The Ballykilcline Evictions

The Ballykilcline Evictions

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(Nenagh Guardian, 17 Jan 1846)

The Mahon family of Strokestown entered into a 41-year lease on the townland of Ballykilcline in Kilglass Parish, County Roscommon, in 1793. The townland is near the Shannon River and only a few miles from the local market place of Strokestown in northeast Roscommon That lease made the Mahons a middleman renter to Crown authorities, who managed such properties for the British monarch. But in 1834, the Mahons declined to renew their lease and Ballykilcline reverted back to the Crown. Some of the Irish tenants refused to pay what they considered to be high rents and, over several years, most other tenants joined their rent strike.

Their actions eventually were countered more vigorously by the Queen’s agents (the Commissioners of Woods and Forests). Through eviction actions, retakings of their properties by the tenants, protracted negotiations to break through the stalemate, even incursions by local police authorities, and imitations of their strike by tenants of other nearby owners, the dispute continued for more than a decade.

At one point, to the astonishment and derision of British officials, the tenants won a court case in 1844 but the decision was overturned two years later. By then however, famine had demoralized the strikers; some had seen their loved ones stricken by the death and disease that accompanied the famine and lost hope. In May 1847, the Crown initiated sweeping evictions and migrations of the tenants of Ballykilcline in several batches over a period of months ending in Spring 1848. They were sent to New York City, getting passage at the Crown’s expense. At about the same time, Denis Mahon, who had inherited the Mahon estate at Strokestown in 1845 and wanted to make it more profitable, was evicting and sending off hundreds of his tenants – the relatives and friends of  the people of Ballykilcline in surrounding townlands, some of whom had parents and siblings in Ballykilcline  – to Quebec, Canada. Dr. Ciaran Reilly is identifying those people in the famine archive of the Mahon estate and trying to learn their subsequent fates.

Records of the Ballykilcline migration kept by the Queen’s agents name the families evicted by the Crown. They are listed at the Ballykilcline Society’s web site at http://www.ballykilcline.com/evicted_f.html. While Robert Scally, their initial storyteller (The End of Hidden Ireland / Rebellion, Famine, & Emigration), said that 368 of them docked in New York, the Commissioners had named only 360 evictees. Perhaps the difference is due to tenants who, in Dublin or Liverpool, their embarkation point for their Atlantic crossing, were barred from taking passage because of illness, age, or a change of heart. Several such instances occurred, Scally said.  Or perhaps there was subterfuge in recording the numbers to allow desperate family or friends to leave.

Through the 1840s, Ballykilcline’s population held fairly steady at about 500 people, Scally stated. But people moved into and out of the townland through that period such that more than 600 people actually lived for a while in Ballykilcline during that decade. That determination came from comparing a tenants list dated about 1840 with the officials’ 1847 list of evictees. The population, of course, dwindled due to deaths of residents during the famine years. Approximately 25 deaths have been identified in famine time – men, women, children and the elderly. There likely were more. It is known too that some residents emigrated on their own after 1830, for instance, John and Sabina Brennan Hanley, Daniel and Nancy Winters Maguire, and Arthur Mullera. There were others as well. Some of the evictees joined family members who already had re-established themselves in the United States. (See Ballykilcline Rising / From Famine Ireland to Immigrant America by Mary Lee Dunn)

By 1851, the population of Kilglass Parish had declined by more than 60 percent. But many of the Irish who left on Mahon’s purse did not have a chance to begin over again in their new places in the world. On some of the ships chartered by Denis Mahon for his tenants, more than half of the passengers died en route or soon after landing at Grosse Ile, Quebec’s quarantine station, in the dreadful summer of death and disease there in 1847 which was caused by the arrival of tens of thousands of sickly and destitute Irish, including Denis Mahon’s former evictees. Ireland that summer came to be called “coffin ships.”

The Crown’s tenants from Ballykilcline to New York City apparently fared far better than Mahon’s unfortunates since virtually all seemed to make it to New York if Scally’s 368 figure is correct. Speculation has suggested that the death rate among Mahon’s evictees bound for Canada may have provided at least part of the rationale for his assassination in early November 1847.

The U.S. locales where clusters of the former residents of Ballykilcline settled, at least for a time, included Rutland, Vermont, Albany, New York, Providence, Rhode Island, Texas, Maryland, LaSalle County, Illinois, Minnetonka, Minnesota, and New York City where some remained for years after they landed in the United States. In those places, they labored building railroads and canals, quarrying, in domestic service, working in mills and on farms owned by other people. Some of them eventually prospered; some suffered badly. They often did it together, clustering near each other.

The Mahon property at Strokestown is now a mansion open to the public and its stables house Ireland’s Famine Museum which tells the tales and explores the legacies of the Irish people caught in tragic times.

 

Submitted by Mary Lee Dunn

Member, the Ballykilcline Society

Author, Ballykilcline Rising

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