In 1845, on the eve of the Great Famine, Major Denis Mahon inherited the Strokestown estate (which was already heavily in debt to the tune of £30,000). The subletting of land on Mahon’s estate had led to chronic overcrowding – by 1846 there were 11,500 people on 11,000 acres of land. Not a man to embrace reform of the landed system, his merciless campaign of land clearance rapidly changed the face of Strokestown in the space of 12 months.
FAMINE REPORT 30 June 1846
“I cannot describe the alarm which is felt in this town in consequence of the high price to which provisions have risen this day. The people wear a sullen aspect and are giving expression to their discontent in a very menacing tone. Nothing is heard in the market but threats and murmurs. Potatoes are four shillings per hundred-weight – oatmeal, 17 shillings. In this state of things there is not employment nor relief fund. So in the name of God do something for us.” Fr. Michael McDermott, Strokestown.
In the summer of 1847, Major Mahon paid £4,000 for the emigration of 1,432 of his tenants to Canada – a quarter of whom died at sea. Upon hearing this news, a large number of his tenants refused to go. Mahon responded by evicting 600 families (about 3,000 people). The struggle was compounded by what amounted to a war of religion and a complicated conflict between Mahon and Strokestown’s parish priest, who declared from the altar that Mahon was “worse than Cromwell”.
On the evening of 2 November 1847, Major Mahon was shot to death as he was returning home from a meeting of the Board of Guardians in Roscommon town. His murder was greeted with widespread jubilation; within hours, celebratory bonfires were lighted on neighbouring hills. Mahon’s murder made the headlines in England, prompting Queen Victoria to complain in her diary that the Irish “really... are a terrible people,” while her anti-landlord prime minister (in private, it must be said) declared the murders of landlords “no more atrocious” than the ejectments that led up to them”. The parish priest blamed the “infamous and inhuman cruelties” against his tenants and “the loss of their exiled relatives” for Mahon’s death. And his bishop, George Browne, likened the dead landlord to “a Nero or Caligula.”
Thanks to Ireland’s Famine Museum, which has been located in the former Mahon home in Strokestown since 1994, details of Major Denis Mahon's asassination are well known.