Impact of the major Landlords

The decade from 1593 to 1603 was one of the worst in County Monaghan history. Following the land settlements of 1591 there was nothing but war, raids, murders and fighting - not just with the foreigners but among the clans themselves. Those who had been granted Œfreeholds¹ were the subject of constant raids, cattle stealing and general mayhem. By Seamus McCluskey.

All this left it an even easier task for the English to assume control and ‘settle’ the Monaghan territories with landlords from across the water. Thus, Monaghan came into the Ulster Plantation programme of 1607, more or less towards the end of that period, and really spelt ‘finis’ to the power of the local chieftains and the days of McMahon and McKenna over-lordship of lands were well and truly numbered.

The scenario quickly changed and saw the lands being transferred to English and Scottish ‘Planters’, and chief among these were the Blayneys, the Shirleys, the Leslies, the Dawsons, the Baths, the Anketells, the Maddens, the Foresters, and a host of other lesser names, who soon adopted the mantle of a ‘new’ Ascendancy and became very much the new rulers of all Monaghan territory. Many of them would prove to be extremely harsh and cruel land-owners, but quite a few proved to be both kind and helpful. Either way, they all had an extremely important role to play in Monaghan history from the seventeenth century onwards, and we must accept them as part of our heritage.

In this day and age, we should also try to be forgiving of the injustices of the past. As Sir Shane Leslie wrote in his ‘Preface’ to Denis Carolan Rushe’s excellent book ‘A History of Monaghan for Two Hundred Years, 1660 - 1860’ (published by Tempests of Dundalk in 1921):-
“Let Monaghan men always remember to honour and respect each other’s traditions, and when possible in the present, to help, and when needed in the past to forgive. As for the future, may the Lord be good to Monaghan.”

Greatest of all the Monaghan landlords was Sir Edward Blayney, who had been appointed ‘Governor of Monaghan’ in 1604. Most of the confiscated McMahon territories went to Blayney who built castles in both Monaghan and Castleblayney. He died in 1629 and was succeeded by his son Henry, who was killed in the Battle of Benburb 1646. Henry’s son, Edward, sold both the Monaghan and Castleblayney estates, but the Castleblayney estate was later bought back. The Monaghan part, however, went to the Westenras, who later became the Lord Rossmores, and these did not always enjoy a particularly happy relationship with the native Irish.

During the fight for Catholic Emancipation one of these Westenras surprisingly agreed to vote for Emancipation, if elected, which he duly was, at the expense of Leslie. Daniel O’Connell had urged the various Parish Priests to get the ‘forty shilling freeholding’ tenants of north Monaghan to vote for Westenra and there was great rejoicing in Monaghan town and surrounding areas on his success, but it is doubtful if he ever did much to justify O’Connel’s trust in him.

These Rossmores had some notorious agents who evicted at will. The most famous of these were Arthur Gamble Lewis, Jesse Lloyd, and later Dacre Hamilton, whose town-house in Monaghan (named Aviemore) still stands. This last named was made the subject of novelist William Carleton’s famous, but heart-rending, novel ‘Valentine McClutchey’.

The Leslies of Glaslough were probably the most intriguing of all the Co. Monaghan landlords. The first Leslie, Bishop John Leslie of Raphoe, had purchased the (McKenna) estates of Sir Thomas Ridgeway, then the King’s Treasurer at Arms in Ireland and later the first Lord Londonderry, and did not come as a ‘Planter’. Later Leslies, notably three by the name of Charles Powell Leslie, proved to be major assets to North Monaghan, but were very anti-Catholic. Despite this, they very rarely evicted a tenant and, even during the Great Famine period, suspended the payments of rents for the worse-off cases.
It was for the reason of their anti-Catholicism, however, that they lost the 1826 Election to Westenra - they had been the Members of Parliament of North Monaghan from 1801 up until that date. Later, the wheel turned full circle when Sir Shane Leslie became a strong advocate of Home Rule and an out-and-out Nationalist, promoting Irish culture at all levels and becoming a great collector of local folk-lore. He was also a prolific writer and many of his books are treasures in the National Library in Dublin. The Leslie descendants still live in Glaslough, and are very much part and parcel of life there.

Carrickmacross had two major landlord estates - The Shirleys and the Baths. The Earls of Essex (Lords Devereux) had control of the barony of Farney up until 1646 when it went to the Shirleys. Most famous of his family was Evelyn Philip Shirley, who wrote a magnificent history of Farney is one long sorry story of conflict between the natives and their over lords.

In the West of the county the Dawsons, Maddens and Lennards were the main landlords. The Dawsons were MPs with Leslie from 1801 until 1818. Madden supported Home Rule but lost out to Leslie in the 1874 Election. A remarkable agent for the Lennard estate was one Hercules Ellis, who was an extremely well educated man and who had an amazing interest in Irish and wrote several long poems, which he called ‘Romances’, about the various old legends which he picked up in his travels over north Monaghan.

These landlords themselves had little personal contact with the native Irish and it was their agents, for whom they must accept responsibility, who made the adverse headlines for them in the land-wars of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. An account of some of the activities of these agents might be more appropriate then, in the context of ‘Planter influence’ on Monaghan life, down the years.
William Stewart Trench, agent for the Bath estate in Carrickmacross, was easily one of the most notorious and cruel of all land-agents during the 19th century. Detested by the peasantry, he evicted at will throughout Farney.

On the evening of 4th December 1851 Thomas Douglas Bateson, agent for the Templetown estate was murdered on his return from a Petty Sessions meeting in Castleblayney. Two brothers, Owen and Francis Kelly, who had nothing to do with the murder, were successfully defended by Issac Butt and were released. Three others were later arrested and tried, found guilty and hanged at Monaghan jail on 10th April 1854. They were Neal Quinn, Brian Grant and Patrick Cooney. While their trial was in progress, a second assassination attempt was made on a land agent - this time on the aforementioned Trench, agent for the Bath estate. He was the intended victim but a tip-off prevented the attempt, but two local men were later arrested and charged.

As unusual eviction took place in Inniskeen on 16th April 1858 when John Byrne, a tenant on the Col. Lewis estate, was evicted despite his willingness to pay rent - he had refused to send his children to the Protestant school. On 31st May 1887 one hundred policemen, three police inspectors, along with bailiffs, left Monaghan town for Scotstown where they evicted several Tydavent tenants on the Hamilton, Rose, Woodright and Evatt estates - these were John McKenna of Mullinacrochan; Peter McKenna, Patrick McCarron and John McPhillips of Aghagally; and James McAree and James McKenna of Drumlish, who were all thrown out on the roadside.

Arthur Gamble Lewis, the Rossmore agent, once refused to accept a respectable farmer’s rent simply because he entered his rent office wearing a beard, while he also insisted on the local priest, Fr. McDermott, entering his office by the back door. Essex Castle in Carrickmacross became the agent’s office for the Bath estate and, with the break-up of that estate in 1888, the castle came on the market and was bought by Dean Birmingham for the building of a convent of the St. Louis nuns.

The Dawsons of Rockcorry had a very mixed reputation. It was Richard Dawson, later known as Baron Dartrey in 1847 and Earl of Dartrey in 1866, who granted a site in Donagh parish for the erection of St. Macartan’s Seminary, just north of Monaghan town, in 1828. However, it was also on the Dawson estates that some dreadful evictions took place in 1887 when their estate agent, WH Swan, with 150 policemen, evicted Peter Halligan of Tonysilloga; James and Anne McKenna, also of Tonysilloga; Peggy McVicker and her brother; Richard McCarron of Goland; Catherine and Owen McCrudden (who was sick in bed); as well as Owen McCarron. Michael McKenna, Pat McKenna, Catherine and James Treanor (a cripple) - all from Donagh parish and all thrown out on the road-side on 30th March 1887.

For these reasons many of the landlords, who appointed such cruel and bigoted land-agents in the first place, themselves incurred the hatred of the native Monaghan population, and very understandably so. Overall then, the impact of the ‘Planters’ on Monaghan life, down the years, reads very unfavourably for the vast majority of them, but we must also pay tribute to those who showed compassion and who did everything they could for the betterment of their tenantry.

Taken from Monaghan's Match
December 2004