Thursday, July 1, 1999

Luggacurran Evictions

The Luggacurran evictions which resulted in over 60 families losing their homes and their small holdings understandably hardened the attitudes of the people of South Kildare. Nowhere was this more evident than at a meeting of Athy Board of Guardians held in the workhouse on the 22nd October 1887. At its October the local relieving officer sought to have admitted to the workhouse a young man named Patrick D.______ and his two brothers. Their parents and three younger children had been admitted to the workhouse at a previous Board of Guardian meeting. It transpired that Patrick D. _____ had worked as an emergency man during the evictions in Luggacurran earlier that year. His father, who worked for a local farmer, lost his job as a result and hence his subsequent admission to the workhouse.

James McLoughlin, a member of the Board of Guardians was reported as saying in response to Patrick D. _______ application to enter the workhouse “let him and his brothers go back to Landsdowne and get their earnings as they did during the evictions”. Another Board member was quoted as saying “let them go to hell” before the Board decided to discharge the entire family from the workhouse. Quite clearly it was not to one’s advantage to be associated with the Landlord’s side on the eviction issue.

With the re-commencement of evictions on the Luggacurran estates in May 1889 local animosity was rekindled. The Kildare Observer reported in its issue of the 29th June 1889 of a police prosecution for boycott and intimidation. William V ¬¬¬¬¬¬_____ gave evidence that he took a farm from which a tenant had been evicted. Since then attempts had been made to boycott him. One day while at the fair of Athy he saw Patrick K. ______ selling gates. He purchased four gates at three shillings each and as he prepared to pay for them a local man rushed up and said to Michael K. - “what are you doing selling gates to a boycott”. The transaction was terminated on the claim that the gates had been bought by another man. Patrick K ______ who was called to the witness box denied the previous witnesses evidence but nevertheless the resident magistrates were satisfied that the prosecution’s case was proved. As it was a first case of its kind to come to their attention, they agreed to deal with the defendant rather more leniently than they might and imposed a one month’s prison sentence. As the same time the magistrates issued a warning that any further similar cases would result in a much heavier sentence.

Even the language used by a local newspaper while reporting matters arising within the Luggacurran area clearly showed on whose side their sympathy lay. For instance on the 1st May 1897, The Leinster Leader headlined a story on an inquest on the body of a newly-born male infant. “A Luggacurran Planters Daughter Charged with Concealment of Birth”. Can anyone imagine a more pejorative term to describe a young girl. Clearly feelings were running high on the evicted tenants side and as a nationalist newspaper The Leinster Leader spoke the feelings and the language of those evicted.

Another report in the Kildare Observer of the 3rd September 1887, outlined how a woman living in Shruleen Lane, Athy, was threatened with boycott because a man who had worked on a Luggacurran evicted farm was seen in her house.

Local hotelier Alicia Kavanagh of the Hibernian Hotel, Leinster Street, Athy was refused a certificate to renew her hotel licence in September 1887 after objections by the local constabulary. The District Inspector Mr. Newell had called on Mrs Kavanagh to supply houses and carts for the constabulary on the 21st March in connection with the Luggacurran evictions. She refused claiming that the horses and carts were pre-booked for guests arriving next day from Castlecomer. Asked to show evidence of the booking, she produced a telegram dated 21st March which read “have dinner for us and beds”. Mr. Newell claimed that he went to the Hibernian Hotel in the company of his head constable Mr. Bodley and not satisfied us to the explanation offered advised Mrs Kavanagh to send the horses and carts to the barracks at nine o’clock the following morning. They did not arrive. The court found against Mrs Kavanagh and refused her hotel certificate. A similar case against Patrick Moore of the Nag’s Head was terminated when Moore withdrew his application for a hotel certificate.

The evictions at Luggacurran had a knock-on effect in Athy as business people for whatever reason felt compelled to show solidarity with those ejected from their lands. This extended even to the Board of Guardians as is apparent from the earlier mentioned report on the application of Patrick D ______ for indoor relief . A similar conclusion can be drawn from a report concerning the application of an old woman who applied for outdoor relief. A native of Ballylinan, she had been evicted by Sir Anthony Weldon of Kilmoroney House. Sir Anthony, who presided at the meeting of the Board of Guardians objected to the granting of outdoor relief to the old woman. However, the member of the Board of Guardians ignored their Chairman’s advice and granted the woman 2/6 a week when it transpired that her son had been told by Weldon’s son to go and work in Luggacurran for £1 a week. The old woman would have nothing to do with the Luggacurran evictions a sentiment obviously approved of by the Board of Guardians hence the award to her of 2/6 a week.

The watching and besetting of people involved in the Luggacurran evictions was a role adopted by members of the National League, a branch which had been founded in Athy. In November, 1887, a controversy arose at a meeting of the Athy branch when Mr. Byrne alleged that James Murphy had supplied meat to the Luggacurran people. The reference here is obviously to the emergency men working on the evicted farms. Murphy denied the charge claiming he was a responsible and honest gentleman and was not to be treated in the same way as those who were boycotted and ostracised.

The effect of the evictions was felt for decades after the last of the tenant farmers were evicted in 1889. In November of the following year, during the Athy pig fair, twenty policemen in plain clothes and about fifteen in uniform, were lined up along the main street of the town. Half a dozen men from Luggacurran, and several farmers from Narraghmore were shadowed throughout the day, one or two constables following each farmer wherever they went. The local press noted, “much indignation was felt at the conduct of the local police authorities and the town commissioners are to have a special meeting to protest against this unwarranted interference in the business affairs of the local people.”

The scars left by the evictions in Ireland during the Land League campaign were slow to heal. Athy and Luggacurran were no different in that regard. I have before me as I write, a letter from the Evicted Tenants and Land Settlement Association dated the 11th October 1922 to a south Kildare man in which reference was made to his lands taken to make room for “a grabber and emergency men”. Today, one hundred and ten years after the last of the Luggacurran evictions, I am keenly conscious of the strength of feelings still aroused in people long removed from the events in which Lord Landsdowne and his agent John Townsend Trench played a major part. Some of the families evicted were later to return to Luggacurran. Many families did not do so and the bitterness felt at the injustice and resultant hardship still lingers to this day.

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