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Disturbed Clare, 1831

The newspapers of spring 1831 carried many reports chronicling the disturbed nature of Clare society. Destitution, want, distress, and misery were the lot of the landless peasants and starvation and lack of work or assistance prompted the widespread insurrection against local landholders and land agents.

In early April five police constables from Roadford, Doolin, Alexander Shaw, Thomas Duffy, Sub-constable Joyce, Daniel Gallagher and James Netterville, were murdered in horrific circumstances. “The bodies presented a most horrifying appearance … The skull [of Thomas Duffy] broken and the brain in part hanging out, a gun-shot wound on the right side of the upper jaw and two bayonet wounds on the front of the neck,” according to evidence at the inquest. These murders took place in daylight and coincided with the visit to Clare of the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Anglesey. Agrarian crimes such as the turning up of land, interference with livestock, administering unlawful oaths, posting threatening notices and raiding houses for firearms were increasing exponentially. Reverend Oliver Grace, mentioned in the Telegraph report, had been assaulted in his home on three separate occasions.

The incidents reported in this newspaper article occurred immediately before the sitting of the Crown Court at the Spring Assizes in Ennis, presided over by Judges Jebb and Pennefeather.

The unlawful incidents and Terry Alt disturbances were so numerous at this time that the Spring Assizes of April had to be followed shortly afterwards by a Special Commission which sat in both Limerick and Ennis from 30 May through the end of June 1831, before Judges Moore and Jebb, where hundreds of defendants were tried under the ‘Whiteboy Acts,’ emergency legislation designed to curtail the activities of agrarian secret societies and the ‘war of the peasantry against the proprietors and occupiers of land.’ Some of the defendants before the Special Commission were represented by Daniel O’Connell and there is a verbatim transcript of the trials by barrister Peter Gorman.

Report of the Proceedings under a Special Commission in the Counties of Limerick and Clare in the Months of May and June 1831

News Report from Belfast Telegraph of Friday 15 April 1831Article from the Belfast Telegraph, Friday 15 April 1831:

“State of Clare 1831"

Several respectable persons were brought into Ennis from Meelick, near Limerick, in custody on Friday implicated in the general conspiracy and some for a plot to assassinate Mr. Vokes, Chief Magistrate. Rockite notices are circulated more generally than ever. Thursday night the daughter and son-in-law of the Rev. Oliver Grace were taken out of bed and sworn, under penalty of death, to prevail with that Rev. gentleman not to prosecute at the Assize now holding. On Friday, Mr. Grace, son, son-in-law, and wife, came into Ennis for protection, under a guard of dragoons in a chalse. Two companies of the 50th marched into Ennis on Friday from Limerick. There are at least 1200 men, cavalry and infantry now in Ennis, and the town is full of country people. Mr. Woodburn, of the Limerick Police, arrived on Friday morning, and took off a Rockite notice from a door at Clonmoney, ordering no more than £5 per acre for Mr. Armstrong’s potatoes ground.

Of the five Policemen butchered near Doolen, only one, Shaw, was a Protestant. They were interred at Ennistymon and the police and military had to seize by force spades for digging their graves, as not one in the country would lend a spade or shovel for this last sad office. Next night a party visited the Church-yard to raise the body of Shaw, who, as a Protestant, they said should not lie there; but the police in the vicinity prevented this cruel exhumation.

On Friday, a representation was made by the R. Catholic Clergy of Clare to the Grand Jury of Ennis, requesting their co-operation and that of the landed gentry, towards effecting a return of peace, and arguing as a preliminary the necessity of letting out small lots of ground for potatoe culture to the distressed population. The Grand Jury took a different view of the nature of the disturbances, and some did not conceive they originated in the distress of the peasantry. The result, however, is that the Clergy now decline using their influence with the country people, as they allege that influence cannot be exercised without success, unless the landed proprietors contract their extensive pasture ground, and let out a portion of it to the labourers for tillage.

Last market day, a fellow well mounted and armed with a case of pistols, rode into the town of Ennis, and told the weigh-master that if he attempted to weigh potatoes for more than 3d. a stone, he should be shot. After he had uttered this threat, in the hearing of a number of persons, he galloped off, without any one making an effort to stop him. Our correspondent thus closes his letter: - ‘The reign of terror is at its height. The fury of the people rages and before long, I fear, you will hear of more murders and robberies. Aggressions on life and property are indiscriminately committed. In short, no man is safe.’ All the small parties of police are, where accommodation can be had, to be strengthened by military detachments, and where accommodation cannot be had, the police parties will be concentrated in Ennistymon.

On Friday forenoon, insurgents entered Castlefergus Castle, near Newmarket, the residence of Wm. Blood Smyth, Esq. and plundered it of eleven stand of fire-arms, including two carbines, from two policemen who were placed there for the protection of the premises. Ten men went in and placed the police on their knees, while upwards of 200 of their confederates remained outside. On Thursday night, three acres of meadow land belonging to Mr. Mark Daly, at Coonagh, North Liberties of Limerick, were turned up. This has been the first visit paid by the Terry Alts in the vicinity of that city. A R. Catholic Clergyman, near Limerick, received a Terry Alt notice, on pain of death to surrender three acres of land which he had within these few days become tenant to; he obeyed the mandate. On Tuesday night, 26 acres of land belonging to James Going, Esq. were maliciously turned up within a mile of the military post of Broadford, county of Clare. Part of a farm of Robt. Going, Esq. on the same townland, of about 50 acres, has been twice turned up within a few nights, and the meadow part left in common to the insurgents of the neighbourhood, and no person in Mr. Going’s employ dare turn off the stock. Several outrages were committed in the neighbourhood of Newmarket, within a mile of where the Lord Lieutenant slept for the first night he entered Clare. The houses of Ed. O’Grady, Esq. at Fort Fergus, and of Francis Rosslewin, Esq. of Cornfield, and several others in the barony of Clonderlaw, were visited by the insurgents on Wednesday night, and each house deprived of fire-arms. On Wednesday night several fields belonging to Mr. Armstrong, near Clonmoney, were turned up and a Rock notice left, signed by Mrs. Alts, alias Lady Clare, ordering, at the peril of life, to give no more than £5 an acre for potatoe ground. At Kilkee, Terry Alts’ party will not allow more than 20g a barrel for potatoes. The cattle of Mr. Butler, near Crusheen, are now herded by police. None others can be had. Several fellows from the county of Clare landed at Oranmore, county of Galway, on Sunday, and swore many persons not to work under 1s. a day. Several stand of arms have been taken from houses in the vicinity of Oranmore, county of Galway. On Monday week, at three o’clock, a part of 300 men attacked the house of Captain Broomshill, near Woodford, broke windows, doors, chests, &c. took five stand of arms in his absence, and served a notice that they would return on Thursday to turn up his lawn.

There was a meeting of magistrates at Galway on Saturday – the Foreman of the Grand Jury in the Chair – when it was resolved to apply to Government for a reinforcement of military in that district. Several persons were for the application of the Insurrection Act; but it was considered premature as yet, until the effect of the military force would be seen.”

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