13 MARCH

BRITISH INFANTRY EVICT IRISH VILLAGERS AS FAMINE THREATENS

Forty years later, similar methods were still being used to evict tenants. The landlord’s agents use a battering ram backed up by police and military support. The National Library of Ireland – no known copyright restrictions.

[ 13 March 1846 ]

On 13 March 1846, as a devastating famine spread across Ireland, British soldiers of the 49th regiment evicted three hundred tenants of the village of Ballinglass in County Galway, from their 61 homes. The action was taken after Mrs Gerrard, the owner, decided it might be more profitable to raise cattle on the land for the Dublin and Liverpool markets.1 The tenants were not in arrears in their rent payments, but this was outweighed by the danger that the soaring price of food, caused by an ongoing potato blight, might force them into debt, endangering both their ability to feed themselves and more crucially, from Gerrard’s point of view, to meet their rent liabilities.  Worse, despite these miserable circumstances, they had recently displayed an unseemly arrogance in demanding receipts for what they had paid.2

An additional headache for the landlady was that the peasants, after the roofs were ripped off their homes and the walls demolished, but having nowhere else to go, built makeshift homes as best they could in the ruins, digging holes in the ground known as ‘scalps’ roofed with sticks and turf.  So, the troops were ordered back to evict them from these squalid shelters too,  digging up the foundations of the houses to make sure their former inhabitants could never return again and, as an insurance against any unwelcome show of solidarity, the neighbouring villages were warned not to provide shelter to any of those evicted.3

Despite such warnings, a visiting journalist came across several displaced tenants still in the area. They informed him of other villages which had also been erased or, as they put it ‘Gerrardised’.  One explained how the landlady, on being saluted recently and asked if she was well, replied ‘thank you, I am well and thriving and getting fat on the curses of the wretches.’  Another, however, claimed that it was in fact Mr. Gerrard who had been the origin of the remark, and that he had actually declared that ‘his bullocks were fattening on the lands, and thriving on the curses of the wretches.’4  However, they did agree on one thing, that their suffering was far from unique.  As the potato blight and famine worsened and landlords sought to clear their land of hungry and indebted tenants, there was rarely, if ever, a week which passed without an eviction in Ireland, invariably enforced by redcoats and police.5

FOOTNOTES

  1. Cecil Woodham-Smith, The Great Hunger: Ireland 1845-1849, Penguin Books, London pp. 71-72
  2. ‘Landlordism in Ireland: The Gerrard Tenantry,’ the Freeman’s Journal, 30 March 1846, p. 3
  3. Cecil Woodham-Smith, The Great Hunger: Ireland 1845-1849, Penguin Books, London pp. 71-72
  4. ‘Landlordism in Ireland: The Gerrard Tenantry,’ the Freeman’s Journal, 2 April 1846, p. 2
  5. Cecil Woodham-Smith, The Great Hunger: Ireland 1845-1849, Penguin Books, London p. 71.

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