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The Cattle Drivers
Michael ‘Straighty’ Flanagan

Carroll Mackenzie Collection

Michael 'Straighty' Flanagan

Oh then comrades dear, and did you hear the news that’s going around,
That grazers’ cattle are forbid to graze on Irish ground.
At avoiding cattle drivers, this is the truth I vow,
You’d want to have a bobby at the tail of every cow.

Each night those bobbys must be out though it’s against their will,
Just like the Clare Militia Men were out of ? drill.
Some are sorry now to join the force as they have cause for grief,
They never had such work before in searching out for beef.

They’re searching all the woods and moors from Barefield to Shallee,
From Broadford up to Corkscrewhill and back to Fiddle’s Green.
A long time we were waiting but the time is now drawing neigh,
When the bullocks and the grazers to the land must bid goodbye.

You’d laugh to see those policemen looking out for bullock’s tracks,
With big revolvers by their sides and rifles on their backs.
Tis hard to blame the policemen or any of the R.I.C.,
They must herd bycotted cattle or lose their solvery.

Sometime ago they thought to get another bob a day,
Now they’re hardly worth three ha’pence coming home at break of day.
Their bikes are of no use to them when going through long grass,
The only thing would suit them is a thoroughbred jackass.

Those peelers who were once so strong are worn out you bet,
The only chance those black coats have is if the night is wet.
The peelers then can sleep away til the sergeant gives the call,
Saying, ‘Get up and mind the bullocks boys, the rain has ceased to fall.’

Too long the grazing bullocks that have grazed in Irish hills,
To fatten them in future they must give them Beecham’s pills.
The land will be our own my boys if we but wait a while,
For we’ll make the grazers stay at home to live in caster oil.

No more we’ll nurse the grazers but we’ll rally in their fray,
We’ll have our own sweet little home where the Fergus waters play.
We’ll shout up on the hillsides each as the faithful Gael,
Or the whispering voice of freedom is heard o’er Inisfail.

Now to conclude and finish, you very soon shall see,
Old Ireland’s strong and manly?, our hills and valleys free.
Revive the Gaelic tongue once more cut out each failed shoneen
But clasp the sword for Erin’s sake and raise the flag of green.


“This is one of a number of songs composed around the ‘ranch wars’ that were taking place in Ireland around the beginning of the last century (see also, ‘The Grazier’s Song’ and ‘The Broadford Prisoners’). Land seized by the big landowners following the Famine, was gradually being redistributed to farmers throughout rural Ireland, but the inequality of that redistribution led to a great deal of protest, for instance, it was reckoned that as late as 1911, 6,000 of the largest farms in Connaught comprised roughly the same amount of land as the 70,000 smallest landholders. Protest took the form of ‘cattle droving’ i.e. herds of cattle were taken from the wealthier farms, driven through the towns and then let loose over the countryside, causing both disruption and loss of revenue for the large farmers.

These protests were instigated by Laurence Ginnell, M.P. for North Westmeath, described at the time by a fellow politician as ‘quite a wild man’. Parts of Clare were said to be among the most active in the country. Tulla, including Bodyke, was described as ‘the plague spot of Ireland’, and Doolin and other parts of North Clare featured prominently in the disruption. Ginnell's cattle-drives began to tail off after the summer of 1908, and the national agitation campaign was finally dissolved with the passage of a 1909 Act that allowed the transfer to the Land Commission, by compulsory purchase, of farmland which was hailed by the national movement as an historic victory. Land agitation in this and other forms continued in Clare into the 1920s, merging in with the struggle for independence following the 1916 uprising. This is an eye-witness account of one of the protests in Ennistymon, from ‘The Cattle Drive from Doolin' by Larry Healy, Ennistymon Parish Magazine, 1991:

On the last day of September 1910, I was attending school at the Monastery in Ennistymon…
Well, when we came out on the schoolyard we heard this awful shouting coming from Parliament Street beside us. I thought I could hear the words 'how, how, how' used by farmers when driving their cattle. But the 'how, how, how' was so loud that there were hundreds of people shouting in unison. Rules or no rules, curiosity overcame me. I simply had to steal out the gateway to see what the rumpus was all about. The whole of Parliament Street was black with men who had gathered or were gathering outside the Courthouse while inside the iron railings was a large force of police with their helmets on and their batons in their hands. The men outside were chanting 'how, how, how,' at the top of their voices, trying, I found out later, to interrupt and interfere with the sitting of the court……

At the fireside that night, when a few of the neighbours came in on 'cuairt', I heard the whole story of the Court case and the "how, how, how". It seems that the landlord of Doolin, H. V. Macnamara of Ennistymon House (The Falls Hotel) was rather severe on the tenants. The tenants were looking for fair rents and were prepared to put their case to arbitration but Macnamara, through his agents, refused to hear them. The tenants came together and decided that they would bring their case to the public in a quiet way. They decided on a cattle drive. So in the last week in September forty Doolin tenants drove 500 cattle from Macnamara's land in Doolin on to the Coast Road to Blackhead and set them to roam in the crags and defiles of that area. It was a massive gesture of dissatisfaction backed by the tenant farmers of Touclea and Doolin. The police investigated the case and summoned forty men to appear before the magistrate at Ennistymon Court. Inspector Harrison from Ballyvaughan was in charge of the Prosecu¬tion. Of course all the tenants from North Clare were deeply interested in the case and gathered around the courthouse in Ennistymon. Fr. McGauran. PP., of Kilshanny, stopped a nasty confrontation with the police when he succeeded in persuading a group of Doolin people travelling to Ennistymon by long car with a load of 'Buailteáns’ (wattle or flail) to leave them with him. As the court case proceeded someone shouted 'how, how, how' and the cry, regarded as so appropriate, was echoed and re echoed by the crowd. Inside the courthouse the noise from the outside was so unbearable that Inspector Harrison came out and ordered the police to draw their batons and to charge the crowd. The crowd resisted and began to throw stones but the police succeeded in scattering them down as far as the Main Street.

The sentence passed by the magistrate was one month's imprisonment in Limerick Jail. Around three o'clock the forty men (came out) surrounded by the police and once again the police had to baton charge the people to get a passage through the Main Street. One of the men who witnessed the baton charge that day told me how violent and how brutal it was. It was completely unexpected, and many innocent bystanders were attacked and wounded and the shopkeepers were obliged to close their doors and shutter up the windows.

At the end of October, when the Doolin men returned after their month in jail, they were met at Ennistymon station by the Ennistymon brass band and a huge crowd of people, with the Doolin contingent carrying ‘shillelaghs’. They marched through the town eight deep in a mass demonstration. Extra policemen had been drafted into town but they remained within the barracks and there was no disorder. The Doolin Cattle Drive is remembered still in Ennistymon thanks to a budding poet who penned the following lines. Memory fails me here and there in the song. It ran like this:-

Harrison told them draw their batons for the noise I won't allow
My brain is fairly addled with the how-how-how
The last day of September when the boys were sent to jail
The peelers who escorted them were itching for a row
For nothing irritated them like the how-how-how.

That so-called Macnamara from Ennistymon House
We swear before we're done with him he'll be muter than a mouse
The peelers started charging and the boys were flinging stones
Harrison got wounded and he shouted out to Holms
I'm afraid that we're mistaken kicking up a row,
For they'll hunt us like the bullocks with their how-how-how.

If only we had the rifles and bayonets go leor
We'd show those cowardly renegades what we have long in store
We’ll hunt them like the bullock and take a solemn vow,
That we’d explain just what we meant by how-how-how.

Now Harrison got wounded, and Holms so much afraid,
He damaged his trousers and snatched a ready-made,
Four and twenty baton men are in the barrack now,
Their noppers [heads] nicely softened with the how-how-how.’"

Ennistymon Parish Magazine, 1991
Clare, History and Society, Matthew Lynch and Patrick Nugent (eds.), Geography Publications, 2008
Jim Carroll

See also
The Cattle Drive of Doolin


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