|Clare County Library||
in County Clare 1534 - 1911
Jessie Craigen, A Visit to Bodyke, 1881
As the agitation for land reform gathered momentum in the 1880s, organisations were formed in Britain in support of Irish tenant farmers. Jessie Craigen, a Scottish lady, came to Ireland in the summer of 1881 as guest of the Lady’s Land League. She was a member of a delegation of the Democratic Federation, an organisation that highlighted the plight of Irish tenants. Her purpose was to observe ‘the condition of the masses of the people and to return and tell it faithfully, both at public meetings and in the less important form of a report.’ Her delegation appears to have confined its activities to Munster, visiting Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary and Clare. They found many instances of rack-renting landlords. On the O’Callaghan Estate in East Clare, Michael Hussey held twenty acres. He took the land at sixteen pounds a year in 1850. The rent subsequently was raised, so that by 1872 he was paying forty pounds per year. While at Limerick Craigen took violently ill and was nursed back to health by Anna Parnell. On her return to Britain several public meetings were held as a protest at the repression of the Land League. Craigen’s discourse deals with three main topics: the land question, the coercion act and the police; the booklet, Report on a visit to Ireland in the Summer of 1881, her only publication, is a good example of the concern the land agitation of the 1880s aroused in Britain.
I had heard of many murders done by the police in unprovoked charges upon unarmed and unresisting people in many parts of the country. One of these cases I got the full particulars of. I went to Bodyke, a remote, out-of-the way village in County Clare. I saw the parties concerned in the affair, and took their statements down in writing from their own lips. They were told that these statements were to be used in public, and would probably be tested; and they made them with great care. In the case of the Rev Mr Murphy, the parish priest of Bodyke, I may say that on the first day on which I saw him he was hurried, being at a public dinner; but on a subsequent day he came over to the hotel at Bodyke and gave me, with much solemn feeling, a statement which he signed, saying he gave it for the satisfaction of his conscience. I give it below. On the 1st of June  writs were to be issued on the property of Colonel John O’Callaghan The police came into Bodyke in the morning, and I give the account which I received from [the parish priest] as to what took place further.
Statement signed by Father Murphy, parish priest of Bodyke -
‘On the morning of the 1st of June, on my arrival, I found the police with their bayonets fixed presented at the breasts of the people, who stood in a dense mass before them, armed with pronged forks, clubs, and sticks. With the greatest difficulty and personal danger to myself (having to take the bayonets of the police in my hands and the muzzles of the guns and turn them towards the ground to make room to stand between them in order to separate them and the people) I induced the people to give up their forks and pledge themselves not to use them again unless they were attacked by the police. This occurred about half-past ten o’clock, and was the first of the affair. The people then remained quiet until after the arrival of the county inspector, about half-past twelve o’clock, at which time the county inspector ordered his men to charge and cut right and left, the people being quite peaceful and orderly and quiet at the time, and merely laughing at the horses of the police being stung by the bees. On this order being given the people were attacked by the police, who charged and struck all before them, during which attack John Moloney was murdered. The police marched on, escorting the process-servers and Colonel O’Callaghan to serve the writs. I and Mr O’Hara, the resident magistrate, proceeded immediately after them, seated on Mr O’Hara’s car, my object being to keep between the people and the police, and also to inform Mr O’Hara of the promise made by the people to keep themselves quiet if they were not attacked, as Mr O’Hara was in charge of the police forces. Behind us came a body of mounted police, with the county inspector, and after them the people who were prevented from advancing towards the process-servers by the mounted police, the county inspector threatening to cut the people up if they moved one inch further. The first body of foot police, who were with the process-server, having turned off the high road towards the first house to be served, two shots were fired from the right hand of the road at Mr O’Hara and myself (or at any rate they whistled close by us). I had promised the police to stand between them and the people, as they said it was hard to stand to be stoned, and I replied, ‘They will not stone you, for I will stand between you and them.’ Immediately some other shots were discharged from the heights on the left, which were directed towards the police, who immediately returned fire, and scattered all round the hill, firing at the point from which the shots came. Meantime the people who had been last in the procession and behind the horse-police, jumped into the fields to the left and ran towards the house first to be served, and from the heights behind which the shots were being fired. This proves that there was no organised and preconcerted action, for the people, if there had been, would have kept out of the range of the shots fired from the heights. The police by this time had got round the hill and fired from the height on the people as they came up, who were unarmed, having given up their sticks and pitchforks in the morning. I saw many of the people’s hats with bullet holes, and one policeman afterwards showed me a bullet hole in the knee of his trousers. The county inspector swore afterwards that a rifle bullet tore the ground under his feet after we had left them. After this the police (who had been round the hill) and the people, met at the side of the hill next the village. The police seized upon the unarmed people and bandaged twenty-two of them. These were not the people who had fired the shots, but the unarmed people who had followed the police out of the village. They placed these handcuffed people in their centre and led them along with the writ-server for the protection of the police and the writ-server, and during the whole day - from two o’clock till about half past six - led them through the country serving writs on their friends. They handcuffed them hand to hand, two and two, and cut their braces and buttons off their trousers in order that they might be obliged to use their unoccupied hands in holding up their trousers, which some of them could not do so well, but that they kept tripping and stumbling as they walked; also the ties of their shoes were cut so that they might be impeded as they walked. They marched them on for six hours in this state. On the return of the police to Ennis they were again fired upon at Fortane, and one of the horses drawing the long car, on which the county inspector sat, was shot dead. Another party of police travelling at the same time towards Feakle was also fired on, and fortunately escaped unhurt.
Mr O’Hara was with this party, and his popularity protected them, all the people being unwilling to fire on him. John Malony, the man who was wounded by the police, died on the night of that day, about 12 o’clock. The inquest was held on Tuesday, the 3rd of June, and adjourned until the following Thursday, June 9th, on which a most respectable jury had been empanelled. The jury consisted of eighteen men of good repute. Neither the police nor the Crown brought forward any witnesses, nor evidence of any kind, nor aided the inquiry in any way. The coroner expressed much surprise at the inaction of the Crown, and the neglect of bringing forward evidence on its part. The verdict was wilful murder against ‘Some policeman to them unknown,’ with a rider condemning the action of the county inspector for ordering - ‘An unprovoked and wanton attack on a peaceful and defenceless crowd of people.’. . .
Our next visit was to the Widow Malony. Her farm consists of eighteen acres of stony mountain waste, of which two acres only can be put under tillage. The rent is £8, the valuation £5 10s. One son of the dead man is in America; but he has left three girls, aged sixteen, fourteen, and eight years old. The house is a rather comfortable one -its little attempts at improvement and convenience confirming, by their silent witness, the account given by the neighbours of John Malony’s character. They say that he was a good-living, industrious husband and father. I looked at the home, the fatherless children, and the widow sitting by the turf fire, and, as her eyes met mine, my heart swelled. I know how the heart bleeds when the eyes have that lonely look in them. I talked to her, but she took little heed till I happened to speak of ‘justice’; then there was a sudden flashing of fire into her eyes, as she said, ‘There is no justice for us.’ ‘But,’ I said, ‘if we could get the man who did it taken up, and tried and punished, would you not wish it?’ ‘No,’ she answered, slowly and calmly; ‘I forgive him for the Blessed Saviour’s sake.’ But I urged her still, telling her that out of regard for others, to prevent such things from being done, he should be tried in court; and I said, ‘Give me your authority to ask the people in England for justice in your name.’ Her face worked with an inward struggle, and she answered: ‘Yes, for the sake of other people there should be justice, but I forgive him.’ Before that bitter sorrow, mastered and subdued by Christian faith, I felt myself humbled and instructed. I could not say another word.
Extracts taken from Jessie Craigen, Report on a visit to Ireland in the Summer of 1881 (Dublin 1882), pp 48-56.