I n its issue of June 20th, 1860 the Wexford Constitution reported that “the neighbourhood of Clonroche on Saturday last was the scene of much rejoicing”; “an heir had been born that morning to the titles and estates of Lord Carew”. The report was confirmed by the post of Saturday (I am not exactly sure if the post office at James Tector’s in Clonroche was yet established). In the poetic expression of the report as “the shades of evening began to close tar barrels and bonfires blazed from hill to hill”. In Clonroche, many of the houses were illuminated. The barracks were tastefully decorated with flowers and devices (the wording of the report) arranged among the lights. Mr. Tector’s house was very brilliantly lit up for the occasion and also wreathed with flowers. Mr. Dowling, too, had festoons of laurels in his windows. People walked through the streets until nearly 11o’clock.
At the subsequent and inevitable banquet for the tenantry at Castleboro, the estate agent, W.R. Farmar recalled a comparable occasion: the evening in August 1839 when on Robinson’s lawn, the then young Robert Shapland Carew—and now the second Lord Carew—celebrated his majority. There was, however, one significant difference: Rev. Tom Furlong as pastor of Killegney had presided at that banquet while his successor, Rev. Abraham Brownrigg, although present for the celebrations, does not seem, from the report, to have had the same presidential role. The nexus of Lord Carew, Jeremiah Fitzhenry and Fr. Tom Furlong that had monopolized all local activity was now, literally demised: that triumvirate of proud, ebullient and patriarchal old world figures had departed to the mansions most high (their residence in the earthly ones a preparation, perhaps, for the heavenly ones). The Fitzhenrys of Ballymackessy would have been instrumental in bonding and synthesizing the benign paternalism and religious liberalism of the Carews with the Gallican instincts of both Fr. Tom Rogers and Fr. Tom Furlong, in particular, their aversion to democracy and reverence of all forms of constituted authority (even of non- Catholic rulers). Billy Fitzhenry—as he is called in an entry in the Carew papers—as estate agent, for over sixty years, wielded immense power over the local tenantry; his kinship with the Carews augmented that power and his lineage as a direct descendant of King Henry 1 gave him an extraordinary mystique. Archibald Jacob, the Enniscorthy magistrate, in a letter of to the authorities claimed that the people of this locality revered Jeremiah—William’s most famous son—as a quasi chieftain. The Fitzhenrys, and especially Jeremiah, were staunchly Catholic; Fr. Furlong was closely allied to Jeremiah: he wrote and permitted Jeremiah to publish letters vindicating Fitzhenry’s interpretation of vital issues in his prolonged and almost interminable controversy with John Corcoran in the tithes dispute of 1836/37. His curate, Fr. Doyle of Rathnure, did likewise. Fr. Furlong resided for a while at Fitzhenry’s mansion at Borohill.
Laurence Sweetman, a near cousin of Jeremiah, acquired (I think) that portion of the tenancy which old Billy intended for his daughter Mary and her betrothed William Evans of Ballymacwilliamroe in Co. Carlow, in pecuniary exchange (I presume). He and his son, the second Laurence, were not only progressive and prosperous farmers but also, especially the second Laurence, men of legal eminence but it is difficult to place either of them in a continuum with the Fitzhenrys, in terms of local hegemony. Laurence Sweetman’s address to the banquet is a sort of self scripted obituary (nine years too early but one should have these things done!); it is, also, an unintended—if premature-- farewell to a culture now decliing, a way of life that was, almost, totally agrarian, primal, hierarchical: one in which the whim, caprice and will of the ruler was effectively the greater part of the law.
“My Lord, a greater compliment could not be paid to any man than to be called upon to respond to the toast now drank. As one of the oldest tenants on the estate, I can speak from experience and I have very great satisfaction in saying there has always subsisted between your noble ancestors and those living under them feelings of reciprocal affection, confidence and esteem. I had the honour and good fortune of knowing your lamented father and grandfather personally from childhood and I now have before me the grandson and great grandson thus embracing four generations and I am certain the child whose birth we this day celebrate will walk in the footsteps of his noble ancestors thus preserving that confidence of an attached tenantry which is a greater honour and gratification than any monarch could bestow”
“My Lord”, spoken unconsciously (by Sweetman) as part of conventional protocol, is effectively paradoxical: the first precept on those tablets of stone, brought down from the mountain by Moses (and by which the all of the denominations were guided) was that there was only one God; objects or humans could not become other gods! The resolution of this paradox becomes a key to a core principle of the rhetoric of the older philosophy of all order: the exotic mediaeval consensus—then fragmenting-- was that the monarch was quasi divine (the King’s sacred body); as a residue of that theory, it was deemed, even into the nineteenth century, that temporal leaders were representative on earth of God’s majesty. Democracy, in contrast, posits that the will of the people is the sole fount of political legitimacy.
The opening paragraphs of this essay seek to faithfully represent the gushing sentimentality, the spontaneous elation and happy abandon that swept the locality, as reported in the local media. I do this as a deliberate literary tactic, in order to better pose this query: were these celebrations a genuine collective expression of unalloyed joy or were they profoundly contrived?
They were certainly sincere in this limited, albeit derisory, sense: this community was, metaphorically, gasping for novelty. I am sure, also, that it was gasping for the rich foods and ample flow of alcohol that these occasions ensured! It is difficult, at this remove, to comprehend the grinding routines, the dullness and monotony of their quotidian life: in direct consequence of its rarity any occasion of excitement became a focus of crowds and social consequence. The visit of the Enniscorthy Philharmonic Band to Castleboro, on the 1st of May, 1864, is a fine example of the magnification of a triviality into a memorable and glamorous event.
They had started out at 2o’clock, having returned from mid-day religious services, travelling in their “van” accompanied by several vehicles “by Fairfield, passing through the richly wooded demesnes of Monart and Ballyhyland” and “entered the demesne by the grand entranced. Preceeded by hundreds of a well dressed and happy looking tenantry they wended their way onto the velvet lawn—playing national airs—to the front of the mansion. The young men were a little timid of the girls, a sign in itself, of general gender segregation and puritanical controls:
“I observed by the bright glance and flashing eye of some of the “mountain maids” that they would—if their “beaux” had had the courage to invite them- gladly have “tripped it on the light fantastic toe”
They had (to use an O’Casey phrase) not ever seen anything or to change the allusion the big house was to them a veritable Alladin’s cave:
“my pen fails to convey to you an adequate idea of the grandeur of the place and the astonishment of the beholders as each apartment was thrown open for their inspection and when they were shown the new library they were actually entranced.”
We are told that “the multitude accompanied the band through the demesne, emerging through the gate near the Church of Killegney and proceeding to Clonroche, where they were invited to stop for a short time which they did and performed some of their most spirit- stirring national airs, which cheered and gladdened the hearts of many of poor but warm hearted sons and daughters of toil.” The craving for music prompted almost every parish in Co. Wexford to have its own band by 1900.
The music alone would have attracted (an inevitable feature of such a banquet) crowds to the celebration of the birth of an heir to Lord Carew in 1860. It is near axiomatic that those with a vested interest in the Carew cosmos would have positively encouraged such festivities. James Tector, the tenant of the house in Clonroche, was clerk to the petty sessions in the village; this insignificant court was located in Tector’s house. The first and second Lord Carews, as County Lieutenants had patronage of this kind at their disposal; the R.I.C. barracks at Clonroche was leased from Carew and all matters relating to police organisation were within their (the Carews) ambit. The first Lord Carew had appointed Laurence Sweetman as magistrate; the correspondence of Sweetman’s grandson indicates that a son and nephew of Sweetman were beneficiaries of such patronage, also. The firmly held conviction that the Carews had prodigious powers of patronage would obviously gel the local community towards them: even if illusory or exaggerated the theme of the Carews as artful dispensers of envied positions informed the spin doctoring of the Carew myth. The Wexford Independent of January 26, 1859 carried a report by the London Gazette that the Victoria Cross had been awarded to Lieutenant (now Commander) Harrison of the Naval Brigade “for conspicuous gallantry at Lucknow on the 16th of November, 1857”. The Independent, itself, noted that Harrison “was born in the neighbourhood of Castleboro and was appointed to the Navy through the interest of the late lamented Lord Carew”. In contrast to the demands of modern political correctness for transparency and equal opportunities, the purveyors of the Carew myth trumpeted the message of patronage and clientelism to the world: we are not told what the ambitious and able young men of the other areas, living under different landlords thought of this! A system where advancement, in part, relied on the whim, the caprice and the will of any potentate is inherently flawed. This social paradigm while to, modern democratic and egalitarian dispositions, abject and unsavoury, is comprehensible in the context of contemporary culture, still, at least, residually (if not consciously) theocratic. The temporal ruler replicated (theoretically), on a finite scale, God’s majesty, omnipotence and His paradoxical coupling of awesome tyranny and compassion. The earthly prince most resembled the heavenly ruler in the dispensation of patronage; in its direction towards a selected elite, it is essentially irrational and detached from criteria of merit and service; a concept of God that underlines the theology of the Reformation. The Carews generally replicated God in his compassionate manifestation! This is my laboured explanation of the mystical tingle to the festive response to the birth of an heir to the Carew dynasty (I speak in metaphor) in 1860.
My expectation is that the lower and lowest reaches of the local community –if not lured by the avalanche of food and alcohol at the banquets; the plural is appropriate since Sloane, the head steward had one for his servants—scorned these theocratic underpinnings as odious and bilious drivel. Their demeanour and mood was invariably sullen, truculent, impertinent, volatile and atavistic to what they deemed to be an alien ruling culture: they were truly inheritors of the mantle of Captain Gormaghan, the famed troglodyte of 1798 who abused the pathetic and sick Rev. Francis and his family. They were amenable to social control only in the limited sense of a reluctant deference to the Catholic clergy; they may have assumed – in their collective superstitious mindset—that the clerical office was invested with magical powers. Besides, they may have sought to focus on the priestly personage as the emblem of their alternative culture. ”The races at Clonroche”, in late 1858, gives us a glimpse of this boisterous and unruly crowd:
“There was not one drunken person to be seen on the green, no breach of the peace took place and this may be considered as principally attributable to the presence of the Rev. Mr. Brownrigg P.P. the Rev. Mr. Walsh and the Rev. Mr. Keating who grudged not the pleasures of recreation and amusement to their parishioners who know how to enjoy them without falling into any of those excesses which are but too commonly witnessed at such meetings”
At the Petty Sessions in Clonroche (like the others of the same genus, a bizarre blend of parish pump trivialities, raucous laughter, magisterial dignity and indignity and occasional severity) the exponents of a subterranean social defiance blossomed.
The Wexford Independent of August 13, 1864, reported a sitting of the Clonroche Sessions, presided over by Lord Carew and Laurence Sweetman at which a Rossdroit woman treated the Castleboro peer with scant respect. Sub- Constable Patterson sued Mary Dwyer and her mother Eliza Jordan “for selling whiskey without licence at Rossdroit on the 18th of July last”. When Patterson sought an adjournment as witnesses were absent, there ensued the following blast of repartee, caution and magisterial rebuke:
“Defendant (in a dictatorial tone). Go on with the case now, my Lord. I cannot be losing time coming here.
Mr. Sweetman—We cannot accommodate you and your mother.
Defendant—Well I defy you: you can do nothing to me.
Constable Ryan to defendant-- The Bench will not tolerate you to use such language.
Chairman—I wish to acquaint you that you are liable to be committed to prison for contempt of court. The decision of the Bench is that the case be postponed for a month and the police to inform your mother of the day she is to appear. Should she not appear appointed time, a warrant will be issued for her arrest…”
The draconian procedure of committal for contempt and the drastic measures to counter defiance of the court orders are utterly excessive and incongruous in the context of a petty court; yet such reprimands and cautions were a staple of such proceedings. At the petty sessions in Clonroche in early June, 1864 the magistrate Thomas Dennehy told Edward Fairweather, in incandescent tones: “You have no right to question the magistrate.” The occasional informality and topicality of Laurence Sweetman was atypical of such proceedings. (in the above case, he remarked that he was aware of a rift between the defendant’s master and the Fairweathers; in another case, on another occasion he felt that Doyle of Moneytucker was needlessly prosecuted after his cattle broke out on the road and admitted that the same thing, sometimes, happened with his own cattle).
One reason why the principals in this—to a modern mind—theatre of grotesque comedy did not dissolve in helpless laughter is that, in direct contrast to the model of the modern world as minimised to a global village, theirs was a culture of the village as analogous to a cosmos, at least imaginatively. The pump in Clonroche was of prime importance! At a meeting in Clonroche on the 24th of August, 1855, graced by the presence of such formidable men as the famed Hugh O’Neill, Denis Mulroney, John Tector and the local merchant Mr. Dowling, it was solemnly resolved that “as a fearful epidemic is said to be on the wing” and “as sanitary measures are strongly recommended….the pump, in our street be opened, cleansed out and repaired so that a good supply of pure spring water so essential to health and cleanliness be provided for the inhabitants of the village”.