The only show in town was Charles Stewart Parnell

Charles Stewart Parnell addressing the American Congress during his successful American tour where he was hailed as the ‘Uncrowned King of Ireland’.

Charles Stewart Parnell addressing the American Congress during his successful American tour where he was hailed as the ‘Uncrowned King of Ireland’.

Week IV

On Friday September 17 1880 seventy-eight RIC officers arrived in Clifden from Galway. The following morning they walked out to the Bunowen estate of Charles J Blake to serve notices of eviction on 16 tenants, most of whom derived their livelihood from collecting kelp and subsistence fishing. As a result of the collapse of the kelp industry, rent arrears were between a year and a half, and two years. Other tenants were widows, where the only place left for them was the workhouse.

Because the land was poor, consisting of a rocky landscape running into the Atlantic, the rents were below the going rate. The tenants, however, were living on relief meal during the winter, and were unable to pay.

We get a first-hand picture of the whole painful process brilliantly captured by the Connaught Telegraph eight days later. The serving of eviction notices was under the supervision of the magistrate Mr Parkinson, described as ‘a stout gentleman with a white head and a benevolent expression (an aspect he would soon loose ), with a luncheon bag strapped across his shoulder, an umbrella in his hand, and his son by his side’.

The tenants and neighbours saw the police with their ‘commander-in-chief, coming down the road towards Bunowen, and rushed out to block their approach. Some 500 to 600 men women and children gathered shouting: ‘God Save Ireland’, and ‘Down with Landlordism!’

’The accursed system’

The police now crossed the sands and were marching upon the hillside.They stopped outside ‘a wretched dwelling with a door but no window. The crowd rushed in front of the ‘house’ and would not let the process order to be served. Mr Parkinson tried to force his way to the door but failed. The order was given to the police to fix swords (bayonets ) and march forward. ‘Cries and yells came from the people surrounding the house while the tenant, an old widow woman, sat a little distance away, her face in her hands, crooning and wailing as if she was already evicted.

Mr Thomas Brennan of the Land League arrived by car (pony and trap ), from Clifden and was loudly cheered. He addressed the people and asked them not to offer physical resistance to the police, ‘who were only doing their duty, a duty that he was sure was to most of them a very disagreeable duty indeed’. He asked them to act prudently ‘as became Irishmen, but also as became Irishmen determined that the accursed system of Landlordism must go down!’

The people applauded but still kept a firm wall around the widow’s ‘house’. Fr Flannery appeared and tried to reason with the crowd to desist their protest, but women shouted at the priest: ‘Look at the priest. Putting the poor people to death!’

The police pressed forward. Mr Brennan, Rev Flannery and Mr Parkinson forced their way between the two groups, directly in front of the bayonets, and in the scuffling that took place it was fortunate no one was injured. Fr Flannery tried to force a passage to the front door, Mr Brennan tried to help him shouting: ‘We are not able to resist these buckshot warriors.’

He then called out: ‘Let these minions of the English law carry out their fell purpose.’ In a few seconds the police had reached the door. A cordon of bayonets now faced the crowd, and the notice of eviction was finally nailed to the door.

‘One manly struggle’

A similar process proceeded the serving of notices on the remainder of the houses. After a hectic and a bad-tempered day, Mr Brennan addressed the people on the sand, expressing his regret in having to restrain them, that he wished he could have called them ‘to a more manly battle’, But,’ he said, ‘It is necessary to have education of the mind as well as power of the arm in the struggle which we are now fighting, and we want through public meetings, to teach you that you were not born to be a slave of any class, that you were born with the same rights as a peer, and that you should assert these rights’.

He urged them not to pay their rent this year, and to join in ‘one manly struggle, in one great organisation, for the destruction of Irish Landlordism’.

Thanks to the attention of the press, the evictions were averted but only for a short time. In May 1882 evictions were carried out on this estate.

A war situation

For a time, however, in the face of the increasing power and membership of the Land League, prompting more and more tenants to refuse to pay their rents, landlords exerted their right to evict every non-rent paying tenant. They were supported by the police, the army, even naval gun-boats. It was practically a war situation.

In June 1881 one hundred RIC officers, under the command of two sub-sheriffs and five bailiffs, accompanied by the same number of military under the command of Capt Lynskey, began a sweep through western Connemara evicting families from Carraroe, Clifden, and surrounding areas.

The evictions were carried out with military precision. The RIC members boarded a ship named ‘Valorous’ in Galway, and accompanied by two gun boats, the ‘Merlin’, and the ‘Imogene’, called into Carraroe, where they served a large number of evictions and civil bills. They then proceeded along the coast where the police served further eviction orders at Belleck, and Derrygimla. The military, bizarrely, marched from Renmore barracks preceded by the regimental band, ‘which attracted a great crowd’.

‘Lawless confederation’

Mitchell Henry was appalled. He accused the Land League of leading the people into violence and agitation.

‘Unfortunately this present agitation has unhinged society completely’, he wrote, ‘and I doubt whether since the French Revolution there was ever such a reign of terror as now exists in Ireland’.

Because of his outspoken views regarding Parnell and the leaders of the Land League, it was rumoured that he had to leave his home at Kylemore that Christmas as a result of threats.

Henry denied these rumours and said he returned to London on political matters. However, clearly experiencing difficulties from his own tenants, Henry states that out of his 125 tenants very few were paying rent ‘although many would pay if they were not intimidated by a lawless confederation who have succeeded in completely changing the character and behaviour of the people.’

He concluded by saying that he had great respect for Mr Davitt (the founder of the Land League ), ‘who has been abusing me, more than I have for other persons of higher position’ (meaning Parnell ).

Kilmainham gaol

Clearly events in Ireland were getting out of hand, and the increasingly powerful Irish Parliamentary Party, led by Parnell, were causing uproar in parliament, and the Land League was making local government unworkable. The first of a succession of Land Acts (1881 ) was passed giving tenants security of tenure, and more importantly, the right to appeal their rents to the newly established Land Court, where in most cases a reduction of between 15 and 20 per cent was achieved.

Still Parnell was not satisfied. He demanded that all arrears be wiped out, and for tenants to start with a clean slate. This time Prime Minister William Gladstone had enough of Parnell, and had him arrested and imprisoned in Kilmainham gaol. The country was in uproar. Alarmed at the potential for a revolution, again Gladstone gave in. Surprisingly he agreed to abolish all arrears owed to landlords, and paid out, from the public purse, a staggering £800,000 in back rent owed to 130,000 landlords. Parnell, of course, was released from prison and carried shoulder high through the streets of Dublin.

American tour

Parnell now set his sights on achieving Home Rule, and set about rallying the country behind this great ambition. He launched his campaign with a spectacular tour of American cities asking that generous republic for its support. In 60 days, and 62 cities later his tour, in early 1880, was a triumph. He was greeted by large crowds, hailed as ‘The Uncrowned King of Ireland’, and received large donations from the newly arrived Irish emigrants, many driven from their country by the Great Famine.

Addressing the United States Congress he laid out his blue-print to end the hated landlord system, linking its cruelty to the plaque of recurring famines which had blighted the landscape.

Large crowds queued for many hours to access the public gallery, where his speech was constantly interrupted with cheers.

These great public events, and the swing of opinion behind Parnell, left Mitchell Henry MP increasingly out in the cold. In a letter to the Board of Guardians of the Glenamaddy Union, he reiterated that if ordinary common sense had been used in parliament, and if the policy of convincing the opposition by argument ‘and not to attempt to exasperate for the mere sake of exasperation, the Land Bill would have been passed long before it was passed’.

He believed that the recent agitation had destroyed the reputation of the Irish people in the eyes of the world, ‘as a God-fearing, honest, and gallant race’.

‘He concluded that as long as he remained in Parliament, he would pursue the same policy that he had always done, that is ‘to promote the practical good of the country and to speak the truth so far as I know it.’

When it came to the question of Home Rule, and a fair deal for the tenant farmer, there was only one show in town: Charles Stewart Parnell and the Irish Parliamentary Party.

In the election of 1884 Henry no longer represented Galway.

Next week: The downfall of Parnell, and a further tragedy for the Henry family, who leave Connemara.

Sources this week include the Connaught Telegraph, September 25 1880, ‘Beyond the Twelve Bens - A History of Clifden and District 1860 - 1923’ by Kathleen Villiers-Tuthill.

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