It’s there you’ll find it I know sure enough

For fortune has come to my call

The grass it is green around Ballyjamesduff

And the blue sky is over it all.

And tones that are tender and tones that are ruff

Come whispering over the sea

Come back, Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff

Come home, Paddy Reilly, to me.

My mother once told me that when I was born

The day that I first saw the light

I looked down the street on that very first morn

And gave a crow of delight.

Now most newborn babies appear in a puff

And start with a sorrowful squall

But I knew I was born in Ballyjamesduff

And that’s why I smiled at them all.

The baby’s a man now, he’s toil-worn and tough

Still, whispers come over the sea

Come back, Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff

Come home, Paddy Reilly, to me.

Come home, Paddy Reilly, to me.


Who was the real St Felim?