For a number of years now Jarlath McNamara has been researching the life of Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore, one of the most successful Irish Famine emigrants in 19th Century America. Jarlath now shares with us two examples of eviction in county Galway during the Famine years including the story of ‘Ballybeggarman’ and how evicted tenants were treated in the village of Ballygar.
Outside the village of Ballygar, county Galway between the Kelly and French estates was a little village known as Boughill, composed of a Blacksmith and 40 houses. In 1848 English Crown government officials evicted and forced 253 people from the village to leave through the port of Galway, almost 40 miles away, and immigrate to Canada. One of these was a literate man called Michael Byrne, a pauper who originally had a mud hut in the village and one rood of land in Boughill. He later sent a letter home from Canada to a government official stating that “I am now employed in the rail road line earning 5 shillings per day …… and instead of being chained with poverty in Boughill I am crowned with glory and I am better pleased to come to this country than if you bestowed me 5 acres of land in Boughill…All the emigrants of Boughill send you their best respect and blessing “. Another Boughill resident called Widow Loughan was a tenant and at the age of 97 she was evicted. She was quoted as saying “I can be led, but never driven “. They had packed up their meagre belongings and left the village desolate and empty, walked to the nearest port in Galway and boarded their ship for an final relocation presumed to be somewhere in the East Coast of Canada. They were never heard of again. Officials at the time had commented in amazement that these people hung on to their meagre belongings and had pleaded with those same officials at the time of eviction that they be left to die on their land and on the land of their forefathers. Most of these Boughill villagers left on board the Ship “Sea Bird” from Galway Port. By 1851 the returns read to the Houses of Parliament in London included the small entry that 6 shillings and 1 penny was the return for crown lands in Boughill. Other families such as Margaret Gormally age 37 and her sister Mary age 36 married to Thadys who occupied a cabin and 1.5 acres were gone. 38 cabins were empty and a Blacksmiths had gone silent. The village was dead. (See Kerby Miller, Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America (??), p. 303).
Denis H. Kelly, landlord of Castle Kelly, near Ballygar, county Galway and friend of Denis Mahon in Strokestown testified at the Devon Commission in Roscommon July 22nd 1844 regarding the evicted ……. “that he had set aside a few acres of land where those who were evicted could stay for a while and decide what to do in the future”, whether to emigrate or move on to other estates. These few acres were according to Kelly, called “Ballybeggarman” locally. He again used the phrase when emphasizing that the release of stock from the Pound happened after the offending person “appealed like a beggar-man”, paid the debt and then and only then were the stock released. It seems that the great Lord exercised absolute control over everything that was done in the area in daily life. The field still exists and locally upwards of 22 families were housed in the hovels of that 4 acre field.