wheel surely turns the full circle
We all associate the period just before and after the famine
as a terrible time as far as evictions were concerned. The
stories of the poor old widow or the hungry family being
thrown out of their homes. This happened as the owners of
the big estates sought to make their holdings bigger and
therefore more valuable. Although often no better than a
mud cabin, they were a place to sleep and eat what little
food there was, yet in a lot of cases, the moment the family
were out, the home was flattened to the ground.
In some years, the evictions were carried out under the
excuse that the rent was overdue or some such reason, but
in other cases, no excuse was offered, just simply "Get
Out". During this time a number of evictions were carried
out in the Bunclody, Clonegal, Myshall area. Among the worst
of these evictions was what became known as the Corragh
Decedents of the families in the Corragh evictions are alive
and well today as are many who were sent to the road or
taken in by neighbours in those terrible times.
Bad as were the evictions in Leinster, Munster and Connaught
there were some violent scenes in Ulster. Although not as
many were carried out in Ulster, some of those that were
carried out in that province were of the most contemptible
in the country. Among the many excuses used by the land
owners, one of the most common was the one used by a county
Laois landlord John Adair. From the word go, Adair made
it plain that he intended getting all the land he could
by paying as little as possible for it. During the 1860s
the most notourious evictions were carried out in the estates
of Gartan, Derryveagh and Glenveagh in north Donegal.
Adair bought up the most of these and then set about antagonising
the local people. He impounded stray animals and made the
owners pay steep fines to redeem them. It was said in some
places that he made sure there were plenty of strays by
opening gaps in the fences of the animal owners during the
night. He brought in shephards from Scotland to tend the
Scottish sheep he bought, to the anger of the local workers.
This was probably the only mistake Adair made in his plan
to drive out the workers or cabin owners.
These men were disreputable and violent men who caused a
great deal of trouble. When the police investigated a claim
made by them that locals had killed some of their sheep,
they found 65 of them dead from exposure and neglect and
another sixteen fleeces drying in the house of James Murray,
the steward of the estate.
But this was not the end of the sheep story. On November
15 of that year, 1860, Murray's body was found with his
skull crushed by a heavy stone. A bloodstained rock lay
near the body.
The killer of James Murray was never found but one of the
Scottish shephards who moved into the widow's bed within
three days of her husband's funeral was strongly suspected.
Shortly after Adair had bought the Derryveagh estate, he
served notice to quit on all his tenants and now that he
was sure that they had some part in his steward's murder,
he was determined to evict them all.
In Monday 8 April, 1861, Adair's men commenced their work
of heartbreak and destruction. They moved from house to
house and as soon as they moved out the family, they demolished
the house. Although they had police protection, it was not
required as none of the families resisted. At the end of
the three days, they had evicted 244 people and demolished
These terrible evictions got international attention and
a fund was set up to assist many of the evicted tenants
to a new life in Australia. Adair subsequently built Glenveagh
Castle and died a natural death fifteen years later in America.
Then happened one of those queer turns of fate which one
reads about but seldom believes. Most of the tenants that
were evicted went to Australia, while others to Canada.
The majority of those who went worked hard and some started
their own businesses and were successful. One of these,
a direct descendant of one of those evicted, bought the
Glenveagh estate in 1937. His name was Henry McIlhenney
and having fulfiled a vow he had made many years before,
he later made a gift of Glenveagh to the Irish people. Today,
the grounds on which the native Irish feared to walk is
a beautiful park, to which all are welcome. This is a true
story which proves the old Irish saying that "the wheel
turns full circle".
Courtesy of Willie White and the Carlow Nationalist.