From the Land Wars to the Civil War: A Brief History of Ireland through the experiences of one ordinary Irish family. Part 1

The saga of one rural Irish family of the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth centuries, a tale characterised by Poverty, Servitude, Starvation, Resistance, Evictions, Famine, Workhouse tenure, Imprisonment, Emigration, and Murder during the Land Struggles, the War of Independence and the Civil War.

Volume 1 

The Battle of Magheracloone, 1843
A few months ago I, along with my brother Michael, was asked to be a guest of honour at the unveiling of a commemorative plaque in a rural area of county Monaghan  (Irish = Muineachán = little hill) to celebrate one small almost insignificant and largely forgotten tale that was just one of many thousands of similar incidents that happened in the land struggles between the Anglo-Irish landlords and the rural native tenantry which dominated the politics of nineteenth century Ireland.

The following text was inscribed on the plaque:

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.
The centre of British rule in Ireland, Dublin Castle, was asked to provide troops to protect the agents who were serving notices of eviction to tenants. On June 5th 1843, a bailiff from the Shirley Estate along with a company of troops marched towards the Church of Peter and Paul (this very church) in Magheracloone. The intention was to post a notice of eviction to several tenants in the area on the door of the church. They were met by a large howling and hooting crowd who blocked their path. The troops fixed bayonets and moved forward, only to be met with a shower of stones.
Several of the troops were hit with stones and at the same instant the entire company discharged one round each from their guns into the crowd. The crowd backed off.
The company commander, fearful of a great slaughter, called his troops back to their carriages and they beat a hasty retreat followed all the way by angry remnants of the crowd.
However back on the road in front of the church (amongst the wounded people on the ground) a young servant boy lay dead. Twelve year old Peter Agnew from Lisnaguiveragh Carrickmacross was at service with Owen Smith of Corrybracken.

Peter Agnew was my great great granduncle and it was for this reason that I was invited to speak at the unveiling of a commemorative plague that was the end result of excellent historical research undertaken by Reverend Father Michael Gilsenan.
Father Gilsenan, Michael Smith (my brother) and Ethan (nephew)
This request from the Magheracloone (Irish = Machaire na Cluain = Plain of the Pasture) Heritage group and recent ongoing correspondence with Ed Eccles, a recently discovered distant cousin in New Jersey USA, made me delve further into the history and origins of what became known as the Land Wars, the subsequent struggle for national independence from British imperial rule, and to ascertain the fortunes of my family and my home district of Carrickmacross during this turbulent period.

1830s Ireland: Strife, Poverty and Starvation 
So who was Peter Agnew and why was he working away from home at the tender young age of twelve? Why were there so many violent evictions of tenants in 19th century Ireland? Who were the landlords and how did a tiny elite of people who gave their allegiances to another country come to own the lands of Ireland? Why was Ireland at that time the poorest country in Europe?

An Gorta Mór - The Great Hunger
part of the commemorative Famine sculpture at Custom House Quay Dublin
Two years after Peter’s killing by the British military, Ireland experienced a famine that led to the deaths of over one million and possibly up to one and half million people as well as the emigration of another million, mainly to the North American continent.
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 FamineAn 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.

To get answers to many of the questions mentioned above, we need to view the economic, social and political life of nineteenth century Ireland as the legacy and outcome of the proceeding centuries.

Conquest, Colonisation and Slavery
Cromwellian troops breaching the walls of an Irish town
By the 1840s, Ireland was not only the poorest country in Europe, it was also the most densely populated. The country had been occupied and colonised by invaders from the neighbouring island of Britain since the 12th century. But beginning in the reign of the Tudor royal dynasty during the 16th century, the native Celtic peoples of England’s oldest colony increasingly suffered from what we now call ‘ethic cleansing’ as the indigenous populations were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands, massacred or sent in large numbers as slaves, indentured servants and prisoners to English colonies in the Caribbean, North America and later to Australia. 
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 “mulattoslaves 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.


Cromwellian Desolation of Ireland
The effects on the native Irish population was devastating. During the Cromwellian war period alone, the deliberate burning of crops, the forced mass evictions and removal of populations to the badlands in the West of Ireland, the resultant famine, the slaughter of civilians and the trafficking of the Irish to the British colonies in the Americas saw the elimination of an estimated 600,000 out of a total Irish population of 1,500,000.
It was a policy of extermination
In the following century, during the period 1700 and 1776, it is estimated that, of the approximately 400,000 who arrived in the British North American colonies from the British Isles, approximately 50% were un-free men and women. The British historian Dan Cruickshank stated that Negro slaves often referred at the time to the Irish as having less status than the Afro-American.

Irishwoman Ann Glover-last woman to be hung as a witch in Boston
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.
Mather stated that, "the court could have no answers from her, but in the Irish, which was her native language.” and called her "a scandalous old Irishwoman, very poor, a Roman Catholic and obstinate in idolatry."
In 1988, the Boston City Council declared November 16th “Goody Glover Day” in recognition of the injustice done to an innocent woman by bigoted religious zealots.

Destruction of the Irish Forests
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.

Celtic Spiritual Affinity with Nature
Primogeniture and the privatisation of the Irish countryside carried out by the English invader were alien concepts to the Gael. In Celtic society, land was not owned by individuals or families but was held in trust by the clan or tribe. Each mountain, hill, bog, tree, rock, spring, river and lake had a spiritual essence which those that lived there recognised. Places of worship for the pagan Celts were groves of oak trees rather than huge man-made edifices. The early Irish Christian monks, hermits and saints followed this tradition of respect for the sacredness of Nature. In Celtic Brehon law if a tree was cut down, an honour price had to be paid by the offender.

Penal Laws: Apartheid Ireland
Under the Penal Laws (Irish = Na Péindlíthe) that were enacted in the early 1690s after the victory of King William of Orange over the Irish forces loyal to James II the English Catholic Stuart King, and which remained in force until the last legal remnants were abolished in 1829, Catholics were not allowed to vote, purchase land, openly practice their religion, marry Protestants, hold political elective office, receive an education or to enter professions such as law or commerce. These apartheid laws also applied initially to Protestant dissenters such as Presbyterians.
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
Popular uprisings against oppressive colonial rule occurred from the 17th century through to the early 19th century. Rebels known as Rapparees continued to undertake hit and run attacks against the new settlers and the military operating on their former lands from their hideouts in the bogs and mountains across Ireland. These Rapparees, similiar to the legendary Anglo-Saxon Robin Hood attacks on the Norman lords of Nottingham, became folk heroes to the downtrodden masses. When large scale revolts took place, they were put down with great slaughter. The most significant was the Rebellion of 1798 by republican Protestants and Catholics inspired by the French republican ideals of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity which was defeated by British forces led by two commanders, Lord Cornwallis and General George Lake, who had been involved in the surrender at Yorktown in 1781 to a united American and French army under George Washington during the American War of Independence

'Boolavouge' - Song of the 1798 Rebellion
Click on the image below to hear a version of this popular rebel song by Brian Roebuck

Native Irish: Strangers in their Own Country
The native Irish became strangers in their own land forced to rent small holdings from their colonial masters at exorbitant prices which could be increased at any time. The relationship between landlord and tenant was one of conqueror and conquered. 
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."
   
Absentee Landowning Elite: Living the ‘Good Life’ in England
The majority of the ruling Anglo-Irish and English landowning elite in Ireland, known as the Ascendancy class, were absentees enjoying the high life in their country estates in England, in their palatial mansions in London or on grand tours on the European mainland, a lavish lifestyle made possible by the rents extracted from the poor downtrodden Irish peasantry.
Moyode House, Craughwell, county Galway
Many of these aristocrats became, after the Act of Union was passed in 1800, members of the Houses of Parliament (& cabinet) at Westminster elected by a corrupt system of patronage and wealth. Thus the landed gentry had political as well as economic and social control of Ireland.  They cared little about the conditions of the peasantry, having no paternal loyalty to tenants or to a locality that they rarely visited. Their primary interest was to extract maximum financial returns from their Irish estates.
This they achieved by employing Irish agents who had no scruples in using gangs of thugs to evict tenants when rents were not paid or to clear people off lands to make way for the conversion to pasture for the less troublesome raising of cattle.  Many of the brutal bailiffs and hired hands involved in the evictions were themselves Irish Catholics.

Tenants: People without Rights
Eviction
Except in some parts of Ulster, the tenants had no fixture of residency. Failure to pay meant immediate eviction from their miserable little holdings with no entitlement under law to compensation or appeal.  "Rack Renting" (the raising of rents) was a common occurrence and was practised in order to get rid of unwanted tenants for non-payment.  There were no legal appeals allowed and no mercy shown. No incentive existed for tenants to improve the lands that they lived on. In fact the opposite was the case; a higher commercial return from their rented lands due to a bumper crop growth or extra livestock would mean an increase in rents.
Likewise, the rent would be higher if the tenant had windows on his dwelling; if his door was over a certain height or if he made any type of enhancements or enlargements. Thus any improvements by tenants to their dwellings designed to make life easier for their families were deliberately discouraged and penalised.
The majority of the population were rural laborers, many of whom worked for tenant farmers with larger holdings in return for the rent of a small piece of land to grow food and to build a mud cabin for their family. Known as cottiers, the only nutritious crop that could grow in the poor soils of their small holdings was the potato. In the 1830s, over half of the rural Irish lived in single room hovels made of mud with no chimneys or light. These simple primitive buildings could be erected in a matter of hours.

Potato: A Blessing and a Curse
The poor people’s main source of food was the potato, a highly nutritious plant that could be grown in large quantities on the poor tiny strips of land that was all the cottiers and small tenant farmers possessed to grow their own food.
The potato's availability led to a surge in population. But an over-reliance on one food crop would have tragic consequences for the inhabitants later in the 19th century Ireland.

Carrickmacross and south Monaghan in the mid-19th century
This was the situation in Ireland when my ancestor Peter Agnew was a young boy, the son of a farm labourer with a small unsustainable holding of eight acres. His destiny and that of the majority of the eight million inhabitants of the island was it seemed to endure a lifetime of poverty, servitude, disease, humiliation and injustice.

The Shirleys: Classic Absentee Landlords
The Agnews’ British absentee landlord on the other hand enjoyed a life of wealth, privilege and political power.
Evelyn Philip Shirley (1812-1882) was the largest landowner in county Monaghan with an estate of 26,386 acres in the barony of Farney. His neighbour, the Marquess of Bath, owned 22,761 acres. The origins of the Bath and Shirley estates go back to 1575 when the English Queen Elizabeth 1 granted lands in Monaghan to Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex in recognition for his wars against the ‘rebel’ Irish.  In Celtic society, these lands were not owned by one person or family, but instead were held in shared ownership by the members of the local clans.  As a conqueror, the earl did not recognise the rights of the natives and intended to ‘plant’ his newly acquired lands with settlers brought in from England

Evelyn Philip Shirley, as with his predecessors, spent most of his time at the family’s English residency of Ettington Park (below) at Stratford-on-Avon in the county of Warwickshire. 

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
His father Evelyn John Shirley commissioned in 1826 the construction of a magnificent mansion at Lough Fea to serve as a home for his twice yearly visits. Built in the manner of a college, it contained a Great Hall, chapel and ornamental gardens. He also had built Shirley House, a fine town house in Carrickmacross as a residency for his agent. Shirley probably owned a mansion in London that he could stay in whilst attending parliament at Westminster. Of course, all of these buildings had to be maintained and staffed all year round.

Though based primarily in England with usually a twice yearly visit to Ireland, Evelyn Philip nevertheless was elected in 1841 as a Member of Parliament (MP) to represent county Monaghan at the imperial parliament in Westminster. In these elections, there was no secret ballot and only men of property could vote. 
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.

Evelyn Philip had little interest in the welfare of his Irish tenants. His primary objective was to gain the maximum financial returns possible from his Monaghan lands. To ensure that this objective was realised, the gentry hired men whose profession as agents has become a byword for brutality and tyranny. None more so than Sandy Mitchell, Shirley’s agent from 1829 until 1843.

The Hated Agent
According to Father Smollen, Catholic parish priest of Donaghmoyne ('Estate Agents in Farney: Trench and Mitchell' by L. Mearáin in Clogher Record, vol x, 1979-1981) Mitchell had the rents “…raised fully one-third and in some instances to more, and the bogs (for the extraction of turf as fuel for domestic fires) which from time immemorial were free to the tenants were now rented at from £4 to £8 per acre', and doled out to the tenants in very small lots of from 25 to 40 perches each, with an obligation of taking out at the office each season a ticket for which they paid a certain tariff. If any poor tenant had the misfortune of displeasing Sandy during the year, he was doomed to sit with his family during the long winter nights at a fireless hearth. ... He [Mitchell] insisted on the Authorised Version of the Bible, without note or comment, being read by Catholic children in those schools, a system of instruction which neither the [Roman Catholic] bishop nor clergy could tolerate. The consequence was that the bishop insisted on the children being withdrawn from the schools, while the agent used all manner of persecution against the parents for obeying their bishop...”.
Forced evictions became commonplace.
Mitchell died whilst sitting on the men of property-only Monaghan Grand Jury in the March of 1843. When news of his death reached south Monaghan, “bonfires were lit on every hill-top, expressive of the rejoicement of all Farney at having got rid of so unscrupulous a monster”.
Shirley’s tenants were hopeful that his replacement as agent, William Steuart Trench, would be fairer in his dealings on land and bog rents. Sadly this was not to be.

Shirley's Agent's Rent Office, Carrickmacross

After consulting with the newly arrived Trench for the first time at the agent’s office in Carrickmacross on Friday March 31st, Shirley come out onto the street to be confronted by a large group of angry tenants demanding a reduction in rents due to a significant drop in the prices received for farm produce (grain and cattle) that was used by tenants to pay their rents. Taken by surprise, he hastily consented to a meeting on Monday (April 3rd) when he promised that he would personally listen to the complaints of the aggrieved peasantry. However after the crowd dispersed, he immediately changed his mind, confirmed to Trench that no rent reduction would take place and put up placards cancelling the meeting with the tenantry.  But it was too late. Word had already spread like wildlife that a rent reduction would be announced. It was estimated by Trench that at least ten thousand people turned up including many tenants from the Bath estate. However Shirley, frightened by the size of the crowd, decided to hide inside his town house. 
 
Shirley Lane facing towards the Agent's office. 10,000 tenants turned up there on April 3, 1843

He instructed Trench to inform the tenants that would there be no relief and that they could give up their land if they so wished. According to some sources Trench stated that“he would collect the rents at the point of the bayonet if necessary.”   The angry tenants grabbed the agent, roughed him up and forcibly carried him off to the Lough Fea mansion where they expected Shirley was residing. With no landlord coming out to talk to them at the country demesne, only the intervention it seems of a Catholic priest Father Keelaghan saved Trench from being seriously hurt and secured his release.
In his biographical book ‘Realities of Irish Life’ which gives a fascinating account of his life as a landlord and landlord agent in Ireland during the period 1843-1868, Trench does not acknowledge Keelagan’s assistance but credits his salvation to his own personal courage and that of some brave loyal tenants. But in fact only a member of the Catholic clergy at that time could have persuaded such a large angry poverty-stricken and starving mass of people to peacefully release an agent of a landlord that had shown them so little compassion and had threatened them with violence.

Privitisation of Bogs
Turf in Monivea Bog, Galway. July 2013
Shirley continued though to demand the immediate payment of the exorbitant land rents, refused to abolish the charge on extracting turf from the bogs or on lime (used as a fertiliser). Both of these local natural resources had since time immemorial being free commodities to the native population. The bogs were commonage, the turf being the fuel that feed the fires of the Irish homesteads in the cold winters.  But the landlord privatized the bogs and imprisoned those who ‘trespassed’. 

Military Force against Unarmed Tenants
Troops were stationed in Carrickmacross to quell any disturbances and an array of infamous series of law enforcers and thugs were organised by Trench to seize tenants’ livestock and crops; to evict them from their holdings; to have them arrested and to destroy their homes. The infamous Shirley’s Crow Bar Brigade broke down the roofs and oftentimes the walls of the evicted tenants so that they could not be re-occupied at some later stage. With no home and no source of income, many of these destitute families, estimated at three million people across Ireland in the early 1840s, starved or were forced to apply for residency in the dreaded Workhouses, one hundred and thirty of which were  built in Ireland from 1841 to 1843.

The unarmed populace fought back as best they could. 
On April 25th 1843, Daniel O'Connell (above), the Irish political leader and campaigner for Catholic Emancipation and the Repeal of the Union (to Britain), came to Carrickmacross to support the tenants' campaign.  Over 20,000 people turned up to welcome the man known as the Liberator and the first Catholic member of the parliament of Westminster of the modern era.

The peasantry refused en-masse to pay rents until reductions were given and their other grievances were met.

Guerrilla Tactics: The Molly Maguires
Groups of young male tenants with blackened faces and dressed up in female clothing issued warning letters to the agents of Lord Shirley threatening violence should they attempt to evict tenants for non-payment of rents. If they failed to heed these threats, many a bailiff and their hired hands across Ireland were ambushed as they went about their cruel duties. Affectionately known as Molly (a popular Irish female name) Maguires, these 'direct action' defenders of the poor have become revered in song and verse as courageous folk heroes.

Shirley sent his bailiffs out with large groups of armed police to seize the cattle of recalcitrant tenants and remove them to the pound in Carrickmacross. In an ironic twist of fate the site on which this holding yard once stood and that today is still known as The Pound, is the property of cousins of mine, direct descendants of the Peter Agnew that was shot in 1843.
However the efforts of these armed expeditions into the countryside largely proved futile. According to Trench, the people would watch the progress of this slow moving military force from the top of the numerous hills that dot the landscape of south Monaghan and would give ample warning to those in the area of the lowlands under threat so they could move and hide their livestock. The column of police and bailiffs would be shouted and jeered at all along their journey by the watching crowds on the hills.

To further counter the guerrilla tactics of the peasantry Shirley, as well as bringing in additional military reinforcements, successfully applied to the law courts in Dublin for new eviction bills which would not have to be served personally on the tenant but could instead be posted in certain public venues such as places of worship with a list of the names of the tenants to be ejected.

On June 5th armed with these new bills, bailiffs and troops left Carrickmacross to nail the eviction notices on the doors of Catholic churches in the surrounding countryside.

Mass Unarmed Mobilisation Against Tyranny
However the local population mobilised en masse to protect their families, friends and neighbours.
Huge crowds of all ages and of both sexes stood together in front of the chapels at Corduff (Irish= An Chorr Dubh = the rounded black hollow or hill), Corgreegagh (Irish = An Chorrghráig = the cattle enclosure at the rounded hollow or hill) and at Rockchapel to block entry to the armed men on horseback and in carriages. After securing additional men from the town of Kingscourt, the armed force led by a Captain Barry proceeded to the church of Peter and Paul at Magheracloone. There they were met by an even bigger crowd. With fixed bayonets, the military moved towards the church. When stones were thrown, a volley of shots were fired low into the crowd, wounding some of the protestors and killing outright Peter Agnew. When the unarmed country folk who initially dispersed re-grouped in front of the church and rushed forward Captain Barry, fearing that his unit would be overwhelmed and annihilated, ordered a hasty retreat to the safety of Carrickmacross.

Though the victim was only a young lad of twelve years of age, he was already working as a farmhand away from home in Corrybracken (Irish = Corr Bhreacáin = Rounded Hollow of the Tartan) trying to earn money for his poverty stricken family.
According to the documents sent to me by the excellent Carrickmacross Workhouse restoration committee, that same evening Peter’s body was removed from Magheracloone church “…via the chapel road, past the farm of his employer (Smith) on the left, as it made its way up Corrybracken Hill, past the fort, across the coal-pit road, up the Lurgans (Irish = An Lorgain – long low ridge) Hill to Mullanarry (Irish = mullach = hilltop), left across the Shercock Road to the Aghalile (Irish = Áth Ó Líolaigh = Ford of Ó Líolaigh ) Road, to the family home in the townland of Lisnaguiveragh (Irish = Lios na gCuibhreach = Fort of the Bond)."
View from Lurgans' Hill towards Magheracloone
Abandoned house, Mullinary
It is surreal that the cortege passed the site of my parental home on Lurgan’s Hill, a house that we only moved into three years ago. 
Old Farm buildings, Aghalile
In memory of this sombre occasion of 1843, I myself travelled the same journey earlier this month.
A botharín (road) in Lisnaguiveragh today
An inquest jury of twelve men examined the body in Lisnaguiveragh. "The funeral took place immediately after the inspection of the body, and was one of the largest (if not the largest) ever seen in this part of the country, notwithstanding the tempestuous state of the weather”.
Magheross Church
Peter was buried in an unmarked grave beside the ancient ruins of Magheross church, a burial ground at the time for both Protestants and Catholics.

On June 8th the coroner’s inquest jury listened to first-hand accounts from witnesses or a reading of their statements.
The Dublin Evening Post reporter present at the inquest wrote that the first witness Francis Marron stated "…the gentleman who was with Captain Barry had a paper in this hand: he appeared to be reading, but witness did not hear him; the police began to stick the people with their bayonets, and the horse policeman with his sword; they had their bayonets fixed from the time they came into his sight; the moment they began to attack the people, the crowds took to the fields as fast as they could; he saw Captain Barry take out a pistol from his breast and fire after the crowd; they were running in the direction of the chapel when they fired…”
The final verdict by the jury in the coroner’s court included the following, "it has not been sufficiently proved to us, that at the time of firing, the party of constabulary were in imminent risk of their lives and that we have no proof who fired the identical shot which caused his death”.

Humiliation and Starvation of Patrick Agnew and family
The death of his son brought only more distress to Patrick Agnew and his family. Already poverty stricken, he had to borrow money to supplement whatever savings he had in order to pay for the cost of Peter’s funeral.  The subsequent loss of his farm animals (pigs) to disease and, unable to plant a crop, meant that he had no means to pay the rent to Shirley.  With his family overcome with illness and hunger, a series of letters written (probably by a sympathetic lawyer) to the landlord’s agent appealing for clemency fell on deaf ears.

Below is one of these letters:

To William Steuart Trench Esq. (Shirley Estate Land Agent)
           The Petition of Patrick Agnew of Lisnaguiveragh,
           Humbly Sheweth,
                      That your petitioner most Respectfully begs leave to advert to a Petition which he handed to your Honour in February last in which he stated part of the many grievances which have rendered him a monument of misery since. He stated also that he was the father of the unfortunate Peter Agnew who was shot by the police at Magheracloone on the 5th of June last, whose death has filled the measure of his calamities, accompanied by Poverty, nakedness and all species of destitution.
           Besides the above, a malignant distemper carried off his pigs and a lingering painful illnefs seized all his family, who had not a pound of woolen day or night covering, a drop of milk or the smallest comfort in human life, till the whole family are so overwhelmed with Distrefs and poverty that they should rather prefer death than life -------Together with all his misery he is in arrears of Rent, without hopes of being able to retrieve as he could not Crop his ground this season. lie therefore submits all his Distrefs to your humanity, and throws himself entirely on your clemency, beseeching you for love of God to visit his place and ascertain the above facts, and afterwards dispose of himself, his family and place as your own Humanity shall dictate.
                                                         And he will ever pray
                                                             Patrick Agnew
                                                           May, 23rd. 1844

The words are too legalistic, too formal and servile to be written by a poor tenant farmer. Patrick probably could not read or write in English and as with most of the population used Irish as his everyday language. But I am sure that these supplicant words broke the heart and spirit of Patrick as he had them read out to him by the lawyer friend. After all, he was writing a letter begging for mercy and help from the man ultimately responsible for the death of his son. But he felt that he had no choice if he was to save the rest of his family.

According to local folklore, William Trench did not forget or ever forgive those who participated in the land campaigns against landlords. For years afterwards, those who had campaigned for reductions in rents were denied any clemency and evicted when the opportunity arose.
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
Between 1845 and 1849, the Agnew families living in Lisnaguiveragagh disappeared. In the years of the Great Famine, many of them probably died from starvation and disease. Evictions dramatically increased during the Famine years as landlords mercilessly cleared the lands of the poor starving tenants unable to pay rents. Patrick Agnew and his family were thrown onto the roadside in 1849.
With nowhere else to go it seems probable that Patrick and those of his children that were still alive ended up in the dreaded Workhouse in Carrickmacross.
Written records on the inmates of the Irish workhouses during this period are very sketchy as these ‘jails’ were overwhelmed with a deluge of starving people seeking salvation from certain death. Built in 1843 to accommodate 500, by 1851 approximately 2,000 were crammed inside the Carrick workhouse. To gain admittance, applicants had to forfeit whatever lands they owned. In return, they were treated like prisoners in a 20th century concentration camp. Families were separated, with men, women, boys and girls forced to live in separate Spartan dormitories. The food was basic and unvaried, the work hard, the buildings cold and the regime harsh. The Irish referred to the workhouse as ‘Teach na mBocht’ (Poor House).
Carrickmacross Workhouse today
Between the years 1844 and 1851, the death rate in the overcrowded 162 workhouses was extremely high. 285,765 people died, of whom 138,576 were of children under the age of 15 (source: Northern Standard, July 11th 2013).
On July 14th 2013, I attended a religious blessing by the local Catholic parish priest of a field behind the Carrickmacross Workhouse that was used as a mass burial site during the Famine era. No grave stones or memorial marked this site, the individuals buried there remain unknown. But there is no doubt that the remains of the Agnews and others of my ancestors lie in his hallowed ground.
The site was largely forgotten about until uncovered recently by the herculean efforts of the volunteer workhouse restoration committee.
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.
 
There was a belief common amongst the ruling Victorian aristocratic and middle classes that whatever calamities fell on the native Irish was a punishment from God for their wickedness, even though it was the cruelty, wastefulness, greed and lack of investment of the imperial landlord elite that was responsible. With a regime that practised  laissez faire (leave alone) economics and unhindered free trade, state intervention was limited.


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
But at least one of the Agnews survived this terrible period in Irish history.
Thomas, son of Patrick and a younger brother of Peter, married an Eliza Eccles in 1876 or 1877. They lived in the townland of Beagh (Irish = An Bheitheach = Birch Tree) which adjoins the Agnews' former townland of Lisnaguiveragagh and in which the Agnews had a tiny plot of land in the 1827 census of the Shirley estate.  Thomas was a farm labourer. Eliza came from a family of milliners, possibly of the Protestant faith. that lived at the nearby Creevy Lake (Irish = Lough An Chraobhaigh = The Lake of Craobhach).  
Creevy Lough
Mill owners and operators would of course be higher up the social scale than hired farmhands. The Eccles came originally to Ireland as colonists from Scotland or northern England colonists during the Plantation of Ulster of the 17th century. The 'Creevy Lake' Eccles possibly moved into the district during the 1820s from county Armagh or north Monaghan at the behest of the Shirleys to establish or manage a water-based mill for the grinding of locally produced corn to make flour for bread.
In spite of the presence of religious strife over many centuries, there was always intermarriage between the different Christian faiths in Ireland at grassroots level. Some Presbyterian rural communities in Ulster spoke Irish as their native tongue and even continued to do so when they emigrated to British Canada. Furthermore, many of the great struggles for civil rights, democracy and independence from England were led by enlightened Protestants such as Wolfe Tone, Napper Tandy, Edward Fitzgerald and Charles Stuart Parnell. 
According to family lore, Eliza fell in love with a destitute Thomas. They had six children.

However Eliza and Thomas were also to suffer hardship, eviction and even imprisonment as the land wars gathered momentum in the 1880s.
But that is another chapter in this story of my family

Origins: Agnews
The Agnews are an ancient Gaelic family originally known during the Medieval  period as O'Gnimh, hereditary poets or bards of the O’Neills of Clanaboy.


15th Century Ulster
The name was later anglicised to Agnew.
It is accepted by local historians and family tradition that our branch of the Agnews moved from the neighbouring county of Armagh sometime in the early part of the 19th century to settle in the townland of Lisnaguiveragagh in county Monaghan. They may have wandered south looking for work opportunities as farm labourers on the huge landed estates, part of the great mass of landless rural poor.

Carrickmacross: A Plantation Town characterised by the Symbols of Colonial Control and Repression
Site of Essex Castle, later the office & residencey of Lord Bath's agent. From 1885, it functioned as St. Louis Convent school
Gaelic Origins
The name Carrickmacross is a misspelling of the Irish wording ‘Carraig Mhachaire Rois’ meaning the rock on the wooden plain.
One can clearly see today that the centre of the modern town is located on a great rocky upland that is surrounded by a plain of lakes, low lying fields and small hills known as Drumlins (little hills in Irish) now sadly stripped of the ancient woods referred to in the name. 
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).
However one can still visualise what the landscape must have looked like in Gaelic times by looking out from the Lurgan's hill onto the tree-covered drumlins of the Shirley demesne (photo below). 


Overlooking wooded drumlin of Shirley demesne 2013
A small Gaelic settlement clan existed in the locality during the medieval period at a fort of the McMahon clan on Lurgan's hill(where my family live). But it was not until after the building of a castle in 1630 by the third Earl of Essex  on what is now the Louis Convent that a town started to form.

But it was only with the active involvement of the Bath and Shirley families, inheritors of the Essex estate under English law and the largest landowners in south Monaghan, that from the middle of the eighteenth century the town took on the fine shape and street structure that we still have today. The main street was the dividing line between the properties of the two landed estates.

Rural Victorian Mercantile Opulence
Market Square (built 1861), Carrickmacross
The two families worked together to develop Carrickmacross into the main market and town of southern Monaghan. 
Merchants and artisans were settled in the town, many brought in from England and Wales. 

Weymouth Cottages
Gothic style 'Weymouth Cottages' built in 1871 for workers of the Bath landed estate.
Attractive stone dwelling cottages, multi-floor commercial buildings with street level shops, schools and religious place of worships were constructed to cater for their social, commercial and spiritual needs.
Markey's Bar wih 19th century horse-drawn carriage yard entrance on right
These magnificent buildings still define the modern townscape of Carrickmacross.
Main Street, Carrickmacross

Shirley Arms Hotel

This impressive hotel was built in 1831 to serve as a hostelry for coaches traveling on the Dublin to Derry route. Coaches were bought to a large yard at the back of the hotel where there was stabling and fodder for the horses as well as a blacksmithy. The heraldic Coat-of-Arms of the Shirley Family is located over the front door.

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



 
Methodist Church
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
When Protestantism became the state religion of England in the middle of the 16th century, the Catholic church property in Ireland was put into the ownership of the new Anglican church including the local (original) church of St. Finbarr's in Magheross.
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.
The presence of a Police Barracks, Jail, Courthouse, Gallows' Hill, Workhouse, Fever (disease) hospital, Toll house (payment to Bath and Shirley on all livestock sold in the town) and The Pound (for the holding of livestock taken from poor tenants by the Anglo-Irish landowners) are a legacy of a harsh imperial rule. It was only with Catholic emancipation in 1829, that resulted from a mass mobilisation of the majority Irish Catholic population by Daniel O’Connell, that the power of the tiny Anglo-Irish Ascendancy elite began to be gradually eroded.   

The Bridewell - Carrickmacross Jail
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.

Court House
Courthouse. Built 1884
Gallow's Hill
Gallows Hill, looking down on the Courthouse and Shirley Arms Hotel
Behind and to the side of the courthouse is the appropriately named Gallow's Hill, where convicted prisoners were hanged until death.  

Toll House
All those who wanted to sell produce in Carrickmacross had to pay a fee to the Shirley and Bath landlords, the co-holders of the market rights for the town.
These fees were paid to the officials working at the Toll House (above) located at Market Square. The fleur-de-lys heraldic coat of arms at each gable end of the building shows that the Baths and Shirleys trace their ancestry back to the 12th century Angevin (House of Anjou) kings of England.  

Workhouse

Police Barracks
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. 


Fever Hospital
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.


Pound
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)

'Barn' church, Magheracloone 
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.

Sources
Sean O'Callaghan, "To Hell or Barbados" 
John Martin, "The Irish Slave Trade, The Forgotten White Slaves"
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Harry Ades, “The Famine”
Tim Pat Coogan, "The Famine Plot" 
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 
 

1 comment:

Judi Binks said...

I really enjoyed reading your account. My people were the McMahons of Coolfore, Greaghdrumneesk and also of Lisnaguiveragh .
Thank you.
Judi Binks