Fear and loathing in east Galway

Woodford eviction: A roof being dismantled following an eviction from the marquis of Clanricarde’s estate, east Galway.

Woodford eviction: A roof being dismantled following an eviction from the marquis of Clanricarde’s estate, east Galway.

Week II

Following the extensive publicity and extraordinary use of more than 700 military, police, emergency men and bailiffs, to evict five families from the marquis of Clanricarde’s estate, the people of Woodford and all of east Galway were in a state of shock, anger and fear. It was now clear that Clanricarde would use every method within his considerable powers to evict any of his tenants who refused to pay their rent. Despite pleas for a rent reduction because of successive bad weather, he refused to even consider it. He scoffed at John Dillon’s Plan of Campaign, supported by the Land League, which urged tenants to stick together, and to refuse to pay unreasonable rent.

However, the British government, alarmed at the social unrest, spoke out. It made it clear that it would not allow such a force to be used for evictions again. Furthermore it urged Clanricarde to heed the advice of his agent, Frank Joyce, and reduce the rent. The situation was almost at boiling point. Joyce resigned in March 1887. No local person would dare work for the marquis; but Clanricarde pulled a stroke that would cause even deeper division between himself and his tenants. He appointed Edward Shaw Taylor as his agent, an unusual character to enter the east Galway stage. A ruthless policy of ‘pay or be evicted’ was continued and implemented*.

Edward Shaw Tener was a Ulster Protestant in the Ian Paisley mould. He was reared and educated in the tradition of strict Protestantism, totally opposed to the Church of Rome, and openly hostile to Irish nationalist objectives. In common with many Ulster Protestants, Edward’s family emigrated from Tyrone to America. He attended Bethany College, in Virginia, where he excelled in his studies, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts. He returned to Ireland with his wife Elizabeth, worked at managing several small estates in Co Cavan. When he came to work for Clanricarde he was in his mid fifties. He lived for a while in Loughrea town, until more suitable accommodation was found for him, in the old Portumna castle, still standing before the ‘new’ castle was built in 1867. He had been appointed a magistrate for the Cavan area, and those powers travelled with him. It is said that more severe sentences were handed down to aggressors on the Clanricarde estate than elsewhere. Landlords’ agents were seldom popular, but Tener was hated.

Collapse of Plan

Edward Shaw Tener’s reign coincided with the collapse of Dillon’s Plan of Campaign. The Plan depended upon tenants’ loyalty to each other. It was essential that if it was agreed to withhold rent, that all tenants agreed to do so. But the consequences of non-payment on the Clanricarde estate was almost certain eviction. A tragedy for any family, and against most people’s deep instincts who had established a family home. From the start some tenants broke ranks, and quietly paid up.

Other reasons for its collapse was that the Land League, the guarantors of the Plan, could not cope with all the demands on its funds. The League had boldly envisioned a ‘ New Tipperary’, a new town built adjacent to the old one, which would accommodate evicted tenants. But there was no money for that grand project. It also believed that initially it would only be a short campaign. But there was no budging Clanricarde. It dragged on for years.

Furthermore the Plan collapsed rapidly in the wake of the Parnell divorce, leaving the Irish Parliamentary Party leaderless for a time. American donations, crucially important for the success of the Plan, stopped after the Parnell scandal. Even in Woodford, Miriam Moffitt tells us that leading members of the community, involved in trying to organise the Plan, took opposite sides over loyalty to Parnell. It is said that the younger men sided with him, while the older members turned against him.

Danger of reprisals

The pain of eviction was real, lasting and devastating. Tom Saunders and his wife Bridget, evicted after the fall of the so called ‘ Saunders’ Fort’ in August 1886, moved into a neighbour’s loft. Shortly after Bridget gave birth to twins (In May 2010 I was contacted by TJ Page, a great-grandson of the brave Thomas Saunders. His mother, who was then 82 years, a granddaughter of Tom, lives in Rossmore, near Woodford ).

In most instances tenants were evicted from holdings that had been in their families for decades. Many of these small farms had been improved over the years. One such individual was Laurence Heagney of Gortanumera. He had recently built a two-storey house on his 18 and a half acres farm, costing him £160. He had arranged a loan of £70 from the Board of Works. He was anxious to have the roof slated before the winter, so he sold his only cow to cover the cost of the work. He was evicted for non-payment of rent. He and his wife and four children had to live under a bush ‘within a stone’s throw from his new house’. His roof was‘ a rail and an old gate with bags on it, and a table, stool, iron pot, and salt box his only furniture.’ There was always the danger of reprisals if a family gave shelter to an evicted family. Neighbours who gave shelter in sheds and lofts were themselves threatened with eviction.

The League built a series of huts in the grounds at Looscaun church. Clanricarde immediately fought a legal battle to have them removed and the huts dismantled. He was successful.

Some other evicted families moved onto land at Clonmoylan, purchased by John Roche using League funds. Others moved onto land owned by‘ Minor’ Burke at Cloncoe. Maria Tully and her family, formally of Kylenamelly, spent 30 years in a hut on Burke’s land; an experience that was echoed throughout the district. Con Tully explained why he never married: “ Take 30 years out of a man’s life and what’s left?” He was evicted from Kylenamelly at 22 years of age, and was 52 when he was reinstated.

Next week: An Ulster plantation in east Galway.

NOTES: * I am leaning heavily on Miriam Moffitt’s excellent Clanricarde’s planters and land agitation in east Galway 1886 - 1916, published by Four Court’s Press, on sale €9.95

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