The Eviction of Mrs Darcy, Coolgreany Eviction Album, Wexford, 1887

The images from the Coolgreany Eviction album, comprised of photographs of the infamous 1887 series of evictions in the Coolgreany area near Gorey in North Co. Wexford, are already fairly well known.  The National Library of Ireland acquired a copy in 1992 from the grand-niece of Fr Laurence Farrelly, who was active in the Plan of Campaign in Co. Wexford in the 1880s.  Some of the images were used in the NLI’s wonderful Notice to Quit exhibition in 2003, so are very familiar to some. A letter that came with the donation identifies a T. Mallacy as the compiler of the album (and also probably the photographer), which he gave to Fr Farrelly in 1888. The National Museum also acquired a copy of the album in 1942, compiled in the same manner and probably at the same time as the NLI’s. This copy has handwritten captions on some of the images, identifying the people and places, though we do not know who wrote these captions.

 

A particular set of photographs stood out for me; the photographs of the 80 year old Mrs Darcy, taken at her sick bed in the process of her eviction from her home in Ballyfad, Coolgreany, in July 1887. Many photographs of evictions are of the eviction scenes themselves, or depict evictees posing outside houses for the camera. The photographs of Mrs Darcy are taken inside her home, making them look quite dark and despairing, yet there is also an air of defiance in her face.

 

 

 

Mrs Darcy’s home, a five-roomed farmhouse with seven outbuildings, was situated on the Brooke Estate; lands owned by the wealthy Dubliner George Frederick Brooke, Wine Merchant, High Sheriff and Justice of the Peace. Brooke lived in Castleknock, Co. Dublin, and his estate was managed by Captain Hamilton.

 

The Plan of Campaign (where tenants withheld rent from the landlord until a rent reduction was negotiated and agreed) was adopted by the tenants on the Brooke Estate in December 1886. The terms were refused by the owner, and in February 1887 Hamilton was preparing for a series of evictions. The eviction campaign started in July of that year, and numerous families (many of whom are photographed in the album) were removed from their homes by force by Hamilton’s bailiffs and Emergency Men.

 

When Hamilton and his men came to the Darcy household, they found Mrs Darcy on her sick bed.  The photographer captures some moments inside the cottage. In one, Daniel Crilly, the Irish nationalist M.P. for North Mayo, consoles Mrs Darcy, and another shows Mrs Darcy with her daughter.

 

Despite the situation, Mrs Darcy remained strong. One image of her, with her hands clasped, is captioned ‘From the sick bed Mrs Darcy tells Captain Hamilton to evict her; her terms are ‘no surrender’.

 

 

Another photograph shows a crowd gathered outside her cottage, described by the caption writer  as ‘A council of war over Mrs Darcy’s eviction’, including friends and enemies. A crowd of onlookers are seen on higher ground, being kept back from the house.  Members of the Royal Irish Constabulary, armed with rifles, can be seen to the far left. In front of them are leading nationalists Daniel Crilly M.P., John Dillon M.P. and Michael Davitt.  Captain Hamilton, the evicting agent, is seen leaning on his stick talking to Captain Slack, the magistrate in command.  In the background a group of Emergency Men are waiting for the word.  The caption also reads that Captain Hamilton receives a telegram, and postpones the eviction.

 

 

The delay to the Darcy’s eviction did not last long though, and a later photograph shows Miss Darcy gathering up her furniture after eviction for conveyance to the Campaign Cottage (cottages set up by the Plan of Campaign as shelters for evicted tenants).

 

 

The Darcy family did manage to return to their home eventually.  The 1901 census shows William, John and Catherine Darcy living in house number 2 in Ballyfad where they are running a post office and shop.  The land was still owned by George Brooke at this point, but the passing of the Wyndham Land (Purchase) Act in 1903 meant that Irish tenant farmers could now buy the title to their land, and in 1911 John Darcy is listed as the landholder, and his brother Michael owns a neighbouring house and farm.  Coincidently, the oldest son of George Frederick Brooke, a Lieutenant George Brooke of the Irish Guards (1st Battalion) and his wife Nina were also resident in Ballyfad, alongside the Darcy family in 1911.  Sadly, George was killed aged just 37 in the First World War in Northern France just a few years later in October 1914, and is buried in Soupir Communal Cemetery. 

Indian meal ticket, the Great Famine, 1846

Today is National Famine Commemoration Day in Ireland, an event which has been held annually since 2009. Though it seems little remains of any material culture relating to the famine, the National Museum has a small number of ‘famine pots’; large iron pots used to cook soup in the kitchens set up by the Quaker community to feed the starving. A number of these pots survive around the country. Another object from the museum’s Historical Collections is this Indian meal ticket, issued by the Portlaw Relief District in Waterford to a Mr White, enabling him to purchase three stone of Indian meal for six pence. It was found in the Carrick Road area of Portlaw, and was given to the museum in 1952.

Ireland has seen much famine in its history, but the most well-known is the period between 1845 and 1852; the Great Famine. During its course it is estimated that between one and one and a half million people died of starvation and disease, and a further one million people emigrated. The 1841 census of Ireland had recorded eight million people, making the loss during these famine years at least 25%. The population continued to decline over the decades, and the pre-famine population levels were never again seen in Ireland.

The famine was caused primarily by the potato blight that caused the potato crops, on which so many Irish people were dependent, to fail in the autumn in 1845. Other crops were unaffected and Ireland continued to export food to England during the course of the famine, in many cases escorted under armed guard from famine stricken areas to the ports.

In November 1845 The Relief Commission was established to assess food shortages and the levels of distress in the country. At the same time, the British Prime Minister Robert Peel arranged the import of cheap Indian cornmeal, which could be sold at a reduced rate. Local relief committees were set up to raise funds, which would be partially matched by the Commission, to buy the cornmeal and sell it at cost price to poor families, as they were restricted from providing the meal for free to any person unless they were unfit for work but could not enter a poorhouse. The cornmeal didn’t arrive in Ireland until February 1946.

The Illustrated London News (4th April 1846) carried an artist’s sketch and account of the selling of the Indian meal in Cork.

 

‘On Saturday last, the Government Sales of Indian Corn and Meal commenced in Cork. Immediately on the depots being opened, the crowds of poor persons who gathered round them were so turbulently inclined as to require the immediate interference of the police, who remained there throughout the day.  Among the poor, who were of the humblest description, and needing charitable relief, the sales were but scanty. The occasion had become of necessity; for potatoes have risen to 11d market price for 14lbs.; and, some of the leading commercial men in Cork have made a calculation, which shows that the Government can afford to sell the Indian Corn at a much cheaper rate’.

The Indian meal posed its own problems though; it needed to be ground twice before it could be eaten so it required substantial processing.  Most importantly, it was a poor dietary substitute. The staple diet of potatoes that the poorer Irish were used to was quite nutritious, but the Indian meal lacked Vitamin C, leading to many people developing scurvy. However, the meal undoubtedly did help reduce the death rate by starvation in that year.

The supply of the meal was gone by June 1846, and Peel’s government had fallen, replaced by Charles Trevelyan. The potato crop continued to fail, no more Indian meal was purchased, and the famine continued and worsened.

This small ticket is not only one of the few surviving objects of the Great Famine, but an incredibly personal one. The Waterford area may not have been the worst afflicted by the famine, but the people there were affected. We don’t know who Mr White is, but this ticket, which must have been given to him in the first year of the famine, identifies him and his family as in need of the aid provided by the local relief committee. We will probably never know what happened to him in the following years, if he died during the famine, or had to emigrate. It’s also possible that he survived, perhaps with descendants still living in Waterford.