Landlords and Tenants in Mid-Victorian Ireland

By W. E. Vaughan | Go to book overview

2
Evictions

i. Numbers, Fluctuations, and Incidence

In September 1853 the sub-sheriff of County Galway, escorted by eleven constables, ejected forty-two families in the townland of Kilcoosh, which had just been bought in the encumbered estates court by J. N. Gerrard of Gibstown, County Meath. There was no trouble when the sheriff demanded possession and the tenants were allowed to remain on their farms as caretakers until they had harvested their crops. They were warned, however, that the sub-sheriff would have to return and 'put them all out if they remained there'. The tenants promised that they would 'be totally cleared off and cause him no further trouble' by 1 November. They did not keep their promise and on 11 November the sub-sheriff had to go out again, escorted by thirty-six constables. At Kilcoosh they were confronted by 'upwards of 400 men and women assembled, who evinced a determination of resistance'. When the landlord's steward tried to level some of the houses 'the mob got so outrageous that Mr O'Hara [the sub-sheriff] thought it advisable not to persevere further as he was decidedly of opinion if he did, the loss of life would be the result.' A fortnight later he set out again, this time escorted by forty constables and fifty-five soldiers of the 33rd regiment from Athione. The tenants were cowed by this display of force and thirty-one houses were unroofed, and only ten families were left as caretakers. The valuation records show that all of the caretakers were later removed.1

In the years after the famine there was nothing exceptional about the Kilcoosh evictions. They were not even exceptional in the east riding of Galway in the early 1850s: in 1850 J. C. R. Burke evicted fifty-two families and levelled forty houses, and Elizabeth West evicted forty-one families and levelled their houses.2 In the west riding even larger evictions took place: in 1851 on the Martin estate over 400 families were evicted and 267 houses levelled.3 If there was anything remarkable about the Kilcoosh evictions it was the relative prosperity of the tenants, for the police reported

____________________
1
National Archives, RP 1853/10655; VO Dublin: cancelled books for County Galway/ Mountbellew/Clonkeen; below, p. 183; see also James S. jun. Donnelly, "'Landlords and Tenants'", in Vaughan (ed.), A New History of Ireland, v. Ireland under the Union, 1. 1801- 70 ( Oxford, 1989), 342.
2
National Archives, RP 1850/16482, C187.

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