Finding Ferdinand: the Search for the Irish Ancestor of the Mayo Clan of Lipa - Batangas History, Culture and Folklore Finding Ferdinand: the Search for the Irish Ancestor of the Mayo Clan of Lipa - Batangas History, Culture and Folklore

Finding Ferdinand: the Search for the Irish Ancestor of the Mayo Clan of Lipa

After I posted my previous article about the escapades of the British army in Batangas in the 18th century on social media, my former boss Brother Manual Pajarillo, a De La Salle Christian Brother, left this comment: “I am a 7th generation Mayo, who trace their roots to an Irishman Ferdinand Mayo, who married a lady (named) Pantoja of Lipa. In my rough estimate of about 40 years for one generation, that places him being of a young marriageable age between 1762 and 1770. Which means that if there is any truth to the legend, he would have been a mercenary soldier who went AWOL when his British employer (the Army) withdrew from Lipa at the end of the war.1

Although I am Lipa born and raised, and I have always known the Mayos to be among the city’s oldest families, this bit about the Irish roots I had not heard about before. For one, I have always assumed that Mayo was a Spanish name; i.e. the month of May. For another, none of the Mayos whom I personally know look anything even slightly Caucasian.

This was, I nonetheless felt, still worthy of investigation. Just to make sure that we are all on the same page, the “legend” that he mentioned in his statement is apparently family folklore handed down from generation to generation. As with anything folkloric, there was always bound to be several versions of the same story.

Pajarillo’s version is, however, corroborated by the 1948 Batangas Directory, an article inside of which said, “Don Sebastian de la Cruz Mayo of 1804 was the son of the Irish Captain Ferdinand Mayo, who came here (to Lipa) with the British and from whom Claro Mayo Recto the poet, satirical writer and parliamentarian and the Mayos of today have descended.2

In the web site, a member of the Mayo clan left behind this additional information: “My grandfather Claro Mayo Recto was a descendant of Ferdinand Mayo from Liverpool. He was an Irishman in the service of the English occupation army stationed in the Philippines in 1762.3

There is nothing extraordinary about a Liverpudlian of Irish descent, as indeed Liverpool is right across the sea from Ireland and the city has been through the centuries the first stop for Irish immigrants. But more about this matter a little later in this article.

red jacketted British soldiers
Image credit:  It's Xiaotime!

There is further information left behind by a Ruel Mayo as a comment to an article on the web site of the Lipa Tourism and Museum Council. He recalled having read about Ferdinand Mayo having been shipwrecked in Balayan and then marrying his Chinese cook whose name was Pan To Ja.4

The article itself, entitled “Lipa’s Old Gentry” with genealogical research undertaken by a Maricel Claudia Alabastra, also a member of the Mayo clan, confuses the story somewhat but not in a way that cannot be explained by deduction.

The article says, “The Mayos, according to family tradition, were descended from Anthony Mayo, a British Soldier who landed and chose to stay in Lipa during the short lived British Invasion of Manila in 1762-1764. To hide his identity he changed his name to Antonio de la Cruz. He married Feliciana Casilag (Casilda). They had only one child Sebastian.4

At this point, let us begin to sift the pile to separate the gold from the gravel.

First of all, was his name Ferdinand or Anthony? Inasmuch as there is no practicality to flying out to London to research British Military Records – online databases are woefully incomplete – then we will all entertain the probability of the name being either Ferdinand Anthony or Anthony Ferdinand. In other words, we will take it that the Ferdinand and Anthony in separate stories were, in fact, one and the same person.

However, and not to further confuse the story albeit this next bit of information undoubtedly will, Ferdinand is a Germanic name popularised in the Iberian Peninsula by the Visigoths as Ferdinando in Spain and Fernão in Portugal. While the name is generally recognised as an English name in the present day, in the 18th century it was probably more popular in continental Europe than it was in the British Isles and Ireland.5

Next, was he Irish, British of Irish descent or just plain British? Just to make sure there is no confusion among readers, the term British only applies to the English, Scots and Welsh. According to, Mayo is recognised as a common name among the Irish and the English. It is a variant of Mayhew and the French Mailhot, among others.

Anyone who begins to suspect a connection to the Irish county by the name of Mayo will immediately be disappointed, however, because the surname Mayo is not even among the most common in the county in the present day. In fact, an 1882 research noted that there were more people of that surname in England rather than in Ireland.

“Regarded as an English family name, it is most frequently met with in the south and west of this island, and few Parish registers in the counties of Hereford, Gloucester, Wilts and Dorset, can be opened without presenting us with examples. It is spelt in many ways, varying from the extended form of Mayhowe to that of Mao, and often, clipped down and reduced to May by the loss of its concluding syllable. The common supposition that the name takes its origin from the Irish town must be laid aside.6

And who was the lady Pantoja? If the article “Lipa’s Old Gentry” is accurate, then the other versions must have gotten mixed up as stories rather tend to be when they get told from one person to the next. We already know that Ferdinand/Anthony married a Feliciana Casilag/Casilda. They had one son whom they named Sebastian. He would later become governor of Lipa.

According to the article, Sebastian – and not Ferdinand/Anthony – married a Sangleye – as the Chinese in the Philippines used to be called – mestiza by the name of Maria Pantoja (Pantoxa). In the 18th century, a Sangleye mestizo/a was the child of a Chinese and Indio (native Filipino) intermarriage.7

Was she a cook at all? This, I am unable to establish; albeit, for a would-be governor to have married a cook at a time when the social classes were still very clearly delineated sounds a lot like a cockamamie story told by someone who had had too much ale to drink.8

Was Ferdinand/Anthony in Lipa or Balayan; and was he ever in a shipwreck? Historical accounts on the Philippines by Joaquín Martínez de Zúñiga y Díaz de Ilarraza and Antonio de Murga make no mention of any shipwrecks in Balayan, so there is every likelihood that this was another cockamamie story.

However, as I have written in the previous article, the British army’s 79th Regiment under the command of a Captain Thomas Backhouse went on excursions to Lipa, Taal and Balayan. Therefore, if Mayo was with the regiment, then he could have gone to all three towns.

There are as many holes to all versions of the Mayo story as there are to a block of cheese; as there rather tends to be in folkloric traditions. Researching it has been challenging if very entertaining as far as I am concerned.

But if at all there was indeed a Ferdinand or Anthony Mayo who came with the British Army to these islands and founded an entire – and very prominent – clan, we will leave it to any member of this very clan who lives in the UK to pay a visit to military archives and make the confirmation.

If there is any truth to the story, then we have all been pronouncing the name wrong.  It should instead be Mayo the same as in mayonnaise.

Notes and References:
1 Brother Manual Pajarillo FSC, President, University of St. La Salle, on Faceook
2 Important Events that Occurred in Lipa During the Spanish Regime, 1948 Batangas Directory
3 Message board comment by user Nancysp on
4 Ruel Mayo, comment left on the article “Lipa’s Old Gentry” at the web site of the Lipa Tourism and Museum Council
5 Ferdinand, online at Behind the Name
6 Yet another version of the meaning of the surname of Mayo, from the blog Genealogy 1
7 Loyalty, Disobedience, and the Myth of the Black Legend in the Philippines during the Seven Years War by Kristie Patricia Flannery
8 Lipa’s Old Gentry, online at the web site of the Lipa Tourism and Museum Council
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