EVICTIONS IN ARDAGH IN 1887
Sad Scenes in County limerick.
A PICTURE OF IRISH MISERY
Whole Families Turned Out of Their Homes to Face Starvation.
For two days in the last week of August this little village in the centre of a desolate bog country was the scene of greatexcitement. It is all over now. The "crowbar brigade" did their work and departed. The detachment of her Majesty's constabulary, numbering at least fifty, sent here to back up the obnoxious bailiff's and emergency men, have gone home to Limerick and Newcastle. The chapel bells which rang so sharply at Ardagh and Glensharrold before the evictions are silent. A few angry men and women stand in knots on the main street of the village and listen to the pathetic stories of the homeless ones, who have walked to the village in hopes of finding shelter.
Father Robert Ambrose, Mr Hurst and myself have just returned from the mountains to Ardagh. For miles around may be seen the work of the evictors, shattered doors, heaps of stones and mortar where holes have been cut in wails, gaping rafters where the thatch has been removed on the roof, windows without casements, floors covered with bush and huge timbers, and yards strewn with the furniture and utensils of the unhappy tenants.
Nor is this the worst. Hovering around in the vicinity of these wretched homes are the former occupants. They are of the poorest classes; their holdings are small and the land wet and barren. Their dwellings consist of nothing but stone and mud walls, thatched roofs and the bare ground floors. The highest rent of the most prosperous of these tenants would not reach over $500 per annum, and probably the lowest $85. Human beings live and pay rent on this estate for hovels not fit to keep pigs in." "That," said Father Ambrose, as we left the scene of the last eviction, "is one of the most prosperous tenants on the estate." It was a dreary plaster house, with a thatched roof, moss-grown from age and damp. The roof of the outbuildings had fallen in. A few ducks splashed around in the mud-holes near the door, and a couple of goats tried to extract nourishment from the hedge in front. The smoke from the peat fire within issued alike from doors and windows. This was the residence of a fairly prosperous farmer.
The resistance offered by the tenants of this estate, which belongs to John C. Delmoge, Justice of the Peace, was feeble. There were no such fortifications as we found at Mitchelstown, Youghal and Herbertstown. The dismal surroundings, the steady and heartless increase of rents, bad crops, and starvation diet have crushed the spirit out of these once prosperous mountaineers. To be sure they did resist. In some cases the bailiffs were an hour breaking into the tumble-down shanties. The scene in some instances, notably the White eviction, was exciting, though I am glad to say no one was seriously hurt.
This house is situated on rather a picturesque spot, surrounded by trees. The constabulary, numbering nearly fifty, form a sort of ring around the house, and then the gallant "Crowbar Brigade" begin their wretched work amid the shrieks and sobs of women, the anathemas of men, and the crying of children. The parish priest, Father Ambrose, mounted on a fine horse and surrounded by the representatives of the newspapers, stood near, while an immense throng of people summoned for miles around by the ringing of the chapel bells, assembled on the outside. If it were not for this the brutality of the fiendish bailiffs, backed by the constabulary, would be beyond description. As it is, they treat the women shamefully, while they needlessly smash up with axe and crowbar every vestige of furniture.
"Don't allow all the furniture to be smashed by those ruffian bailiffs, I can tolerate anything but this" said the priest, appealing to the officer in charge of Her Majesty's noble troops. It elicited nothing but a smile, and the work went on. The poor woman cried bitterly as one by one the articles of furniture were brought out, smashed up, and left in the highway to rob or to be carried off as firewood. It would be fatal for anyone to remonstrate. The least word of encouragement on our part would have been sufficient under the Coercion Act to land us in gaol. No matter what we thought or felt, the only policy was to say nothing.
The most absolutely cruel eviction which we witnessed on this estate was that of Denis Hiestand and his aged mother. Theirs was one of the worst hillside hovels I ever saw. A man who would rent such a place for human habitation deserves lynching. Yet for a quarter of a century this man and his mother had lived therein. A feeble resistance was offered. In half an hour Her Majesty's gallant troops had possession of 'Fort Hiestand. Denis was brought struggling out of the window, and his mother, 80 years of age, was helped up the hillside by plucky Father Ambrose and a neighbour. From this point the poor old woman witnessed the smashing of her furniture. Leaning on her son's arm, Mr Hurst subsequently sketched Mrs Hiestand and her son as illustrations of the people upon whom is being wrought the noble work of the Tory landlord government of England in Ireland.
At the best, I can give but a few sample cases. Evictions are now going on all over Ireland, especially in districts where no united efforts have been made to resist them. In County Kerry, tor example, during the last few years the evictions have averaged 350 per quarter. Since the commencement of the agitation there have been rendered homeless by eviction in that county as many as fourteen thousand people. Many of these poor people, like Dennis Hiestand and his mother, are huddled together by the ditch-side in mud huts, literally dying of exposure and starvation. Meantime, the land is idle, some of it relapsing into the condition in which it was before these tenants reclaimed it. While the special artist of the press sketched old Mrs Hiestand, she kept exclaiming: "They have made bits of my bedstead; they broke it up with their hatchets. But I warned Denis not to say a word, for they would put him in gaol if he did, and then his poor mother would starve."
In the same way the bailiffs disposed of the furniture on the White holding. Mrs White was a woman with five children, two of which number were twins only six months old. As the furniture was tossed out and smashed up she stood pale and trembling. Father Ambrose tried to quiet the husband and restrain the woman. Some of the White furniture was very good, he must have been one of the prosperous tenants on the estate. Another lively scene took place at the house of John Conners. The house was on the roadside, near the little chapel of Glensharrold. A small white-washed police hut and a temporary National League committee-room had been erected near this spot. Connors was evidently considered a desperate man, for the police quarters had been built for the express purpose of watching his tenant and his half-dozen immediate neighbours. The house was barricaded, and filled with sand and timbers. Bang, bang went the bailiffs sledgehammers against the front door. For half-an-hour the officers of the law worked amid the execrations of the assembled crowd.
The armed constabulary took no part in the evictions. They formed around the house in a free and easy way, leaning on their muskets, and calmly watched the struggle between rent-collector and tenant. In vain the door was hammered. It would not give way. At last a ladder was procured, and the bailiffs ascended to the gable window. This was guarded by a small iron gate which after some trouble was beaten out, and then with a rush, followed by several constables, the bailiffs gained an entrance. Soon was heard a woman screaming. This was Conner's good looking and brave little wife, whom they threatened to throw out of the window. The threat was not carried into execution, and the woman was afterward helped down the ladder.
Another of the houses was filled up with turf, but the bailiffs soon pitched it out, and with it the struggling tenants. We were not on the scene in time to witness the first day's evictions, though from what Father Ambrose said it was similar in many respects to the second day. Among the tenants evicted the first day was the son-in-law of Paddy Connors, who sheltered Captain John C. Gerry, of Lexington, Ky., during the Fenian troubles of 1867. It appears that Gerry was an American citizen, and a constable attempted to arrest him single-handed. Gerry drew a revolver to defend himself, whereupon the officer attempted to run him through with a sword. Gerry, who was a good shot, lodged a bullet in his adversary's arm and escaped.
Paddy Connors undertook to get the American safely out of the country, and he was secreted in the house from which the son-in-law of Connors was evicted yesterday. Curiously enough, Robert Ambrose, now Father Ambrose, was one of the boys employed in 1867 to watch the approaches to this house and warn the occupants of the approach of the police. Captain Gerry escaped to America, and I believe is living to-day in Lexington.
In witnessing these evictions, I was greatly struck with the energy and vigour displayed by Father Ambrose, the young curate of the parish. He is a superb horse man, and was the leading figure at all the evictions. One word from him would have brought a mob of several hundred men down upon the bailiffs and constables. The emergency men know this, and while he was there with the band of newspaper men more humanity was displayed. An amusing incident occurred at one of the evictions. A wretched, half-starved looking man, clothed in rags, sat calmly watching the proceedings on the back of a diminutive ass (donkey). Being somewhat in the way of the constables, the officer in charge said:
"Arrest that man!"
The poor follow stirred up the sleepy ass a bit and tried to get out of the way.
"What are you, man?" said the irascible officer.
"A rag collector," meekly responded the man on the ass.
"A rag collector," repeated the officer, with contempt.
"And faithful, your Honour, I'd rather be a rag collector any day than a rent collector," responded the man in rags. The crowd roared at the expense of the officer, and the rag dealer and his heavily-laden ass slowly took their departure in peace — Ardagh correspondent of " Philadelphia Press."
Article above was displayed in TE AROHA NEWS, 26 NOVEMBER 1887,
The correspondent worked for the "Philadelphia Press." which was one of Philadelphia's oldest major newspapers (1857-1920).
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