The magnificence, the grandeur, the expansiveness and sheer beauty of the mansion and grounds at Castleboro had, as the 19th century closed, become as a metaphorical magnet drawing crowds from far and near, especially in the summer-time of the year. The third Baron Bob Carew had come as a mere twenty-one year old into his inheritance—on the death of his father in 1881—and it then seemed inevitable that he would fulfil the prophecies of exaltation made at the time of his birth. In a gesture that could serve as an analogy of the professed liberality and liberalism of the House of Carew (according to a report in “The Wexford Independent” in 18911) “the grounds are open to the public” on Sundays and sometimes on Saints days with “as many as two thousand visitors” scattered over them, most notably on June the 29th then a Catholic feast day. The article continued:
“Then too the rhododendrons are in bloom and well worth seeing, including as they do every kind of hybrid, every shade of red and purple, toned down to heliotrope and pink. Last summer there was a large concourse of people. Early in the afternoon the stream of eager visitors began to pour in, some on foot and others, who came from distances, in brakes or cars. The place was gay with picnic groups and music supplied by a tambourine player and a fiddler quite in national style. In the spacious yard places at their disposal dancing was kept up until it was time to depart. The gardens are enclosed on one side by glass; there must be over five-hundred feet of houses, containing amongst other things, exceedingly fine orchids, of which the head gardener, who learned his trade at Blenheim, is not unreasonably proud; and on the other side by masonry while large cast-iron gates open onto one of the streams, the Killegney.” The article also told of “a long vista of Pampas grasses brightened by a vivid glow of red-hot pokers which flame among them, bordering a narrow path nearly half a mile in length that runs straight through. At the back are six terraces all beautifully laid out with shrubs and flowers, laid down to four artificial lakes. Built in the beginning of this century by the same architect who designed Johnstown Castle and Dromona, the Doric, Corinthian and Ionic styles are all represented in it. In 1836 it was partly burned down and rebuilt while since then another wing has been added, adding also to the confusion of architectural styles.”
On one detail, at least, the article is mistaken: Castleboro was burned in 18402. A pen picture is often deceptive and in this case—I think—deliberately so: anybody with an elementary knowledge of horticulture knows that red hot pokers flame only for a short time, an observation that could be made of most flowers. The images of a profusion and semi-permanence of flowers is intended to imply a heavenly completeness and perfection to Castleboro: the Carews as landlords perceived themselves as primary inheritors of God’s creation—during the land wars the spokesmen for the farmers inverted that principle and insisted that God had created the land for the people.
The article then recounted another of those tall tales or myths that abounded about the Carews:
“It was here (at Auch-Na-Coppell) that an ancestor of the Carews met James 11 flying down from the Battle of the Boyne and served him with refreshments. In memory of this incident, the monarch afterwards presented him with a pair of sleeve links, which remain in the family as an heir-loom3.” The Carews both in England and Ireland would have supported the Stuart cause: the old English or Norman-Irish did likewise and this coincidence meant that the Carews could perceive themselves and be perceived as Irish patriots. As the nineteenth century closed, however, the focus of Irish nationalism was on a separation of Ireland from the Union with England and the establishment of a Catholic commonwealth. The other difficulty that the Carews had in preserving the myth of themselves as Irish and deeply rooted in Ireland is that they had English connections to which they kept adding! At the celebrations, by the tenantry at Castleboro on the 10th of October 1860 of the birth of the future Third Baron Bob Carew the former newspaper editor and horticulturist the Courtnacuddy born Ned Carroll spoke at length—as usual—on a tormenting issue: the English wife of Lord Carew and mother of the newly born future third Baron Bob Carew to be. He said he had been in The Woodstown mansion with Lord Carew’s father (the first Baron) who addressing him as Mr Carroll (Ned Carroll basked in the respect of the high breeds) declared that while his son’s wife was of English birth she was Irish of the Irish4. The third Baron Bob Carew as if to enhance the Englishness of the Carews married Julia the eldest daughter of the late Mr Albert Lethbridge, who belonged to a very old Somerset family and descended from Edward 15.
The third Baron Bob Carew, like the child in one of Shakespeare’s sonnets, was ill starred and fated to live in the wrong era: his nemeses were the land league and the momentum towards a vague Catholic sovereignty, a matter not unrelated to the devotional revolution. When Tom Furlong’s curate the fiery young Fr Denis Doyle of Poulpeasty attacked the Carews over the eviction of Kinshelagh during the election of 1852 it was a little ominous for the House of Carew; his attack on the feted schoolmaster Hugh O’Neill, the pompously pedantic spin-doctor of that imaginary dynasty was unprecedented. The Carews had always courted the Catholic clergy in line with a benign imperial policy of integrating elites into the system.
At a meeting of the Cloughbawn and Poulpeasty branch of the National league (as it was called) on the 6th of January 1886 Mr Martin Furlong of Clonleigh, after taking the chair touched on themes that consistently come up in speeches made by spokesmen of the movement. His opening remarks are surprisingly close to trade union rhetoric:
“he meant unity of purpose on the part of the industrious democracy and resistance to all species of oppression, no matter from what quarter it came—be it landlord, priest or prelate. They could all now understand what was a fair day’s work and what was a fair day’s wages and they all meant to stick to their principles. Yet the present outlook and stoppage of the payment of rent for land created by the Almighty God was due to the landlord’s own avarice and stupidity. All knew well how that functionary was playing the role of a usurer, especially charging an interest for that species of property which he could not call his own or which was never created by him, only that he has seized on what the Almighty God, the mighty architect, has been pleased to make for all6.”
For legal reasons the land league sometimes constituted itself as a labour one but there was a genuine element of reformist disposition in its agitation; it was in a continuum with other social movements of the nineteenth century that sought to create an egalitarian order. Martin Furlong’s assertion that God had created the land for all struck at the most fundamental principle of the prevailing system: the conviction of the Carews that it was providential patent that underlined the axis of landlord and tenant (as enunciated by the future second Lord Carew at his 21st birthday party on Robinson’s lawn in August 1839). The flaw in Martin Furlong’s vision was that peasant proprietorship implied that God created the land for the farmers as distinct from the labourers.
Furlong in his speech referred to the present time as one of “distress approaching almost to famine” and later to these days of “distress, famine and low prices.” References of this kind are a staple of such speeches; they seem to defy the obvious reality that living conditions were ostensibly improving but it is possible that unprecedented market difficulties had arisen. At the meeting of the branch in January of 1887 the chairman John Hendrick remarked on “the depressed state of agriculture, the like of which was never known before7.” Furlong homed in on the obvious irrationality of the Carew paradigm of social order:
“Must we rear them (our children) like Hottentots, without education and give their earnings, their bread to indulge Lord Carew’s vanity?”
When the branch met on the 7th of January of 1886 Patrick Kavanagh of Donard took the chair and described the year 1885-6 as one “when famine and low prices walked hand in hand throughout the land.” He also depicted the land struggle in terms of democratic solidarity:
“However the tenantry have the Press and a most patriotic Press as their advocates; they have the priesthood; they have the prelates; they have the artisans; they have the labourers; they have the whole democracy on the side of the tenantry8.” Actually they did not exactly have all the prelates on their side: the local Curate, on another occasion, had to engage in mental and theological gymnastics to prove that Archbishop Mc Cabe was really on their side!
These speakers are not, I think, using the word democracy in its conventional meaning: they are warping its meaning to signify the sovereignty of the Catholic people; this was not a vision totally exclusive of the Protestant people but it diminished their hitherto excessive role.
The speech made by John Doyle of Meelgarrow, at the meeting of the branch in March 1886, although muddled in the manner of its expression, is a good example of the fusion of Catholic fervour and nationalism—it is a clear indication of the orientation of the land movement:
“It is the spirit of Irish nationality which makes life so dear to mankind.” I presume that he is referring to the contemporary conviction that Ireland was intended by Providence to establish a mighty spiritual empire. He added:
“When we find ourselves possesses of that eternal and immovable spirit of Irish nationality we feel ourselves enriched with riches more than earthly9.” The unspoken sub-text of Doyle’s speech is that given the providential purpose ascribed to the Irish Catholic community it should possess the land to enable it to fulfil that destiny—a perfect dovetailing of self-interest and idealism.
Fr Tom Staples another Curate at Poulpeasty became in the 1880ies the bane of the Carews: his eclectic mix of ideals and philosophies and the bizarre convergences of divergent and sometimes contradictory theories makes it difficult to determine exactly what this forceful and eloquent priest stood for. We can divine what he stood against: the House of Carew. His superior Fr John M. Furlong (connected by blood to the old Fr Tom Furlong, the confidant of Bob Carew) disliked the Carews as well. Tom Staples discerned a perfect identity of nationality with love of God:
“It has always been a maxim with us that next to love of God comes the love of country, they are inseparable and can never be separated.” His history could be blatantly untrue as in this instance:
“The war has been continued from your grandfather’s time….it is a war of the masses against the classes or rather it is a war of class on the masses.” The parents and grandparents of the farmers of 1887 had by an overwhelming majority venerated the Carews, at least, outwardly; the celebrations of the birth of the third Baron Bob Carew in 1860 and the 21st birthday party for the second Baron Bob Carew in 1839 were thronged with the tenantry of the Carews and were well within living memory. He then waxed poetical:
“Freedom comes from God’s right hand
And needs a godly train
And righteous men must make our land
A nation once again
That of course is our great ambition—our holy desire—that we should make our country a nation free and glorious, from North to South and to West. We have no desire to crush or act with an intolerant spirit towards anyone or any class. We won against oppression and wrong, we won against cruelty, we won against land thievery and landlord ascendancy10.”
The naiveté of Fr Staples is astounding: freedom tends not to be won by the godly train but by the psychopathic and crazy men that float to the surface in civil conflict. Fr Staples is in contradiction of himself in regard to not showing an intolerant spirit: his response to the taking down of the portrait of Lord Carew (the second one) at the Board room of the Enniscorthy Union is utterly intolerant:
“In former times they saw that the landlord’s likeness was placed at the head of the board room and now it had been removed and in its stead they had the portrait of the leader of democracy of the Irish Parliamentary Party. It was a hopeful and blissful sign….Their duty to their native land was to serve her under all circumstances and if called upon with their lives11.” The removal of Lord Carew’s portrait was the type of petty act that the more fanatical nationalists of that time gloried in. The mindset of those same nationalists allowed them to blind themselves to the horror of war: they always envisaged the armed struggle as that of Irishmen giving their lives as in a form of martyrdom (if called upon with their lives) and not as those Irishmen shooting and killing other men—it was an Irish solution to an Irish problem and a dream byte for a spin doctor.
The exponents of that movement did not properly think through the implications of modern Irish nationalism: it was assumed that Protestants would acquiesce, or positively join, in the separatist push for an Ireland defined in Catholic terms. There was not any crude intention to drive out the minority community and certainly no hint of ethnic cleansing: the Protestant community were welcome to flow with the nationalist momentum, indeed, to be integrated with it. Fr Tom Staples rejoiced that young Charlie Parnell had taken his place at the helm of the movement:
“The mantle of the great O’Connell had fallen upon the young Protestant gentleman and he hoped that the spirit of the leader would descend upon them and animate them in all their exertions in the cause of their country12.” The outright idealists in the nationalist movement like Fr Staples excluded—at the conscious level, anyway—vengeful feelings towards the minority (a minority that may have persecuted the Catholic community in the past) element but they failed to appreciate that the Protestant community were both culturally different and vulnerable to the effects of land reform and political separation: the most useful key to their mindset is that Catholic community of the time believed, in a matter of fact manner, that their faith represented the fundamental truth and they may have sub-consciously anticipated that just at the Protestants would under the guidance of Parnell would be integrated into an independent Ireland they would also in God’s good time take the Roman road in religious matters. This is at least a plausible explanation of the daft speeches made not only by Tom Staples but also by also by his superior Fr. John M. Furlong in regard to Parnell: this speech by the latter may have come back to haunt him at the time of the Kitty O’Shea controversy—
“On Sunday last after Mass on the grounds, outside the Chapel of Cloughbawn the Rev. John Furlong P.P. delivered a powerful and telling address to his parishioners in favour of Barry and Byrne in the county context. The Rev. Speaker dealt rather charitably with O’Cleary, at the same time giving his hearers to understand that he (O’Cleary) had not the ghost of a chance of re-election. He further referred to the vital necessity, at the present time, more than ever, of sending reliable men to represent their cause in Parliament, as the land laws were now paramount to all other legislation. (He) regretted that some of his parishioners were under notice of ejectment, a course he thought a wise and prudent landlord would not pursue in a year of famine. At the conclusion of his address, he called on the people, who heartily responded for a ringing cheer for Charles Stewart Parnell, Barry and Byrne13.” O’Cleary was a member of Parnell’s party but defied him and Parnell in the 1880 election had him replaced on the party ticket for the Co. Wexford but O’Cleary contrary to Fr Furlong’s contemptuous remarks got elected as an independent.
The implication of gathering an entire congregation outside the Chapel is that Fr Furlong assumed that parallel to the giving of spiritual guidance he could with equal authority and certainty chart the political course for his flock as well. The indignity of tenant farmers shouting down his cousin and predecessor as pastor of Cloughbawn (actually Killegney) Fr. Tom Furlong at a meeting in Enniscorthy in May 1852 did not teach Fr John Furlong any lesson! Politics mimics the volatility and madness of human life and it is impossible to have one priest and one voice (to paraphrase somebody or other).
Revolutionary war—even a metaphorical one like the land agitation—does not come in a context of total consensus and a compliance with a infinity of theological stipulations. Fr Staples was scrupulous in following the line taken by Rome on any controversial issue. In the Spring and early Summer of 1885 he was (to his bemusement) involved in a controversy with the Carrigbyrne branch of the land league after the Cloughbawn/ Poulpeasty branch on Fr Staples instigation passed a resolution of sympathy on the death of Cardinal Mc Cabe: the latter had supported a hardline Vatican initiative on the use of violent tactics in the land struggle but in a letter to the Wexford People Tom Staples awkwardly changed the issue:
“Cardinal Mc Cabe “was a most bitter and persistent foe of Fenianism, secret societies bound by oath with the object of destroying life or property at the direction of a head-centre like James Carey14.”
The theoretical basis to the Church’s hostility to secret societies was the fear that elements inimical to the Church would under cover of secrecy achieve control but I think that Bishop Mc Cabe and the Vatican would have been uneasy with the nasty mindset of the land agitation, the threatening letters, the sporadic acts of violence and ostracisation of people acting out of line with it. Some of the more headstrong and younger priests clearly condoned violence and manly intimidation (as we shall see) for the very idealistic reason that they envisaged a peasant proprietorship as the basis of a splendid Catholic society in Ireland; the farmers concerned were simply motivated by an instinct of self-survival and possibly greed.
Fr Staples seemed to speak the mythology of the island of saints and scholars; at a meeting of the Cloughbawn and Poulpeasty branch in 1885 “on the feast of our National Saint St Patrick” he likened the patriots of the present to “the Irish of olden times when the sons of Erin preached the Gospel of light, truth, justice, public morality, hand in hand with patriotism15.” He added that they were “justly proud that the sons of Erin in the present century are the heralds and pioneers of all that is good in religion, patriotism and nationality, in Christian etiquette.” His use of the word Christian is ambiguous and in reality he is referring to that segment of Christendom under the sway of Rome. Nineteenth century eloquence and oratory was lubricated by a lack of semantic exactitude.
One of the most spectacular set-pieces of the land agitation in this locality was the assembly of tenants at Colaught Cross on the 3rd of September 1885 where prior to a march to Bob Carew’s mansion they were addressed by Fr Tom Staples who “called their present action a constitutional movement” and went on to refer to “the majesty of the people—a united democracy16.” One has to have doubts that he fully understood the meaning of democracy; the meaning of the word has to be warped to have it signify his collectivist Catholic vision. Fr. Staples and Henry Hugh O’Neill were appointed as speakers for the group but when they knocked on the door of the mansion at Castleboro the butler answered them initially and afterwards Lord Carew sent the agent to the estate Francis Rutledge out to them. The People in its report listed those who were absent from the march, names that are self-explanatory as to their absence: Euseby Robinson, Laurence Sweetman, Jim Tector, Mark Casson, Alfred Whitney, Richard Whitney, John Fairweather, Thomas Elder, Edmond Fairweather, Mrs Robinson, John Whitney –Poole etc. The report then most disingenuously asserts:
“These are the grabbers on the estate. They first grabbed all the poor man’s land which fell from time to time though landlord exaction17.” That is The People for ye! With the exception of Laurence Sweetman all the names on the list are Protestants bound by a loyalty to Carew and naturally apprehensive that if the Carews were vanquished the minority might lose out in a new order. They were not part of the majesty of Tom Staples’ people—they were merely an imperilled minority: the irony of the land agitation and the eventual legislative response to it is that they came to benefit from it. The demise of landlordism—and in this sense Tom Staples was correct—represented genuine social and economic progress.
The famous plan of campaign differentiated this phase of land agitation from all previous agrarian troubles: the farmers themselves determined the appropriate amount of rent to pay; this was inevitably lower than the landlords demand and also of the judicial rent struck by the land courts where appropriate. An outright impasse was inevitable as the proprietors rejected this procedure and proceeded to the courts for decrees to evict on an unprecedented scale.
Bob Carew the heir to the estate was a mere twenty-one years of age when the second Lord Carew died: as first son he automatically succeeded as a tenant for life (as his predecessors had been). In late June of 1882 he addresses this circular to his tenants:
“Probate to my father’s will having now been granted in the court, both of England and Ireland, I am (by the wish of my mother-the sole Executrix), in a position to deal as I may desire with the rents due to September 1881. I should regret very much that the settlement of these rents be not closed in an amicable spirit. In order to help those tenants, who have not already done so, to pay their rents without further delay, I have authorised Mr. Ruttledge to abate 15% from all 1881 rents paid to him before the 31st July next. To those tenants who have already paid without reduction the full year’s rent accruing due to 29th September 1881, 20% will be allowed on payment of the two next succeeding half-yearly payment of rents”18. The young Lord Carew’s gesture was not at all unique as other landlords notably Harman of Palace and Ricards of Rathnure had made a similar kind of partial capitulation; this was without precedent and I am reluctant to accept that they did so merely to ease the difficulties of their tenants at a time of uncertain markets: the probability is that they made the calculated risk that this serious reduction of rents (sufficient to endanger the solvency of their estates) would keep the more fundamental menace posed by the land agitation at bay. The land agitation of the closing decades of the nineteenth century represented a radical departure in both the mindset and intentions of the tenantry: they now not only sought to subvert the system but were also adept at generating powerful propaganda to boost their cause; that cause had attracted the favour of the British legislators who responded by a series of land Acts and Land Commission Courts to determine judicial rents—these were, usually, a reduction of the existing ones.
The response of the tenantry to Carew’s offer was the standard Land League one of an beal bocht, the plea of no money:
“The tenants upon receiving this circular resolved to call a meeting but as the notice which was given of it was very short, it was not well attended. The general opinion of the meeting, as well as that of the absentees, was that the reduction was insufficient as there are great numbers of them who have hardly the means sustenation for themselves and their families, without paying a rack-ren19.”
In March of 1884 the Land Commission courts reduced the rents on two of Lord Carew’s tenants: on Pat Sinnott’s farm at Coolroe the rent was reduced from £45 19s and 6d to £40 and on Hugh O’Neill’s fields at Clonroche from £6 12s and 3d to £4 0s 0d20. O’Neill’s tangential and erratic line of argumentation had bemused and amused the court who nevertheless complimented him on his intelligence. The appellants at these courts invariably told all kinds of bizarre, fictional and comical stories. In September of 1884 the court did not alter the rent on Henry Gorman’s farm at Coolroe and it struck a rent of £43 for (presumably) a new lease of John Mahon of Chapel (I presume) from Lord Carew21. Landlords could and did use this legislation to ask the courts to raise rents, usually a forlorn endeavour. There was little possibility of the bulk of the tenantry paying these rents.
Fr. Tom Staples revelled in the role of a larger than life figure marshalling the tenantry to a concerted defiance of young Lord Bob Carew: he undoubtedly calculated that by so doing he was asserting the hegemony of the Catholic Church in the locality—the generally peaceful and non-violent (if unpleasant) character of this struggle enabled him and other such priests to posture in a purely heroic mode. The rebel priests of 1798 were engaged in a violent endeavour although now finally accepted as icons and martyrs in the Catholic community.
In September of 1885 Tom Staples addresses an assembly of the tenants of Lord Carew near the Bridge at Enniscorthy “on the advisability of the demand they were now about to make”. They then proceeded to the rent office situated in Court Street where a selected deputation entered the office and engaged in a long discussion with Frank Ruttledge, the agent to the estate. The purport of the conversation that took place was that Ruttledge offered a reduction of from 10 to 20 per cent to any tenants thought to be in need of it “but that nothing would be allowed to tenants who had a judicial rent settled.” Frank Ruttledge tended to an abruptness and plain speaking in negotiation. The tenantry demanded a reduction of 25% of all rents and when they “returned to the Abbey ground” Fr. Staples again addressed them22. Tom Staples was never happier than when making speeches; like most of the clerics of his era he was a master of the English language and his eloquence was untrammelled by the scruples of modern scholarship. In the mindset of the era land was deemed the centrality of God’s natural creation (and second only to human life itself): the control and eventual possession of the land by the Catholic community would seem essential to the perceived providential purpose of Ireland as a great spiritual and missionary nation.
The dilemma for the proprietors was that reductions on that scale were likely to imperil the financial stability of their estates but the resort to seeking decrees to evict placed them in outright and costly confrontation with the bulk of their tenantry. The local media of the time carried several reports of the various proprietors obtaining decrees to evict tenants. In June of 1885 one of the papers reported that young Lord Bob Carew had made twenty-five applications to eject tenants; some of them were refused by the courts23. The M.P. Willie Redmond told a meeting at Enniscorthy in early 1887 that Bob Carew “has sent a new year’s gift in the shape of 46 eviction notices served in the union during the past month. If Lord Carew thinks he is going to evict 46 tenants I can only say he must be wool-gathering24.” Willie Redmond was not fully correct as Lord Carew did succeed in evicting some of his tenants and thereby incurred an enduring hostility. The general procedure was for Carew and other proprietors to obtain decrees to evict and then have Sheriff’s sales in which the landlord would instruct a man to bid for the farms; the tenant of the farm (technically evicted) would bid against him until the bidding reaching a sum equal to the arrears of rent and (if the landlord was lucky) the legal costs. These sales became a form of circus and raucous humour.
The Sheriff’s sale at the Co. Co. Courthouse on the 12th of February 1886 while hilarious must have been intimidating to the proprietors as the law became an ass. The courthouse was packed with tenants and their friends and several deputations of the National League headed by Fr. Tom Staples of Donard
The first sale was that of Pat Sinnott’s farm at Coolroe; the tenant was both witty and mentally sharp especially for official blunders When the Sheriff stated that the amount due was for the rent was £43 19s 9d Pat Sinnott immediately queried the figure. Henry Hugh O’Neill made an impish remark to the effect (the newspaper accounts differ slightly25) that Lord Carew may have raised the rent “this good year.” Pat Sinnott added in a bit of withering sarcasm that he supposed that he had done so because of the good price for barley—11s a barrel. O’Neill then suggested that because Sinnott spent in time in custody for alleged land agitation crimes he was been victimised by Lord Carew. It was meant as a humorous aside but the precedent on the Carew estate had been not to sue until several years arrears had built up. The less individualistic explanation may be that the Carew estate faced financial catastrophe as tenants defaulted en masse thus requiring resort to the courts in all cases of arrears. Fr. Tom Staples intervened to rightly insist that the judicial rent of Sinnott’s farm was £43 to which the Sheriff suggested that Pat Sinnott could take an action against Lord Carew; Henry Hugh O’Neill rejoined that they would have to wait until the Devil on the Day of Judgement came to try Frank Ruttledge the estate agent! The Land Leaguers were using a vitriolic wit to psyche out their opponents (as the Tenant Right did in the election of 1852). The sale was adjourned for a very short time as it turned out.
The next farm put up for sale was that of Henry Gorman of Coolroe, the father-in-law of Henry Hugh O’Neill and inevitably the latter, always a loquacious and opinionated (if eccentrically so) man waxed lyrically. He stated that Gorman had gone into the land courts and failed to get a reduction and added that the family of Henry Gorman had been living there for three hundred years. (Gorman had once taken O’Neill to the petty court at Clonroche for trying to break in his door late at night).
The emergency man, a Mr. Powell, —authorised by Frank Ruttledge to bid on his behalf and that of Bob Carew—then bid £5 and a bout of raucous comedy followed:
“Mr. O’Neill-Powell, you’re a bowld man, (laughter)
Mr. David Doran—And a good looking man, too. (Laughter).
Father Staples said that he hoped it would not be any harm to ask that Mr. Powel would either produce his money or give good security for it.
A voice-I don’t think he got his breakfast yet, he is so hungry looking” This wit was a mild form of intimidation and possibly denoted a burgeoning confidence on the part of the land agitators.
The strategy of the emergency man’s bidding was to force the tenant to bid an amount equivalent to the arrears of rent plus the cost of the writ and Sheriff’s expenses. That is how it worked out in Gorman’s case. When the emergency man started the bidding for the farm of David Doran of Tominearly at £5 Henry Hugh O’Neill in one of his more feeble essays at humour shouted out that he had bid too high as the place would not graze a gander. Despite his protestations to the contrary Doran, a long time member of the Board of Guardians of the Enniscorthy Union, was in good circumstances. Or at least the record of his marriage in the civil register said that anyway.
Lord Carew was not the proprietor of all the land in the modern parish of Cloughbawn and at this Sheriff’s sale Arthur Mac Murrough Kavanagh auctioned a number of his tenancies in the Poulpeasty area. His emergency man became the focus of courtroom wit, as one might expect:
“Mr. O’Neill (to Buchanan)-Have you not a great big whisker?
Mr. Doran-If you met him outside you would put your hand to your hat for him.” Later on the humour became a trifle ugly:
“Mr. O’Neill-I hope you will be in good health, Mr. Wilkinson, to auction the landlords.
Mr. Wilkinson-I will try. A voice-You would not get anything for Kavanagh anyhow. Buchanan was now about going and Mr. O’Neill said, “Don’t go until you bid us good evening.” A voice-That it may be your last voyage. Mr. O’Neill-Begor, if we had Home Rule we would return you Member of Parliament.
Buchanan was then escorted outside the courthouse by Head-Constable Murray.”
Pat Sinnott then proceeded to bid £1 for his farm and O’Neill and Doran followed with impish offers of £2 and £3 respectively. Fr. Staples directed Sinnott to offer £8 18s, the amount of the costs as distinct from the rent. The dialogue as reported in the People seems to indicate that the Sheriff faced with the imperious manner of Fr. Staples succumbed to what he had previously resisted doing: accepting a bid equal only to the legal costs involved, the cost of the writ plus the Sheriff’s fees:
“The Sub-Sheriff-We will leave it open for half an hour. Father Staples-You will not. The bid is bona fide and we are engaged elsewhere. We have to go to the bank to get our money and we can’t wait. You will declare the purchaser, Mr. Wilkinson. The Sub-Sheriff-No I won’t. Father Staples (emphatically)-The sale must be declared.
The farm was now again put up by the deputy Sheriff and knocked down amidst applause to the tenant for £8 18s.”
Along the mountainside and especially above Rathnure the land agitation was marked by gruesome acts of violence; these areas tended traditionally to be more distressed than the area comprising the modern parish of Cloughbawn. The farmers had an obvious need of guns to protect their crops from the ravages of crows and rabbits but a license to hold a gun had to be obtained from the magistrates at the Petty Sessions at Clonroche. On the 21st of December 1880 a large number of farmers attended at the court to obtain those licenses. The court was cleared and after the magistrates had deliberated for several hours the people were admitted and informed that the licenses would not be issued until the next Thursday. The farmers turned up on the appointed day and were astonished to find that out of somewhat less than two hundred applications only ninety were granted; the author of the complaining letter to the newspaper gives a fine description of the user friendly manner of the famous and feared Constable Mc Hugh:
“No one there seemed to know anything of the matter but the amiable Mr. Hugh (sic), constable of the station, who usually contrived to be uncivil, and impart his knowledge to those applicants to whom no licenses were to be given in a rude authoritative tone26.”
The writer of the letter is less than reasonable: the society policed by Pat Mac Hugh was at the best of times volatile with a tendency of neighbours to quarrel with each. Organised agrarian agitation would of necessity invite violence fusing as it did sectarian, agrarian and political tensions. The astounding aspect of the land wars is the low incidence of violence: in this immediate locality there was—as far as I can make out—only one. Philip Kelly of Palace took an evicted farm from Kavanagh of Borris and when he resisted persuasion to leave it three young men named James Lyng, Michael Reilly and Philip Murray seriously assaulted him and were sentenced to a month in Wexford prison. The response, however, of the local community to them and their violence is instructive as to the ambiguity about such matters:
“The train with the released prisoners reached Palace station at 6p.m. and was met by one thousand persons with Fathers Walsh and Kavanagh among the numbers27.” The Ballywilliam and Poulpeasty Brass Band played there. The only possible deduction to be drawn is that the use of violence in appropriate situations was generally approved of; the other message must have been that other land grabbers might expect rough treatment as well. The threat of violence—seldom openly expressed—was there as a deterrent of last resort to control those who did not concur with the peaceful entreaties of the land league. The willingness of young priests to stand with men of violence was as alarming as it was unsavoury. The Poulpeasty end of the modern parish of Cloughbawn may have suffered more than the Clonroche area in that period: at a meeting of the local branch in March of 1886 it was reported that acute distress was commencing to be felt “especially in Rathurtin, Donard, Rathfarden, Poulpeasty, Killegney, etc28.”
There is no doubt that ostracisation was used as metaphorical weapon in the land struggle even in this locality. Fr. Tom Staples once spoke wryly of the Poulpeasty branch of the land league “meeting on the roadside under the shadow of a gable end of a house29” but that did not detract from the sententiousness and solemnity of their proceedings and rigid adherence to proper etiquette of procedure especially when they pronounced on matters of supreme importance:
“That in future no person be socially ostracised unless by the unanimous vote of the whole committee or that no person be insulted or held up to odium unless at the bidding of the whole committee of the National League after due notice30.” I presume that Tom Staples concocted this silly formula although there is no specification as to the etiquette to be used to sanction assaults on land grabbers.
The land agitation strategy would be fatally undermined if men came forward to take evicted lands. The most obvious candidates to take evicted lands were members of the Protestant community and the Cloughbawn and Poulpeasty branch did not spare the most high profile dignitaries in that community from their blasting sarcasm:
“The committee further compliment Dr. Macbeth LL.D. and Mr. James Tector (both gentlemen residing at Clonroche) for the fine quality of the beef and mutton they expect to produce from the farm at Poulpeasty which Mr. Thomas Dunne was lately evicted from31.” Nothing could be more unfortunate for these men and their community than that they should have gone to Dunne’s farm; the eviction of this elderly man, his aged wife and his family—reputed to be there for centuries—enraged the local community and probably sealed the fate of the Carews.
The evidence does not permit a scenario of total denominational divide in regard to the land issue, however. The Carews did proceed to the courts against Protestant tenants including the Fairweathers and Clarke of Tomfarney and a meeting of the local branch of the land league in July of 1891 referred to two local farmers having ceased to graze or trespass on “Mrs Cooke’s farm at Poulpeasty”; one presumes that she was evicted or in serious dispute with Carew. The same meeting did however condemn a local Protestant farmer for bringing his son-in-law “to partake of the grabbed grass of Dunne’s land at Poulpeasty32.” The real battle of the land agitation was with tradition: it was unprecedented for farmers not to take land that neighbours or even relatives and family members had been evicted from; the few instances of Catholic farmers breaching the new restraint (should I say taboo) on taking evicted land is testimony to the powerful spirit of solidarity forged by the movement.
The third Baron Bob Carew was utterly insensitive to the dilemma of his labourers caught up in these controversies through no fault of their own. According to a report in the People in 1888 a number of labourers belonging to Lord Carew were ordered to work on Dunne’s evicted farm at Poulpeasty “when one of them, Cannon, who had been 34 year’s in Lord Carew’s employment, point blank refused, stating he would not go against the people. He threw up 15s a week and not only that but having held a house and half an acre from Lord Carew he was turned out of this also. The branches would do all they could for him33.” What they did for him was to give him an appalling house at Boolabawn that as Dr Keating reported a man would not put a valuable animal in. The farmers were genuinely concerned about James Canning and his family but their resources were stretched badly.
The occasional allegation of oppressive treatment of their workers by the Carews is difficult to verify at this remove: the story of Moses Kavanagh of Killanne, is of that genre. He had worked at Lord Carew’s for thirteen years and occupied one of his houses without he claimed any complaint against himself or his family until in late 1883 “the land steward came to me and accused one of my children of taking sheaves of corn out of one of his Lordship’s fields telling me at the same time that he was told so by a certain person.” The steward refused to name his source or go into Kavanagh’s cabin to see if there was any straw there; Kavanagh’s claim for an inquiry was also scorned. It is clear that in not allowing Kavanagh to defend the honesty of his child that the Carews and their steward denied him natural justice; it is conversely possible that Kavanagh’s child was guilty of wrongdoing and that his father was going through an elaborate charade to obscure the truth. The flaw in his case is that he seems to have precipitated his own catastrophe as he then left the employment but continued to occupy the house “until about a month ago I was summoned to Clonroche Petty Sessions and decreed for possession.” Kavanagh went to plead his case to Laurence Sweetman the magistrate at Ballymackessy and Frank Ruttledge the agent to the Carew estate as if such men would favour a labourer against his Lord! In October of 1884 Kavanagh and his family numbering nine persons, youngest child aged three years was thrown on the roadside by the sheriff, assisted by a number of the Royal Irish Constabulary without a shelter but the canopy of Heaven34.”
The act of evicting a family with a child of three years onto the roadside obviously cried to heaven for vengeance and it clearly makes a hideous mockery of the myth of the House of Carew as the friends of the people. In the context of that time the eviction of a labourer, at the cessation of his employment, from the house rented by him from his employer was quite common. Hitherto evictions were routine, a grim necessity to maintain the proprietor/tenant system: the land league in making controversies out of evictions set its face against the tradition and conventions of Irish society. Catholic proprietors, farmers and owners of houses were as ruthless as their Protestant counterparts in seeking decrees to evict. Jim Downes of Rathturtin who railed against Protestant ascendancy had no qualms about evicting defaulting tenants of his own. He is only one example. The astounding success of the land agitators in overturning these conventions is explicable in part by reference to the changed sensibilities within the upper echelons of British society, a matter reflected in legislative and administrative dispositions. The simplest indication of this was the requirement after circa 1861 that the proprietor notify the Board of Guardians of the relevant union of impending evictions to enable the workhouse to make provision for the evicted people. The offered option was grim indeed but the underlying principle was positive: it was deeded unacceptable to throw people out on the road and leave them there to starve and even die. The series of Land Acts that followed from the land agitation also indicate a legislative disposition to reduce and end the powers of the landed proprietors.
The other part of the explanation of the success of the land agitation is that in a muddled way they appreciated that collective strength transcended the short-term benefit of grabbing evicted land; the summary of the discussion at a meeting of the local branch in 1888 is an example of the torturous logic used by the men of that time to reach that conclusion; their minds could not generate succinct analysis:
“Touching the question of grabbing it was considered that land grabbing and grass grabbing, if continued would destroy any little vestige of good that the Land Act contains. That it was clearly understood since the conception of the League by all its members that land grabbing and grass grabbing were not to be indulged in even to the smallest extent by any of its members. That grabbers induced the landlords to evict whereas if there were no grabbers the landlords would in nine times out of ten settle reasonably with the tenants. Take the case of a tenant who in these depressed times is unable to meet his year’s rent, although previously paid fairly well. He is writted by the landlord and the landlord buys in a nominal sum, as he never exceeds the amount of rent due. The upshot is that the landlord becomes legally possessed by this process of law of all the life long work of the tenant and his predecessors, houses, drainage, fences, reclamations, in fact all the tenant ever had, even though the tenant owed but one year’s rent. The man who would take that land or the grass of it, grabber would not be too ugly a term to use to him. The emergency man is a saint compared to the grabber and no grabber will be tolerated for a moment to remain a member of our branch35. ”
It is clear from various court hearings, especially the courts enacted to determine a judicial rent, that farmers had been improving their farms but the terminology used is perhaps fanciful: drainage might mean digging shallow shores; building might mean erecting a mud walled house with a thatched roof and fencing might mean piling bushwood onto a gap in the ditch. The above analysis is substantially disingenuous as the landlords during the land agitation did not seek to buy the farms put on auction; the usual procedure was for a representative of the landlord to force up the bidding to a level equivalent to the arrears of rent plus expenses at which price the tenant bought it back.
The monthly meetings of each branch were reported in the media thus enabling it to highlight instances of land, grass and cattle grabbing. For example the Cloughbawn and Poulpeasty branch in August of 1885 derided Dick Furlong of Ballymackessy for grass grabbing at Carrigbyrne36. In July of 1885 it condemned a Tom Ryan of Clonleigh for working for Philip Kelly of Clonleigh, an evicted farm37. A meeting of the branch in late 1890 referred to a man from Colaught buying boycotted stock at Newtownbarry38. It is retrospectively easy to condemn these men but they lived in times of desperate need and did not have the benefit of hindsight that the land agitation would be successful. The newly created taboos of the land League could not totally eradicate the older mindset both of acquiring land at every opportunity and looking up to the Carews.
The astounding thing is that the newly minted taboos did generally apply. It was reported that the people would not touch evicted farms at Donard and Ballygalvert “with a forty foot pole39.” The absence of bids by the farmers at the numerous Sheriff’s auctions that took place then is clear proof that they were either convinced that it was wrong to do so or they feared retaliation if they did so.
The obvious query to address is the nature of the persuasion used by the Land League: the apparent indications are that the odium of social ostracisation, in closely knit and small communities would seem to have sufficed to deter land grabbing, in this locality at least. As one proceeds towards and up the mountainside one encounters very violent incidents. I think that the threat of violence was always discreetly present but conversely I would also say that the land agitation did not proceed in a Parnellian mode of brazenly indicating that violence was the immediate alternative to the peaceful methods.
The principal business at the meeting of the local branch in January of 1888 was to consider “what protection could be afforded against cattle trespassing on landlords grass40.” The report named a man from Coolnacun as trespassing on the Carnagh grass where the evicted tenant was unable to pay the rack rent. At the meeting on the following month this man “said he would no longer trespass on the Carnagh grass; that it was the example set him by others that induced him to do so.” One wonders! The most spectacular and puzzling change of heart was that of Jim Tector the clerk to the Clonroche Petty Sessions, farmer, insurance agent and agent of some sort to Lord Monck. As already noted the local branch made a witheringly sarcastic observation about his grazing of the land of the evicted Tom Dunne at Poulpeasty.
At the meeting of the local branch in January of 1890 Jim Tector applied for membership but the meeting wished to be clear as to his intentions “regarding the grazing of evicted land” but it was added that they were prepared to meet him on fair terms41.” In a letter read at the February meeting Jim Tector expressed his approval of the League and sought enrolment as a member but his letter was not considered fully satisfactory and the matter was adjourned42. It must have been unsatisfactory to the officers of the branch as a second letter from Tector was read at the meeting, a most obsequious document:
“Gentlemen-I beg to say that I am sorry for the way I wound up my letter to you on the last time. I should have said that I would not take objectionable grass anymore. I now promise that I will not take objectionable grass anymore and I am sorry for my past folly in doing so.”
Tector would undoubtedly have rehearsed his letter with the branch officials before despatching it but the word folly attests to a more sophisticated perception on his part of the import of the land agitation: the movement—for the greater part—sought the expropriation of the landed proprietors but it did not prescribe that occupiers of the other faith should be driven out or have any portion of their holdings taken from them. It was not a jihad such as that of 1798: the relative tolerance of the land League in this locality anyway was a continuum of the quasi-ecumenism and inter-denominational amity fostered by the Carews. The significant aspect of the Jim Tector saga is the acceptance of his apology and admission to the branch; one speaker at the March 1890 meeting spoke scathingly of Jim Tector having caved in but a Mr. M. Murphy said that he had “made an ample apology and was now on the side of the people.” A Mr. Kennedy presumably of Tomfarney “said he was glad to say that was so43.”
It was not completely clear that the all the people involved in the agitation actually envisaged a demise of landlordism; there was a juxtaposition of radicals and more conservative minded farmers in the movement. The speech given by a John Hendrick at a meeting in January of 1887 is remarkably restrained:
“However where the landlord shows an inclination to treat his tenantry leniently and justly the tenantry in like manner ought to endeavour to meet him in a generous way by paying all they could reasonably spare after keeping sufficient to sew their land and support their families until another harvest44.”
The people who lived on or close to the Carew demesne at Castleboro were bonded to the Carews by persistent economic affinities; as late as 1885 the local branch was denouncing “the offence of conveying and drawing coals for the landlord Carew from Chapel Station to his residence in Tinnock (archaism for Castleboro) 45.” Every farmer in Tominearly and Ballyboro were so employed as they had been from time immemorial; Laurence Bowe who won fame when jailed as a suspect for land League crimes was one of those drawing coal to Tinnock.
In 1806 the father of the first Baron Bob Carew succinctly defined the mission of the Carews: “to conciliate all classes of men as the best means of supporting the best constitution any country had ever been blessed with46.” The hostility to the drawers of coal to Tinnock is clear proof that the great Carew project had wilted. The invective coming from the meetings of the local branch left little room for doubt in that matter. John Williams of the Forrestalstown family that gave many of its sons and daughters to the Church had this to say about the Carews in 1885:
“that the bashaw of Tinnock was still at his work—namely serving writs of summons for that immoral tax on their industry called rent. Both in Poulpeasty and Knockstown they felt the pressure of the screw. Yet he believed there was no relief for these people but submission to the inevitable or go to the roadside or the workhouse—all for the insolent and extravagant vanity of the boss of Tinnock and Castleboro47.” At another meeting in 1885 a speaker spoke of six writs on the Carew estate “making altogether thirty-eight individuals about to be thrown on the roadside to bring more luxury and plunder to the Squaw of Tinnock commonly called Lady Carew48.” These speeches like all the speeches made at such meetings seem as if taken from a template: they in a most deliberate manner strike at the most vulnerable aspects of the landlord ethos.
1. The Wexford independent the 28th of February 1891.
2. The Outrage Papers 1840. The National Archives Dublin Also the Wexford Independent the 7th of February 1840.
3. Ibid 1.
4. The Wexford Independent the 13th of October of 1860 referred to Carroll’s speech but did not carry it until the following issue.
5. Ibid 1.
6. The People the 13th of January 1886.
7. The People 1887, one of the issues before the 19th of January.
8. The People the 10th of February 1886.
9. The People the 17th of March 1886.
10. The People the 19th of January 1887.
11. The People the 26th of September 1885.
12. The People the 26th of September 1885
13. The People the 7th of April 1880.
14. The People the 16th of May 1885.
15. The People the 25th of March 1885.
16. The People the 9th of September 1885.
17. The People the 9th of September 1885.
18. The People the 1st of July 1882.
19. The People the 1st of July 1882.
20. The People the 8th of March 1884
21. The Watchman the 27th of September 1884.
22. . The Watchman the third of June 1886.
23. The People the 19th of January 1887. The National Library Dublin.
24. The People the 19th of January 1887. The National Library Dublin.
25. The People the 13th of February 1886 and The Watchman the 20th of February 1886.
26. The People the 4th of February 1881.
27. The People the 23rd of July 1887. The National Library Dublin.
28. The People the 24th of March 1886 in the National Library Dublin.
29. The People the 16th of May 1885. The National Library Dublin.
30. The People the 24th of March 1886. The National Library Dublin.
31. The People the 16th of May 1885.
32. The People the 26th of July 1891. The National Library Dublin.
33. The People the 7th of March 1888.
34. The Watchman the 18th of October 1884.
35. The People the 18th of January 1888.
36. The People the 12th of August 1885. The National Library Dublin.
37. The People the 20th of July 1885. The National Library Dublin.
38. The People the 6th of December 1890. The National Library Dublin.
40. The People the 18th of January 1888.
41. The People the 22nd of January 1890. The National Library Dublin.
42. The People the 8th of February 1890. The National Library Dublin.
43. The People the 5th of March 1890. The National Library Dublin.
44. The People the 12th of January 1887. The National Library Dublin.
45. The People the 12th of August 1885. The National Library Dublin.
46. The Wexford Herald the 17th of November 1806. The National Library Dublin and Wexford Library.
47. The People the 29th of April 1885. The National Library Dublin.
48. The People the 30th of May 1885. The National Library Dublin.