Tackling the smallholders: The notorious George Garvey
Throughout the course of the Great Famine George Garvey served as agent to a number of estates in King’s County (Offaly) including the Holmes estate at Moneygall; the Drought at Whigsborough; the Moony estate at Doon; the Norbury estate at Durrow; the Toler estate at Parsonstown (now Birr); the Bennett estate at Thomastown and the Rosse at Parsonstown. For his efforts Garvey was frequently the target for disgruntled and evicted tenants. Indeed, he survived a number of attempts on his life (See below Kerry Evening Press, 13 Nov. 1847).
Appointed agent of the Rosse estate at Birr in April 1853, Garvey quickly moved to establish law and order on one of the county’s largest estates. Addressing the tenants of the estate Garvey stated that he hoped:
for the cordial co-operation of his lordships respectable and well-disposed tenants; their general intelligence will point out to them that the late revolution in Irish landed property caused by the potato failure and its results has created much confusion where small tenancies have been numerous and where immediate interests usually termed ‘middlemen’s have ceased to exist.
In particular, Garvey quickly moved to collect what rents he could and received over £11,134 in rent in 1854 (although arrears still amounted to over £6,000). This arrear meant that Garvey now targeted those who were never likely to pay their arrears and a large clearance of tenants was undertaken in 1853 and 1854. These evictions resulted in the loss of over £1,404 in arrears, but both Rosse and Garvey believed this was necessary going forward. In the majority of cases these were smallholders who owed small amounts of arrears.
Those evicted included James Towers of Carrigeen, Deborah Guinan at Clonbonniff and, at Fadden, several others including the Claffey and Malone families. Generally, and this applied to many King’s County estates, the philosophy going forward was that the arrears of smallholders could be done without, it was more important to gain access to their lands so that they could be redistributed in the process of creating more viable farms and in some cases extensive ranches.