Hi, it is the boy from Barrystown. As I am pressed for time I will dispense with a recital of my greatness—check a previous Blog. I remain the most devious and wily of them all; that wily boy from beside the mine pits…The world well knows of my greatness; if I stepped off at any foreign airport, they would inevitably observe that this man was the born historical genius from Barrystown, ever in adulation.
The People on the 31st of August 1881 devoted a full page to a dramatic piece of Land League activity on the farm of the evicted Mrs O’Hanlon-Walsh at Knocktartan on the previous Monday: there were fifteen hundred harvesters there to harvest her crop of corn. The reporter outlined the history of the dispute—not for Co. Wexford readers who well knew it—but for readers in other parts of Ireland, in England, the colonies and America; the press was becoming a global influence:
“Let me state then for the information of all concerned that the tenant of the Knocktartan farm is Widow Walsh, mother of Rev. David Walsh C. C., Davitt Hall, Templetown, who feeling that the Government valuation of her farm was a full, in fact an ample rent for her land, considering the fact that she and her family had some title to part of the fruits of their labour, tendered said valuation to her landlord in payment of her rent.”
Rev. Davey O’Hanlon-Walsh re-named places after Land League icons—such as Michael Davitt; Mrs Walsh was offering Griffith’s Valuation—to a landlord a derisory rent.
“Her landlord is Mr Tottenham of New Ross, or rather of Ballycurry, Co. Wicklow, whose agent for this property is Mr Boyd of Chilcomb…the answer returned to the proposal was a writ in the hands of the sheriff, who accompanied by a posse of police and Emergency bailiffs, proceeded to execute upon the Widow Walsh that sentence, which the Premier has so appositely linked to a sentence of death—Eviction.”
The Liberal Prime Minister of Great Britain, Mr Herbert Gladstone, abhorred eviction. In fact there was not an absolute consequence of death on eviction: evicted people had a legal right to seek accommodation in the Workhouse—not exactly a four star hotel. I am not really sure if the Widow Walsh acted with prudence and common sense—the outcome for her was something like out of an eighteenth century gothic novel:–
“The sheriff, that agent of landlord devastation, attended by the Landlord’s Irish army, the police and his anonymous satellites, the bailiffs came and took possession of the house and the Widow Walsh and her family were huddled out on the roadside. The Emergency men and the police now “hold this house for our lord, the King” but a gallant little Land League mare, whom sheriff, nor bailiff, nor devil nor Dane could drive over the ditch, still loyally holds possession of the farm for the Widow Walsh, of Knocktartan. Having been put out of her dwelling house, Mrs Walsh fitted up one of her out-offices for temporary possession for herself and her family, so that the landlord hold possession holds possession only of the house, whilst the “bawn” in which the dwelling house is situated and the farm adjoining remains in the possession of the tenant. Five Emergency men are guarding the house; several policemen are guarding the Emergency men—and a Land League sergeant who patrols the bawn, takes care, aye right good care, that the devils inside get no more than their due, so that the police are treated with a certain amount of consideration—that is they are allowed water for their own particular use, but not to be consumed on the Emergency premises fearing a transfer, the Emergency fellows are shut off from communication with the outside world unless through the medium of the police….the Land League sergeant patrols the bawn at night…..He is a fine strapping, able somahaun of a boy, who knows his duties to the letter—slouched hat, decorated with green hat of the same colour, three green chevrons, on the left sleeve surmounted by a harp—no arms, no ammunition, beyond a screw of tobacco, but if he don’t guard the pump and see that no unnecessary luxuries are supplied to the duffers inside….The emergency men occasionally get a barrel of water from Taghmon and when this runs short they must resort to the roadside pools but anyone who could once see the visages of these cullawns and say that dirty water is not good enough for them must be a mighty inferior judge of things compatible. Hammond, the bailiff, pays them a weekly visit with supplies from Ross but of this more anon.”
The Emergency men guarded evicted property for the landlord: as one might readily conjecture, they were derided, despised, hated and deemed a low species of human being by the generality of rural society.
The notion or dream or idea of the people having a police force and army of their own plus a Parliament was ever seeking to emerge from the subconscious mind of the Irish psyche. It was the big idea of Sinn Fein after Easter 1916; ordinary vanity might however, also prompt a young man to don the military apparel!
The reporter returned then to the basis of his article:–“On Monday morning Mrs Walsh had about ten acres of barley ripe, bending, ready for the hook, and she wanted some help to take it up.”
The hook was a slow mode of cutting corn—did not the Land League have
Help was not tardy in coming to Mrs Walsh:–
“When what is called the “wind of the word” was wafted down through Bannow, the braying trumpet’s call could not be more quickly responded to by an army eager for the fray than was that invitation to volunteers for the harvest field at a bit of Land League harvesting. Early on Monday morning about fifty cars left Carrig. The Bannow Fife and Drum Band, newly formed corps, but one which promises to excel when its members have time to devote to some little practice, led the van. The names of the principal performers are—John Corcoran, John Stafford, Matthew Roche, Thomas Matthews, John Kelly, Patrick Bowe, James Swain and James Coughlan. A green banner with harp and shamrocks, the mottoes being “Union is Strength” and “Let Erin Remember” was borne in front. There cannot have been less than 500 from the Bannow side, all of whom moved along in processional order, with their band and banners. They arrived about eleven o’clock and immediately entered the harvest field, being first in. Sunday night was a night that will be remembered for its downpour of rain. Anything like it is not remembered by that individual of well stored memory, “the oldest individual”.
More half-time analysis. Music was a metaphorical nineteenth century intoxicant and bands were established in half parishes. These bands were seeking outlets to express their talents and so were invariably at Land League meetings.
They played patriotic airs.
The nineteenth century was erratic, mercurial, often most cold and wet and horribly disturbed and destructive.
But the weather may change as quick as a politician’s mind:–“But Monday came in bright, clear and ward and at twelve o’clock the sun shone down in splendour in such a sight as was never witnessed before at Knocktartan before. A stranger would conclude at once that this was some grand exhibition of reaping machines got up by a royal agricultural society. Reaping machines here, there and everywhere, waiting their turn for a cut, binders in hundreds, taking up and stucking the corn, the band discoursing its sweetest music, horses and men decked out with rosettes, medals, ribbons and ever greens, while the hearty cheer that greeted some newcomer told there was no lack of help. Where they came from is impossible to say but all showed the one earnest and hearty desire to participate in the good work. Even tyros in the art of harvesting begged as a favour to be allowed to make their mark by holding the ribbons for a cut and thus to win their spurs in a Land League harvest field. The rule adopted by the drivers, who it should be remarked were the owners themselves was to cut two square and pass on. The following had their machines in this grand competition—Mr Denis Crosbie, Bannow, Mr Byrne Ballyknockan, Mr Sheppard, Hilltown, Mr Ennis, Woodgraigue, Mrs Donohoe, Kilderry, Mr Whelan, Tullicanna, Mr Keane, Blackhall, Mr P. Kehoe, Moortown, Mr Walsh, Knocktartan, Mr Furlong, Moortown, Mr Murphy, Kilcavan, Mr Cullen, Knockbine. There were over fifteen hundred people present, men, women and children and the truth of the adage, “that many hands make light work” was exemplified: for in less than two hours the whole of the “Horse Park” of the Knocktartan farm was cut, bound and stucked and with three cheers and a tune from the band, the whole company proceeded to the “White Meadow”, where about as much more awaited the machines.”
The numbers do not seem totally consistent in the above excerpt. The Land League propagandists and apologists were superb spin doctors and regularly engaged in a toxic mode of comedy. There follows this specimen of their humour with Hammond in a starring role.
“About half an hour after they had left for the “White Meadow”, Hammond drove to the gate of Knocktartan with his weekly supply for the Emergency men, which he immediately proceeded to unload. Item 1—six herrings in a wisp of hay. Item 2.—small box containing sliced ham. Item 3—two lumps of coal—no refreshments. These rather meagre supplies were deposited rather hastily inside and the bailiff limped into his gig and retired. While this was passing, intelligence arrived that Hammond was at Knocktartan and everybody seemed eager to catch a glimpse of Nat’s interesting physiognomy. The harvest was abandoned for a while and a race across the fields, over hedges and ditches, showed the great desire which was experienced to see the bailiff, but their desire was not fated to be satisfied, for when the fleetest arrived at Knocktartan was not to be seen. Work resumed, the last sheaf on the “White Meadow” was tied about half past three and again the band was hear playing “God Save Ireland”. As there appeared an unusual impatience to quit the field, inquiry was necessary to discover its cause….Mr Simon Roche of Ballygow against whom proceedings had been taken by Dr Boxwell, Butlerstown, required help to take up his corn. Mr Keating Carrig Hill had sent his machine. Mr Roche in the morning and now the Knocktartan harvesters wanted to lend a hand.”
There was a new drama awaiting them: Fr Davey O’Hanlon-Walsh was present—the celebrity Land League priest, a master of symbol and slogans.
He spoke from the ruins of a cottage, presumably that of the family home in which he was reared:–
“Men of the Land League of Carrig-on-Bannow—I am today standing on a pile of ruins to address you where once reverend age and innocent childhood found a home where the strong arm of industry rested after a day’s toil but where—where now are those who lived and laboured happy and contented on the spot where now I stand. They are gone but their memories are not forgotten. Ruins in Ireland, particularly ruined cottages—homes desecrated by the spoiler’s hand are sacred spots, which no true Land Leaguer can fail to appreciate and rehabilitate.”
Mr de Valera’s risible radio in address, post the Second World War, from an other wise able statesman, resonates with that kind of sentiment. The elevation of an essentially practical and secular project to stellar holy and sacred heights was later basic to the doctrines of Patrick Pearse.
Fr Davey seemed to exclude compromise and gradualism as a means of eventually solving the land question; I think that these measure, especially the land courts and Gladstone’s first Land Act 1881, were meant to put pressure on the landlords to sell out:–
“Don’t talk to me about your Land Act….my advice to you is, go on as if you had no Land Act; stand by the Land League, stand by the principles laid down by Michael Davitt (cheers), stand by the organisation that is led by Charles Stewart Parnell (cheers); for neither in the Land Act, nor in the Land Court will your grievance find redress….”
Factually Fr Davey was incorrect: the Land Courts made substantial reductions in rents, whittling down the Landlord’s margins. Fr Davey had, however, fund among the backsliders, the snakes and land sharks, in the grass and hypocrites, of which all such movements are replete in order to save their skins, men true to the Land League prescription of such a species:
“I must say the Carrig-on-Bannow Bay men have the ring of the true men about them. They go heart and soul into Land League business—they have no qualms about boycotting the hunt about the with the sport of the gentlemen who send that very agreeable person Mr Wilkinson, with his fi fas and his writs to visit us here without an invitation (cheers)…..”
The land League had prohibited the Fox Hunt from entering their lands; most of the leases were long term and for their duration the landlord could not enter without the tenant’s permission.
This is an appropriate point at which to finish this blog and next week I will resume the narrative of the rest of the proceedings at Knocktartan.