Pat Dolan visits Grousehall

Many readers may well ask ³Who is Pat Dolan and why does he merit an article in a widely read journal!² Courtesy of Anna Sexton and The Heart of Breifne By: Thomas J Barron

Their question is indeed a legitimate query because very few have heard of the events which turned a member of the Molly Maguires into Cuchulainn - like folk hero whose exploits in evading the police after he had assassinated Bell Booth would, if we had an Irish film industry, surely make a script for a film that would outdo even the best of James Bond. It is not my intention to tell in this article the complete Pat Dolan saga - it would fill the journal on its own - but I wish to publish those parts of the story which dealt with the Grousehall area. I might say here, of course, that officially there is no such an area but the people of Upper Larah will know the territory I refer to. Before telling the story, however, I had perhaps better give to those of my readers who have never heard either of Pat Dolan or of Bell Booth some information which will enable them to understand the background to the whole affair.

George Thomas Bell Booth was shot by a member of the secret society The Molly Maguires on Sunday, 22nd June, 1845 while coming from Divine Service in Kilmore Cathedral. He was in a gig accompanied by two little girls when he was assassinated beside Crossdoney village. The Rocks, the residence of Mr. William Bell, a sub-sheriff, was nearby. The following letter written by a Mr. John Willocks, a Resident Magistrate in Arvagh, is the first official report of the murder to Dublin Castle (Ref. O.P. 4/13073).

24th June 1875
Sir, I regret exceedingly having to report that Mr. Booth, a magistrate, was shot about three o’clock, when returning from church. The murder was committed by a single individual, who it appears was waiting for him in the road and shot him with a pistol. He was driving in his gig at the time with his two young children. The horse ran away, the children were thrown out and one of their arms was broken. I did not hear of the occurrence till 5 o’clock when I started to the scene, and now with the hurried report to catch the post.
I have (etc) ..

John Willocks
George Thomas Bell Booth, who was born in 1800, owned and lived on, an estate of about 250 acres of land in Drumcarban (Kilmore Parish) which had been in the possession of his family from around 1700. He had no tenants on this estate other than workmen, nor was he a land agent. The Kilmore baptismal register shows him to have been “a resident proprietor, magistrate and grand juror.” The ballad composed on the murder immediately after the event proves that it was in the exercise of his function as a magistrate that he had offended the Molly Maguires.

“Likewise Booth Bell was sent to hell for his one-sided legislation,
The Castle spy, now low does lie, and in his destination.
The poor Orange boys, to hear their cries, for him they did admire!
He was the boy that would destroy the sons of Molly Maguire.”

He held no church office as a clergyman, but he had a brother, Richard, who was a curate in Kells.
His assassination was not a unique incident in Cavan in those years; other Cavan landlords or land agents were shot at and killed or wounded during this period. For example, a Capt. McLeod was killed early in 1845, Miss Hinds was murdered in 1855 while a Mr. Kenny, a Catholic, who refused to reduce his rackrents was riddled with slugs in his own hallway. He pulled through, however, and his first act on returning home was to reduce all rents by 20%.

It is necessary also, I think, to give readers some idea of the economic background of the period because this explains why Pat Donlon was kept in hiding so long and so safety and finally helped to escape to the USA by people to whom the reward offered for help in capturing him would have been a fortune; even some Protestants helped him to escape.

The year 1845 was, of course, the first year of The Famine when the people of most parts of Ireland were living in abject poverty. During the first forty years of the 19th century, the population of Ireland increased with amazing rapidity. Agricultural holdings were divided and sub-divided until they were too small to maintain the families by which they were owned. In Ulster these families derived their support from the manufacture of linen rather than from agriculture. The flax that grew on the land was spun into yarn by the women. Men wove the thread into cloth. The money obtained from the sale of this cloth enabled these rural manufacturers to pay their rents and live in comparative comfort. But the country stood on the brink of ruin. A majority of the population was supported by an industry soon to be superseded, and an article of food soon to be blighted. In 1830 Robert Thompson, Rector of Drumgoon parish, wrote to the landlord of the Greville estate stating that ‘great distress prevails in that part of the country, and particularly amongst the labouring poor, and that a subscription is set on foot to purchase provision to alleviate the distress.” So hunger was already on its way in 1830.

Randal McCollum, a Presbyterian minister and author of The Highlands of Cavan, (1856), being a contemporary observer of conditions in County Cavan previous to the Famine Years, supplies us with valuable evidence as to how the population of the county mushroomed to almost a quarter of a million in the mid-1800’s. Though an Orangeman, he was no lover of the bad landlord, and played his part in 1850 in the Rent Campaign of that year. He tells us: “It was the custom with the servants or labouring class to make early and reckless marriages. Servant boys and girls, are known to marry regularly in their teens, and to give away their last pound to the priest to marry them ... It is the fashion in Ireland to get married without having a roof to cover them, or a blanket to keep them warm ... As long as the potato lasted they got married, squatted down in miserable cabins, which they built of sods, among the bogs and rocky hills ... and in those miserable hovels large families soon rose to be brought up in ignorance, beggary and rags. Their children grew up entirely neglected, for they could not afford the pennies the hedge-schools required to give them the rude elements of education.

These cottiers during the rage for land during the French war, started from their cabins and potato gardens, rushed in crowds to the landlord or his agent, fawned on them for farms, tempted them with big promises and got the land at enormous rack-rents. They would offer any rent demanded in order to get hold of land. The old families, that held for generations large tracts of land on easy terms, could not or would not compete with the squatters, and up rose the old tenants and started for America, leaving behind the squatters and the landlords ... The landlord got what he wanted, high rents, and the poor squatter gave him the entire produce of the soil; all the squatter wanted of creature comforts for self and wife and little ones, was potato and point.”

The word cottier or cotter may be new to some of my readers; I shall quote a short note to explain it. “The cotter was a man who had no land of his own but lived in a house belonging to a farmer who may have built it specially for him. The rent was generally low by prevailing standards - about thirty shillings per annum - and along with the house went a rood or so of potato ground, and sometimes the right to graze a cow. To compensate for his low rent the cotter gave free labour to the farmer when required. The cotter made his living by working for pay and during the early decades of the nineteenth century he was, in these areas, nearly always a weaver. At a loom, generally belonging to his farmer-employer, he could earn from 1/-to 1/6 a day which was augmented by his wife’s fourpence a day during the spinning season; not indeed a lordly wage but sufficient to keep him going in those simple days. It was a profitable arrangement for both cotter and farmer and on many small farms there were even two cotters.”

The modest prosperity of Co Cavan cottier refers to the opening decades of the 19th century; before the middle of the century the linen trade had vanished and the cottier was in dire straits indeed. It is often forgotten that what the tenant suffered from the landlord the cottier suffered from the tenant farmer. Naturally it is seldom that cottiers are mentioned in the State Papers, but we have the following incident referring to a farm in Clifferna Parish. X had intruded himself into a 35 acre farm at Ardaragh and he was £40 in arrears with his rent. He had not even an ass to help in bringing out manure and in bringing in crops, which work was done by human beings used as beasts of burden, his unfortunate bare-footed cottiers. As the farm was so mismanaged, the landlord forgave him the debt, and reduced the size of the farm to an area he might be able to manage properly. At first the tenant agreed to this arrangement but then changed his mind and called in the Molly Maguires to intimade the landlord into leaving him in possession of 35 acres.

The one-roomed mudwall cabins of these cottiers were often in little clusters and the remains of their humble cabins and the outlines of their miserably small potato gardens may still be seen. A farmer in Carrickatean near Cavan told me that he had a field in which there had been a ‘cluster’ of cotters’ cabins. The foundations of the mudwalls were showing, so the field had to be levelled for cultivation. In levelling and ploughing the field he kept a sharp look out for any tangible evidence of human occupation such as delph, glass, metal, leather, etc. He did not find a scrap of any of these things and concluded that he found nothing because the cotters owned nothing but the rags on their backs.
Another example of the sufferings of the cotters comes from Drumeague in Knockbride Parish. All the members of a similar cluster were sent to America on one of the ‘Coffin’ ships and were never heard of again. It was believed they were lost at sea. There were about eighty of them altogether.

This grinding poverty, lack of security of tenure, the collapse of the linen industry, the troubles of the tithe war, all combined to create an atmosphere of fear and desperation in which secret societies flourished. The Ribbonmen and the Molly Maguires flourished in Cavan and in Leitrim in those years. They were far more concerned with righting agrarian wrongs than with the more idealistic idea of freeing Ireland and the landlords they shot had incurred their anger because of refusal to reduce rents or because they were magistrates who had dealt severely with those convicted of agrarian crime.
The account of the incidents which I am publishing was given to An Cumann Le Béaloideas Éireann by the late James Brady of Bailieborough and is published by kind permission of the Cumann.

It was written down from James Brady by a young student, Miss Mitten, and I have not altered the text in any way except in some small points of grammar and I have also suppressed some names where I considered that descendants of the people mentioned might still live in the area. Words and phrases in brackets have been supplied by me. This then is the traditional account of the whole affair and I have not attempted to correct inaccuracies in any way. It must be remembered that while Pat Dolan became a folk hero the murder of Bell Booth was vehemently condemned by all the clergy, both Catholic and Protestant, one of the most outspoken being the famous Fr. Tom Maguire of Templeport.
It would be very unfair of me to publish this account of Pat Dolan’s adventures without writing a short note about the Seanchaí himself, James Brady. He was born in 1894 in the townland of Tullywaltra about three miles West of Bailieboro. His parents were farmers and the family for many generations had lived in that district. The great influence in his life was an unmarried uncle also called James Brady. James Senior was a great talker, in fact it was alleged that he did little else other than talk. At night around a turf fire he held the neighbours spellbound with his stories with James junior between his legs on the floor. When the neighbours c. 1850 joined together to build a new school James was there to direct operations, but that was all he did.

In pre-Truce days James Junior spent some time in Co. Leitrim and North Roscommon where he worked as a coal-miner in the Arigina coalfield. While there he was a member of the I.R.A. It was while in Leitrim that he collected some of his stories about Pat Dolan. During the Black and Tan period he was interned on the Curragh of Kildare and was the hero of a famous break-out from the camp. It was his experience as a coal-miner that enabled him to engineer the tunnel from the camp by which the escape was made. Many of his recollections were written down and are preserved in the Folklore Archieves of the National University. Ni bheidh a leithéid arís ann. For additional information on the Brady family see the notes at the end of the article.

Pat Dolan’s Adventures around Grousehall in 1845

The traditional account as compiled by The Late James Brady
Pat Dolan was born about three miles from Drumkeeran in the parish of Tarmon with the Leitrim-Roscommon mountains at the back of his home and the lovely Lough Allen spread out in front for a lawn. Dolan was a rebel by tradition for his uncle Miles Gilhooly was a mad rebel, and was in charge of the Molly Maguires. One night while he was in Boyle, he saw the people of Rockingham Castle going away, so he raided the castle. On his way out of the demesne he jumped his mare over a six foot wall, and took away with him a backload of guns and other valuables. After that the wall was raised to twenty feet and it is there to this day. Pat Dolan used to come by Drumshambo and Ballinamore to Newtowngore where he had cousins living, and from that he went on to Milltown in County Cavan. Both Pat and his uncle Miles had South Leitrim well organised with a branch of the Molly Maguires in every district.

The Reillys of Turfad
During the Nine Years’ War, a family of Reillys came from Cavan and settled down near Navan on the farm of a Planter who had fled from Myles the Slasher along with other planters, and strange to say, they were allowed to stay, as the Planters did not come back to their land. These Reillys took part in the 1798 Rebellion along with other Meathmen and when the rebels were defeated they were forced to flee out of Meath. Making their way to Cavan they passed near Virginia and through Killinkere, all the time on the lookout for a small farm of land to rent. They came one evening to Mountain Lodge cross-roads on the border of Larah, Kill and Knockbride parishes. In the townland of Turfad was a vacant whincovered farm upon a hill, without a house, which they rented and took possession of. With the help of neighbours they erected a shelter, and through time a house was built. The eldest boy, Harry, met and married a County Leitrim girl named Mary Dolan, an aunt of Pat Dolan (the famous Molly Maguire).

Just two years before that, Captain McLeod, a big landlord, and a Scotchman to boot, and also a stipendary magistrate, was sent over from Cavan to put down the Molly Maguires in South Leitrim and was handing out savage sentences to all who came before him on the bench. But one night when passing Mr. Percey’s gate lodge, between Ballinamore and Carrickgallen, he was shot. Pat Dolan and his uncle Miles Gilhooly always got the credit for shooting him, through Leitrim and Roscommon. It was after McLeod was shot that Pat Dolan got down to organising all the parishes round Mountain Lodge, when he came visiting his cousins each summer. And it was in Larry Reilly’s of Turfad the lots were pulled to see who would shoot Bell. The hand of the man who pulled the lot trembled, for he was a married man with a wife and three young children. Then Dolan spoke up and said, “Give me that lot, for you’ll never shoot him.” (Then follows an account of the shooting which is slightly inaccurate).
A Greaghagibney Family

... on the Friday evening after the shooting Pat Dolan walked in the door of a home in Greaghagibney looking for a night’s lodging. By that time the hue and cry was out for Dolan, and one hundred pounds reward was offered for any information that would lead to his arrest. The woman shook hands with Pat and made him welcome.

After the tea was over the woman told him that as there was was one hundred pounds on his head he had better trust no one. Just as he got up to go the dog started barking. He looked out the window and saw four Peelers coming up the street making for the door. Pat said, “Here come the Peelers. Where can I hide?” She told him to go up on the hurl, pull the ladder up after him, shut the door and then get out through the roof. It was just getting dark at the time and she hadn’t the hob-lamp lighted yet. She ran to the door to block it as long as possible but the Peelers pushed her aside and brushed past her. The woman then ran into the room off the kitchen and put her back to the door and said they weren’t getting in there. While the scuffling went on at the door Dolan lay down on his back on the floor of the hurl, and after taking out a rib pushed up with his feet a hole through the scraw and thatch, big enough to let him through. When he climbed through he jumped down the side of the house on to the gardan and got safely away. For the saving of Dolan the woman was respected in the fairs and markets in all the towns around. She never allowed anyone to put back the straw. She always said, “When I’m dead and gone, the hole in the roof will tell it’s own story.” ...

Dolan went straight to Larry Reilly’s (of Turfad) where they arranged to hide him for a time, until the hunt was called off, for there were one hundred Redcoats out searching the area for him. There was a two acre field of whins on the side of a hill, a short distance to the East of Reilly’s, that no man could get through. It was West of the lake and opposite the Mass Rock. In that field Dolan hid for a week, coming out at night for food.

On the hill South of the whins lived a family of McCabes of Carrickacroman and Frank McCabe who was 88 on June the 6th, 1971, often heard his father tell how he knocked the bottom out of a five-naggin bottle by putting into it a small drop of water and leaving it on a red hot coal till the bottom fell out as if cut with a knife. The bottle was then used a horn to warn Dolan that the whins were going to be searched. After that he knocked around through the parish of Larah.

Right between the bridge and the present Larah chapel, on the river side of the road Dolan went into a house one Friday coming up to August and asked for some dinner. The blacksmith told the servant girl to give him the best in the house, and then went out, jumped on the horse and galloped off to warn the Redcoats. The servant-girl thought everything was far too quiet outside. She hurried up with the frying of two herrings as the Redcoats were stationed only a short distance away in Stradone. The housewife was watching the girl like a cat watching a mouse. When the herrings were fried she walked over to the table with them and said, “There’s two herrings Dolan, and they weren’t caught for their belly!” “Neither will I,” said Dolan, jumping up. But the Redcoats were already crossing the bridge. The girl pointed to the back door. Dolan ran out and waded through the river. By the time the house was searched he was a mile away. The girl was sacked immediately but the people of Laragh honoured her like a queen. The informer lived only three years after that, dying brokenhearted. On the night of his wake twenty young men marched into the house took the corpse off the bed and kicked it into the river.

Another escape through a roof
After retreating from Larah chapel that night Dolan came back across the country to the parish of Lavey. He knocked around for most of the month but always paying visits to McDonald’s of Clifferna. By this time it was drawing near the harvest, and one night he went into the house of two old brothers by the name of ... who lived on the edge of Tirlahode Bog. They always slept on the hurl over the kitchen. That night they made a shakedown beside them for Dolan who pulled a rib out of the roof for a quick escape. In the middle of the night the eldest (elder) brother told Pat to get up saying that his brother was gone. So Pat went out in a rush through the roof and was just in time for the Redcoats were closing in on the house. After that Pat wouldn’t sleep in a house without a hurl or two doors back and front.

Saved again by a servant girl
Pat stayed around Clifferna for a while and one night in October he went into ... They made his welcome and gave him a good supper before he went to bed. The servant girl heard her master steal out through the night and take the horse out of the stable. Her first thought was to waken Dolan. As there was only a wooden partition between the two rooms she began to kick it with her feet but failed to waken Pat as he was sound asleep. She had to put on her boots to make noise enough to waken him. He jumped up and ran out with a rush and up to the top of the hill a short distance away. He saw the Redcoats coming at Ardagh (recte Ardaragh) cross, a quarter of a mile away.

Winter Quarters
That night he went to Frank McDonald’s of Clifferna and they both decided that something must be done in quick time as Winter was close at hand. On the west side of Frank’s house was a large barn for threshing the oats with a hand flail. The barn roof continued level with the gable of the room, acting as a rest for the ribs of the barn roof to lean on. At the back was a big bank of channel. The next morning they started with two picks to tunnel through the hard bank of channel. Twenty yards away a rock shot up from the ground and there they halted. Frank searched the country for large flat stones to leave on top of the tunnel (a trench) and then covered them over with hard channel clay. Then Frank built stacks of oats over the tunnel to hide the digging. There Pat got to work making a tunnel under the rock for another ten yards and came out in a glen. His coal-mining on Tarmon mountain stood to him there. Next they made a hole in a corner of the room through the wall where a box was left with a bag of flour sitting in it. Everyone baked their own bread then. This hole led into the barn. They bored a hole in the barn wall opposite the tunnel. There was a small box left against the hole going into th tunnel with a bag of oats sitting on it. The barn door had three bolts, top, bottom and centre. As no one shared their secret Pat was safe for the long Winter months. It was the first week of April when he bid goodbye to Frank McDonald. The tunnel is there to this day in 1972, but without the flagstones, for when Frank died the new owner took the flags to make bridges across the sheughs going into the fields. Pat Dolan went next into the parish of Kill.

Taken from Breffni Blue
April 2002