On the morning of 8 April 1861, ruthless landowner, John George Adair began seizing the homes and lands of 47 families in Derryveagh in the District of Gartan and banishing the people to the roadside.
Over the course of the next three days 85 adults and 159 children were evicted from their homes and 28 houses were unroofed or leveled.
Anticipating mass resistance, Adair had enlisted 200 policemen, inspectors and a 10 person ‘crowbar brigade’ from County Tyrone to remove the families and destroy their houses.
An eye-witness account in a local newspaper, recorded how widow, Hanna MacAward, and her family of six sons and one daughter, were the first to be targeted.
“Long before the house was reached, loud cries were heard, piercing the air...frantic with despair and throwing themselves on the ground, they became almost insensible, and bursting out in the old Irish wail - then heard by many for the first time - their terrifying cries resounded along the mountains for many miles.
“They had been deprived of their only shelter - the little spot made dear to them by association of the past - and with bleak poverty before them and with only the blue sky to shelter them, naturally they lost all hope and those who witnessed their agony will never forget the sight.”
When the operation ended on 10 April 1861, the Derryveagh Eviction Report noted that 47 families and 244 tenant farmers were cleared off 11,602 acres in the valley.
"By two, Wednesday afternoon, the terrible work had been accomplished and a deathly silence descended over the whole area. The Derryveagh district had been cleared of people and Adair had accomplished what the ravages of the Great Famine had failed to do.”
Among the evicted family names listed in The Londonderry Standard on 10 April 1861 were : Bradley, Callahan, Doherty, Doohan, McAward, and Sweeney.
In the midst of the tragic events, a local newspaper reporter remarked on how peacefully families went, choosing not to resort to violence. Most were made homeless, while others were taken in by relatives, nearby landowners, and sent to surrounding workhouses. Unwilling to go to the workhouses, some families remained or returned to the ruins of their destroyed homes. Others still were destined for emigration to England, America or Australia.
The county, country, and world were made aware of the gross injustices inflicted by Adair. It prompted uproar in the British Parliament, and subsequent police investigations. Yet Adair was never charged for the crime. He became known as "Black Jack," infamous throughout Ireland and England, and as far as the US and Australia.
Meanwhile some of the evicted families were aided by priests and funds were raised in Dublin, France and elsewhere in their support. In Australia, where Donegal relief was by then a major concern, money for the Derryveagh victims was raised in both Sydney and Melbourne as well as in other parts of the country. The Sydney effort was headed by Archdeacon McEncroe, while a member of the Victorian parliament named Michael O"Grady(from County Roscommon) was prominent in the Melbourne fund-raising.
On 18 January 1862 a group of Derryveagh people sailed from Dublin to England, and then to Australia, through the Donegal Relief Fund.
Those who chose to remain suffered a much harsher fate.
The Derryveagh evictions, considered to be one of the cruelest events in Irish history, may have been precipitated by the suspicious death of a Scottish shepherd in the Derryveagh hills but others speculate that evictions had been part of Adair’s plan all along.
Having made his fortune in the world of finance in America in the 1850’s, the County Laois native returned to Ireland and began purchasing vast tracts of land in Donegal, accumulating 28,000 acres around the Derryveagh mountains.
His vision for a Balmoral style estate with deer hunting and sheep farming, surrounding a palatial style castle and ornate Italian gardens made no provision for the local population. He clashed with tenant farmers when he employed two shepherds from Scotland to manage his imported flocks. But when one of these men was found beaten to death in November 1860, a wrathful Adair seized the event to initiate his plans to clear the estate of tenants and take back possession of the land.
In 1870, Adair went on to build Glenveagh Castle on the shores of Lough Veagh.
Following his death in the US in 1885, his American wife Cornelia had his gravestone in Co Laois inscribed with the words "Brave, Just and Generous." Legend has it that the gravestone was later struck by lighting and shattered to pieces. Another legend persists that a local woman in Derryveagh placed a curse on the castle so that none of its owners would ever have children. This has remained true to this day.
Interesting Article, Photographs and Research, all compiled by and shared upon: WhyDonegal (FACEBOOK PAGE)
The Derryveagh Evictions!
Appeal on Behalf of the Sufferers…
Derry Journal - Wednesday 12 June 1861
“The almost unparalleled calamity that has visited Derryveagh – the dreadful work which has been carried out against the unfortunate unoffending tenantry – is now universally known, and the oppression and power of Landlord Law in Ireland exhibited before the civilized world. It is not our present purpose to dwell on the injurious operation of the ‘Landlord and Tenant Law,’ loudly as it calls for consideration on the part of the legislature. We have more pressing matter on hand – that is, to appeal to the public at large, to enlist the sympathies of all good men for the two hundred and forty human beings, who, for no fault of their own, have been expelled from their own happy homes, to perish, as many of them assuredly will, if aid be not promptly afforded them. For whom do we appeal? Is it in behalf of a people guilty of outrage – of a tenantry who forcibly held possession – owing large arrears of rent, and who had left their landlord no other alternative than to bring the law to bear against them? Certainly not; and we may here repeat what has been already expressed in a letter to Mr. Adair from the Rev. Henry Maturin and the Rev. Daniel Kair, and which, we are convinced, is strictly true and justly due to this much maligned and injured people – ‘Most of the people of Derryveagh are known to be quite harmless persons, and not capable of lending themselves to the infliction of injury, or even pain to any human being.’
We might stop here as far as the character of this unoffending people is concerned, were it not that in addition to the grievous injuries already inflicted upon them, specific charges have been brought in, and in order to palliate the harsh treatment to which they have been made, to make the public believe that a former proprietor of the Derryveagh estate was put to death by the people of Derryveagh, that Mr. Adair’s steward had been murdered by them, that the Rev. Mr. Maturin’s offices were maliciously burned down by them.
To refute these charges, we refer the public to a letter on the Derryveagh evictions addressed by the Rev. Mr. Maturin to the editor of the London Times, in which is given the following testimony respecting the character of this people: - ‘I beg to inform you, as a resident within a mile of this property for the last thirty years, that, during all that time, up to the present charges, the people on the property have been in peace and quietness with their neighbours, and in perfect goodwill with their landlord, James Johnston, Esq.’ It has been alleged by Mr. Adair, as one of his reasons for evicting the tenantry of Derryveagh, that a number of his sheep were made away with on his mountains; but, an application having been made for compensation for those sheep, by his stewards, was, on investigation, rejected by a bench of magistrates sitting at Churchill, in the neighbourhood of his property; and the sheep were found dead on the mountains by his tenantry and the constabulary, having perished, as well from the neglect of his shepherd, as from the inclemency of the winter. Subsequent to Mr. Adair’s purchasing the chief rent of Derryveagh property, he claimed a right to the game. Mr. Johnston, who was then the landlord, disputed this right, and gave strict orders to a man named Currin, his gamekeeper, and some of his tenantry, to sprig the birds and thus prevent Mr. Adair from shooting them. Out of this act of obedience to their landlord has been concerted a further charge, viz. – that ‘Mr. Adair was attacked by an armed body’ on those lands. On the contrary, he attacked Currin, the gamekeeper, treating him very roughly, and throwing him to the ground. Twelve months afterwards Mr. Adair rented Derryveagh from Mr. Johnston, at forty pounds sterling over and above that paid by the tenantry. And now we leave the public to draw their own conclusions as to the motive for evicting these poor people who had paid all rent up to last November. These innocent, helpless victims have now been driven upon the world without a home or a house to shelter them. Many of them are old and infirm, many are young and helpless. About fifty of them have been forced to seek shelter in the union workhouse, where their degraded position – their hopeless condition, and contact with wretched associates, have broken their spirits, and made them objects of the deepest sympathy, even with the officials of that establishment. The poor women are constantly to be seen moping about the yard in a state of abstraction, and melancholy brooding over their own sad fate and that of their little families. One man, poor Michael Bradly, who has a wife and several children, a man of excellent character – has become a perfect maniac. The remainder, to the number of one hundred and ninety-four, unwilling to throw themselves on the degrading and wretched relief afford by an Irish workhouse, until the last extremity, have taken refuge among their friends and neighbours throughout the surrounding district, their scanty means not enabling them to go elsewhere or start in business, whilst they are daily easting away the remnant of their little savings.
Many of them are already in a most pitiable condition, wandering about in a state of half nudity, and suffering many other hardships and privations. And in a short time all of them will be reduced to the same deplorable state. Several of them are in a state bordering on insanity from the contemplation of the gloomy prospect before them. To meet the exigencies of this melancholy case, to relive the necessities of these children of oppression, and afford them some aid to sustain them in their trying position, and enable them to procure for themselves the means of independent support, we appeal to the public at large – we appeal to the sympathies of the humane and benevolent of all classes and creeds. We appeal to the tenantry of Ireland to extend their aid to these sufferers of their own class. An appeal having been made in vain to their own landlord, Mr. Adair, we appeal to the humane landlords throughout the United Kingdom in behalf of this downtrodden people. We appeal to all who love justice and hate oppression to manifest by their charity their abhorrence of the wrongs perpetrated upon them. We appeal to our brethren and friends in Australia, and America, and throughout the world.
To receive contributions on their behalf, and apply them as their judgment may direct, a committee of the following clergymen and gentlemen has been appointed, viz.: - The Right Rev. Daniel M’Gettigan, Lord Bishop of Raphoe, Ballyshannon; Rev. Samson Jack, Presbyterian Minister, Gartan, Letterkenny; Rev. Thomas Diver, P.P., Kilmacrenan; Joseph Gallagher, Esq., Chairman of Town commissioners, Letterkenny; Edward Murray, Esq., Solicitor, do.; Rev. John M’Menamin, R.C.A., do.; Rev. Charles O’Donnell, R.C.C., do.; Rev. Henry Maturin, Rector, Gartan, do.; Rev. Daniel Kair, P.P., Churchill, do; Rev. Michael O’Trail, Glenswilly, do. Contributions in cash or P.O. Orders, or clothing, may be sent to any member of the committee.
Henry Maturin Rector, Daniel Kair, P.P., - Secretaries.”
Shared on IrelandXO by: S.Callaghan (Kerrykeel)
Civil Parishes throughout County Donegal (IrelandXO Links) CLICK HERE