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Townland of Dooross return
More petitions followed from tenants followed. In October 1882, Clanricarde's Craughwell tenants protested: ' We have got into arrear(sic) owing to circumstances over which we had no control. The harvest of previous years went completely against us and we suffered also from rot among our sheep. The consequence was - we were barely able to live. We got into debt on every side.'
Yet they remained 'men of law and order', opposed to violent protest. Others were less inhibited and their proceedings are documented in a 'Return of members of Land or National League Convicted of Agrarian Offences.', c. 1879-1888 which is held in the National Archives at Kew under the reference CO 903/20. Returns for the East Riding of Galway include murder, threatening letters, boycotting, conspiracy, intimidation, unlawful assembly and resisting the sheriff. Interestingly, most of the key prosecution witnesses are London-based policemen.
Blake's murder did nothing to solve Clanricarde's dispute with his tenants and he appointed a new land agent named Joyce who later recalled 'at the time I was appointed he stated that my principal duty was to collect his rent and that he expected me to pay 20,000 [a year] into his bankers'. By 1885, the Irish National League, successor to the Irish National Land League, whose primary purpose was more overtly political and to achieve Home Rule for Ireland, was encouraging organised combinations against 'unjust' rents and resistance to eviction in what some have called a 'second phase' of the Land War. In October 1885 the local clergy, Protestant and Roman Catholic, petitioned Clanricarde to reduce his rents. A memorial from his Portumna tenants in the same month adopted a more strident tone, stating that they were 'respectfully compelled to apply to your Lordship for an abatement of say at least 30 per cent'.
Statement of evidence from Thomas Saunders, evicted tenant
The case of Thomas Saunders became a high-profile example of the treatment meted out to many tenants. Describing what had happened when he gave evidence to the British government's Evicted Tenants Commission seven years later, Saunders explained how he had rented a 49-acre farm on the Clanricarde estate in Galway since 1868. He had sought to improve the land by drainage and other works and had built a farmhouse there, using money he had saved having worked in Australia for ten years. In August 1886, he was evicted owing one year's rent, despite having offered to pay his arrears plus costs. The eviction was resisted by 21 young men inside the house but they were forcibly ejected and subsequently sentenced to between 12 and 18 months imprisonment. One, who was also Saunders's cousin, died in Kilkenny Gaol before his day of release. Saunders and his family, including nine children, then 'went to live in an outhouse in the neighbourhood until we got a little wooden house built' while his own house was re-let.
A contemporary newspaper, The Tuam News & Western Advertiser, dramatically described the scenes at Woodford in its issue of 27 August 1886 as:
tyranny the most shocking on the part of the landlord - resistance heroic and noble on the part of the people - and on the part of the authorities, abuse of the power vested in them.
The case was also covered extensively in the English press and the crusading journalist W.T. Stead wrote an influential series of articles entitled 'The story of the Woodford Evictions' for the Pall Mall Gazette. The Irish nationalist press was even more scathing. The Weekly Freeman and Irish Agriculturalist normally published a biting political cartoon at the end of each issue. See the Catalogue for the entire run of the Weekly Freeman newspaper for 1887.
One file now in The National Archives, PRO 30/60/9, notes that 'the present Marquis of Clanricarde had never, from the time of his accession to the estate, resided on or shown any interest in it' and that his dealings with his tenants were 'generally condemned by all the local landlords who look upon him as their worst enemy'. Costs of policing the evictions escalated and the government tried in vain to persuade him to compromise. He wrote to Chief Secretary Balfour in December 1888 defending his actions as 'the western Irish cannot be kept up to their contracts without the liability of eviction'.
The Plan of Campaign
In 1887 the 'Plan of Campaign' was launched. This encouraged tenants to determine and then demand a fair rent from their landlords and, if this was refused, to pay their revised rents to a committee of trustees. These funds would then be used to further promote the campaign and support any tenants who were evicted. Over the next three years, this strategy was adopted on over 200 Irish estates. A letter of 18 August 1886 from Clanricarde's new land agent, Joyce, to his master reported a meeting at Woodford at which the tenants had been addressed by several nationalist MPs: 'Subsequently a deputation waited on me at the Rent Office and informed me that not a shilling rent would be paid unless your Lordship reinstated the evicted tenants and also granted an abatement of 40 per cent'. He concluded that unless the Government 'back us in putting an end to this state of affairs and enforcing the payment of rents, I don't know what can be done'.
Evictions on the Clanricarde estate in 1886, such as that of Thomas Saunders, led to major confrontations involving large numbers of police and troops. However, when Joyce asked the head of the Irish administration, Chief Secretary Sir Michael Hicks-Beach for more support, he was told, as he later reported to Clanricarde, that the government :'would not carry out another eviction on your lordship's property until your lordship met the tenants, as all other landlords did, in giving them an allowance according as was given on the neighbouring estates, to enable them to tide over the depression of the times'.
This conversation was later the subject of several letters to The Times in which both Hicks-Beach and Clanricarde sought to justify their positions. The Dublin Castle administration continued to urge compromise. One of its files, now at TNA, PRO 30/60/9, notes that 'the present Marquis of Clanricarde had never, from the time of his accession to the estate, resided on or shown any interest in it' and that his dealings with his tenants were 'generally condemned by all the local landlords who look upon him as their worst enemy'. Clanricarde's relations with his tenants deteriorated further. Even his tenants turned to the press to put their case.
It warned that: Tis not the clenched fist to your back now, But the sturdy demand to your face ... Ireland must be at length for the Irish - Our race must at last have fair play.
The Plan of Campaign continued into the next decade and by 1891 was paying out nearly £41,000 annually to maintain evicted tenants. This was unsustainable. By March 1891, most Clanricarde tenants were paying or emigrating. Police intelligence notes on the situation there claim that the former indicated 'a break up of the Plan of Campaign conspiracy' and the latter that 'the evicted tenants were giving up all hope of getting the upper hand on this estate'.
Breaking the power of the landowners
In 1893, the Evicted Tenants Commission reported that between 1879 and 1892, 240 tenants had been evicted from the Clanricarde estate for sums ranging from £5, owed by one John McCormack, to £236 due from Peter Lynam.
Clanricarde continued to resist land reform to the bitter end and the government tried in vain to persuade him to compromise. He wrote to Chief Secretary Balfour in December 1888 defending his actions - 'the western Irish cannot be kept up to their contracts without the liability of eviction'. Balfour became increasingly hostile and, remarkably for a Tory minister, even proposed to Cabinet that he be dispossessed of his Irish estates - 'what right has Clanricarde to be treated better than a lunatic or an orphan'. He told a fellow MP in May 1890:
the whole of our Home Rule controversy has been hampered and embarrassed by having to defend not only the Union but the landlords.
Although Clanricarde fought through the courts to the highest level the compulsory purchase of his Galway estates by the Congested Districts Board, established in 1891 to purchase land for viable smallholdings and to promote local industries, this is what eventually happened in 1915.
In the 30 years following the establishment of the Irish Land Commission 1881, the law was changed to restrict the rights of landlords and to encourage the sale of land to tenants. The British Government that financed land purchase by tenants by means of loans, incentives and, as a last resort, compulsory purchase. Between 1870 and 1909, it has been estimated that 1.3 million acres of land were transferred to some 400,000 new owners. From a situation in 1870 when 80 per cent of the land was held by less than one per cent of the population, by 1916, nearly 65 per cent of the country was in the hands of owner occupiers.
Creators: Aidan Lawes
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