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The Cornonagh Evictions

Len Gould

Reproduced, with the Society's permission, from the 1999/2000 Journal of The Creggan Local History Society

I first heard about the Cornonagh evictions from my wife, Eileen. She told me that when she was growing up in the townland of Drumbally, if her father, Mick McKeever, came home andfound the kitchen chairs and table in the yard, having been scrubbed, he would say 'God bless us, is this the Cornonagh eviction again?' Regrettably, with the passing of his generation, many of their memories of that event, told to them by their parents, have been lost. The following is based on what evidence I have been able to collect, mainly from newspapers and other printed records.

The eighteen-eighties were bad years for small tenant farmers in Ireland. After some signs of recovery in the post-famine period, agricultural income fell progressively from 1881 onwards. High rents, falling market prices and poor yields, resulting from inclement weather, combined to leave tenant farmers penniless. Some managed to survive by hiring their children and using the money to pay the rent, but for many even this was not enough to meet the demands of the landlords who saw no reason why their income should be diminished. The Land Acts introduced by Gladstone, in 1881 and 1888, aimed to provide legal mechanism which would ensure that tenants were required to pay only a fair rent, set by a Commission, and at the same time have some degree of security of tenure. In practice these measures were only partially successful and many landlords were able to use the law not only to maintain the rack-rents, which were beyond the tenants' means, but also to demand recompense for their legal fees. The inevitable outcome was a spate of eviction notices reminiscent of earlier decades of the century.

The problem was particularly acute in upland areas where there was only a thin covering of soil over the underlying rock. One such area was the townland of Cornonagh in the parish of Upper Creggan, South Armagh. In 1888, eleven tenants on the estate of R T Hamilton, which occupied some three-quarters of the townland, were evicted after a year long battle with the land-agent, H D M Barton, to get their rents reduced. Many more were threatened with eviction in an attempt to coerce them into withdrawing their demand for a reduction.

Two aspects of the Cornonagh evictions make them of particular historical interest. Firstly, even though satisfactory settlements had been reached on the surrounding estates, the agent was obdurate and refused to compromise in a way that allowed the tenants to pay off their debts. This raises questions about the landlord's motives in pursuing what became a protracted, and hence expensive, legal process to avoid the loss of a relatively small sum of money. Secondly, the events provide an interesting insight into the role of the Dundalk Board of Guardians who adopted a compassionate role and were prepared, surprisingly, to extend the provision of relief to the evicted beyond the provisions of the law. In the end they were prevented from following their instincts by an edict from the Local Government Board and received a reprimand. The fact that R. T. Hamilton, the landlord, was an Inspector working for the Local Government Board gave rise to some comment at the time.


The townland of Cornonagh lies about three miles south-east of Crossmaglen on the road from Creggan to Dundalk, now known as Glassdrumman Road (Figure 1). The name Cornonagh, previously spelt Corneonagh or Comoonagh, is said to be derived from Corr-na-habhainne, meaning the round hill of the river. The highest point, Cornonagh Hill, just south of Glassdrummond Road, is some 450ft above sea level; only a small portion of the area is below 300ft. There is little flat land and a writer at the time of the evictions commented that the townland:

... is nearly equally divided between rocks and bogs. The tenants, after years of toil and labour, have succeeded in reclaiming little more than half their entire holdings. In many cases they had to carry the earth on their backs to cover the bare and barren rocks and make them fertile, and even thus in most cases only afewperches can be laboured ... Into many parts of the land a plough had never entered and probably never will. All the labour must be done with a spade.(1)

The tenacity of the people is well illustrated by a local story that a member of one of the evicted families was given the nickname "Pony" because on one occasion when his pony went lame he strapped himself into the shafts of his cart and pulled the load home.

A survey of Cornonagh in the 1880s is not available but a study of contemporary maps suggests that there had been little change in the layout of fields and dwellings from 1864, when Griffith completed his valuation of the area. At that time, the townland comprised some 547 acres. The whole of Cornonagh and the neighbouring townland of Coolderry was, in 1864, the property of Rev. Edward J Hamilton. On his death, sixty-three of the holdings on Cornonagh went to R T Hamilton, a Local Government Inspector who lived near Newtownards; the remaining nineteen became the property of Arthur Hammill (Figure 2).

The beginning of the problem

The roots of the dispute between the Cornonagh tenants and their landlord are to be found in the terms of a judicial agreement in 1883 under which Hamilton agreed to a reduction in their rents. The agreement was the outcome of the Land Act which had allowed tenants to propose a "fair" rent for their holdings, based on the changes in the prices for agricultural produce. In doing so, the Act had established the concept of a market-value for small holdings and was not welcomed generally by the landlords, but it would appear that Hamilton was ready to accept a reduction of 20% of the existing rents, which had been established in more prosperous times.

Later in 1883, Hamilton appointed H.D.M. Barton, of The Bush, in Co. Antrim, to be his agent. Barton immediately brought pressure to bear on some of the tenants to accept a smaller reduction of 10%. In the end they gave-in to his coercion and accepted his terms, which meant that the remaining tenants were forced to follow suit. From the tenants' point of view it would have appeared that they had been let down by the judicial system, but it transpired at a later date, in 1888, that the agreement for a 20% reduction was never lodged with the Land Court. Instead, 43 statutory agreements, presumably based on the 10% reduction in rents, were lodged in November 1884.

From the start, then, there were ample grounds for a lack of trust between the agent and the tenants. Barton was also an unfortunate choice to be an agent in South Armagh since a relative of his was murdered during an earlier period of agrarian unrest. Kevin McMahon suggests that the relative was probably Robert Linday Maulever, who was murdered at Crievekeeran on 23 May 1850 (2). Maulever was the land-agent for the Hamilton, Tipping and Jones estates. The tenants maintained that, as a result, Barton was bitter towards them because they lived neal to the scene of the murder. It is not possible to say if this is true or not, but whichever it would not have encouraged friendly relations. Nonetheless, the tenants honoured the 10% agreement and, from 1883 until 1886, there is no evidence of any significant failure to pay the rents.

The situation changed dramatically in 1886. A combination of inclement weather and low prices for farm produce meant that farmers, both large and small, were struggling to survive, let alone pay the rack-rent. It was also increasingly difficult to find opportunities to hire out their children. Demands for immediate settlement of the rents due meant that the farmers would have had to sell their produce at the most unfavourable time, when market prices were depressed.

At the end of the year, the tenants approached Barton and asked him for a reduction in the rent for 1887 which reflected the decreased yield from their holdings. According to the writer of a letter in the Freeman Journal, they felt that "... the landlord should be prepared to share their pecuniary difficulties."(3) This was a sentiment which was in< keeping with the spirit of the Land Act, but not, as it turned out, with the views of the land-agent who reputedly replied that "... not the weight of a hair of his head would he give them".

At this early stage the tenants received support from Canon Rafferty, the parish priest in Crossmaglen. He was hailed as "... a man of singular moderation, prudence and piety." At the time that the Cornonagh problems were coming to a head, there was also trouble on the Johnston and Jackson estate at Tavanmore. These landlords had refused to consider a reduction in rent and were threatening eviction. Canon Rafferty acted as intermediary and an agreement was reached on the basis of a 10% reduction with Johnston and Jackson paying the legal costs. The Canon's efforts were less successful, however, in negotiating with Hamilton who rebuffed the priest with the comment that times were not so bad after all. However, the landlord did float the idea that the tenants could purchase their holdings but declined to enter into any further discussions. The option to purchase was not a magnanimous gesture by Hamilton but was an entitlement enshrined in the Land Act of 1870 and endorsed by Lord Ashbourne's Land Purchase act of 1885 which provided state assistance for tenant farmers to purchase their rented holdings.

When, at the end of January, Barton put the proposals to the tenants they inevitably viewed them with some suspicion which was not unreasonable bearing in mind the bad relations that had existed over the years and the fact that the alternative to purchase was eviction. Barton had made no offer of negotiation of rent. As is happened, the offer at twenty years purchase of the rent was not unreasonable, but the tenants discovered that, even allowing for a government grant, the yearly cost to them would be only marginally less than the rent. It was clear that, if they could not pay the rent, they equally could not in honesty enter into a purchase agreement which they could not honour. They declined to accept the offer and again asked for a reduction of rent in keeping with that being agreed in neighbouring townlands. The agent's reaction was to demand the full rent with legal costs.

Faced with Barton's intransigence, the tenants decided to adopt the Plan of Campaign, which had been operated with some degree of success in other areas by branches of the Land League and its successor the Irish National League. Under the Plan the tenants, having made what they regarded as a fair offer which was refused, withheld the rent and lodged the money. The Dundalk Democrat reported that the Cornonagh tenants decided to adopt the Plan in March 1887.(4) The agent's response was predictably aggressive and by the end of March he had started legal proceedings against fourteen of the tenants and had sent letters to the remainder threatening eviction.

Monster demonstration in Crossmaglen

While the Cornonagh tenants were involved in their battle with Messrs Hamilton and Barton, there was trouble on the other side of Crossmaglen on the Ball estates. Tenants there were asking for a reduction of between 25% and 30% in their rents. The Trustees of the estate had offered 15% which, the Ball tenants argued, still left the rents beyond their means. The Crossmaglen branch of the League decided to hold a demonstration in the Square on Good Friday, 8 April 1887, in protest at the treatment of those living on the Ball and Hamilton estates. Mr. William O'Brien MP and Mr. Daniel Crilly MP, both prominent members of Pariiell's party, agreed to address the meeting and travelled to Dundalk on Maundy Thursday, where they were met by a delegation including Messrs B. McConville, J. Morris and J. Luckie from the Crossmaglen branch together with National League representatives from the surrounding area.

On the following morning O'Brien and Crilly walked through the centre of Dundalk meeting people before proceeding to Crossmaglen. The Dundalk Democrat carried this eye-witness account of what must have been a memorable joumey for the visitors:

At the appointed time a start was made for Crossmaglen which was reached after an hour's drive, within a mile of the town the party was met by the Inniskeen fife and drum band, and as they approached the town the Castleblayney fife and drum band accompanied by an enormous crowd ofpeople marched out to meet the delegates and gave them a most enthusiastic reception. As the thousands of people assembled marched into Crossmaglen their cheers resounded through the town. At half-past two o'clock, the meeting was held, and there must have been then fully eight thousand persons present. The Chair was taken amid enthusiastic cheering by the Very Reverend Canon Rafferty, who in a brief but eloquent speech explained the object of the meeting and held that the priests and people were more than justified in assembling there on Good Friday, as the work on which they were engaged was a work of charity.(5)

The speeches by O'Brien and Crilly were concerned with the overall policies of the National League, but O'Brien ended with a strong recommendation to the tenants of both estates to adopt the Plan of Campaign.

It seems that Crossmaglen lived up to its reputation for hospitality:

After the meeting, the speakers, the clergy and a number of those who came long distances were most hospitably entertained at dinner in Lennon's Commercial Hotel by the local branch. The Very Reverend Canon Rafferty presided and nothing was left undone by Mr Lennon to ensure the comfort of the guests. The bands played a selection of national airs in front of the hotel.

At this point it is appropriate to mention the role of the Catholic Clergy. The list of dignitaries who attended the demonstration (Table 1) contains the names of a number of priests who gave their support to those of their parishioners who were under threat of losing their livelihood. Canon Rafferty's involvement in the early negotiations with Hamilton has been noted above. At the demonstration he was greeted with cheers as he took the Chair for the public addresses and was clearly popular with the assembled protesters. Later in the year, there was a further series of demonstrations in Carrickmacross, Castleblaney, Crossmaglen and Dundalk. These were held in the week running up to Christmas and in each town two priests were present to lend support. The involvement of the local priests was welcomed by the members of the League as well as the tenants, but at a national level the practice came under the scrutiny of the Vatican and in April 1888 Leo XIII issued a rescript condemning the Plan as illegal. Despite this, the Crossmaglen clergy under the leadership of Fr. P. MeGeeney, Canon Rafferty's successor, were still involved in the Cornonagh dispute.

The land-agent's attempts at coercion

Following the meeting in March at which the tenants proposed to adopt the Plan, Barton embarked on a programme of letters, threats of eviction and legal proceedings in an attempt to get the tenants to pay the rack-rent without deduction. A report of the November meeting of the Crossmaglen Branch of the League refers to the case of the evicted Cornonagh tenants giving the impression that Barton had managed to enforce eviction notices. However, there is no evidence of any tenants being dispossessed during 1887.

Indeed, reports of two court hearings indicate that the tenants were still living on their farms.

In December, the Judge at the Quarter Sessions ordered a stay of execution of eviction orders which had been lodged against fourteen tenants. Later, at the January 1888 Quarter Sessions at Markethill, Barton applied to the Court for recovery of rents due in November 1887 from seventeen tenants. The Judge reduced the rents in fourteen cases by a total of 4.3 s.11d. and gave the defendants time to pay.

Surprisingly, in December after the Ballybot hearing, Barton offered a reduction of 15% in the rents. It seems probable that if this offer had made to them at the beginning of the year, the tenants would have happily accepted it. Bearing in mind the poor relations which they had with the agent, they were entitled to be suspicious of the reasons for this about face. The most likely cause of this change of heart is to be found in the amount of the judicial costs Barton had incurred in his determination to bring the tenants to heel. The record of the Markethill hearing, for example, shows that the costs were 11.4s.8d. This explanation is supported by the fact that the offer of a 15% reduction carried a rider. The tenants would have to agree to cover the legal costs which had been involved since they started their campaign to reduce their rents. It is not surprising that they were left bewildered by this demand. As with the land purchase offer made in January, they felt that if they were unable to raise the money to pay the rent for 1887, they would hardly be able to cover the extra burden of the legal costs; in some cases, the legal costs exceeded the rent. Rather than make an outright rejection of the offer, a delegation was sent to Barton to confirm that they would pay the new rent and to explain that, in their view, as they had no part in the decision to have recourse to the Courts they could not be expected to meet the costs which the agent had incurred. The tenants departed empty-handed, facing the realisation that Barton was determined to enforce the eviction orders, when the period of redemption was over, and to take possession of their holdings.

The Evictions

Barton continued to issue notices of intention to evict well into 1888, but actual evictions were confined to the eleven who were under the courts jurisdiction. In May 1888, with the approach of the end of the period of redemption, the tenants who had been granted a stay of execution of their eviction notices were summoned to appear before the local Magistrate's Bench. They were ordered to vacate their farms, but at the end of June they were still there. At the June meeting of the Dundalk Board of Guardians, the Relieving Officer, Thomas Hughes, informed them that R.T. Hamilton intended to proceed with the eviction of eleven of his Cornonagh tenants. They were named as; Patrick Conlon, Peter Conlon, Matthew Hearty, Jnr., Thomas Lavell, Sarah MeDonnell, Mary McGeeney, Patrick McGeeney, Michael Morgan, Peter Morgan, Patrick Murphy, and Owen Trainor.

There was a further delay of almost a month before they were forced to moved from their holdings.

The first evictions took place on Friday 27 July and the event was described in a poem written by Peader (Atty) McGeeney.

On July 2 7th, in the year 1888,
Was the date of the evictions
In the Hamilton estate,
They turned out the dying,
And Pat Morgan's children crying,
For to perish by the roadside
in the rain.

Out the two McGeeneys went,
For not paying the rack-rent,
Matthew Hearty and his family also,
Another few I will not tell,
All true followers of Parnell,
But before they pay the rack-rent
out they go.

The remaining seven were evicted on the following day, Saturday 28 July.

It is difficult to fully comprehend the horror of the actual eviction and the humiliation which the tenants had to endure. The Poor Law Guardian for the area, R. Jeffers, was present on the day and later reported to the Board that what he called "this hellish work" went on in the midst of torrents of rain. He described the scene as one he would never forget. The only other eye-witness account which appears to have survived is a report by Inspector Dobbyn of the RIC and it is inevitable that it presents a one-sided picture:

I beg to report that on Friday and Saturday, with eighty men, I protected the sub. sheriff in carrying out eleven evictions on above property. Mr. Mayne, R.M., was in charge. In consequence of combination on the part of these tenants not to pay the rent within the six months, the agent, who was present, ... had them all evicted, and put a caretaker with one of the houses, to whom I afforded police protection of a sergeant and four constables, which number I think may be reduced after a while, when the excitement abates. On first day, except at the very start, there was little demonstration. I cautioned the people that no interference would be allowed and that very little on their part would turn their assembly into an unlawful one. Towards the close of the second day, the temperament of the people was quickly changing and their attitudes was (sic) becoming very hostile. We, on our part, became equally determined to prevent any interference whatever with the sheriff in the execution of his duty, and did not allow the crowds to come within two hundred yards of him. The men suffered great hardship in consequence of the extreme severity of the days. They were saturated on Friday and had only a straw lodge to return to, and although every exertion was made to try and have their clothes dried, it was only partially successful They turned out quite early on Saturday morning.


I omitted to mention that each morning as we arrived at the scene of evictions the chapel bell was rung to give notice of our arrival Towards the close of the second day, there were about 500 people present.(7)

The large number of police present at the eviction indicates that there was an expectation of trouble, an apprehension probably reinforced in the minds of the police by the ringing of the chapel bell, presumably at Glassdrumman, to give warning of their arrival. Although the Inspector makes reference to the mood of the people, there does not appear to have been a serious confrontation. This suggests that the crowd consisted of neighbours keen to show solidarity and concern for the evicted, and reinforces the view that the occasion was not used by the League to provoke violent protest.

The weather conditions must have been particularly bad for the Inspector to feel the need to comment to his superior about the hardship suffered by his men, even though they had overnight shelter; a luxury denied the people they had evicted and who had been simply dumped, with their belongings, which were probably meagre, on the roadside.

According to a report subsequently given to the Dundalk Board of Guardians, some of the evicted families were taken in by neighbours. Michael Morgan had moved into Crossmaglen and Patrick McGeeney was living in the neighbouring townland of Drumbally. The present Pat McGeeney recalls that his father told him that after eviction the family lived in a hut by the Creggan river just a few hundred yards from the home from which they were evicted. Others sheltered in a shed which had been constructed on land on which no rent was due. Tradition has it that this shed was built of stone, measured 30ft by 20ft, and was erected overnight by volunteers from Iniskeen and other surrounding areas.

It seems that it was common practice, at the time, to knock down the walls of dwellings when people were evicted to prevent return. There is no positive evidence of the condition in which the Cornonagh houses were left, but the Dundalk Democrat comments later that "... the Emergency man and police protectors are too comfortably quartered to object ..." so at least some of the houses were habitable.

The Dundalk Board of Guardians

When they had been dispossessed of their holdings, the evicted tenants from the Hamilton estate became eligible for Poor law relief. This was dispensed through the Board of Guardians for the Dundalk Union. The Guardians were appointed from the local community and in 1888 they met under the ChairTnanship of Mr. C. A. Duffy, TC. The members were: Messrs Peter Hughes, R. Jeffers, J. Kelly, N. McArdle, B.A. Neary, J.L. Neary, Thomas Roe, Major-General Stubbs, JP.

Each member of the Board had responsibility for an area or division; Mr. R. Jeffers has already been identified above as the Guardian for Cornonagh. The day-to-day administration of the Relief was in the hands of Mr. Thomas Hughes who was the Relieving Officer.

The plight of the Cornonagh tenants who had been forcibly removed from their homes on 27 and 28 July was reported to the Board by Jeffers at a meeting on 30 July. The tone of his report indicated that he felt the evictions were unjustifiable especially in view of the poor quality of the land. Jeffers was also worried about the demand on the rates that would result from the number of evictions proposed by Hamilton and the cost of providing police to enforce them, which would be levied on the townland. However, he insisted his main concern was for the condition of the people who had no shelter from the inclement weather and he recommended that the Relieving officer should be given instructions to dispense relief immediately to the dispossessed tenants.

The reaction of Thomas Hughes, the RO, provides an interesting insight into the attitudes of minor officials at the time. His immediate response to Jeffers was "Them all doesn't want relief". In the following week he showed that his main concerns were to stay within the strict letter of the law, and to limit the amount of relief dispensed.

At the next meeting of the Board, Hughes reported that he had visited the tenants and found that two of the evicted tenants were no longer living in the townland but had moved to Drumbally and Crossmaglen which were both in the Castleblayney Union, and therefore, no longer the responsibility of the Dundalk Board. He went on to say that he had given provisional relief of six shillings and two shillings and sixpence respectively to two of the tenants. As for the rest, he felt that they were "not destitute at present". Asked to explain what this meant, Hughes replied that they had refused to accept relief from him. It transpired, however, that at the time Hughes had not properly explained to the tenants what he was offering them. The Guardians decided that Jeffers' request for relief should be deferred to as he represented the dispossessed tenants, and instructed the Relieving Officer to give all the tenants one shilling per week for each member of their families.

One month after the evictions, Hughes advised the Boards that the Cornonagh tenants had been receiving relief for the whole of that period and drew attention to the specific section of the Evicted Poor Prosecutions Act which stipulated that one month was the maximum time the Guardians were allowed to give relief to an individual. Jeffers, probably irritated by Hughes' bureaucratic attitude, suggested that they needed more authoritative advice and Hughes was instructed to prepare a report for submission to the Local Government Board for their instructions. This was presented to the Dundalk Board a week later. It stated that the tenants had been visited and that there was no change in their circumstances. After a tense exchange between Jeffers and Hughes, the latter agreed that the report was incomplete as it did not mention that the tenants were being pressed to settle some small outstanding accounts, but because they were not being allowed back to dig their potatoes they had to sell what belongings they had left to raise sufficient money. It seems that the agent, Barton, argued that anything left on the vacated holdings became the property of the landlord. An extended report was agreed and was sent to the Local Government Board for comment. In the meantime, the Dundalk Guardians ordered that relief should be continued until an answer was received.

Inevitably, the reply confirmed that the Relieving Officer had been right and the Guardians were reprimanded, being told to rigidly observe the law in future. As the Dundalk Democrat commented "... The exercise of common humanity towards evicted tenants is not only undesirable but also an unpardonable crime in the eyes of the local Government Board. (8) Nonetheless, Jeffers and the other Guardians had no alternative but to stop the provision of relief for the families who had been evicted from Cornonagh. Perhaps the only consolation was that, whereas Guardians in other areas who had acted contrary to the law had been replaced, the Dundalk Board had got away with a reprimand.

The aftermath

Having successfully ejected eleven of the tenants, Barton announced that five more tenants were to be evicted on 20 August. There were no reports of evictions actually taking place. In December, a comment in the Dundalk Democrat mentioned that there would be no possibility of relief being granted to the eleven evicted families thus implying that they were still homeless.

In retrospect

Looking back at the events on Cornonagh during 1887 and 1888, there are a number of issues which remain unresolved. In particular there were confusing accounts about the role of the National League, the Plan of Campaign and the solidarity of the tenants.

It is clear that the members of the Crossmaglen Branch of the league were supportive of the tenants. At a meeting of the Branch in November 1887, the "... plucky and independent stand ... was acknowledged by all assembled."(9) A subscription list was opened and those present subscribed 20. The aim was to collect sufficient money to sustain the evicted tenants for the coming year. The wording of this report seems to imply that by November 1887 there were families who had already been removed from their farms. The Leader in the same issue of the Democrat talks about the Hamilton tenants who had been 'rooted out'. On the other hand, a correspondent in The Freeman on 19 May 1888 whilst giving a detailed account of the problems experienced by the Cornonagh tenants makes no reference to evictions in 1887, nor were there any requests for relief recorded in the meetings of the Board of Guardians.(10) It must be assumed that the evicted tenants mentioned at the meeting of the Crossmaglen Branch were the eleven who were under a stay of execution.

Significantly, the report of the Branch meeting made no mention of the Plan of Campaign. There were conflicting accounts of the tenants' actions in this respect. Two reports in April 1887 claimed that they had decided to adopt the plan and had lodged their money; presumably this was the retrospective rent for 1886. In the same month, at the demonstration in Crossmaglen, a resolution was passed supporting the Cornonagh tenants " in upholding the banner of the Plan of Campaign". On the other hand, the Dundalk Democrat in August 1888 took the Irish Times to task for suggesting that the eviction of the eleven tenants in July represented a failure of the Plan of Campaign and stated that the tenants never placed themselves under its protecting shield. Again, the RIC Inspector who was responsible for the removal of the tenants stated in his report that they had not adopted the Plan.

Another contentious issue was the solidarity of the tenants. In February 1888, a rumour was circulated that some of those who had been threatened with eviction had paid their rents to the agent. This was strongly denied in the Dundalk Democrat of 7 February, 1888, but it persisted even up to the actual eviction in July. The origin of the rumour is not known but the tenants suspected that the agent was involved in an attempt to undermine their unity.

They would certainly have recalled Barton's success in 1883 in achieving only 10% rent reduction, instead of the 20% on offer from Hamilton, by creating divisions among them. They were sufficiently concerned about these rumours that in August 1888 they had a letter published in both the Dundalk Democrat and the Newry Reporter denying that they had offered to pay the agent both rent and costs.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the Cornonagh evictions is the determination with which the tenants were hounded to eviction over what was in fact quite a trivial sum. The combined rent owed by the eleven, at the time that they were dispossessed, came to 109.0s.1d. which meant that the loss to the landlord for 15% reduction would have been 16.7s. The correspondent of The Freeman claims that the rent for the whole estate was possibly 162.10s per annum which is close to the figure of 168.5s in the Valuation books for 1880 to 1890; a reduction of 15% for all Hamilton's tenants would thus have resulted in an annual loss to him of only 24.7s. To put this in perspective, it can be noted that the salary of a Government Inspector was probably 1 1 00 or 1200 per annum. Faced with these figures it is difficult to argue that Hamilton would experience a significant financial problem if he had agreed to reduced rents.

One explanation could be that he had joined forces with other landlords, such as Lord Masserene, who were determined to oppose the activities of the Land League; in 1887 and 1888, Masserene was evicting large numbers of tenants on his estate at Monasterboice. Lee maintains that landlords set up their own consortium to counter tenant organisation with one of their own.(11) Such a theory would be difficult to prove and it is more fruitful to note that originally Hamilton was prepared to agree to a 20% reduction. It was only when Barton came on the scene that efforts were made to maintain a high level of rents and it is difficult not to lay the blame for the Cornonagh evictions at the door of the agent. The tenants may, indeed, have been right in suspecting that Barton was motivated by a grievance which had nothing to do with their failure to pay the rack-rent.


Sherry, Brian (ed), Black Pig's Dyke, (Castleblayney Community Enterprise), 1993.
Crossman, Virginia. Local Government in Nineteenth Century Ireland, (The Institute of Irish Studies, Belfast), 1994.
Dundalk Democrat, 1887: 12 February, 19 February, 12 March, 2 April, 9 April, 14 May, 6 November, 26 November, 24 December 1888: 7 February, 24 March, 2 June, 30 June, 27 July, 4 August, 1 1 August, 18 August, 1 September, 8 September, 22 September, 29 September, 1 October, 15 December.
Griffith's Valuation Books VAL/12B/13/1A, PRONI
Lee, Joseph, The Modernisation of Irish Society, 1848-1918, (Dublin, p. 114. Newry Reporter, 31 May 1888, 23 August 1888.


1. Dundalk Democrat, 2 April 1887....Back
2. Creggan, Vol. 1, No.3, 1989, p. 68.....Back
3. DundalkDemocrat, 2 June 1888.....Back
4. Ibid., 12 March 1887.....Back
5. Ibid., 9 April 1887. ....Back
6. Creggan, Vol. 1, No.3, p. 64.....Back
7. "Cornonagh Evictions" in Black Pig @ Dyke, ed. Brian Sherry, (Castleblayney Community Enterprises), 1993, p. 204.....Back
8. Dundalk Democrat, 15 December 1888.....Back
9. Ibid., 26 November 1887.....Back
10. Ibid., 2 June 1888.....Back
11. Lee, Joseph, The Modernisation of Irish Society, 1848-1918, (Dublin,1989), p. 114.....Back

TABLE 1.....Back

Dignitaries Attending Protest Meeting in Crossmaglen
Friday 8 April 1887

Very Revd. Canon Rafferty, PP Crossmaglen
Revd J. Loughran, CC Crossmaglen
Revd. B. Quinn, CC Crossmaglen
Revd. Canon Hoey, PP Castleblayney
Revd. J. Hughes, CC Castleblayney
Revd. J. McGuire, adm. Iniskeen
Revd. W. McKenna, CC Carrickmacross
J. Maxwell, CTC, Dundalk
M. Haggerty, TC, Dundalk
J.M. Johnson, Dundalk
M. Walshe, Dundalk

D. Coman, Solicitor, Dundalk
B. O'Toole, Imperial Hotel, Dundalk
Thomas Grant, Dundalk
O. Belton, Dundalk
R. Jeffers, PLG, Dundalk
H. McMahon, DVC, Castleblayney Union
0. Hanratty, PLG
M. Keamey, PLG
J. Lennon, PLG
C. Quinn, PLG
Thomas McKenna, PLG
E. Farelly, TC Carrickmacross
Larkin, VS Carrickmacross
M. McMahon, Colga Mills