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Courtesy of Maire Gallagher, a poignant account taken from the proceedings of the House of Commons, 2 April 1846, when William Smith O’Brien read a lengthy passage regarding evictions in the village of Ballinglass, county Galway. The eviction of tenants the Gerrard estate would become a notorious incident and gave rise to the term ‘Gerrardising’.
“At an early hour of the morning of Friday, the 13th instant, the sheriff, accompanied by a large force of the 49th regiment, commanded by the Captain Brown, and also by a heavy body of police under the command of Mr. Cummings, proceeded to the place marked out for desolation; the people were then according to the process of law (I could not produce a copy of the habere) called on to render possession, and then the bailiffs of Mrs. Gerrard commenced the work of demolition.
In the first instance the roofs and portions of the walls were only thrown down; the former, in most instances, lie on the side of the road. Great pains must have been taken to demolish the houses, as the walls were very thick, and composed of an umber clay, and when the inside turned up, good plaster and whitewash always appeared. Not content with throwing down the roofs and walls, the very foundations have been turned up. When this last act had been perpetrated, the ‘wretches’ took to the ditches on the high road, where they slept in parties of from ten to fifteen each, huddled together before a fire for the two succeeding nights. I saw the mark of the fires in the ditches; everybody can see them, and the temporary shelter which the ‘wretches’ (I cannot help quoting the word so often) endeavoured to raise round them with the sticks, rescued from their recent dwelling.
A boy there about nine or ten years of age, told us that one of the bailiffs told his mammy not to take in any of the people who were turned out, but his mammy let in an old woman after that. I would not have placed much reliance on this corroboration, except for what you will learn some further on. It is to be hoped, for the sake of humanity and of womanhood, that Mrs. Gerrard is ignorant of that order. I expressed a wish to be directed where I could meet some of the poor people, when the man said, ‘Oh, here is one of them coming down the hill.’ This person who soon joined us was old, and as he raised his hat to salute me, his fine white hair floated on the breeze. He was a fine athletic handsome old man, with a mournful countenance, and as he addressed me in the beautiful and simple salutation of the country, with ‘God save you, sir!’ (he spoke English very well) I felt a reverence for the old, ill-treated and unhappy man.
“Are you one of the people who were recently turned out?” I inquired.
– Indeed, I am, Sir, said he, with a heavy sigh.
“How old are you, Sir?”
– Nearly eighty.
“How long did you reside in the village of Ballinglass?”
– Over sixty-eight years, Sir; and he burst into tears.
“How many in family have you?”
– Three, together with myself; but I had a great deal more than that. Some of them are dead and gone, and well for them they didn’t live to see this desolate day: others of them are married, and some more of them are gone to America.
“How much land had you?”
– Why, I can’t rightly tell, as there are no regular farms, but there was over 400 acres belonging to the village.
“Did you owe any rent?”
– I did, Sir.
“Were you able to pay it?”
– I was, Sir, and willing too, but she wouldn’t take it for the last five half years.
– Why, because, Sir, she wanted to throw down the houses to make bullock pastures.
“Did you ever offer the rent to the lady?”
– I did, Sir, more than twenty times, and I offered it to her agent also, but they would not take it. We went to the hall-door (meaning the hall-door of the lodge already mentioned) often with the rent, but they would not take it from us. Every man in the village, but one, offered the rent over and over, but they wouldn’t take it; and we offered to pay that man’s rent, but they wouldn’t take that either.
“Is it true that the remainder of the walls were ordered to be thrown down to prevent the people from sheltering themselves at night?”
– In truth it is, Sir; they wouldn’t let anyone go near the place; we slept in the ditches for two nights, and I got pains in my poor old bones after it.
“Did the women sleep in the ditches?”
– They did, Sir, and I saw one of the women with a child at her breast hunted by the bailiffs from three places the night after; they threw down the houses when we were under the walls, and they came to put out the fires, and they put out the fires in the road ditches on us too.”
The report then proceeds to give a list of the persons, form which it appeared that sixty-one families, numbering two hundred and seventy persons, had been evicted.
It appears that the ‘one man’ so often before mentioned who refused to pay the rent, had some of his land let to under-tenants. He went away leaving some rent due; the people offered the rent
which they used to pay this man to the agent of Mrs. Gerrard, and demanded receipts, but he would not give any receipt except one ‘on account’ of rent due. The people owed no rent, and therefore they refused to take receipts on account.”