The Luggacurran evictions started on Tuesday, 22nd March 1887 when the Sheriff came to Denis Kilbride’s residence, Wood Home, Luggacurran. Denis Kilbride and his sister Mary were the first to be evicted. Kilbride went to stay with his brother Dr. James Kilbride in Athy. As one of the leaders of the local Plan of Campaign Kilbride had addressed the first Land League meeting in Luggacurran in late 1886. His involvement in the campaign may have been due to the Kilbride family’s financial difficulties rather than any allegiance with their tenants. Middle class families of that time were generally loyal subjects of the Crown and in keeping with that tradition Kilbride’s brother Joe was a Resident Magistrate in County Galway.
The evictions continued throughout 1887 and a total of 31 tenants of Lord Lansdowne were removed from their homes and lands in that year. These included John William Dunne of Raheenahone, who was the tenant of more than 1,300 acres of land which compared with the 860 acres tenanted by the Kilbrides. However, for the remainder of Lansdowne’s tenants their holdings ranged from 25 acres to 80 acres with just three other tenants having more than 180 acres each.
It is believed that the Lansdowne tenants were capable of paying the landlord’s rent. While several tenants were undoubtedly happy to join the Plan of Campaign, evidence of clerical intimidation resulting in some tenants joining the Campaign with reluctance was recalled in later years. Fr. John Maher, ordained in Carlow College in 1880 and who came as a curate to Luggacurran in May 1886, was an uncritical supporter of the Plan of Campaign. His Parish Priest was the elderly Fr. Thomas Kehoe. Fr. Maher’s brother, also a priest, had been involved with some success with the Plan of Campaign in his parish and this undoubtedly encouraged the youthful curate to promote the campaign in Luggacurran. Fr. Maher is alleged to have intimidated his parishioners and many of them were forced by him to join the Plan of Campaign. They witnessed how the Kavanagh brothers who had refused to join were shunned by Fr. Maher and boycotted by some of their neighbours.
Fr. Maher was undoubtedly the driving force behind the Plan of Campaign in Luggacurran and I recall the late Fr. William Prendergast, P.P. of Kelleigh, whom I invited in the mid 1980s to give a talk on the Luggacurran evictions in the Leinster Arms Hotel, tell how Fr. Maher refused to baptise a child of William Brennan when the parent refused to join the Plan of Campaign. The Brennans eventually gave in to the cleric’s pressure and the child (later Fr. Owen Brennan) was baptised and the Brennan family were in time evicted.
Andrew Dunlop, a Scottish journalist who worked for over 50 years in Ireland, wrote an account of a Land League meeting in Luggacurran at which Fr. Maher and William O’Brien spoke. Fr. Maher’s opening words as reported by Dunlop were ‘three groans for the Kavanaghs’. O’Brien, when he finished his speech, realising that Dunlop was reporting for the Irish Times sought, by threatening Dunlop, to have Maher’s remarks excluded from the Press Report. When the reporter refused to comply O’Brien publically called him a spy, following which some men menaced Dunlop. His account read ‘the crowd was shouting and yelling, down with him’.
Dunlop was escorted to the nearest crossroads by two policemen from where he walked alone to Athy. His report continued:- ‘several cars conveying to Athy people who had been at the meeting passed me on the way and some of them evidently gave the word to the roughs of the town. As I entered Athy a couple of corner boys were gathered at the canal bridge ..... I was followed by a howling mob and a man whom from his appearance I should take to be a butchers assistant struck me a couple of blows. I turned into a public house but the same fellow followed me and called on the owner to put me out ..... compelled to take refuge in another public house the same ruffian again followed me and when I refused to leave caught me by the throat, struck me several times on the head, dragged me out of the place to the middle of the road ..... causing me to fall heavily to the ground. I got up and walked on followed by the mob until I reached the Post Office which I entered. Shortly after this a Police Sergeant came and offered me protection ..... I walked with him to the Railway Station.’
This report which appeared in the following days Freeman’s Journal and in the Irish Times was also published in the Toronto Daily Mail a few days before William O’Brien and Denise Kilbride arrived in Canada to highlight the Luggacurran Evictions in the country where Lord Lansdowne was the Governor General. Reports of the attack on the respected journalist Andrew Dunlop in the town of Athy doomed to failure the Land leaguers campaign in Canada and prompted several physical attacks on O’Brien and Kilbride who were fortunate to leave Canada with their lives.