The Outrage Reports relating to Co. Clare listed in
this paper have been extracted from the series of Chief Secretary’s
Office Outrage Reports now on line in the Irish National Archives
Website. The National
Archive Call No. for each file, a brief description of the contents,
the number of pages, and the range of dates within which the letters
or reports contained therein were written, is given in each case.
The material consists largely of reports from chief constables, magistrates
and members of the public relating to crime in various parts of the
county in the
period 1826 and 1829-1831. This was a time of straitened economic conditions,
widespread unemployment, rising population and increasing agrarian protest by
secret, sworn societies. It was also the decade that saw the formation of the
Catholic Association, the O’Connell election and Catholic Emancipation.
The secret societies operated under a variety of names, Ribbonmen, Moonlighters,
Rockites, Whiteboys etc, but from late 1829 ‘Terry Alts’ was the
term used almost exclusively in Co. Clare. Sometimes described as ‘the
poor man’s trade union’, the tactics of these agrarian activists
included night-time raids, levelling of walls, maiming of cattle, posting of
illegal notices, digging up pasture, arson, assault, robbery, abduction, rape
and murder. The violence might be directed against a so-called middleman, strong
farmer or grazier, but sometimes even against a cottier or labourer who had taken
up a patch of ground from which another had been evicted, or who worked as a
herd or labourer for a proscribed employer.
Though nocturnal activity and disguise was the hallmark of agrarian crime throughout
the country at large, what was remarkable in Clare was the large number of daytime
gatherings, sometimes numbering in the hundreds, openly digging up pasture in
order to turn it into potato ground. For instance, on 4 April 1831 it was reported
that a ‘gathering of 2,000 individuals, some carrying arms, was observed
at the digging up of 60 acres of grasslands in the vicinity of Broadford (CSO/RP/OR/1831/1171).
On 3 November in the same year the chief constable at Ennistymon reported that
approximately 200 men marched past the police barrack at Lisdoonvarna, ‘in
excellent order two deep – with spades shouldered, a green flag in front’ (CSORP)/OR/1829/629).
It is estimated that 600 acres of land in Clare were turned up in this manner
by men with spades in 1831.(1)
Apart from agrarian crime, the papers contain reports relating to various other
matters pertaining to law and order, including faction fighting, illicit distillation,
sectarian conflict, pleas for police protection and requests for assisted emigration
from those subjected to intimidation &c. All in all, they throw much light
on society and law and order in County Clare in the pre-famine decades.
(1) E.T. Craig, The Irish land and
labour question, illustrated in the history of Ralahine and co-operative
farming (London1893), pp.