The Murder of John Kinsella, Coolgreany Eviction Album, 1887

The last post on the Coolgreany Evictions Album focused on the eviction of the Darcy family from their lands in Ballyfad in the July of 1887. In all, more than 60 families, in excess of 300 people, had been forcibly evicted during that year. 

 

The Land League organisers of the Plan of Campaign had however planned for the possibility of a landlord refusing to negotiate a downwards rent and the eviction of the tenants. Using Plan funds, shelters called Campaign Huts were erected in the locality on the land of charitable neighbours, and used to house the families who found themselves homeless. Such huts were built in Coolgreany, many on the holding of the Kavanagh family.

 

 

 

 

 

The Coolgreany album contains a photograph of a gentleman who is identified by the album’s compiler as the builder of the Coolgreany huts, a Mr John Tierney.

About 30 people took shelter on the Kavanagh’s land, and in early September of that year a legal case to enforce the removal of the huts was taken by Captain Hamilton, the agent for the Brooke Estate, against Dora Kavanagh. Their argument, as reported in the Irish Times, was that their presence was ‘an interference with the agricultural character of the land’, and in Hamilton’s evidence he stated that the people were ‘unpleasant to him, and that his great object was to get rid of the nuisance of the people in these huts’.  Later that month, while this case was still ongoing, the matter came to a head.

 On 28th September, on the order of Captain Hamilton, Bailiff George Freeman and 17 other men, known as Emergency men – the enforcers of the landlords’ Property Defence Association, arrived at the Kavanagh’s farm. Their objective was to collect one year’s rent from the Kavanaghs, who at this time had provided shelter for ten families in the outhouses in the farmyard. The Kavanagh’s interest in the holding had been sold by the Sheriff, and the rent to be collected had been accrued during their tenancy. A dispute arose between John McCabe, the leader of the Emergency men, and Michael Kavanagh when McCabe demanded £57, but would not produce the warrant.  A crowd of evicted tenants gathered at the gate of the property, and as Emergency man John ‘Red’ Johnston tried to enter the yard by climbing the gate, John Kinsella, a 64 year widower, struck the gate with a pitchfork. Freeman, who had been standing nearby, immediately shot Kinsella with his revolver. As Kinsella fell dead, the Emergency men fired on the crowd, narrowly avoiding further casualties. As the tenants brought Kinsella’s body inside the house, the Emergency men seized the Kavanagh’s cattle in lieu of the rent owed.

 

At an inquest at the coroner’s court the verdict was passed that ‘We find that the said John Kinsella came by his death at Coolgreany, in the county of Wexford, on the 28th September 1887 by a gunshot wound inflicted feloniously, maliciously, and of malice aforethought, by George Freeman, aided and abetted by John McCabe, John Harris, Henry Oakes, David Crawford, Samuel Scott, Thomas Olinging, T.R. McCawley, Moses Porter, Alexander Kingsbury, George Harris, John Levingston, John Johnston, James Rogers, John Johnston (Red), Francis Maguire, William Johnston, R.H. Maxwell, and E.C. Hamilton’. A number of men, including Captain Hamilton, were released on bail, but Freeman and nine others remained in custody in Wexford Jail.  However, when the case came to trial all the men, including George Freeman, were acquitted of the murder.  

It is interesting to note that earlier that year, in February of 1887, Sir Thomas Esmonde put forward a question in the House of Commons enquiring about an incident involving Freeman on the 5th of that month. He and an Emergency man named Woods, also employed on the Brooke Estate, came to the village of Coolgreany and got drunk. When they were removed from the premises, they turned their firearms on the shop owner, a Mr Doyle, and were only stopped from firing by the police, who had come and managed to disarm them.  Freeman was later bound to the peace for flourishing a revolver.

 

John Kinsella, father of Patrick, Myles, Elizabeth and Bridget, was buried in Kilninor Cemetery, where a memorial to him reads – 

‘Sacred to the Memory of John Kinsella of Croghan, who was foully slain in defence of home and country by the bullets of the Property Defence Association on the 26th September 1887 in the 64th year of his age. This monument was erected by the men of Wicklow and Wexford as a testimony of their respect for his many Christian virtues and as an indignant protest against the cruelty and injustice of those who before God are guilty of his innocent blood’.

 

 Since first looking into the NMI’s acquisition of the Coolgreany Album, I have found that its donor stated that he had saved it from being burned about 16 years previously, in the 1920s, though he did not mention where. So though we do not know anything further about the provenance of this copy of the album, we know that it was very fortunate to have been saved. 

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