Previously on the blog I’ve posted about the Coolgreany Eviction Album from 1887 (The Eviction of Mrs Darcy and The Murder of John Kinsella). There are two copies of the Coolgreany photograph album in public collections; the National Museum of Ireland received its copy in 1942 from a donor who rescued it from destruction when it was about to be disposed of in a fire, and the National Library of Ireland acquired its 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.
The album shows scenes from the infamous Coogreany Evictions in Co. Wexford, near Gorey, where from February 1887 about 300 people were evicted from the estate of the Dublin wine merchant, High Sheriff and Justice of the Peace George Frederick Brooke, after their adoption of the Plan of Campaign.
The album contains photographs of the families who were evicted, their homes at the time of the eviction process, and their new shelter at neighbours’ holdings.
Recently, a scrapbook containing material relating to the visit of Queen Victoria to Ireland in 1900 was acquired by the museum from the family of John J. Jones, who joined the Royal Irish Constabulary as a cadet and later became Chief Commissioner of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. Inside the scrapbook was this loose photograph with the title ‘RIC Encampment, Coolgreany Evictions 1887’.
The Royal Irish Constabulary was established with the Peace Preservation Act in 1814, which set up police forces in the baronies under the jurisdiction of Dublin Castle, the UK administration in Ireland. Its role in policing the people of Ireland in this century of civil unrest, particularly in relation to land, led it into regular conflict with the rural population.
It was regularly used, along with the military and the ‘Emergency men’ hired by estate managers and their bailiffs, in the course of evictions. In Coolgreany many photographs show RIC constables armed with carbine rifles enforcing the eviction order and providing protection for the estate managers and their employees against the protesters.
Their role was not simply to act against the evictees however; in July of 1887 John Dillon M.P. enquired in the House of Commons about an incident the day before, when a house in Coolgreany was said to have been burned to the ground before the Sheriff had taken possession of it, with the bailiff throwing the women of the house out of the top floor window, and a number of RIC constables had to go in and rescue the women.
This encampment of RIC constables was brought in from outside areas to aid the evictions in Coolgreany in early 1887. There are at least 100 constables pictured, and the photograph, when seen alongside the images of the evicted families, give an idea of the sheer force which the tenants faced when fighting for their homes.