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The Lough Sheelin Eviction - Co. Cavan, Ireland - Nov 3rd 1848 - (170 years ago)

Discussion in 'Ireland' started by Bob Spiers, Nov 7, 2018.

  1. Bob Spiers

    Bob Spiers LostCousins Star

    Whilst we are this week remembering those killed in the Great and Second World wars with a 'Lest we Forget' tag, here is something else we should not forget. The Great Genocide that befell Ireland after the 1847 (so called) Potato Famine of that year and how some Irish Landowners (many under instruction from their English sponsors) went about ensuring costs to feed the poor did not fall upon them.

    Here is an account taken from Facebook (Pictures & Stories of Ireland) given by one young Missionary Priest of the events of the eviction of 700 tenants in one day in Tonagh, Co. Cavan. The story makes harrowing reading but is an essential part of Irish history and many, if not all of us with Irish ancestors who left Ireland after 1847 an through the 50's should know what drove them to leave.

    Co. Cavan was hard hit by the Great Genocide in the mid-nineteenth century. In the fall of 1848, the local landlord in Mountnugent parish evicted 700 people in one day. The famous ballad "By Lough Sheelin Side" is based on this event witnessed by the local Catholic priest.

    Evictions and Disease (Irish Holocaust)
    In the autumn of 1847 the potato crop was a total failure. The government was no longer providing relief so responsibility for feeding the starving masses was left to the limited resources of Irish landowners. Many Cavan County landlords responded to the best of their ability and bankrupted themselves in doing so. Others tried a more pragmatic approach. Landlords were assessed a local poor law tax based on the number of tenants on their property. To relieve themselves of the burden of paying this tax, they payed their tenants to emigrate, or simply evicted them and hoped they would move out of the local area. [further research in estate papers for Hamilton's response to famine, include Poor law report information on Scrabby parish]

    The following account of a brutal eviction in the fall of 1848 on an estate in Tonagh, County Cavan was given by a young priest:

    In the very First year of our ministry, as a missionary priest in this diocese we were an eye-witness of a cruel and inhuman eviction, which even still makes our heart bleed as often as we allow ourselves to think of it. Seven hundred human beings were driven from their homes in one day and set adrift on the world, to gratify the caprice of one who, before God and man, notably deserved less consideration than the last and least of them. And we remember well that there was not a single shilling of rent due on the estate at the time, except by one man; and the character and acts of that man made it perfectly clear that the agent and himself quite understood each other.

    The Crowbar Brigade, employed on the occasion to extinguish the hearths and demolish the homes of honest, industrious men, worked away with a will at their awful calling until evening. At length an incident occurred that varied the monotony of the grim, ghastly ruin which they were spreading all around. They stopped suddenly, and recoiled panic-stricken with terror from two dwellings which they were directed to destroy with the rest. They had just learned that a frightful typhus fever held those houses in its grasp, and had already brought pestilence and death to their inmates. They therefore supplicated the agent to spare these houses a little longer; but the agent was inexorable and insisted that the houses should come down. The ingenuity with which he extricated himself from the difficulties of the situation was characteristic alike of the heartlessness of the man and of the cruel necessities of the work in which he was engaged. He ordered a large winnowing-sheet to be secured over the beds in which the fever victims lay - fortunately they happened to be perfectly delirious at the time - and then directed the houses to be unroofed cautiously and slowly, because, he said, `he very much disliked the bother and discomfort of a coroner's inquest.' I administered the last Sacrament of the Church to four of these fever victims next day; and save the above-mentioned winnowing-sheet, there was not then a roof nearer to me than the canopy of heaven.

    The horrid scenes I then witnessed I must remember all my lifelong. The wailing of women - the screams, the terror, the consternation of children - the speechless agony of honest, industrious men - wrung tears of grief from all who saw them. I saw the officers and men of a large policed force, who were obliged to attend on the occasion, cry like children at beholding the cruel sufferings of the very people whom they would be obliged to butcher had they offered the least resistance. The heavy rains that usually attend the autumnal equinoxes descended in cold, copious torrents throughout the night, and at once revealed to those houseless sufferers the awful realities of their condition. I visited them next morning, and rode from place to place administering to them all the comfort and consolation I could. The appearance of men, women, and children, as they emerged from the ruins of their former homes - saturated with rain, blackened and besmeared with soot, shivering in every member from cold and misery - presented positively the most appalling spectacle I have ever looked at.

    The landed proprietors in a circle all around - and for many miles in every direction - warned their tenantry, with threats of their direst vengeance, against the humanity of extending to any of them the hospitality of a single night's shelter. Many of those poor people were unable to emigrate with their families, while, at home, the hand of every man was thus raised against them. They were driven from the land on which Providence had placed them; and, in the state of society surrounding them, every other walk of life was rigidly closed against them. What was the result?. After battling in vain with privation and pestilence, they at last graduated from the workhouse to the tomb; and in little more than three years, nearly a fourth of them lay quietly in their graves."
  2. Bob Spiers

    Bob Spiers LostCousins Star

    The obscure reference [further research in estate papers for Hamilton's response to famine, include Poor law report information on Scrabby parish] may require a little more information.

    I can advise that 'Scrabby'
    is the name of a Parish: ("Scrabby, or Ballimackellenny, a post-town and parish, in the barony of Tulloghonoho, county of Cavan). A Case Study Report was carried out on the working of the Irish Poor Law Unions (1840-1949) where it seems James Hamiltion -himself a member of Gorey Poor Law Society in Co. Wexford (far removed from Cavan) - asked questions concerning the famine that occurred in Scrabby Parish in Co. Cavan. It is likely the information in the report was based on answers received but will pursue that further another time.
  3. canadianbeth

    canadianbeth LostCousins Member

    Earlier this year I read The Famine Plot, by Tim Pat Coogan, which details much of what you have written. My husband's family emigrated from Bailieborough in County Cavan, but they had already arrived in Canada by 1847. The youngest in the family was born in Ireland in 1823 and my husband's ancestor was born in Quebec in 1841.
  4. Bob Spiers

    Bob Spiers LostCousins Star

    Here is a You Tube rendering (by the Wolfe Tones) of the ballad referred to above "By Lough Sheelin side" written to commemorate the hardships borne by the people who were forcibly evicted from their homes in Lough Sheelin.

    (The video also has illustrations depicting the evictions)
  5. Bob Spiers

    Bob Spiers LostCousins Star

    I haven't read that but it sounds interesting and may look it out. My own research uncovered many, many stories relating to tales emanating from the Irish Potato famine of 1847. All similarly gruesome, and none favouring the British handling of the situation, as we have to remember that Ireland was then fully part of the United Kingdom, and reference to ..."The government was no longer providing relief "... can be laid at the door of the British. As for the majority of landowners being of British aristocratic stock (with countless stories of how this came about years before), yet another reason to hang our heads in shame.

    My own 2 x G grandparents were from County Galway and they seemed to have survived the worst of the famine. My 2xg grandfather was a tailor with (I believe but cannot be certain as he may have worked for another) his own shop in East Galway. They could not have been too disenamoured with England as they chose to settle there sometime after 1851 as they appear in Irish Census extracts (about all that was left) of that year, finally settling in Birmingham. My research on their parents and grandparents is still work in progress.
  6. Tim

    Tim Moderator Staff Member

    Bob, Genocide? This is not the definition of genocide that I know - "the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular nation or ethnic group."

    Maybe the Great Eviction would have been more accurate? I know that they believe about 1 million people died, but this started due to potato blight and not a deliberate act.
  7. Bob Spiers

    Bob Spiers LostCousins Star

    Perhaps not the word I would have chosen, but as I was merely quoting another source, I was not about to change its wording.

    I would however explain that many believe that what started as a natural thing (the potato blight) should not have ended in the way it did and thus deserved (justly or unjustly depending on a person's point of view) the term Genocide. I have over time come across many records and am aware of books written by Historians analysing the potato blight famine (indeed canadianbeth quotes one such) that lay the blame fair and square on the shoulders of the Irish Government of the time; a Government I remind that paid lip service to the British Government.

    There was a even a video on Facebook alongside the record I quoted from an American/Irish stand point that blamed the British, claiming that at the same time as they withdrew funding, they also exported grain abroad which should have gone to feed their own people. If you are looking for an ethnic group how about those that fell under the heading "lowest class housed, many illiterate", as shown on a map (Ireland -The Famine Years) which sets out the percentage under each heading across the Irish counties.

    The crux of the argument was touched upon in my reply to canadianbeth (#5) which was the Irish Government who had set out to finance other means to feed the population, were persuaded by the British exchequer this could no longer be continued, and so between them sought to place the burden on the Landowners by introducing a poor law tax based on the number of dwellings on their lands. The outcome should have been obvious (think of the Window Tax where people boarded up windows) - remove the dwellings and with them their tenants.

    I think that about sums things up, and whether the inaction of the Government(s) to tackle the famine in ways that were open to them was deliberate is a matter for individual consciences.
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2018

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