Review from The Anglo Celt
A new book called ‘Revolution in Tullyhunco’ by Tomás O’Raghallaigh (79), a retired national school teacher from Killeshandra, has brought local history life as SEAN MCMAHON found out when he caught up with the author at the book launch last weekend.
We were all taught history in primary and secondary school, but it seemed to be all about wars and battles and revolutions. Most most of it went in one ear and out the other and few were left with an understanding, for example, of how the Ulster Plantation became unstitched and, under the Wyndham Land Act of 1903, ownership of tenanted land in places like Cavan passed from the landlords to the tenants.
Tomás O’Raghallaigh’s new book gives a very enlightening insight into how land in Tullyhunco, a barony in County Cavan that extends from Carn, near the present Slieve Russell to the Shores of Lough Gowna, passed from landlords to tenants. According to Tomás, this was a real revolution and the author beautifully outlines the part played by our peasant ancestors in Tullyhunco in implementing it.
About six years of work and research went into writing the book and the erradite Tomás lights up with wisdom and energy as he outlines to the Celt, the truly amazing role our ancestors on small holdings played in fashioning the Ireland of today.
‘Revolution in Tullyhunco’ details how the Act afforded landlords the opportunity to cut their losses and rid themselves of their debt-ridden estates once and for all.
Land Commission formed
In December 1902 and January 1903, George Wyndham, who succeeded Gerard Balfour in 1900 as Under Secretary for Ireland, held a series of conferences with representatives of landlords and tenants to work out a formula that would be satisfactory to both sides. The result was a package, which would make it attractive for the Landlords to sell their tenants estates, while holding onto their demesne lands.
The Land Commission was established and bought out the land from the landlords. “They gave them a good price for it and then sold it back to the tenants. The landlord got paid in cash, which is always attractive. They were then able to pay off their debts and invent in things like railways and mining,” explains Tomás.
In March 1920, the Estate Commission estimated that £83m had been advanced for nine million acres transferred and that a further 20 million acres were being processed at a cost of £24m. In all, 11.5 million acres out of a total of 20 million acres in the country changed hands from Landlords to Peasants in the first 20 years of the 20th century.
“One by one the farmers got back their lands – it applied to the farmers North (there was no Northern Ireland at the time) and South, Catholics and Protestants. It was a bargain they could not turn down – Nationalists and Unionists bought out their lands, pocketed the deeds and went on living as if they had always owned the land,” details the historian.
Tomás commenced his teaching career in 1957 and went on to become principal in four schools in the county – Coronea, Corliss, Arva and Killeshandra. He retired in 2000 after 43 years in the classroom.
In his previous book, ‘Turbulence in Tullyhunco’, published in 2010, Tomás outlined how ownership of this tiny Gaelic Irish State was taken by five Scottish Landlords in the Ulster Plantation (1610), and how the area fared up to the battle of the Boyne in 1690.
Political and military history dominated the curriculum when a young Tomás O’Raghallaigh commenced his teaching career in the ’50s. “There was very little taught about the ordinary lives of the people or about the social and economic history or what mode of transport people used.
“Ordinary people had little say in the running of the affairs of the country, until the coming of democracy – some would say – they still have little say. The upper classes ran the show and made all the decisions that affected people’s lives. Nowadays, with democracy, we can complain and try and change things,” opined Tomás.
In ‘Revolution in Tullyhunco’ Tomás describes the type of people living in this part of Cavan: “The vast majority of the people, our ancestors, both Catholic and Protestant, belonged to the ‘lower orders’ of society. In our part of the country, this meant tenant farmers and cottiers, textile workers like scutchers, hacklers, weavers, spinners and seamtresses; craftsmen like saddlers, shoemakers, tinsmiths, blacksmiths, coach-builders, stone cutters and stone masons.”
He goes on to point out in the book: “The country was run by and on behalf of the upper classes. They had their politics, made speeches, wrote letters, published newspapers, collected taxes, tithes and rents, kept accounts, erected monuments, plaques and tombstones. They left their mark and when we study the history of the period, it is their history that we study. The irony is that it was the lower orders, the ‘history-less-men’ – to borrow a phrase of Padraig Colum’s (Scanderbeg) – who were the ancestors of almost all of our people today. They left little written evidence of their time on earth, and we only hear them talking, when they appear in court. As Jennifer Kelly puts it – ‘what the historian is left with is a snapshot of a life viewed through the lens of police reports, magistrates’ letters and the published accounts of assizes’.”
History repeating itself?
As I read his vivid account from the book, I am driven to comment that not much has changed in some ways and it is a case of history repeating itself, as we still get some of our insight into the lives of working class people and the unemployed through the prism of the gardaí and judges, as they continue to be dutifully chronicled in the regional press.
While we are now a much more multi-cultural and multi-denominational society, Tomás in his book, recalls how people considering marrying across the religious spectrum, for example, had little choice but to leave the country.
But this did not only apply to religion, according to Tomás, and he has a lovely story in the book to illustrate a different scenario of the time in regard to class distinction.
“A girl eloped with her father’s servant boy and they ran off to Australia from Killeshandra. They got married in Belturbet and got the first train in the morning to Dublin en-route to Liverpool and onwards to Australia. The servant boy dressed up in his Sunday clothes – his boss asked him why he was dressed up and he said that he was going to a party for some of his friends who were going to America. His fiancée had to row a boat to reach their meeting point, and they walked the rest of the way to Belturbet,” explained Tomás.
The girl involved had £400 and the servant boy had nothing. “She must have been pretty smitten by him,” he quipped.
About the author
Tomás is married to Patricia Cartwright, a sister of George Cartwright, former chairman of Cavan County Board GAA, and they have one daughter, Barbara and three sons, Maurice, Darragh and Niall.
‘A great insight’ – Michael Swords
‘Revolution in Tullyhunco’ was launched by Michael Swords before an audience of 200 people in the Killeshandra Community Hall last Friday night and the gregarious Tomás O’Raghallaigh was delighted to sing copies of his book for over an hour after the launch. MC on the night was Eamonn Sexton.
Speaking at the launch, Michael Swords, lavished praise on Tomás’s latest book, which he said he had enjoyed reading.
“It gives a great insight into how the land problems started and details the various battles and uprisings along the way to the final settlement, which was made in the 20th century. This book is a must for all residents in the barony and further afield, who have an interest in local history, especially dating from the 17th to the early 20th century.
“He deals in great detail with the secret societies which were active on both Catholic and Protestant sides. The peep a day boys, the defenders, the ribbon men, the Molly Maguires – the clergy in the area were very much involved in the struggle, especially Fr Murray in Carrigallen and Fr Michael Corcoran, PP Gowna.”
The riots in Killeshanda and Arva are also mentioned, as is the fact that the Catholic Defence in Killeshandra organised lawyers to represent Catholics in court for the first time.
• The book, priced at €15, is available in the Crannóg Bookshop and Easons in Cavan Town, in Moore’s Spar in Ballinagh; Sloane’s in Gowna; Lynch’s and Smith’s in Arva; Pat Masterson’s in Carrigallen; Réalta Bookshop in Ballyconnell and is also available in Gray’s, Owen’s and Your Fresh Today Extra stores.