Any Excuse to Travel

Clongorey, Ireland: Eviction Walk

Local history tours are a great way to learn more about where you’ve landed, what shaped the place you’re in, and what made the people as they are. Driving to Newbridge, in Co. Kildare, I spotted a sign for an Eviction Walk in a place called Clongorey. It’s a road I’ve driven many times before without an inkling of its past, or indeed, its present. 

I persuaded the lovely KW to join me on my adventure. She booked tickets online – we were in one of 10 groups of 20-25 people who were of a similar mind. Some had connections to Clongorey; others had recently moved into the area and wanted to know more. And then there was us.  

We parked in the field opposite Barretstown cemetery, checked in, got our hi-viz vests, and waited for our group to leave and take a few steps back in time, to 1822, when Edmund O’Kelly came to live in Barretstown Farmhouse to manage the family’s estate. When he decided he wanted out, his father George took loans and mortgages against the farm from relatives and so, in 1833, a Trust was set up. Things ticked along. When George Snr died, George Lionel took the reins and, having outgrown the Farmhouse, he decided to borrow again, this time to build the big house – Barretstown House 

Two blown-up photos nailed to a wooded stake in front of a green hedge. The top one shows a two-storey farmhouse with three chimneys and a slate roof. Five windows on the first floor and three on the bottom with a porch entry. Painted yellow. Below a manor house from the 1800s complete with spired tower and 8 chimneys. Grey stone.

The land, some 2500 acres, was half good land and half virgin bog. Seventy-two families, tenants at will, had no rights, other than Turbary rights – the right to cut, spread, dry, and remove turf for their own use. They had the cottages that they built themselves of mud and thatch. All but seven had one or two rooms and a kitchen. Of the bigger ones, four were built of stone. Theirs was a meagre existence, working their holdings (172 in all, only 6 of which were over 30 acres) and selling their turf to the British Army in nearby Newbridge. In those days, turf was gold. It provided a steady income and kept people busy, too busy to think about emigrating.

Right-handed and left-handed sleans (long wooden poles with iron ends) used for cutting turf lay against a wooden barrow sitting in a green field.
Sleans – used for cutting turf (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCdcrAwW7Po)

And for this they paid rent. The hatched window through which the tenants paid their rent is still in the big house – it was on the market at one stage for €3m; the photos are stunning. I could live there, but not if I had to get a mortgage.  That said, it’s on my lotto list.  

The tenants grew enough potatoes, corn, and turnips to feed themselves, bought whatever else they needed on tick from the shops in Newbridge, and cleared their debts when they sold their turf. They were one piece of bad luck away from destitution.  

As we walked the 5 km down Bawn Lane and around, stopping at various points to listen to another voice take up the narrative, I was struck repeatedly by the similarities with today. How many are just one piece of bad luck away from destitution, living on credit, mortgaged to the hilt, borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, trying to clear debts when the money does come in.  

Yellow stone wall with two rows of black-and-white photos showing evictions from the 1880s in Ireland. A women in a black hat, black glasses, black pleated skirt and black jacket with black laced books stands with a walking stick holding a white card.

Our tour started in the cemetery where the landlord is buried next to one of his tenants. Death indeed is a great leveller.  

As we walked the roads, we passed the ghosts – local singers and musicians who entertained us. While we were not to interact with them, the music added an ethereal touch that made the whole experience more alive.  

man in a white shirt and black jeans sits on the side of the road in a chair playing a tin whistle

The narrators, some direct descendants of those evicted, told the stories of the evictions that took place from February 1883 to September 1892. 

George Lionel and his wife lived the high life. When he died suddenly in 1882 and the estate fell to his brother John, things began to unravel. When you borrow money, it’s only a matter of time before those you borrowed from come looking for it back. Such is the nature of a loan.  

Bad weather in 1885, the River Liffey breaking its banks in 1886 and taking seven houses with it, and the drought of 1887 began a series of rent reductions – the tenants couldn’t give what they didn’t have to give.  

But the O’Kellys, under pressure to repay their loans, needed the money. In the years from 1883 to 1892, seven sets of evictions took place.  

In February 1890, The Leinster Leader published an extensive piece describing the horrors that took place. The names and numbers make it real. 

Evictions were resumed at Clongorey on Friday last, and, as briefly reported in our last issue, twelve families (sixty-six persons) were thrust out of their homes. […] The eviction party arrived about eleven o’clock, and at once set to their foul work. The first tenant evicted was Thomas Fox, with nine in family. […] Thomas Fox Kelly was the tenant whose holding was next visited. […] William Rourke, with his wife and nine children, was next evicted. After a call at the house of Mary Kenny, who was ill in bed, the evicting party went to the residence of Patrick Murray […] He lived in the house with his sister. Elly Kelly, her son and daughter-in-law, and their three children were inmates of the [next] house. She is an old, feeble woman, who was confined to the bed until quite recently, and it was an affecting sight as she was helped out of the house. James Kelly, brother of the last named tenant, to whom was sublet 5 and a half acres of the farm, was, with his wife and four children, also evicted. Eliza Kelly [was next] […] Her aunt and two sons lived in the house with her. Margaret Dunne, eighty years of age, with her son, daughter, and son-in-law, were next evicted. […] Bryan Dunne has six in family […] Mary Kelly has six in family. […] At the house of Kate Daly, Father Kinsella informed the sheriff that he had prepared the poor woman for death the day before. Dr Murphy, of Newbridge, told him that she was suffering from gastric fever, and that her removal would be dangerous to life. Unfortunately they had not secured a certificate not anticipating the evictions that day, but he would get a certificate that evening. The sheriff postponed the eviction. […] The last eviction was that of Patrick Coffey, of Tankardsgarden, who has eleven in family.  

White paper in a black frame sitting on table by the side of the road. A green fern lies in the lower left. The sign reads: List of tenants and dates of evictions. 16th February 1883 James Shaughnessy. 23rd Novemner 1888 Peter Fullam, John Fox, Andrew Fox, Mary Kelly, William Fagan, John Fullam. 26th March 1889: John Fox, Patrick Fox, Thomas Stanley, James Heavy, Anne Fllam, Patrick Kiely, Eliza Heavy, Peter Keogh, Daniel Donnelly, John Ross, Patrick Fullam, John Connolly, Peter Fullam, 7th February 1890 Patrick Coffey, Thomas Fox, William O'Rourke, Margaret Dunne Mary Kelly, Patrick Murray, Bryan Dunne, Etty Kelly, James Kelly. 27th May 1890 Patrick Daly, James Dunne, Mary Cooke, Mary Kelly, John McEntee, John Toole, Patrick Sweeney, Matthew Bardon, John Bardon, Catherine Dillon, Michael Pierce, Denis Hanlon Philip Murphy, Michael Merring, Peter Morrissey, Michael Geraghty. 14th May 1891 Peter Kenny, Myles Kenny, John Coffey, Dan Kelly. 1st September 1892 Mary Kelly. (Ryan 1999) This list of names was taken from the thesis of Mary Bridgid Ryan - The Clongorey Evictions - Also evicted in 1855 - the Keogh family.

The following day, eight emergency men destroyed the seven houses, levelling them to the ground so that the tenants could not return.  

On Saturday the eight emergencymen were engaged with hatchets and crowbars cutting the roofs off the houses and levelling the walls of the houses from which the tenants had been evicted. A small crowd collected, but they made no demonstration of any sort. The emergencymen cheered as each roof fell in. 

No doubt they were simply doing their job… but delighting in it? ‘Do unto others…’ comes to mind.  

Black-and-white photographs posted at the various narration points told a story of wanton destruction and a shameful absence of compassion and common decency. Entreaties for mercy were ignored. The Land League got involved. Instead of paying rent to the landlord, the tenants paid a reduced rent into a Trustee account, which was then used to help those who had been evicted.  

Black and white photo from the 1890s showing an eviction from a thatched, whitewashed mud cottage - policemen in uniform and men women and children. Amod the crowd there is furniture

The gable end of a mud cottage. POlice stand around in the aftermath of an eviction. One police man in the foreground rests his foot on the wheel of a battering ram.

We heard the story of Mary Kelly of the Iron Gate who in 1890 built temporary homes on her holding to house those who had been evicted. The landlord deemed this a misuse of her property; she would be the last to be evicted. Another Mary Kelly also paid her rent so that she, too, could accommodate those who had been evicted. When they came for her in 1890, they arrested her daughter, her son-in-law, and her 9-week-old grandchild and took all four to Kilkenny Jail.  

One family overextended. Seventy-two other families victims of circumstances beyond their control. This photo of a man looking at a life destroyed says it all.

Blown-up photo pinned to a wooden pole set in front of a hedge. Shows an older bearded man dressed in green sitting on a wooden stool and looking at his furniture. The thatched roof of his house nas been knocked in. Five other houses are also visible in parts with three leafnless trees set against a blue sky.
Joe Fox sits and looks at his home

When the tenants were cleared and the lands put up for sale, the sale was boycotted, adding again to the O’Kellys’ debt burden. What goes around, comes around. 

Under the Wyndham Land Act of 1903, many of those evicted went back to their land.  And, if you want to know more, Mary Ryan’s original research makes for an interesting read

As we walked, I wondered what it would be like to live in the Big House, knowing its history. Or to live in Ivy House, knowing how its original owners, the Fullams, had fought a righteous fight. I wondered, too, at our ability to choose not to see the unpalatable or, worse still, not to see anything wrong with it at all. A couple of centuries later, has anything really changed? 

Curved grey walls joined by metal gate behind which stands a black and white dog. A grave driveway flanked by trees leads to a two-story stone house with three windows on the first floor, and two on the bottom, one on either side of a red door. The name on the right wall reads IVY HOUSE

Local tours, such as this one, are a great way to absorb history and get an insight into what has formed and informed how we live today. A huge amount of work was involved, with many volunteers contributing to making it the success it was. Massive thanks to Clongorey and District Community Association for this glimpse of history. The money raised all went to their charity of choice – The Dining Room Newbridge  – which helps those who are homeless and living in food poverty. A blueprint for others perhaps?

A red and blue cart loaded with turf stands on the side of a road next to a signpost with two signs pointing right - the first reads CLONGOREY COMMUNITY HALL white on black. The second reads CLONGOREY UTD FC - white on brown. There's also head and shoulders drawing of a bearded man on brown paper with white matting in a black frame - it's looking another sign - in white - the only words visible are ct and EA

 

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