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.