The 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 Evictions.

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 28 houses.

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.