In 1843 the tenants on the Shirley estate, of which the parish of Magheracloone was a part, refused to pay their rents until their complaints had been addressed by the landlord. Attempts by the bailiffs to seize cattle or goods from the tenants who would not pay were stopped by the activities of the famed ‘Molly Maguires’. These bands of young men dressed up in women’s clothing with their faces blackened, would ambush and beat up the agents of landlords who attempted to confiscate the goods of the poverty stricken tenants.
|Father Gilsenan, Michael Smith (my brother) and Ethan (nephew)|
|part of the commemorative Famine sculpture at Custom House Quay Dublin|
But it is worth noting that incidents of mass starvation had occurred in many districts across Ireland during the late eighteenth century and the early decades of the nineteenth century. The Gaelic language version of the Great Famine – An Gorta Mór (The Big Hunger) sums up best the reality of the time, as the period 1845-50 witnessed the most extensive period of starvation in the first half of the nineteenth century. Furthermore, it was characterised by hunger amongst the general population rather than a failure of a food harvest as wheat and other tillage crops as well as livestock were still being exported from Ireland to Britain and its colonies by a well-fed aristocracy and their agents who continued to enjoy their luxurious dance balls and hunts whilst the Irish peasantry starved to death. In the worst year of the Famine, known as Black ’47, it is estimated that 4,000 ships laden with food exports left Irish shores for Britain.
|Cromwellian troops breaching the walls of an Irish town|
The policy of Queen Elizabeth's goverrnment can be deduced from the following comment of Arthur Chichester, the English Viceroy in Ireland in 1601 when he stated:
"I have often said, and written, it is Famine which must consume [the Irish]; our swords and other endeavours work not that speedy effect which is expected for their overthrow."
Territorial expansion, enslavement and mass butchery of native populations and colonisation extenuated by racial and religious differences was a characteristic of not just England but many other European and Asian imperial powers during this period of history.
Irish Slaves in the Americas
Between 1652-1656, after the victory of Oliver Cromwell and his English Puritan army over the Irish rebels, research by historian Sean O'Callaghan for his book "To Hell or Barbados" shows over 50,000 Irish mainly women and children were sent as slaves to work in the sugar plantations and brothels of Barbados and other islands in the British West Indies. John Martin of the Montreal-based Center for Research and Globalization in his recent study entitled The Irish Slave Trade, The Forgotten White Slaves, estimates that during the 1650s "over 100,000 Irish children between the ages of 10 and 14 were taken from their parents and sold as slaves in the West Indies, Virginia and New England. In 1656, Cromwell ordered that 2,000 Irish children be taken to Jamaica and sold as slaves to English settlers."
But as Martin points out, the trafficking of the Irish began even before Cromwell "...when James I sold 30,000 Irish prisoners as slaves to the New World. His Proclamation of 1625 required Irish political prisoners be sent overseas and sold to English settlers in the West Indies. By the mid 1600s, the Irish were the main slaves sold to Antigua and Montserrat. At that time, 70 percent of the total population of Montserrat were Irish slaves...Ireland quickly became the biggest source of human livestock for English merchants. The majority of the early slaves to the New World were actually white.”
Interestingly, the English settlers began to breed Irish females with African men to produce “mulatto” slaves which would get a better price at the markets. This practice of interbreeding Irish women with black slaves was so widespread that, in 1681, legislation was passed “forbidding the practice of mating Irish slave women to African slave men for the purpose of producing slaves for sale.” Hence the practice was stopped only because it interfered with the profits of the large slave transport companies.
It was a policy of extermination.
One of the most well known of these Irish slaves and servants in the Americas was Goody Ann Glover, the last woman to be hanged as a witch in Boston. She and her husband had been sent as slaves in the 1650s to Barbados. The husband was put to death on the island as a result of his refusal to renounce his Catholic religion. By the early 1680s, Goody (Goodwife) Ann and her daughter were in Boston working as housekeepers in the Goodwin family. She was though accused of witchcraft after four of the Goodwin children fell ill. Her Puritan accusers included Reverend Cotton Mather who later played a key role in the Salem Witch Trials. During her trial, Ann defiantly refused to speak in English and communicated only in Irish, her native language.
Much of the conquered lands taken from the native Irish were handed over by the British crown to loyal Protestant settlers that arrived from England and Scotland. The great forests that covered huge swathes of the Irish countryside, forming an integral part of the Celtic psyche and way of life, were extensively cut down in the 17th and 18th centuries by get-rich quick merchants and gangsters who flooded into the country. The timber extracted was used to build ships for the British navy, for stave pipe production and as fuel for the iron smelting industry. Ireland became after Iceland and Malta the least forested country in Europe. The native wild fauna that inhabited these forests such as the wolf (Irish = mac tíre = son of the land), the capercaillie (Irish = capall coille = horse of the wood) bird, the red squirrel (re-introduced in the 1800s), the boar (Irish = torc) and the Great Spotted Woodpecker (Irish = snagan daraich = little creeping one of the Oak tree) were hunted to extinction or died out as a result of the disappearance of their woodland habitats.
The forests never regenerated as herds of sheep brought in by the settlers ate the tree saplings.
The result was that by 1870, 97% of the land of Ireland was divided into huge estates owned by a tiny largely Protestant (of the Anglican communion) imperial aristocracy with 33.7% in the hands of 302 individuals and approximately 50% owned by 705 families. The population then was 6.5 millions.
The Catholic and Presbyterian rural population were also forced to make payments, equivalent to one tenth of the income from their agricultural produce, to the minority Anglican Church (Church of Ireland). These compulsory tithes only ended in 1869.
|1798 Irish Rebel Pikeman|
Click on the image below to hear a version of this popular rebel song by Brian Roebuck
Native Irish: Strangers in their Own Country
For centuries, the English justified their conquest and colonisation by portraying the Irish as unworthy occupants of the island, people who were ogres and ignorant wild savages compared to the civilized God-fearing Christian British.
Tim Pat Coogan quotes in his authoritative book on the Irish Famine ('The Famine Plot') a speech made in 1836 by Benjamin Disraeli, the future British Prime Minister, which perfectly summaries the racial antipathy towards the native Irish, "The Irish hate our order, our civilizations, our enterprising industry, our pure religion. This wild, reckless, indolent, uncertain and superstitious race have no sympathy with the English character...Their history describes an unbroken circle of bigotry and blood."
Well before the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of the Species (1859) that was subsequently used by some European imperialists as a scientific basis for their views on racial superiority and supremacy, the Irish were already portrayed as monkeys and apes as shown in this 1848 cartoon from the popular Punch magazine.
The Cambridge historian Charles Kingsley, who accompanied Queen Victoria on her visit to Ireland in 1860 wrote: "I am daunted by the human chimpanzees I saw along that 100 miles of horrible country. I don't believe they are our fault... But to see white chimpanzees is dreadful; if they were black, one would not feel it so much."
|Moyode House, Craughwell, county Galway|
Shirley's fellow south Monaghan landlord, the Marquess of Bath, enjoyed an even more regal lifestyle at his manorial residency of Longleat in Wiltshire, England.
|Longleat, home of the Marquess of Bath|
In the early 1830s, the electorate comprised 37,000 in an Ireland that had a population of over 7 millions. As with his father Evelyn John (1788-1856) he alternated his time as a Monaghan MP, with being an MP for Warwickshire South in England. Likewise, both father and son served at different times as High Sheriffs of Monaghan and of Warwickshire. The Shirleys were thus classic examples of how the economic, political and judicial powers in colonial Ireland and to a lesser degree in mainland Britain up until the early 20th century was concentrated in the hands of a small self-perpetuating landowning dynastic elite.
Forced evictions became commonplace.
Shirley's Agent's Rent Office, Carrickmacross
|Shirley Lane facing towards the Agent's office. 10,000 tenants turned up there on April 3, 1843|
|Turf in Monivea Bog, Galway. July 2013|
|View from Lurgans' Hill towards Magheracloone|
|Abandoned house, Mullinary|
|Old Farm buildings, Aghalile|
Today, his grave lies broken at St. Patrick's Church in Donaghmoyne a few miles from Carrickmacross, a sure sign of the hostility still felt towards him by the inhabitants of south Monaghan.
|The Broken Celtic Cross at the grave of William Steuart Trench, Donaghmoyne|
|Carrickmacross Workhouse today|
Earl Grey, British Secretary of State for the colonies, introduced the Pauper Immigration Scheme that involved the transportation of female orphans living in Irish workhouses to British overseas colonies where there was an imbalances of the sexes. According to the Sydney Living Museum, "Grey's vision was twofold: youthful lives spared of misery and the ex-convict colonies enriched with hardy, humble, fertile females.”
Between October 1948 and August 1850, over 4,000 teenagers from the workhouses were sent to Sydney in New South Wales to become servants and wives to the settlers. Research by the Carrickmacross Workhouse committee research has uncovered the names of 19 of the 38 orphan girls who were shipped to Australia during this period. Some of these young females may have been my relations.
Charles Trevelyan, head of the colonial administration for famine relief in Ireland and later knighted by Queen Victoria for his services during this period, summarised best the religious, racial and economic philisophy of the British Empire towards the Irish when he said, "The judgement of God sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson, that calamity must not be too much mitigated. …The real evil with which we have to contend is not the physical evil of the Famine, but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the people."
The monarchy's chief economist, Nassau Senior went even further: ''[existing policies] will not kill more than one million Irish in 1848 and that will scarcely be enough to do much good.''
The end result of this doctrinal British policy was that one million and possibly up to one and half million (population statistics were patchy) people may have died between 1845 to 1850.
Why no mass Insurrection during Famine?
Yet amazingly no mass countrywide insurrection occurred during these terrible years. In spite of the arrival of an additional 20,000 troops from Britain, it still remains somewhat of a mystery why none occurred. It may have been partly due to the control exerted by a very conservative Catholic Church hierarchy over the native population. Just as with the colonial administration, many of the bishops feared a populist armed revolt that could have republican, nationalist, democratic and revolutionary overtones similar to what was happening in contemporary Italy where in 1848 Pope Pius IX fled Rome in advance of the arrival of Giuseppe Garibaldi's (photo) nationalist army.
Fields of Athenry: Song of the Irish Famine
Click on the image (left) to hear one of the most popular songs on the theme of the rebellion and the Great Famine sung by Paddy Reilly and a member of the internationally renowned band The Dubliners.
Fields of Athenry was written by Pete St. John and is sung everywhere across the world where Irish gather. It has become an anthem of Glasgow Celtic soccer club (founded by Irish working in 19th century Glasgow) and of Liverpool Football Club (with different words).
Eliza Eccles- The Miller's Daughter
|Site of Essex Castle, later the office & residencey of Lord Bath's agent. From 1885, it functioned as St. Louis Convent school|
|St. Finbarr's Church of Ireland with St. Louis convent in the background|
The rock outcrop is most obvious at the site of St. Finbarr’s Church and St. Louis Convent (formerly Essex Castle), located at the southern end of the main street (see photo above).
|Overlooking wooded drumlin of Shirley demesne 2013|
Rural Victorian Mercantile Opulence
|Market Square (built 1861), Carrickmacross|
Merchants and artisans were settled in the town, many brought in from England and Wales.
|Gothic style 'Weymouth Cottages' built in 1871 for workers of the Bath landed estate.|
|Markey's Bar wih 19th century horse-drawn carriage yard entrance on right|
|Main Street, Carrickmacross|
Shirley Arms Hotel
Grammar School (site)
Behind the horse and carriage entrance (on Main Street) was the site of the former Viscount Weymouth Grammer School. This Church of Ireland (Anglican) secondary school was opened in 1711 in the former residency of the Bishop of Clogher. Rebuilt by the Marquess of Bath in the 1830s, it closed in 1955.
The school buildings were later demolished and the grounds were converted into a carpark.
Church of Ireland (Anglican) Primary School
This fine sandstone building built in 1838 was the former Protestant primary school. Located directly across the road from the St. Louis Convent (Essex Castle) it became a Gaelscoil (Irish speaking) national school in the 1990s. Today it serves as a commercial arts and crafts centre.
Church of Ireland (Anglican) Rector's House
Built as a Methodist chapel circa 1870. By 1925, the Methodist community was so small that it became instead a Presbyterian place of worship.
St. Finbarr's Church of Ireland
St. Finbarr's (Anglican) Church of Ireland dominates the southern end of the town. Located on an elevated site (the rock that gives Carrick (Carraig) its name) it was built between 1775-1779 when the population of the town was largely Anglican.
18th Century Catholic place of worship, Lurgan's hill
|Ruins of Catholic Mass House, Lurgans|
For most of the next two centuries, Catholics would clandestinely hold their religious services in fields, caves and private houses. With the partial ending of the Penal Laws from the mid 18th century onwards, Catholics were gradually allowed to practice their religion openly by the authorities. In 1775, the 3rd Viscount Weymouth (from 1789 known as the 1st Marquess of Bath) granted permission for the construction of a small place of worship on the Lurgan Hill. It was probably a thatched building. Little remains of it today.
It is located across the road from my parents' house.
St. Patrick's Church of Ireland (Anglican), Donoghmoyne
The church grounds contains the grave of William Stueart Trench. Though the building is now abandoned, it is thankfully undergoing renovation.
Abandoned Farm, Drumgeeny, near Lattylanigan, Carrickmacross
Edifices of Death and Repression
But it is the built structures that symbolise control and oppression that clearly identify the town as a colonial settlement surrounded by a restless indigenous population.
It is said that there is a tunnel connecting the Jail to the Courthouse built to counter the threat of rescue attempts by friends of the prisoners.
|Gallows Hill, looking down on the Courthouse and Shirley Arms Hotel|
The former barracks of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) is now a Garda Síochána (Irish = Peace Guards) station. During the British period, the police buildings were always referred to as a 'barracks' thereby alluding to a military presence rather than a civilian law and order enforcement agency.
Built in 1841, fever hospitals were established to care for the diseased in the locality and prevent the spread of infection in the homes of the poor.
Fevers such as cholera, scarlet and particularly typhus were common in the mid nineteenth century.
Located at the junction of Shercock Road and Mullinary Cross, the pound was an enclosed yard and sheds built by the Shirleys in the early 1800s to hold cattle and other livestock seized by his bailiffs from tenants unable to pay rents. In the early 1900s, it was owned by a Patrick McGeough who set up a carpentry business. He married Margaret Agnew, grand niece of the murdered Peter Agnew. Margaret was daughter of Thomas and Eliza (neé Eecles) Agnew and my grand aunt.
|'The Pound' 1920s, Patrick and Margaret MeGeough family & my grandfather Peter Agnew(2nd left)|
The Church of Peter and Paul where the Battle of Magheracloone took place was built in 1826. As the Penal Laws started to be relaxed from the late 18th century, Catholics were granted permission in some areas to build modest size places of worship. Known as 'Barn' churches, they were often thatched and were used also at harvest time for the threshing and the storing of corn.
The Magheracloone church is a good example of this type of building that was common until Catholic Emancipation was achieved in 1829 when more imposing architectural structures became the norm. Only a handful of these Barn chapels are still in existence today.
Sean O'Callaghan, "To Hell or Barbados"
John Martin, "The Irish Slave Trade, The Forgotten White Slaves"
L. Mearáin in Clogher Record, vol x, 1979-1981, "Estate Agents in Farney: Trench and Mitchell"
William Steuart Trench, "Realities of Irish Life"
Maghercloone Heritage Group
Carrickmacross Workhouse Committee