Pat Kennedy—Spin Doctor of the House of Carew
Hi, it is the boy from Barrystown, settling into his added role as the second historian of Ballymackessy—the much older spelling was Ballymacassy (as in Cloughbawn Parish registers as they relate to the earlier years) with another variant of Ballymackey. There is no need for me to recite the details of my greatness, with an intelligence far in excess of Einstein, blah, blah, and a historian supreme. If it is true, it ain’t bragging. See my blog on Bannow Historical Society website for a full recital of my greatness, blah, blah….wwwbannowhistory.ie
I will lecture on the genesis of the first Co. Wexford Strawberry Fair in Enniscorthy in 1968 and the early phases of the Strawberry Fair in Clonroche Community Centre at 8.30 pm on Wednesday October 12. Muintir Na Tire initiated the Strawberry Fair; Muintir now exists in a residual form, and organises the welcome and useful Community Alert schemes. The Strawberry Fair was a phenomenal success, equally unexpected and massively attended. There were guilds of Muintir Na Tire in most parishes then, including Carrig-on-Bannow.
The conventional interpretation of Patrick Kennedy who wrote “The Banks of the Boro”, “Legends of Mount Leinster” etc is that he was a folklorist, and absolutely objective. Some of his most ardent admirers and advocates are of a convinced nationalist disposition. There is an incongruity in there somewhere; a paradox, perhaps that may be resolved with the reflection that many of his readers—if connected with the Clonroche/Castleboro district—regard his work as about their own area and ostensibly and apparently in praise of it. So therefore anyone who criticises Kennedy is necessarily wrong—that is how some people write and read history.
The simple truth is that Pat Kennedy (as Tom O’Gorman called him in one of his poems) wrote not as a folklorist but as advocate or, in modern parlance, as a spin-doctor of the House of Carew of Castleboro and their Whig or Liberal politics. In my writings, I have stressed the comparative benign character of the Carews over several generations, their lenient disposition to their tenants and strong support of Catholic Emancipation and opposition to the odious Tithes. Fr Tom Furlong Pastor of the old parish of Killegney was a close friend and confidant of the first Lord Carew.
The other reason to quote Kennedy is that his works “are easily accessible whereas the other sources are not. A man from Enniscorthy in a letter, written on November 21st 1867, intensely laudatory of “my friend Mr Kennedy” succinctly outlines the difficulty in treating such writings as properly objective historical material:--
“It is the instinctive kindness and gentleness of nature with which he manages to bring out all that is noblest and best in the different classes of society with which he deals and to tone down, till they almost disappear, the harshness and bitterness springing from antagonism of creed, party or interest.”
That is true enough but Kennedy toned down antagonisms for another reason: he wished to spin the theory that in the Co. Wexford of his childhood there was no sharp conflicts of class or of religious forces: that intention was incompatible with writing objective accounts of north west Co. Wexford circa 1817. I have closely followed the extant, albeit scanty sources, for those times and a converse picture of a much uglier, violent, anarchic and impoverished society emerges—as one would expect. It is clear, also, that some people succeeded in getting evicted on the Carew estates, despite the Carews leniency and procrastination in doing dreadful things : eviction was a horrendous act and a later Liberal Prime Minister Mr Gladstone considered eviction as “death”, a lethal risk to health and life, and utterly inhumane.
In my article for the Journal of the Wexford Historical Society entitled “The Uncultivated and Wild Mountainers on the White Mountain; Criminality, two Decades after the 1798 Rebellion, in the Templeleudigan Area” I outlined the fantastical, disingenuous, untrue and spin-doctored aspects of Kennedy’s account of the murder of Frizelle of Ballindoney in 1817. I will take the liberty of quoting a piece of my own article—
“In Kennedy’s narrative, Frizelle is an ordinary farmer resting after a day’s work, well loved by those that he employed but some people “owed him a spite for the taking of the land and Moll Doyle and her daughters were hired to pay him a visit.” Only one of the four attackers wanted to kill him and after a struggle—described in minute detail as if on a film—Frizelle is killed. In Kennedy’s narrative the cause of the murder is pushed back into a remote, nebulous past and—bizarrely—is a trifle irrelevant. On points of fact, Frizelle was a landlord, not a mere farmer; he was murdered on the evening of the Sabbath when he would not be at work for religious reasons; he had recently acquired rent money in his house and—he had signalled his intention to evict some of his tenants.”
Kennedy’s implication in another of his tales that the ordinary people around Castleboro had an abiding respect for the rudimentary police force, a couple of whom were stationed at Clonroche is risible: on the contrary, there was a sneaking sympathy and indeed admiration for the atrocious White Feet agrarian terrorists. One would best find out about those unsavoury realties by reading my article in the Journal of the Wexford Historical Society; surely nobody is so hard up that they would not have the few cents required to do that! Go to the Book Centre in Wexford town and you will know why I am so sceptical about Pat Kennedy’s idyll.
The images of the Clonroche district circa 1814 as depicted in the account of his parish of Killegney by the Rev. James Gordon of Boro Lodge, Ballymackessy are an utter contradiction of everything written by Pat Kennedy but I have to enter the caveat that Rev. Gordon is not an objective observer, either. Another cleric, the Rev. Atkinson, an English tourist, proved that Rev. Gordon, prompted by his vehement dislike of the Carews over their buying up of his parish tithes, had simply included blatant un-truths in his account.
The catch 22 for Kennedy was that objective recording of the actual details of the local society would reflect on the Carews, a thing he could not enter on. That is Pat Kennedy for ye!
The first Lord Robert Carew wrote to the Wexford Independent to refute the story that his father kicked Lord Castlereagh off the steps of the mansion at Castleboro when the latter came to solicit his vote to help pass the Act of Union. He asserted that Castlereagh knew his father too well to attempt to bribe him! Therefore Lord Carew favoured the Act of Union and was wary of Repeal of it. It is hard on that basis to see how the writings of Pat Kennedy fit into the canon of Irish nationalism, separatism or republicanism but I am charged with denigrating a great exponent of Irish nationalism. People believe all kinds of things and maybe I do so myself, as well. Lord Castlereagh, like Lord Cornwallis, favoured the Catholic community and he (rightly) anticipated that the Act of Union would by granting the Catholics in Ireland the same rights as the people in Britain, greatly improve their situation; a Dublin Parliament would inevitably, in the circumstances of that time, with a restricted franchise, allow Orange and extreme Protestant bullying of the Catholic community. The obvious parallel is that of Ted Heath proroguing Stormont to end Orange control in Northern Ireland and substituting direct rule from London to enable the Catholic community to acquire basic rights as British citizens.