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As Gaeilge
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Travels in County Clare 1534 - 1911
(extracts from The Strangers Gaze, edited by Brían Ó Dálaigh)

William Hurlbert, Clare Under Coercion, 1888

As the land agitation in Ireland intensified, Irish affairs aroused great interest in America. Perhaps the best known American journalist to visit Ireland during these years was William Henry Hurlbert, former editor-in-chief of the New York World. Hurlbert was born into a staunchly Protestant family in South Carolina, 1827. He graduated from Harvard university in 1847 and in his early manhood worked for several magazines and newspapers including the New York Times. During the American Civil War he was arrested for his anti-slavery activities and imprisoned in Richmond, Virginia. He escaped in the summer of the following year. In 1864 he canvassed for the unsuccessful presidential candidate George B. McClellan. In 1884 he married Catherine Tracy, which perhaps explains his interest in Irish affairs. He was the author of several books including McClellan and the Conduct of the War (1864), Ireland Under Coercion, (1888) and England Under Coercion (1893). His two volume work on Ireland is a record of a series of visits to Ireland between January and June 1888. His purpose was to get a sense of the social and economic results of the process of ‘political vivisection’ to which the country had been so long subjected. Hurlbert was strongly pro-establishment and, like Bernard Becker eight years previously, lodged with Richard Stacpoole at Edenvale. County Clare was in deep turmoil as the land agitation escalated and feelings ran high on all sides. In his book Hurlbert was highly critical of Fr Patrick White, parish priest of Miltown Malbay, and future historian of County Clare, who, he claimed, had organise a boycott by publicans against the police in Miltown Malbay. He further claimed that Fr White had failed to condemn the boycott of James Connell, a former soldier of the Crimean campaign and his aged mother, who, it was alleged, had taken land from which another tenant had been evicted - a case which Mr Balfour, the prime minister, had commented upon in parliament. Fr White took grave offence at these remarks and, in a booklet written in reply, launched a ferocious attack on the American: Hurlbert Unmasked; an exposure of the ‘thumping English lies’ of William Henry Hurlbert in his Ireland Under Coercion (1890), which for maximum effect Fr White had published in New York. Hurlbert died at Cadenabbia, Italy, 1895.

Ennis, Saturday, Feb 18 [1888]. At Ennis I was met by Colonel Turner, to whom I had written, enclosing a note of introduction to him. With him were Mr Roche, one of the local magistrates; and Mr Richard Stacpoole, a gentleman of position and estate near Ennis, about whom, through no provocation of his, a great deal has been said and written of late years. Mr Stacpoole at once insisted that I should let him take me out to stay at his house at Edenvale, which is, so to speak, at the gates of Ennis. Certainly the fame of Irish hospitality is well-founded! Meanwhile my traps were deposited at the County Club, and I went about the town. I walked up to the courthouse with Mr Roche, in the hope of hearing a case set down for trial to-day, in which a publican named Harding, at Ennis - an Englishman, by the way - is prosecuted for boycotting. The parties were in court; and the defendant’s counsel, a keen-looking Irish lawyer, Mr Leamy, once a Nationalist member, was ready for action; but for some technical reason the hearing was postponed. There were few people in court, and little interest seemed to be felt in the matter. The courthouse is a good building, not unlike the White House at Washington in style. This is natural enough, the White House having been built, I believe, by an Irish architect, who must have had the Duke of Leinster’s house of Carton, in Kildare, in his mind when he planned it. Carton was thought a model mansion at the beginning of this century; and Mr Whetstone [Whitestone], a local architect of repute, built the Ennis courthouse some fifty years ago. It is of white limestone from quarries belonging to Mr Stacpoole, and cost when built about £12,000. To build it now would cost nearly three times as much. In fact, a recent and smaller courthouse at Carlow has actually cost £36,000 within the last few years.

I was struck by the extraordinary number of public-houses in Ennis. A sergeant of police said to me, ‘It is so all over the country.’ Mr Roche sent for the statistics, from which it appears that Ennis, with a population of 6307, rejoices in no fewer than 100 ‘publics’; Ennistymon, with a population of 1331, has 25; and Milltown Malbay, with a population of 1400, has 36. . . .

Only yesterday no fewer than twenty-three of these publicans from Milltown Malbay appeared at Ennis here to be tried for ‘boycotting’ the police. One of them was acquitted; another, a woman, was discharged. Ten of them signed, in open court, a guarantee not further to conspire, and were thereupon discharged upon their own recognisances, after having been sentenced with their companions to a month’s imprisonment with hard labour. The magistrate tells me that when the ten who signed (and who were the most prosperous of the publicans) were preparing to sign, the only representative of the press who was present, a reporter for United Ireland, approached them in a threatening manner, with such an obvious purpose of intimidation, that he was ordered out of the court-room by the police. The eleven who refused to sign the guarantee (and who were the poorest of the publicans, with least to lose) were sent to gaol.

An important feature of this case is the conduct of Father White, the parish priest of Milltown Malbay. In the open court, Colonel Turner tells me, Father White admitted that he was the moving spirit of all this local ‘boycott.’ While the court was sitting yesterday all the shops in Milltown Malbay were closed, Father White having publicly ordered the people to make the town ‘as a city of the dead.’ After the trial was over, and the eleven who elected to be locked up had left in the train, Father White visited all their houses to encourage the families, which, from his point of view, was no doubt proper enough; but one of the sergeants reports that the Father went by mistake into the house of one of the ten who had signed the guarantee, and immediately reappeared, using rather unclerical language. All this to an American resembles a tempest in a tea-pot. But it is a serious matter to see a priest of the Church assisting laymen to put their fellow-men under a social interdict, which is obviously a parody on one of the gravest steps the Church itself can take to maintain the doctrine and the discipline of the Faith. . . .

I asked one of the sergeants how the publicans who had signed the guarantee would probably be treated by their townspeople. He replied, there was some talk of their being ‘boycotted’ in their turn by the butchers and bakers. ‘But it’s all nonsense,’ he said, ‘they are the snuggest (the most prosperous) publicans in this part of the country, and nobody will want to vex them. They have many friends, and the best friend they have is that they can afford to give credit to the country people. There’ll be no trouble with them at all at all!’. . . .

There are some considerable shops in Ennis, but the proprietor of one of the best of them says all this agitation has ‘killed the trade of the place.’ I am not surprised to learn that the farmers and their families are beginning seriously to demand that the ‘reduction screw’ shall be applied to other things besides rent. ‘A very decent farmer,’ he says, ‘only last week stood up in the shop and said it was ‘a shame the shopkeepers were not made to reduce the tenpence muslin goods to sixpence!’’

This shopkeeper finds some dreary consolation for the present state of things in standing at his deserted shop-door and watching the doors of his brethren. He finds them equally deserted. In his own he has had to dismiss a number of his attendants. ‘When a man finds he is taking in ten shillings a day, and laying out three pounds ten, what can he do but pull up pretty short?’ As with the shopkeepers, so it is with the mechanics. ‘They are losing custom all the time. You see the tenants are expecting to come into the properties, so they spend nothing now on painting or improvements. The money goes into the bank. It don’t go to the landlords, or the shopkeepers, or the mechanics; and then we that have been selling on credit, and long credit too, where are we? Formerly, from one place, Dromoland, Lord Inchiquin’s house, we used regularly to make a bill of a hundred pounds at Christmas, for blankets and other things given away. Now the house is shut up and we make nothing!’

It is a short but very pleasant drive from Ennis to Edenvale - and Edenvale itself is not ill-named. The park is a true park, with fine wide spaces and views, and beautiful clumps of trees. A swift river flows beyond the lawn in front of the spacious, goodly house - a river alive with wild fowl, and overhung by lofty trees, in which many pairs of herons build. . . Where the river widens to a lake, fine terraced gardens and espalier walls, on which nectarines, apricots, and peaches ripen in the sun, stretch along the shore. Deer come down to the further bank to drink, and in every direction the eye is charmed and the mind is soothed by the loveliest imaginable sylvan landscapes. . . .

[Edenvale, Sunday Feb 19. I asked Mr Stacpoole this morning whether the park had been invaded by trespassers since the local Nationalists declared war upon him. He said that his only experience of anything like an attack befell not very long ago, when his people came to the house on a Sunday afternoon and told him that a crowd of men from Ennis, with dogs, were coming towards the park with a loudly proclaimed intent to enter it, and go hunting upon the property. Upon this Mr Stacpoole left the house with his brother and another person, and walked down to the park entrance. Presently the men of Ennis made their appearance on the highway. A very brief parley followed. The men of Ennis announced their intention of marching across the park, and occupying it.

‘I think not,’ the proprietor responded quietly. ‘I think you will go back the way you came. For you may be sure of one thing: the first man who crosses that park wall, or enters that gate, is a dead man.’

There was no show of weapons, but the revolvers were there, and this the men of Ennis knew. They also knew that it rested with themselves to create the right and the occasion to use the revolvers, and that if the revolvers were used they would be used to some purpose. To their credit, be it said, as men of sense, they suddenly experienced an almost Caledonian respect for the ‘Sabbath-day,’ and after expressing their discontent with Mr Stacpoole’s inhospitable reception, turned about and went back whence they had come. . . .

In the afternoon we took a delightful walk to Killone Abbey, a pile of monastic ruins on a lovely site near a very picturesque lake. The ruins have been used as a quarry by all the country, and are now by no means extensive. But the precincts are used as a graveyard, not only by the people of Ennis, but by the farmers and villagers for many miles around. Nothing can be imagined more painful than the appearance of these precincts. The graves are, for the most part, shallow, and closely huddled together. The cemetery, in truth, is a ghastly slum, a ‘tenement-house’ of the dead. The dead of to-day literally elbow the dead of yesterday out of their resting-places, to be in their turn displaced by the dead of to-morrow. . . .

One exception I noted to the general slovenliness of the graves. A new and handsome monument had just been set up by a man of Ennis, living in Australia, to the memory of his father and mother, buried here twenty years ago. But this touching symbol of a heart untravelled, fondly turning to its home, had been so placed, either by accident or by design, as to block the entrance way to the vault of a family living, or rather owning property, in this neighbourhood. Until within a year or two past this family had occupied a very handsome mansion in a park adjoining the park of Edenvale. But the heir, worn out with local hostilities, and reduced in fortune by the pressure of the times and of the League, has now thrown up the sponge. His ancestral acres have been turned over for cultivation to Mr Stacpoole. His house, a large fine building, apparently of the time of James II, containing, I am told, some good pictures and old furniture, is shut up, as are the model stables, ample enough for a great stud; and so another centre of local industry and activity is made sterile.

Near the ruins of Killone is a curious ancient shrine of St John, beside a spring known as the holy well. All about the rude little altar in the open air simple votive offerings were displayed, and Mrs Stacpoole tells me pilgrims come here from Galway and Connemara to climb the hill upon their knees, and drink of the water. Last year for the first time within the memory of man the well went dry. Such was the distress caused in Ennis by this news, that on the eve of St John certain pious persons came out from the town, drew water from the lake, and poured it into the well! . . . .

It seems to be [Mr Stackpool’s] impression that things look better, however, of late for law and order. On Monday of last week at Ennis an example was made of a local official, which, he thinks, will do good. This was a poor-law guardian named Grogan. He was bound over on Monday last to keep the peace for twelve months towards one George Pilkington. Pilkington, it appears, in contempt of the League, took and occupied, in 1886, a certain farm in Tarmon West. For this he was ‘boycotted’ from that time forth. In December last he was summoned, with others, before the board of guardians at Kilrush, to fix the rents of certain labourers’ cottages. . . While he sat in the room awaiting the action of the board, Grogan, one of its members, rose up, and, looking at Pilkington, said in a loud voice, ‘There’s an obnoxious person here present that should not be here, a land-grabber named Pilkington.’ There was a stir in the room, and Pilkington, standing up, said, ‘I am here because I have had notice from the guardians. If I am asked to leave the place, I shall not come back.’ The chairman of the board upon this declared that ‘while the ordinary business of the board was transacting, Mr Pilkington would be there only by the courtesy of the board;’ and treating the allusions of Grogan to Pilkington as a part of the business of the board, he said, ‘A motion is before the board, does any one second it?’ Another guardian, Collins, got up, and said ‘I do.’ Thereupon the chairman put it to the vote whether Pilkington should be requested to leave. The ayes had it, and the chairman of the board thereupon invited Pilkington to leave the meeting which the board had invited him to attend!. . . .

During the morning Mrs Stacpoole sent for the clerk and manager of the estate, and asked him to show me the books. He is a native of these parts, by name Considine, and has lived at Edenvale for eighteen years. In his youth he went out to America, but there found out that he had a ‘liver,’ an unpleasant discovery, which led him to return to the land of his birth, and to the service of Mr Stacpoole. He is perfectly familiar with the condition of the country here, and as the accounts of this estate are kept minutely and carefully from week to week, he was able this morning to show me the current prices of all kinds of farm produce and of supplies in and about Ennis - not estimated prices, but prices actually paid or received in actual transactions during the last ten years. I am surprised to see how narrow has been the range of local variations during that time; and I find Mr Considine inclined to think that the farmers here have suffered very little, if at all, from these fluctuations, making up from time to time on their reduced expenses what they have lost through lessened receipts. The expenses of the landlord have however increased, while his receipts have fallen off. In 1881 Edenvale paid out for labour £466 0s. 1½d., in 1887 £560 6s. 3½d., though less labour was employed in 1887 than in 1888. The wages of servants, where any change appears, have risen. In 1881 a gardener received £14 a year, in 1881 he receives 15s. a week, or at the rate of £39 a year. A housemaid receiving £12 a year in 1881, receives now £17 a year. A butler receiving in 1881 £26 a year, now receives £40 a year. A kitchenmaid receiving in 1881 £6, now receives £10 10s. a year. Meanwhile, the sub-commissioners are at this moment cutting down the Edenvale rents again by £190 3s. 2d., after a walk over the property in winter. Yet in July 1883 Mr Reeves, for the sub-commission, ‘thought it right to say there was no estate in the County Clare so fairly rented, to their knowledge, or where the tenants had less cause for complaint.’ In but one case was a reduction of any magnitude made by the commission of 1883, and in one case that commission actually increased the rent from £11 10s. to £16. In January 1883 the rental of this property was £4065 5s. 1d. The net reduction made by the commissioners in July 1883 was £296 14s. 0½d.

After luncheon a car came up to the mansion, bringing a stalwart, good-natured-looking sergeant of police, and with him the boycotted old woman Mrs Connell and her son. The sergeant helped the old woman down very tenderly, and supported her into the house. She came in with some trepidation and uneasiness, glancing furtively all about her, with the look of a hunted creature in her eyes. Her son, who followed her, was more at his ease, but he also had a worried and careworn look. . .

This was the woman of whom Mr Redmond wrote to Mr Parnell that she was ‘an active strong dame of about fifty.’ When Mr Balfour, in Parliament, described her truly as a ‘decrepit old woman of eighty,’ Mr Redmond contradicted him, and accused her of being ‘the worse for liquor’ in a public court.
‘How old is your mother?’ I asked her son.
‘I am not rightly sure, sir,’ he replied, ‘but she is more than eighty.’
‘The man himself is about fifty,’ said the sergeant; ‘he volunteered to go to the Crimean War; that was more than thirty years ago!’. . . .

I questioned Connell as to his relations with Carroll, the man who brought him before the League. He was a labourer holding a bit of ground under Carroll. Carroll refused to pay his own rent to the landlord. But he compelled Connell to pay rent to him. When Carroll was evicted, the landlord offered to let Connell have half an acre more of land. He took it to better himself, and ‘how did he injure Carroll by taking it?’ How indeed, poor man! Was he a rent-warner? Yes; he earned something that way two or three times a year; and for that he had to ask the protection of the police — ‘they would kill him else.’ What with worry and fright, and the loss of his livelihood, this unfortunate labourer has evidently been broken down morally and physically. It is impossible to come into contact with such living proofs of the ineffable cowardice and brutality of this business of ‘boycotting’ without indignation and disgust.

While Connell was telling his pitiful tale a happy thought occurred to the charming daughter of the house. Mrs Stacpoole is a clever amateur in photography. ‘Why not photograph this ‘hale and hearty woman of fifty,’ with her son of fifty-three?’ Mrs Stacpoole clapped her hands at the idea, and went off at once to prepare her apparatus.

While she was gone the sergeant gave me an account of the trial, which Mr Redmond, M.P., witnessed. He was painfully explicit. ‘Mr Redmond knew the woman was sober,’ he said; ‘she was lifted up on the table at Mr Redmond’s express request, because she was so small and old, and spoke in such a low voice that he could not hear what she said. Connell had always been a decent industrious fellow—a fisherman. But for the lady, Mrs Moroney, [owner of the Atlantic Hotel, Miltown Malbay] he and his mother would have starved and would starve now. As for the priest, Father White, Connell went to him to ask his intercession and help, but he could get neither.’

The sergeant had heard Father White preach yesterday. ‘It was a curious sermon. He counselled peace and forbearance to the people, because they might be sure the wicked Tory government would very soon fall!’. . . .

Mrs Stacpoole thinks the [photographic] operation promises a success. I suppose it would hardly be civil to send a finished proof of the group to Mr J. Redmond, M.P.

Extracts taken from William H. Hurlbert, Ireland Under Coercion, the diary of an American, 2 vols (Edinburgh 1888), i, pp 205-46.

A Visit to Bodyke, 1881
Jessie Craigen


Three Months in Clare, 1891
Marie Anne de Bovet