Has the wheel turned full circle?

The Celtic Ross Hotel, Rosscarbery, West Cork

The Celtic Ross Hotel, Rosscarbery, West Cork

The 2002 Rosscarbery Autumn School was held at the Celtic Ross Hotel over the weekend of 11th to 13th October.

“Has the Wheel Turned Full Circle?” was the topic of discussion over the weekend, as a series speakers examined the influence of Land Use on the development of modern Ireland in political, social and economic terms.

Mr Liam O’Regan, Editor of The Southern Star, chaired the Saturday morning session which was entitled “Landlordism, Land Agitation & Cap-Doffing in the late 19th Century.” Mr O’Regan spoke initially on a family story of cap doffing. He said, “At agricultural shows around West Cork at the end of the 19th century, to be a “gentleman” you had to have 100 acres. If you didn’t, you were a farmer or a peasant. My own great grandfather, whose name was Gerry Hegarty, was actually a peasant, but by some sleight of hand he was actually able to get into the gentlemen’s class. He beat the landlords in relation to pigs, cows and various other classes. There was a rule at the time that if a tenant beat a ruling landlord, the landlord was entitled to confiscate the animal and that happened to my great grandfather, so he became known as “Gerry the gentleman”. I think the same rule of confiscation applied to the Cork and Bandon Shows.”

Dr Larry Geary, of the History Dept, UCC, is the author of the Plan of Campaign, 1886-1891 and editor of Rebellion and Remembrance in Modern Ireland. His book, The Sick Poor and Medical Relief in Ireland 1718-1851 will be published by Cork University Press next year. Dr Geary, who was the first guest speaker of Saturday, spoke about the decline of the political and social ascendancy of the gentry. He spoke of the massive changes in attitude to landlords and to the ascendancy class which occurred within a few years. He quoted public pronouncements which had been made by a number of Catholic priests who were involved in the land agitation of the 1880’s.

Nationwide public meetings were popular manifestations of nationalist fervour and promoted solidarity amongst tenants and fostered agitation. Accounts of these

public meetings were published and enabled a message to be sent out that unity and organisation were essential if tenants were to achieve their aims.

Land grabbing, that is the taking of farms from which others had been evicted, was regarded as the ultimate evil and land grabbers were rigorously boycotted or sent to a moral Coventry. Dr Geary detailed specific instances of boycotting and detailed the ongoing difficulties for those involved, which in some cases required boycotted children to be escorted home by the police for their own safety.

The changes that occurred within a single decade were summed up by Lord Carlingford, an expatriate Irish Protestant landlord. He likened the Ireland of October 1885 to a “foreign and enemy country” and his class and England, “the subject of hostility and hatred.”

Again in October 1885, Parnell addressed a tenant gathering in Kildare, during the course of which he stated, “the great and all absorbing topic in Ireland is the land question. The land question is at the root of all other questions.”

Local Historian, Graduate of History in UCC, and author of 6 books, Michael Galvin spoke on “Unusual Aspects of the Land War”. Mr Galvin examined all aspects of the Land War, i.e. boycotting, evictions, outrage, violence, land grabbing, rack renting, execution sales, landlords, the Land League and later the National League, the labour question the Church, Home Rule, the Plan of Campaign, emigration, the socio-economic environment, the Poor Law Unions as well as the make up of the main players most notable Charles Stewart Parnell himself.

Whilst many Landlords were praised by hard pressed tenants for rent abatement, reduction and in some cases oversight of chronic arrears, by the early 1880’s it was evident that Government thinking on labour legislation was well ahead of that of farmers and landlords at Poor Law Union Meetings, who feared such legislation would bring about extra local rating.

The complexity of the times was often evident in frequent labour feuding as to who should get which cottage and when. Neither was Home Rule a clear cut issue in

these years, its aspirations ranging from radical separatism to the mild constitutional Repealism of Butt and Parnell.

Early Buttism drew from a large if unclear well of Repealers, Fenians, Protestants, Catholics, Presbyterians in the Home Government Association but for all that Butt’s appeal was minoritist, not populist.

The Land League and later the National League was extremely complex during these years in both its proceedings and modus operandi. Much of its problems arose from a lack of unified homogeneity with regard to the broad thrust of policy. Those who did not join the League or adhere to its strictures were not only not helped when in dire trouble, but punished with the universal weapon of boycott.

Mr Galvin quoted specific instances during this complex and contradictory period where boycotting was not directed solely against the landlords who together with their agents only suffered about 15% of its impact, labourers a high 35% and tenant farmers themselves a massive 50%. The nature of the violence was complex too during the land war.

C S Parnell, the main player in the land war was a remarkably complex character drawing support right across the political spectrum and seeming to be all thins to all men. Mr Galvin stated that Parnell was pragmatic in his reaction to unfolding land reform telling his people to give it a chance so to speak, yet egging on the Government that if more was not granted, violence would result.

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