The Terry Alts

Clare Champion, Friday, November 15, 2002

The Riches of Clare Exhibition at the local-authority run Clare Museum charts the county's history over 6,000 years using authentic artifacts. This week Tomas MacConamara tells the story of the secret society called the The Terry Alts.

The Terry Alts were a secret society named after Terry Alt from Corofin, a protestant army pensioner and an ardent loyalist. He had come upon the scene of an assault on a man in Corofin, and was, by co-incidence, dressed similarly to how the victim described his assailants. Locals picked up on the irony, resulting in all violent attacks being attributed to the innocent Terry Alt.

The Terry Alts were one of many clandestine societies founded in Ireland from 18th Century on, all involved in agrarian agitation in pre-Famine Ireland. They tended to have colourful names such as, the "Whiteboys", "Oakboys", "Rockites", and "Ribbonmen". These agrarian societies all had their own characteristics and specific origins, relating to fair rents, traditional access to common land or payment of tithes to the established church and other similar issues.

The Terry Alts movement was begun in 1828, in the Corofin area and raged through the rural communities of Clare until 1831, escalating in the first half of that year. The origins of the society can be traced back to the collapse of the tillage system after the Napoleonic Wars, and an increase in cattle rearing, which resulted in labourers losing their means of making a living. These unemployed labourers, suffered serious distress in 1830 when the potato crop failed and they were forced to borrow money from strong farmers. Disputes arose with regard to the repayment of these loans which took the form of high rents, and in retaliation, labourers grouped together to protect their rights.

Collectively known as the Terry Alts, they engaged in terror activities against strong farmers. The labourers levelled field walls of cattle owners, intimidated strong farmers, maimed livestock and attacked landlords in search of weapons. They demanded land to be rented to them at a fair price and achieved a high level of success.

The nocturnal activities of the Terry Alts peaked during the period January - May 1831, resulting in 19 homocides. The murder in January 21st, 1831 of land agent William Blood even caught the attention of the authorities in England. The arrival of General Arbuthnot and martial law in late May of that year saw a decline in unrest.

A judicial commission was established under justices Jebb and Moore. Viewing the agitators as common criminals, they were dealt with accordingly, with 119 prisoners convicted, 21 condemned to death, with the rest either transported or jailed. Law was restored but almost nothing was done about the causes of the unrest.

The terror tactics of the Terry Alts were condemned by Tom Steele, but Daniel O'Connell laid the blame for agrarian agitation firmly at the feet of absentee landlords. Indeed, the flamboyant O'Gorman Mahon even presented himself as a staunch friend of the activists.

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