Click for Journals

The Cornonagh Evictions

Compiled by
Kevin McMahon

Reproduced, with the Society's permission, from the 1989 Journal of The Creggan Local History Society

Kevin McMahon

On July 27th, in the year 1888,
Was the date of the eviction
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 their rack rent,
Matthew Hearty and his family also;
Another few I will not tell,
All true followers of Parnell,
But before they pay that rack rent out they go.

Some years ago; Paddy McKeown, Ardross, Crossmaglen, gave me these two verses of the new, unfortunately, forgotten ballad, The Cornonagh Evictions.

The ballad was written to commemorate one of the many black chapters in the relations between landlord and tenant in Creggan Parish during the last century.

Thomas McKeown, a teacher in St. Joseph's High School, Crossmaglen, has written a fully documented account of the Cornonagh Evictions, which the Creggan Historical Society had hoped to publish, but which is to be published in a forthcoming issue of the Crossmaglen Review.

However, our Society felt that it could not let the centenary of the evictions pass without commemorating them in some way.

Hence this compilation of newspaper reports of the events of one hundred years ago.

Regrettably, the compilation is incomplete because I had the misfortune of lending - and losing! - my file of information on the Cornonagh affair.

As a footnote to history, it is perhaps only right to record that several descendants of the evicted tenants are living and prospering in the townland of Cornonagh today.

Extract, Dundalk Democrat, -. -. 1887 (Reprinted 14. 3. 1987)


The tenantry on the property of R. T. Hamilton, Esq., Local Government Board Inspector, in the townland of Cornonagh, Crossmaglen, after several ineffectual attempts to get a reduction through the agent, H.D.M. Barton, Dundalk, have unanimously resolved to adopt the Plan of Campaign. All the tenants have lodged their money. The adjoining landlords have given reasonable abatements under the Plan and from its effects".

Extract. Dundalk Democrat, -. -. 1887 (Reprinted 11. 4. 1987)



Sir, Will you kindly give me space in your patriotic journal to bring before the public the treatment of the Cornonagh tenants of Mr. Hamilton, Local Government Board Inspector, are receiving from their agent, Mr. Barton, Cornonagh is about eight miles from Dundalk, in the parish of Crossmaglen, and Mr. Hamilton's portion of it is nearly equally divided between rocks and bogs. The tenants, after years of toil and labour, have succeeded in reclaiming little more than half of 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 small patches of a few perches can be laboured. To many of the houses, owing to the intervening rocks and bogs, in some cases for nearly a mile. This year the turf crop was lost owing to the heavy rains, so that they have to carry even the coals they burn this distance. Into many parts of the land a plough had never entered and probably never will enter. All the labour must be done with the spade, yet for every reclaimed acre of this wretched land the tenants are paying a rent of from seventeen shillings to a pound. The rent comes not from the land, but from the wages of children, who have often to go to service at the early age of ten or eleven, or it is made up from the earnings of the father or the grown up sons, who spend the most of their time in England or Scotland, or where ever they can get work and wages. Previous to the year 1883 Mr. Hamilton, unsolicited, allowed a reduction of 20 per cent, but in that year he appointed Mr. Barton his agent and from that hour dates the real sufferings of the tenants. Mr. Barton got some ten or twelve of the tenants to agree to a judicial rent of 10 per cent under the old rent, as owing to their circumstances they could not do other wise. The other tenants had to also though unwillingly to accept the same terms. They continued paying this rent up to the present year, when it became utterly impossible for them to do so any longer, and they petitioned him for a reduction. The answer has been fourteen or fifteen decrees already obtained by the agent, letters threatening the other tenants with eviction forthwith, and a stern refusal of any reduction with the alternative of buying out their farms at twenty years purchase. But the tenants have too recent a remembrance of how dearly Mr. Barton has made them pay for their whistle, since he fixed their judicial rents for them in 1883, to be taken in with such chaff again. They remember that he then represented that it would be all fair sailing for them, but that since many of them have been lashed with exorbitant if not unjust law costs and made many pay rents that the land never yielded. The tenants of Mr. Hamilton, not a very indulgent landlord indeed, are receiving this year in the same townland a reduction of 20 per cent on rents fixed two years later. If, under all the circumstances Mr. Hamilton's tenants have adopted the Plan of Campaign, who is to blame? Surely not the tenants! An Old Campaigner.

Extract Dundalk Democrat, -. -. 1887 (Reprinted 28. 11. 1987)


We are glad to observe from a report of a meeting of the Crossmaglen branch of the League, that the tenants on the Hamilton estate who have been evicted for the nonpayment of unjust rents, will not be permitted to fight their battle unaided by their neighbours. A sum of 20 was subscribed on the spot towards the fund for the sustainment of the victims of landlord greed and unjust land laws. The interests of all tenants are involved in every struggle such as that in which Mr. Hamilton and his tenants are now engaged. Hence self-interest-not to speak of any higher motive- should induce all farmers 4to sustain their brother tenants who may be driven from their homes under such circumstances as the Hamilton tenants were "rooted out". It is by this means unjust eviction will be deprived of its sting, and avaricious and tyrannical landlords taught a much needed lesson. Let Mr. Hamilton like Lord Massereene, clear his estates of the honest and hard working tenants whose industry and frugal habits enabled them to pay more than a fair rent for their holdings. Let him replace these by hands of emergency men, and time will point out to him that grave mistake he has made. He will find out that even in this world fair and considerate treatment would be more profitable than waging an unjust war against them.

Extract, "Dundalk Democrat", 7. 2. 1888


A rumour has been circulating for some time past to the effect that some of the tenants on the Hamilton estate, near Crossmaglen, had gone behind the backs of their brother tenants and paid their rents. However, we are able to state that the circulation of this rumour is the work of an enemy of the tenants' cause, and that it is wholly destitute of foundation.

Extract, "Dundalk Democrat", 24. 3. 1888


At the meeting of the Dundalk Board of Guardians, Mr. Thomas Hughes, Relieving Officer for No. 2 District, handed in notices from Robert John McGeogh, of his intention to evict Peter Gregory from his holding at Carnally Creggan, and from R. T. Hamilton to evict James Murphy, P. Keenan, Mary Quinn, Mary Donaghy, Thomas Donaghy, Peter McShane, Anne Larkin, Bryan Faghy, Jas. McGuinness, James O'Hagan, Brigid Quinn and Rose Quinn from their farms at Cornonagh, Creggan . . . . .

Extract, "Newry Reporter", 31. 5. 1888


Fourteen tenants on a number of estates adjacent to Crossmaglen will be summoned at the monthly Petty Sessions to give up possession of their farms, the six months of redemption having expired.

Extract, "Dundalk Democrat", 2. 6. 1888


The following letter appeared in the Freeman of Wednesday: Crossmaglen, 29th May. Sir . . . . This estate, known in the neighbourhood as the Cornonagh or Hamilton estate, is situate in the law-abiding, loyal, Co. Armagh parish of Upper Creggan. The landlord is R.T. Hamilton, Esq., Inspector under the Local Government Board; the agent, Mr. H.D.M. Barton, the Bush, Antrim. Rent and valuation formerly approximated pretty closely, the rent being, according to my informant, 162 lOs., and the valuation made in the most prosperous time, in 1865, 161. A judicial agreement, of which more may be heard, reduced the rent by 10 per cent, or to about 146 6s. As there are beyond sixty tenants it is unnecessary to state that the holdings are all small. The land is of the very poorest quality, light and high and cold, consisting largely of rocks. It is no exaggeration to say that whatever it is worth is the product of the sweat and toil of the poor people who cling to it. Without their constant labour it would produce nothing but furze, and would be worth nothing. As far as men can make land these men have made theirs. Land of this description has often during the late years produced not even the value or the price of the seed put into it. How willing the tenants were to pay is clear from the fact that, except in a few cases, only one year's rent was due in November 1886 . . . . . In common with tenants all over the country at the end of `86, the Hamilton tenantry felt the pressure of bad times, and thought their landlord, as joint owner in the land, should share their pecuniary difficulties. They applied to the agent in the first instance for a reduction of their rents, but received the reply that "not the weight of a hair of his head would he give them". The late Canon Rafferty, the parish priest, a man of singular moderation, prudence, and piety, then joined them in a petition to the landlord for a suitable reduction. The landlord replied that he did not see any necessity for it. "Times were not so bad at all, etc". The Canon further urged the necessities of this portion of his flock. At this very time a landlord, by no means noted for his liberality, was giving in a portion of the same townland a reduction of 6s. in the pound to both judicial and nonjudicial tenants. Another, or rather a landlady, gave 25 per cent. Mr. Hamilton could not understand such conduct, but he replied suggesting purchase under Lord Ashbourn's Act, and stopped all further communication by saying that "his agent would deal with his tenantry". This closure note reached the parish priest on 2nd January 1887. The agent, Mr. Barton, again comes on the scene, making on 25th. January 1887, an offer to dispose of the estate at 20 years' purchase of the rents. The tenants did not appreciate this offer properly, even with the well understood alternative that refusal meant no reduction. In fact they considered it carefully, and found that with all the glamour thrown around the proposal by Mr. Barton, it meant a very slight reduction indeed, and that they as honest men could not enter into an engagement they had no hope of being able to keep. The agent was probably irritated that the purchases scheme fell through. There never was great cordiality between himself and the tenants. On the contrary, they credit him with very malevolent feelings towards them. A relative of his (a land agent also) met with a dreadful and untimely death at a period when the land question was fought out on lines very different from the present*. Nobody accuses these poor tenants of having part in this lamentable case, but they fancy the bitterness of the agent towards them arises from the fact of their living in the neighbourhood of this dreadful occurrence. I cannot believe that a man with any human feeling would be inf luenced by such a motive, but I am merely stating the impression existing among the tenants. However this may be, a system of harassing the tenants by legal proceedings began in March, soon after the failure of negotiations to purchase and the system has been regularly pursued ever since. Failing to secure any abatement or to purchase on reasonable terms, the tenants again met and consulted how best to meet the legal proceedings commenced against some of their number. Stung by their refusal of every offer, and by the wanton heaping up of legal costs on their poor neighbours, they declined to follow Canon Rafferty's advice and await a conference with the local branch of the League. They resolved to adopt the Plan of Campaign, and immediately lodged their money in the hands of the trustees. The branch and the leaders of the movement afterwards fully approved of their action. Not only so, but the agent, after bringing them to quarter sessions in December `87, offered a reduction of IS per cent, a proposal which, if made in January instead of December, would have saved time and money, and what an ocean of anxiety to these poor serfs. If it was a fair offer in December, it surely would have been a fair offer in January, and would certainly have been gratefully accepted by the tenants . . . . When it was made, thus late and thus grudgingly, it was coupled with condition which made its acceptance by the tenants impossible - it was a IS per cent reduction with payment of Jaw costs. The tenants were not consulted about incurring these costs, and as they in some cases exceeded the rent, it was impossible - wholly impossible - to meet the demand. A further attempt was made to bring about an arrangement early in the present year. At the suggestion of the present parish priest the tenants consented to send a deputation to the law agent, offering to pay two years's rent with a reduction of I S (?) per cent on each without costs. The opening remark of the law agent was characteristic and suggestive of the result of the interview - "Deputations carry no money". At the present moment fourteen tenants, evicted under the eviction-madeeasy clauses of last year's act, are summoned as caretakers to the local Bench to give up possession on next Saturday the 2nd June. The remainder of the sixty tenants are to be evicted in like manner. They are to be evicted for demanding what the Government Act declared to be a fair reduction of judicial rents, and by a landlord, an official under that Government. A peaceful neighbourhood is to be shocked and thrown into confusion, to be saddled with extra police and emergency men, the poor tenants to be deprived of their homes, to be robbed of the little property acquired by their own and their fathers' labour, because the landlord deprived by law of the power of raising rent is enabled by law at his own sweet will to substitute law costs for raised rents. One may well exclaim - Instead of freedom of contract, what freedom there is to rob the poor! Yours truly, Truth.

*Footnote: This appears to be a reference to the murder of Robert Lindsay Mauleverer, Landagent of the Hamilton, Tipping and Jones Estate, who was murdered at Crievekeeran, near Crossmaglen, on 23rd May 1850. See Seanchas Ardmhacha 1986.

Extract, "Dundalk Democrat", 30. 6. 1888


At the meeting of Dundalk Union Guardians Mr. Thomas Hughes, R. O., handed in notices from Richard T. Hamilton, Newtownards, of his intention to evict the following tenants in the townland of Cornonagh: Peter Conlon, Mary McGeeney, Thomas Lavell, Mathew Herity Junior, Michael Morgan, Patrick McGeeney, Sarah McDonnell, Patrick Morgan, Patrick Conlon, Patrick Murphy and Owen Trainor.

Extract, "Dundalk Democrat", 27. 7. 1888


Four evictions were carried out on the Hamilton estate, near Crossmaglen, on Friday. Upwards of 100 police attended, but no resistance was offered. Heavy rain fell during the day.

Extract, "Dundalk Democrat", 4. 8. 1888


Mr. Jeffers said he had a painful matter to bring under the notice of the Board. In the townland of Cornonagh, in the district which he represented, Mr. Hamilton had evicted eleven families on Friday and Saturday. The scene he witnessed on Friday he would never forget. In the midst of torrents of rain this work - which he called hellish work - went on. On Friday four families were evicted. On the following day seven more were turned out. He did not know how these people had obtained shelter, or how they were living, but he would respectfully ask that the Board would order its relieving officer to take steps to relieve them. This man Hamilton, he believed, was getting 1100 or 1200 a year from the Government. If all the people on the property were to be put upon the rates, as was very probable, they would swamp the rates. A number of police had been drafted into the place, for which he supposed the townland would have to pay. These poor people lived in the midst of rocks from which the hardest labour would scarcely gain enough to support themselves. Providence even showed its displeasure at the work that was going on, for such days as Friday and Saturday he had seldom witnessed. The Chairman said the thanks of the Board were due to Mr. Jeffers for bringing the matter under their notice, and he was of opinion that the recommendations he made should be carried out. Mr. O'Hagan: "Did these parties apply to the Land Courts for a reduction of the rents?. " Mr. Jeffers: "I don't know anything at all about that. I only know that they have been evicted, and require help". Mr. Hughes, P. O; "Them all doesn't want relief'. Mr. Jeffers: "I am not aware of their circumstances at all, but I know they have no homes to shelter them". Mr. Hughes was ordered to comply with Mr. Jeffers' recommendations.

Extract, "Newry Reporter" 23. 8. 1888


The following letter has been published:

Aug. 8. 1888. Sir, On 31 ult. a report of evictions on the Hamilton estate in County Armagh appeared in the "Irish Times" and "Belfast Newsletter", papers seldom seen or read in this neighbourhood. There was no reporter present. Last evening two of the evicted tenants brought me the enclosed document, desiring to contradict through your columns, even so long after date, some of the mis-statements of these journals. I hope you will find space for it. Yours truly, P. McGeeney, P.P. Upper Creggan.

This letter was inadvertently delayed in its publication. The following is the statement of the tenants:

We, the undersigned evicted tenants in the townland of Cornonagh, under Mr. Hamilton, having heard a report appeared in the "Irish Times" headed an "Anti-Rent Combination Defeated", stating we offered full rent and costs, beg to give such statement the flattest contradiction, as no such offer was ever made by us. Michael Morgan, Patk. Murphy, Patt Conlon, Peter Conlon, Owen Treanor, Thomas Laville, Mary McGeeney, Mathew Hearty, Patk. McGeeney.

Extract, "Dundalk Democrat" 1. 9. 1888


Mr. Hughes, R. O., in his report mentioned that the Cornonagh tenants could no longer be retained on the out-door relief list, as the month during which relief might be given in such cases had expired. Mr. Jeffers said that he had a resolution to propose on this matter, and he would advise the Board to give relief for one week pending a reply from the Local Government Board. The resolution was as follows: "Resolved - That Mr. Hughes, R. O., furnish the Board with a special report on this day week on the state of the evicted tenants in the townland of Cornonagh, in the electoral division of Lower (?) Creggan, with a view to asking the Local Government Board for their directions on the Matter". Mr. Hughes: "I didn't want to compromise the Board'. Chairman: "There's nothing to compromise anyone in that. We only ask for information". Mr. Hughes: "There are two other cases that will come up this day week". Mr. Jeffers: "That resolution governs them also". The resolution was adopted.

Extract, "Dundalk Democrat" 8. 9. 1888


Mr. Thomas Hughes, R. O., handed in the following report:

"Board Room, 3rd. Sept. `88. Gentlemen, in accordance with your order of the 27th. ult., I beg to report that I visited the evicted tenants at Cornonagh on Thursday last, and found no change in their circumstances since my last report. I beg again to refer you to the 4th section of the Act 11 and 12 Vic. cap. 47, respecting the period for which out-door relief can be given to those parties but am prepared to afford them such relief as the Board may order and decide upon. Your obedient servant, Thomas Hughes". Mr. Jeffers said when the report went to the Local Government Board they would give instructions as to whether they could give relief or not. In the meantime they should order an extension of the relief given at present, as the people were entirely destitute. He might mention, too, that there were nine more tenants, in addition to the eleven who had been evicted under 'sentence of death', and the evictions would probably be carried out on the 20th of this month. He considered that the report sent in by Mr. Hughes was a very incomplete one. Mr. Hughes: "I was not ordered to make inquiries of those not evicted". Mr. Jeffers: "It appears the whole townland is going to be wasted". Mr. Hughes now said that the tenants told him that they were under the impression that they would be allowed to dig their potatoes, but they found that they would not be permitted. Chairman: "Why did you not mention that in your report?". Mr. Jeffers: "And worse than all these poor people owed some little accounts, and when it was found that they would not be allowed to dig the potatoes their little things were sold to pay". Mr. Hughes on being questioned admitted that the facts were as stated by Mr. Jeffers. The report was then referred to him in order that the whole facts of the case might be embodied in it, Mr. Jeffers saying that the reference to the Act of Parliament might be left out, as the Local Government Board officials were more conversant with the Act than Mr. Hughes. Mrs. Hughes than made the following report: "Board Room, 3rd Sept. `88. Gentlemen, In accordance with your order of the 27th ult., I beg to report that I visited the evicted tenants at Cornonagh on Thursday last, and owing to inquiries I made regarding their circumstances, I am informed that their creditors pressed them for their accounts, and they had to sell everything they possessed to meet them, which leaves them entirely destitute. Your obedient servant, Thomas Hughes". The report was accepted and the following order was: "Under the circumstances described in the above report the guardians request the Local Government Board to inform them if they can continue to give the families who have been evicted out-door relief, as the relief now afforded them costs considerably less than the maintenance of themselves and their families in the Workhouse would cost".

Extract, "Dundalk Democrat", -. -. 1888 (Reprinted 24. 9. 1988)


There are some grounds for hope that a satisfactory settlement will be effected between Mr. R. T. Hamilton, the Evictor of Cornonagh, near Crossmaglen, and his eleven ejected tenants. The Emergencyman whom he has placed as guardian over the desolate farms and homesteads has been kind enough, moryah, to offer the tenants permission to save the crops and let them be sold to pay part of the rent, but strange to say the tenants look upon these same crops as their property, not that of the landlord, and refuse to accept the magnanimous offer. Apart from this piece of generosity on the Evictor's part, however, it is expected that he will be glad to come to terms before many days. Letting some scores of acres of potatoes and corn rot and wither in the ground under the watchful though blighting gaze of an Emergencyman is not so profitable as permitting the tenants to save them and pay the rent. This of course the tenants are not such fools as to do. They will pay what they can out of them if they are reinstated, and, as 'half a loaf is better than no bread - not to count the wages of the Emergencyman - Mr. Littte Exterminator Hamilton will probably see his way to yield, as better and bigger men have done before him".

Extract, "Dundalk Democrat", -. -. 1888 (Reprinted 1. 10. 1988)


At the meeting of Dundalk Union Guardians, Mr. T. Hughes, Relieving Officer, reported that he had received notice from Mr. R. T. Hamilton's agent, Mr. Barton, of his intention to evict the following tenants from their lands at Cornonagh, Lower (?) Creggan: Mary Donaghy, Thos. Donaghy, Patrick Keenan, Anne Larkin and Bryan Faghy. So Mr. R. T. Hamilton, Cornonagh Evictor, has served notice in four additional cases. Evicting is evidently an agreeable occupation with him, and the Emergencyman and police protectors who occupy the vacant farms are probably too comfortably quartered to raise any objection if the landlord thinks fit to depopulate the whole countryside. But will this policy pay? Will the precious Emergencyman make a bigger - out of the miserable Cornonagh tenancies than did the tenants who have been cast on the roadside because they found it impossible to raise a sufficient rent to meet the demands of their grasping landlord. We shall see and so, too, shall Mr. R. T. Hamilton.

Extract, "Dundalk Democrat", 15. 12. 1888

When Mr. R. T. Hamilton, Inspector under the Local Government Board, evicted eleven of the most miserably poor and bankrupt tenants to be found in Ulster and flung them upon the roadside in the midst of pelting rain and hail and storm on the 27th July, he was acting according to the strict letter of the law. The action of the guardians, when the absolute destitution and danger of starvation incurred by the evicted tenants was laid before them by Mr. Jeffers, the guardian for that division of the union, in granting outdoor relief was legal too: But when the month permitted by law had expired, and the guardians acting upon the motion of Mr. Jeffers, gave an extension of time for out-door relief pending the reply of the Local Government Board to their query, their action was altogether unlawful. It was merely humane. Consequently do not the guardians deserve to suffer the penalty of their unlawful, although humane act? They have escaped for this time and will be good in future.