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in County Clare 1534 - 1911
Robert Buckley, Clare as it is, 1893
Robert John Buckley, the special correspondent of the Birmingham Daily Gazette, a very pro-unionist newspaper, was sent to Ireland in March of 1893 to investigate the ‘Irish Problem’. Buckley spent six months travelling through the most disturbed parts of the country. He was often in personal danger and dared to go to places where even the native drivers would not venture. He travelled extensively in Munster, Connacht and Ulster, and made telling contrasts between the prosperous north and the stagnant south. In all he covered nearly 4,000 miles and returned sixty two letters to his editor in Birmingham; it is these collected letters, unedited, that make up his book on Ireland. After Buckley’s investigations his editor could claim that the letters provided conclusive evidence that Irish nationalism was a mere ‘delusive sham’ and that if the land question could be settled there would be an end to the clamour for independence. Arriving in Killaloe on 27 April 1893, Buckley proceeded to Ennis from where he fired off a dispatch to his newspaper. The following day he drove to Bodyke, in the hope of interviewing Colonel O’Callaghan, the landlord at the centre of the Bodyke evictions; in this he was disappointed as O’Callaghan refused to meet him. Nevertheless he returned two further letters from Bodyke to his editor. It is extracts from these letters that are published here. Although clearly biased, they are full of detail and give a compelling account of the tactics used by the tenants in their struggle against the landlord. By 1893 the power of the landlords was almost broken and there was an expectation on the part of tenants that they would soon come into ownership of the land. Buckley appears to have written nothing more on Ireland. He is, however, credited with two further publications: one a novel called The Master Spy (1902) and the other a book on the composer Sir Edward Elgar.
On Friday last I had a small object-lesson in Irish affairs. Colonel O’Callaghan, of Bodyke, went to Limerick to buy cattle for grazing on his estate. The cattle were duly bought, but the gallant Colonel had to drive them through the city with his own right hand. I saw his martial form looming in the rear of a skittish column of cows, and even as the vulture scenteth the corcase afar off, even so, scenting interesting matter, did I swoop down on the unhappy Colonel, startling him severely with my sudden dash. He said, ‘I’m driving cows now’, and truth to tell, there was no denying it. . . .
Civil War in County Clare. [2nd. May 1893].
The road from Ennis to Bodyke is dull and dreary, and abounds with painful memories. Half-an-hour out you reach the house, or what remains of it, of Francis Hynes, who was hanged for shooting a man. A little further and you reach the place where Mr Perry was shot. A wooded spot, ‘convaynient’ for ambush, once screened some would-be murderers who missed their mark. Then comes the house of the Misses Brown, in which on Christmas Eve shots were fired, by way of celebrating the festive season. From a clump of trees some four hundred yards from the road the police on a car were fired upon, the horse being shot dead in his tracks. The tenantry of this sweet district are keeping up their rifle practice, and competent judges say that the Bodyke men possess not less than fifty rifles, none of which can be found by the police. Said one of the constabulary, ‘They lack nerve to fire from shorter distances, as they think MacAdam is the better shot, and to miss him would be risky, as he is known to shoot rabbits with ball cartridge. . . Clare swarms with secret societies, and you never know from one moment to another what resolutions they will pass. I don’t know what the end of it will be, but I should think that Home Rule, by giving the murderers a fancied security, would in this district lead to wholesale bloodshed. The whole country would rise, as they do now, to meet the landlord or his agent, but they would then do murder without the smallest hesitation.’. . .
The trouble has been alive for fifteen years or so, but it was not until 1887 that Bodyke became a regularly historic place. The tenants had paid no rent for years, and wholesale evictions were tried, but without effect. The people walked in again the next day, and as the gallant Colonel had not an army division at his back he was obliged to confess himself beaten at every point. He went in for arbitration, but before giving details let us first take a bird’s eye view of his position. I will endeavour to state the case as fairly as possible, promising that nothing will be given beyond what is freely admitted by both parties to the dispute.
The Colonel, who is a powerfully-built, bronzed, and active man, seemingly over sixty years old, left the service just forty years ago. Four years before that his father had died, heavily in debt, leaving the estate encumbered by a mortgage, a jointure to the relict, Mrs O’Callaghan, now deceased (the said jointure being at that time several years in arrear), a head rent of a hundred guineas a year to Colonel Patterson, with taxes, tithe rent-charges, and heaven knows what besides. In 1846 and 1847 his father had made considerable reductions in the rents of the Bodyke holdings, but the tenants had contrived to fall into arrears to the respectable tune of £6,000, or thereabouts. Such was the state of things when the heir came into his happy possessions.
A Protestant clergyman said to me - ‘Land in Ireland is like self-righteousness. The more you have, the worse off you are.’ Thus was it at Bodyke.
Something had to be done. To ask the tenants for the £6,000 was mere waste of breath. The young soldier had no agent. He was determined to be the people’s friend. Although a black Protestant, he was ambitious of Catholic good-will. He wanted to have the tenants blessing him. He coveted the good name which is better than rubies. He wished to make things comfortable, to be a general benefactor of his species; if a Protestant landlord and a Roman Catholic tenantry can be said to be of the same species at all, a point which, according to the nationalist press, is at least doubtful. He called the tenants together, and agreed to accept three hundred pounds for the six thousand pounds legally due, so as to make a fresh start and encourage the people to walk in the paths of righteousness. When times began to mend, the Colonel, himself a farmer, commenced to raise the rents until they reached the amount paid during his father’s reign. The people stood it quietly enough until 1879, when the Colonel appointed agents. This year was one of agricultural depression. A Mr Willis succeeded the two first agents, but during the troubles he resigned his charge. The popular opinion leans to the supposition that his administration was ineffective, that is, that he was comparatively unused to field strategy, that he lacked dash and military resource, and that he entertained a constitutional objection to being shot. The rents came under the judicial arrangement, and reductions were made. Still things would not work smoothly, and it was agreed that bad years should be further considered on rent days. This agreement led to reductions on the judicial rent of 25 to 30 per cent, besides which the Colonel, in the arbitration of 1887, had accepted £1,000 in lieu of several thousand pounds of arrears then due. After November, 1891, the tenants ceased to pay rent at all, and that is practically their present position. The Colonel, who being himself an experienced farmer is a competent judge of agricultural affairs, thinks the tenants are able to pay, and even believes that they are willing, were it not for the intimidation of half-a-score village ruffians whose threatened moonlighting exploits, when considered in conjunction with the bloody deeds which have characterised the district up to recent times, are sufficient to paralyse the whole force of the British Empire, when that force is directed by the feeble fumblers now in office. . . .
New brooms sweep clean. The new agent, Mr MacAdam, began to negotiate. Pow-wows and palavers all ended in smoke, and as meanwhile the charges on the estate were going on merrily, and no money was coming in to meet them, writs were issued against six of the best-off farmers; writs, not decrees, the writ being a more effective instrument. One Malone was evicted. He was a married man, without encumbrances, owed several years’ arrears, had mismanaged his farm, a really good bit of land, had been forgiven a lot of rent, and still he was not happy. A relative had lent him nearly £200 to carry on, but Malone was a bottomless pit. What he required was a gold mine and a man to shovel up the ore, but unhappily no such thing existed on the farm. The relative offered to take the land, believing that he could soon recoup himself the loan, but Malone held on with iron grip, refusing to listen to the voice of the charmer, charmed he never so wisely. The relative wished to take the place at the judicial rent, and offered to give Malone the house, grass for a cow, and the use of three acres of land. Malone declined to make any change, and as a last resort it was decided to evict him. On the auspicious day MacAdam arrived from Limerick, accompanied by two men from Dublin, whom he proposed to install as caretakers in Malone’s house. The sheriff’s party were late, and MacAdam, waiting at some distance, was discovered and the alarm given. Horns were blown, the chapel bell was rung, the whole country turned out in force. Anticipating seizure, the people drove away their cattle, and shortly no hoof nor horn was visible in the district. A crowd collected and, observing the caretakers, at once divined their mission, and perceived that not seizure, but eviction, was the order of the day. They rushed to Malone’s house, and, with his consent and assistance, tore off the roof, smashed the windows, and demolished the doors. The place was thus rendered uninhabitable.
This having been happily effected, the sheriff’s party arrived an hour or so late, in the Irish fashion. Possession was formally given to the agent, who was now free to revel in the four bare walls, and to enjoy the highly-ventilated condition of the building. . . .
At present the two caretakers hold the citadel, which is also garrisoned by a force of sixteen policemen regularly relieved by day and by night, every man armed to the teeth. Now and then the foinest pisintry in the wuruld turn out to the neighbouring hills and blaze away with rifles at the doors and windows of the little barn-like structure. . . .
Such is the state of things in Bodyke at this moment. Colonel O’Callaghan has had no penny of rent for years - that is, nothing for himself. What has been paid by the tenants of Fort Ann and Milltown has been barely sufficient to meet the charges on the estate. The Colonel thinks that the more he concedes the more his people want. He has had many narrow escapes from shooting, and rather expects to be bagged at last. He seems to be constitutionally unconscious of fear, but the police, against his wish, watch over him. In the few instances in which Mr MacAdam, his agent, has effected seizures, the people have immediately paid up - have simply walked into their houses, brought out the money, and planked down the rent with all expenses, the latter amounting to some 20 or 25 per cent. They can pay. The Colonel, who lives by farming, having no other source of income, knows their respective positions exactly, and declines to be humbugged. The tenants believe that they will shortly have the land for nothing, and they are content to remain in a state of siege, themselves beleaguering the investing force, lodged in the centre of the position. The fields are desolate, tillage is suspended, and the whole of the cattle are driven out of sight. Armed men watch each other by night and by day, and bloodshed may take place at any moment. The farming operations of the whole region are disorganised and out of joint. Six men have been arrested for threats and violence, but all were discharged - the jury would not convict, although the judge said the evidence for the defence was of itself sufficient to convict the gang. A ruffian sprang on MacAdam with an open knife, swearing he would disembowel him. After a terrible struggle the man was disarmed and secured, brought up before the beak, and the offence proved to the hilt. This gentleman was dismissed without a stain on his character. MacAdam asked that he should at least be bound over to keep the peace. This small boon was refused. Comment is needless.
I have not yet been able to interview Colonel O’Callaghan himself, but my information, backed by my own observation, may be relied on as accurate. The carman who drove me hither said ‘The Bodyke boys are dacent fellows, but they must have their sport. ‘Tis their nature to be shootin’ folks, an’ ye can’t find fault with a snipe for havin’ a long bill. An’ they murther ye in sich a tinder-hearted way that no raisonable landlord could have any objection to it.’
I have the honour of again remarking that Ireland is a wonderful country.
Rent at the Root of Nationalism.
The Bodykers have one leading idea, to ‘wait yet awhile.’ Home Rule will banish the landlords, and give the people the land for nothing at all. The peasantry are mostly fine-grown men, well built and well-nourished, bearing no external trace of the hardships they claim to have endured. They are civil and obliging, and thoroughly inured to the interviewer. They have a peculiar accent, of a sing-song character, which now and then threatens to break down the stranger’s gravity. That the present state of things is intolerable, and cannot last much longer, they freely admit, but they claim to have the tacit sympathy of the present government, and gleefully relate with what unwillingness police protection was granted to the agent and his men. They disclaim any intention of shooting or otherwise murdering the landlord or his officers, and assert that the fact that they still live is sufficient evidence in this direction. . . .
The Bodykers have a new grievance, one of most recent date. They had found a delightful means of evasion, which for a time worked well, but the bottom has been knocked out of it, and their legal knowledge has proved of no avail. To pay rent whenever a seizure was effected was voted a bore, a calamitous abandonment of principle, and a loss of money which might be better applied. So that when MacAdam made his latest seizures, say on the land of Brown and Jones, these out-manœuvred tenants brought forward friends named Smith and Robinson who deeply swore and filed affidavits to the effect that the cattle so seized belonged to them, Smith and Robinson to wit, and not to the afore-mentioned Brown and Jones, on whose land they were found. Here was a pretty kettle of fish. Colonel O’Callaghan, or his agent, were processed for illegal distraint, and the evidence being dead against the landlord, that fell tyrant had on several occasions to disgorge his prey, whereat there was great rejoicing in Bodyke. The new agent, however, is a tough customer, and in his quality of clerk of petty sessions dabbles in legal lore. He found an act which provides that, after due formalities, distraint may be made on any cattle found on the land in respect of which rent is due, no matter to whom the said cattle may belong. The tenants are said to have been arranging an amicable interchange of grazing land, the cows of Smith feeding on the land of Brown, and vice versa, so that the affidavit agreement might have some colour of decency. The ancient act discovered by the ardent MacAdam has rendered null and void this proposed fraternal reciprocity, and the order to conceal every hoof and horn pending discovery of the right answer to this last atrocity has been punctually obeyed, the local papers slanging landlord and agent, but seemingly unable to find the proper countermine. No end of details and of incident might be given, but no substantial increase could be made to the information given in this and my preceding letter. The tenants say that the landlord perversely refuses the reductions allowed in better times, and the landlord says that as a practical farmer he believes that those upon whom he has distrained or attempted to distrain are able to pay in full. He declares that he has not proceeded against those who, from any cause, are unable to meet their obligations, but only against the well-to-do men, who, having the money in hand, are deliberately withholding his just and reasonable due, taking advantage of the disturbed state of the country and the weakness of the government to benefit themselves, regardless of the suffering their selfishness entails on innocent people.
Extracts taken from R.J.B., Ireland as it is and
as it would be under Home Rule (Birmingham 1893) pp 100-112.