CARLOW HISTORY
 

Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)


The Tithe War 1831-1838

Source: Carloviana 1993/1994


The Tithe War 1831-1838

By Sean O'Brien, Retired National Teacher, Goresbridge

Previously published in the 1993/1994 edition of Carloviana pages 4 - 10

EVEN with the passage of more than a century and a half, the application of the term "Tithe War" to the period 1831-1838 is still emotive. One might argue against the word "War" implying a physical force movement with planned campaigns and central direction. "Anti-tithe movement" would be a more accurate term.

The tithe system whereby a tenth (or tithe) of the annual produce of land went to the maintenance of church or clergy, had a long history dating from Pre-Christian times. In Genesis 14-17 we read that Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils of war to the priest Melchisedec. After the building of the temple, the Israelites contributed for its upkeep and the upkeep of the priesthood. A similar tax was paid by Roman citizens. When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, it inherited the system.

In Ireland, tithes were not introduced until the Synod of Cashel in 1171, and then were confined mainly to areas under Anglo-Norman control.

In theory, the revenue from tithe divided into four parts — one for the upkeep of the clergyman, another for Poor Relief, a third for Church Maintenance and Education and the fourth for the Bishop.

Exclusive property of the clergy

Practice did not follow theory, and by the 18th century, the tithe had become the exclusive property of the clergy. From Tudor times on, the Church of Ireland became the established church and consequently, the Tithe revenue went to the upkeep of the clergy of that church.

Opposition to the payment of tithes had been a feature of every outbreak of agrarian disorder from the 18th century onwards, but this-was directed more to excessive tithes than to the parishes.

The opposition was a compound of religious and economic objections. Catholics, Presbyterians, Quakers, Methodists and other non-Anglicans considered having to contribute to the maintenance of a Church of which they were not members. This factor aggravated the basic economic objections on which opposition to tithes was chiefly based.

Tithe was a tax on the produce of land and in the case of non-Anglicans, a tax for which there was no return. Moreover, prior to 1825, tithes were levied exclusively on tillage land, as pasture had been exempt by the Agistment Act of 1735. This meant that the burden fell heavily on the cultivators of small tillage plots, while large graziers enjoyed something like complete immunity. Patrick Kennedy of Rathmeaden, Co. Waterford, father of the Graigue abductees, was a typical example of the wealthy grazier. He was able to bequeath £2,000 to each of his daughters. (1870).

Considerable friction

The methods by which tithes were assessed and collected caused considerable friction. Payments might be made:

1. In kind — one tenth of the actual crop — this was discontinued in 1760.

2. By a fixed annual money payment, or

3. By an estimate or "view" of the value of the growing crop, made by the tithe to his proctors. The crops liable for tithe varied from region to region.

In some Leinster and Ulster counties, potatoes were non-titheable.

In Galway, the same was true of hay, but corn and sheep were liable. In Munster, potatoes, milk, eggs and domestic fowl were titheable.

The report by Rev. Edward Bayly, Rector of Grange Sylvia (Goresbridge) in Shaw Mason's "Parochial Survey of Ireland" 1814, states, "The titheable article is principally corn which is the staple commodity of this county. Tithes are taken for hay but not proportionately smaller quantity and also used for potatoes."

Legally tithes were a first charge on income which meant they took precedence of rent or any other financial obligation.

Some rectors leased the tithes to tithe-farmers (investors) who naturally squeezed the last ounce of profit from their investment. Others appointed Proctors to collect the levies. As these and the valuators were paid on commission, inflating the liability was in most cases an irresistible temptation.

As might be expected, valuators and proctors were highly unpopular. "Any but respectable" was the general description of those who undertook the office. A Co. Meath Rector of a Kilkenny family, Rev. H. R. Langrishe, observed: "I myself tried to get a man of character and I have found it impossible to get any man of proper description to act as a tithe proctor or as a valuer. I have had Protestants and Roman Catholics and found them all, one as bad as the other and not to be trusted."

An enormous variation existed in the incomes of the clergy. Parishes were held by pluralists who held more lucrative living elsewhere. A curate administered the parish and was obliged to transmit the rector's share of the revenue to the absentee before the curate was entitled to a penny. In some parishes, the tithes went in whole or in part to some lay proprietor, e.g. Slyguff, Doneraile. Many clergy lived in straitened circumstances, others in affluence. Few were busy. Parishes without congregations were not unknown — Ref: St. Mullins, Laracor.

Resistance to level of priests' dues

While the resentment against the tithes is known, it is well to remember that a strong resistance to the level of priests' dues also existed and the regulation of these was a plank in the programmes of agrarian secret societies such as Whiteboys, Thrashers etc. An argument against the abolition of tithes was that if this were done the priests would raise their own dues leaving the people no better off.

Even defenders of the tithe principle felt a need to make changes in the system. Accordingly in 1823 — A Tithe Composition Act was passed. This provided that special vestries should negotiate a composition for Tithes for the entire parish with the Tithe owners. For each side would appoint a commissioner and these would fix a sum for the entire parish and for each payer in it.

Tithe Applotment Books registered and recorded the results. The exact sum might be reached by simple agreement or alternatively be based on: either the average tithe payments, or the average corn prices, between 1814 and 1821, with a further provision for revision after 7 years. A Further Act of 1824 abolished the exemption of pasture. Although the new arrangement reduced rectors' incomes, there was compensation in the fact that it was now definitely fixed and easier to collect. The small and medium sized farmer gained in having a reduced liability but the large farmer was now swept into the net and lost out.

It was this group that provided the cutting edge of the Anti Tithe Movement.

Anti-climax and dissatisfaction

The campaign for Catholic Emancipation caused intense excitement in the years leading up to 1829. Like all such political campaigns, the movement raised expectations far beyond the aims or even desires of those who headed the movement. The mass of people saw Emancipation as a token of complete reorganisation of society, bringing direct practical benefits — better wages, regular employment, lower rents — talamh gan chios — abundant potato ground and an end to evictions. When these benefits did not materialise, a feeling of anti-climax and dissatisfaction was widespread, particularly among the smaller farmers.

A priest writing in 1832 recalled "I heard their conversations when they say “What good did Emancipation do for us — are we or our children better clothed or fed?"

A leader of the Whitefeet in Co. Kilkenny remarked to a French traveller: "Emancipation has done nothing for us. Mr. O'Connell and the rich Catholics go to parliament. We die of starvation just the same."

The Emancipation campaign had given the wealthy Catholics experience of organisation and had created a very efficient political machine. This experience they were now ready to use.

The decade from 1820 to 1830 was one of considerable fall in agricultural prices. Due to the Post-Napoleonic war slump, the average price for grain fell by almost 25% and cattle prices showed an even greater drop. Milking cows, which sold from 14 to 16 guineas in 1820 realised only between £6 and £8 in 1830.

Demanding reductions

Landlords generally considered the circumstances of 1830 merited an easing of the farmers' burden and allowed rent abatements. Naturally the farmers considered they were entitled to the same indulgence from the clergy. First in Kilkenny and then in the surrounding counties deputations approached rectors demanding reductions. Usually the spokesmen were persons of standing from outside the parish. The invariable reply was a refusal on the grounds that through Composition, the clergy had already taken substantial cuts. The Tithe payers' response was a decision to completely refuse payments.

Matters came to a head in Graignamanagh where two turbulent priests clashed. One was a Protestant curate, Rev. Luke Gardiner McDonnell, and the other the Very Rev. Martin Doyle PP. The rector of Graignamanagh was Rev. Geo. Alcock, a benevolent man much admired in the parish. He was 69 years old and in poor health, so the management of the parochial affairs was entrusted to the curate. Rev. McDonnell acted as tithe agent and also a magistrate. As such it was illegal for him to act as tithe agent.

An official report described McDonnell as a hot-headed and violent man. His lack of judgement and tact was exceptional and his conduct on the bench as a magistrate was such that his fellow magistrates refused to sit with him.

He was a member of the New Reformation Movements; a burst of evangelical enthusiasm which aimed at the conversation of the Irish peasantry. Its approach consisted of mainly crude attacks on the people's beliefs, so religious rancour was added to an already overcharged situation. McDonnell's activities went a long way to helping his Catholic tithe payers to start the opposition (census for Graignamanagh — 4,779 Catholics and 63 Protestants).

On the other side of the equation was the parish priest, Fr. Martin Doyle (1777). A native of Ballinvegga, New Ross, he was the first cousin of the Bishop James Warren Doyle (J.K.L.) a situation which he was always ready to use — or abuse — to his own advantage.

He was appointed P.P. Clonegal in 1818 and while there, built the present parish church. His parishioners' protests to the Bishop against what they considered his exorbitant financial extractions and intolerable autocratic behaviour led to his transfer to Graignamanagh in 1827 — after the Tithe Composition had been agreed. An official memorandum describes him as:— "a stout active man, about 55 years of age, clever, ingenious and intriguing, and who has proved himself to be capable of doing some good or a great deal of mischief."

Supporter of law and order

A committed loyalist and a strong supporter of law and order, his ministry in Clonegal was characterised by his antipathy to popular violence. In 1821 he received the thanks of the Grand Jury of Carlow for his exertions in promoting the peace of the country and especially for bringing the Finnegan gang to justice, and on his transfer to Graignamanagh was presented with a complimentary address from the Protestant clergy and gentry.

Initially unpopular in Graignamanagh "because of raising his dues and his overbearing manner," he gradually acquired great power over his flock. In 1830 he began a career of land speculation with the leasing of 40 acres in Raheendonore — a large holding in a parish where the average size of holdings was 14 acres. By 1850 he occupied 475 acres scattered over a number of townslands. He paid both the rent and the tithe for the first half year, but he then took advantage of a clause in the Tithe Composition Acts which in the case of new leases authorised the tenant to pay the tithe and deduct the amount from the landlord's rent. Fr. Doyle withheld the amount but did not pay the tithe. The farmer complained to the bishop, who admonished his cousin but without effect.

Would caution every parish

By this time, most compositions entered into an early stage were felt to be excessive and at an anti-tithe meeting in 1831, Fr. Doyle declared his opposition to tithe compositions telling his audience "he would caution every parish that has not yet the misfortune of coming under it, to beware and that it would never be adapted in Powerstown, the official name of Skeaghvosteen parish, as Sir Nicholas Loftus would not consent to it,, nor would he." Fr. Doyle had clearly decided to make common cause with the landlords and large farmers.

The family of Doyle were originally landed gentry settled in the neighbourhood of Arklow. H. H. Doyle forfeited during Cromwell's Plantation. His son James, claiming by "an old though dormant title," made an unsuccessful attempt to recover, but he obtained a perpetual lease of Kilcumney from the Bagenals.

The ancestor of Bishop James Warren Doyle and of Fr. Doyle became a leasehold tenant in the neighbourhood of New Ross.

The son of James, William Doyle of Clonmoney, left a son Charles, a lawyer. Charles conformed to the Church of Ireland in 1762. He married a daughter of the Rev. Nicholas Milley of Jeanville, and became agent to Lord Clifden. He resided in Bramblestown.

His son William became Master in Chancery in Ireland. He had two sons — the elder became Gen. Sir Charles Doyle and the younger Col. Ellis Doyle, died in 1797, as Commander-in -Chief in Ceylon. His widow, Frances Ramsford, later married Prince Joseph of Monaco.

The bishop maintained friendly relations with his Protestant cousins. Both he and Fr. Doyle would consider themselves, if not gentry, at least of gentry stock, and their social outlook was conditioned accordingly.

James Warren Doyle (1786-1834) was born in New Ross. He joined the Augustinian Order and was sent to Coimbra in Portugal. He left the college to serve with Wellington's army as interpreter and intelligence officer. He returned to college and was ordained in 1809. Four years later, he was appointed professor in Carlow College and was appointed bishop of Kildare and Leighlin in 1819. A highly intellectual man, and an able writer, his letters on public affairs, such as "An Indication of the Irish Catholics," "Letters on the State of Ireland" exerted a tremendous influence on English public opinion and created a climate favourable to Emancipation. These letters appeared over the initials J.K.L. i.e. James, Kildare and Leighlin and by these initials he is known in history. He gave valuable evidence before Parliamentary Commissions on Ireland 1825-32 and was one of the most influential members of the hierarchy of the time.

Ecclesiastical statesman

He was highly respected as a pastoral reformer and was universally regarded as an ecclesiastical statesman rather than a political priest. His political outlook was Unionist and his views on social affairs conservative. His writings are universally admired for their erudition and "the irresistible might of his argument." He effected many ecclesiastical reforms. A stern disciplinarian, he was respected rather than loved.

By long-established custom, tithes were not levied on the small holdings attached to Catholic parochial houses. Fr. Doyle maintained the indulgence should extend to his forty acre farm. Rev McDonnell responded by seizing the priest's horse, an action which had explosive results. Meetings were held demanding "an abatement of tithe as will enable them to pay it cheerfully." The demand was refused and a committee was formed under the chairmanship of John Doyle of Coolroe. John Doyle held a lease of 900 acres of which he farmed 80 acres and sublet the remainder into 43 divisions. A levy of 1p per acre to defray expenses was agreed.

The movement spread rapidly through Kilkenny, Carlow, Laois and Wexford and monster meetings were held. Two thousand people attended one of these in Ullard. 100,000 people, of whom 20,000 were on horseback attended a meeting in Ballyhale. As well as from Kilkenny, contingents from Tipperary, Waterford, Wexford and Carlow attended. Chairman of the meeting was a Protestant landlord, Col. Sir Pierce Butler, deputy lieutenant for Kilkenny. The Callan schoolmaster and diarist Humphrey O'Sullivan, who addressed the people in Irish, records the event in his diary.

Famous as boycotting

A meeting in Bennettsbridge was attended by a Dublin lawyer, Patrick Costello. Costello advised a course of action which in the Land League days became famous as boycotting. He advised keeping within the law, offering no active resistance, attending forced sales but making no bids.

Meanwhile, Sir John Harvey, Inspector General of Police for Leinster, moved in force against the parish of Graignamanagh. About 400 policemen supported by militia, took up positions in Graignamanagh and surrounding towns — Borris, Goresbridge, Gowran and Powerstown.

But the farmers had been well prepared. Sentinels with hunting horns were posted at vantage points on high ground around the town so that any hostile movement out of it was easily spotted. The law did not allow the seizure of stock in houses nor at night: so as soon as the approaching band of police, military, magistrates and bailiffs was espied all stocks were locked up and not let out to graze until night. The effort to collect was a failure. Considerable loss of face to the authorities resulted and a precedent was set which did not go unnoticed elsewhere. Tithes were withheld and where goods were seized in default, no buyers offered for them.

Magistrates used their powers to suppress anti-tithe meetings but these continued to be organised under the guise of hurling matches. The ruse was not always successful, as witness in "The Carlow Sentinel" 23 Feb 1833.

"A large concourse of persons from The Ridge of Old Leighlin, Graig, Castlewarren, Powers-town, Paulstown and Ullard, assembled on the lands of Thos. Bookey, Esq Doninga, on Sunday last under a pretence of deciding a hurling match. On hearing of the intended meeting, W. Molloy Esq. R. M. and a party of police proceeded to the spot and had great difficulty in preventing the mob from attacking the houses in the neighbourhood. His force was insufficient to disperse them but he succeeded in arresting two of the ringleaders who live in the lands of Castlewarren."

Rallying cry of tithe opposers

The Anti-Tithe movement received big boosts in 1831. One was a letter from Dr. Doyle (J.K.L.) to Thomas Spring Rice in which Dr. Doyle declared that as the Tithe Revenue was not divided as required by law, payment of tithes was neither moral nor legally binding — a statement which tended to ease any conscientious scruples some may have had. One passage in the letter was to become the rallying cry of the tithe opposers:— "An innate love of justice and of indomitable hatred of oppression is like a gem on the front of our nation which no darkness can obscure. To this firm reality I trace their hatred of tithe. May it be as lasting as their love of justice."

What started as an axe-tax campaign, was fast assuming the mantle of a sacred cause.

The attitude of the Catholic clergy was mixed. The P.P. of Bennettsbridge, Fr. Kavanagh, tore down a church gate notice announcing "a hurling match on the same principles as the Graig meeting."

The P.P. of Fermoy Fr. Timothy Murphy, later to become bishop of Cloyne and Ross, wrote to his bishop, "You know, my Lord, while in college I flatter myself that I was neither radical nor revolutionary. I haven't ever been hostile to large aggregations or the giddy populace and have at all times been strenuously opposed to the formation of these unwieldy popular masses over which reason, wisdom and even religion but have slender influence." stated opinion of the local anti-tithe agitators was "visionary declaimers," "village spouters" and "eloquent nobodies."

The second thrust was tragic but it provided the movement with martyrs.

On June 18th 1831, cattle distrained for tithes by the Rev. Alexander McClintock, rector of Newtownbarry (now Bunclody) were being sold by auction. The Yeomanry, disbanded after 1798, were re-established in 1831 against the advice of O'Connell, who described them as "inefficient for good, but ever strong for mischief." From this force, 150 men, including a contingent from Myshall, were drafted into the town. Nobody bid at the sale and in the meantime the cattle wandered off, or according to some reports, were rescued. A detachment of police and yeomanry were dispatched to return them to the town. On their way back, a crowd gathered, stones started to fly and a detachment of yeomanry opened fire. Fourteen people, including a married woman and two boys (one the son of a yeoman) were shot dead. The confusion was such that one yeoman was shot dead by his comrades.

Encouraged crusade against tithes

Dr. Doyle then issued a letter to the press which was bound to rouse and encourage a crusade against tithes. To the statements that tithes were right sanctioned by law, he replied that so also was slavery. Submission to the law was a duty but there was a wide difference between that submission and acquiescence in injustice. About those who attacked the tithe registers, the bishop used strong language, calling them "murderers" and "revilers".

A wave of protest meetings followed. Petitions to parliament were presented, subscription funds raised and a great outcry started in the popular press. The trials of two Kilkenny farmers, Patrick Blanchfield and Anthony Byrne from Clara, for their part in the meetings of "hurlers," helped to keep excitement at fever pitch. When £50 fines and a year's imprisonment was meted out to them, popular opinion was outraged.

In this heady atmosphere, the passive resistance aspect became progressively eroded. Proctors began to suffer violence and some were murdered. Fatal collisions between police and registers occurred but the most serious conflict occurred at Carrickshock in Co. Kilkenny.

The rector of Knocktopher, Dr. Hans Hamilton, was well liked in the parish although his tithes were high and regularly extracted. His father was appointed Bishop of Ossory in 1799 having been translated from Clogher. The bishop was a highly intelligent man, an outstanding theologian and an eminent mathematician. He was a founder member of The Royal Irish Academy.

Tithes amounted to £1,750

Knocktopher was a plum parish. Dr. Hamilton's tithes after Composition amounted to £1,750. He employed two curates — one at a salary of £200 p.a. the other on a lower scale at £75 p.a.

In January 1831, a meeting took place between Dr. Hamilton and twelve farmers. With Dr. Hamilton, was Col. Harvey and a magistrate, Joseph Greene. The deputation demanded a reduction of 25% which was refused by Dr. Hamilton. Col. Harvey and Mr. Greene both tried to arrange a compromise but without success. The deputation then withdrew, declaring no tithe would be paid. The failure threw the initiative into the hands of the extreme party in the parish, and leading spirits of which were a local farmer, James Treacy, Fr. Magennis, a Carmelite friar from Knocktopher and the schoolmaster, from Ballyhale Wm. Keane. Keane, a native of South Kilkenny had been an anti-tithe activist since his arrival from Goresbridge where he had previously taught.

When no tithes were paid, Dr. Hamilton called on Col. Harvey, to take strong measures. Col. Harvey was reluctant to move, so Dr. Hamilton applied to Dublin Castle who advised that legal action be taken. In November, processes were issued and Dr. Hamilton employed a proctor named Edmund Butler to serve them. Butler, a butcher by trade, was a foulmouthed, offensive bully and thoroughly obnoxious to the people.

On December 12th, Butler began his work. For his protection, a force of 50 policemen under the command of Capt. Jas. Gibbons, accompanied him. Gibbons had served in the Peninsular War at Waterloo. In June 1829, he was severely beaten and had several ribs broken while assisting to quell a riot at Carrick-on-Suir.

The first day passed off quietly enough. The people adopted the familiar tactic of locking up stock and vacating the dwellings. Treacy sent out messengers carrying instructions to assemble for a football match at Kilcurl near Knocktopher. On the following evening, the police force was 'halted by a large crowd as it returned. Keane, wearing a sash and a military cap, stepped out in front of the force and told them, "Things passed off quietly today and yesterday but they won't pass off so quietly tomorrow so we warn you in time".

On the following morning, December 14th, Gibbons, Butler

and the police escort left Kilmoganny police barracks for Newmarket, and from there continued to Hugginstown. In all three places, the church bells were rung and crowds soon gathered. Leaving Hugginstown, the police left the road and continued up a lane — Boithrin na gCloch, to the house of Dick (Waterford) Walsh where Butler succeeded in serving a process by pushing it under the door. They found their return blocked by a large crowd armed with a variety of weapons under the direction of Keane, still wearing his sash and cap.

Road blocked by crowd

Gibbons gave the order to load and they wheeled about to make for Knocktopher but found the road was blocked by the crowd led by Treacy from the football match. The surrender of Butler was demanded but Gibbons, seeing a side-lane leading to an open space containing a cowpond known as Sean na mBan's Lough, led his force into it. Treacy, realising they would lose the advantage if the police reached the open space determined to bring matters to a head here. He sprang in among the police, seized Butler by the coat-collar and dragged him outside.

Gibbons drew his pistol and shot Treacy dead, whereupon Kane launched the attack. A thrown stone unhorsed Gibbons and he was then killed by a blow from a maul. The police fired the flintlocks but so close were the police that only two men were killed. The guns were wrestled from them and in a few minutes 12 policemen and the proctor Butler, were dead. The survivors, many of them wounded, fled in all directions.

Dr. Hamilton, accompanied by his daughter, left Knocktopher that evening, never to return. He appointed a curate and passed the remainder of his life in London.

Following the affair, a sweep of the area was made by police and military and twelve people were arrested. Keane went on the run and eventually escaped to America from Waterford on one of Lady Esmond's ships.

Widespread collections for the defence of prisoners were made in Kilkenny and adjoining counties. Two of the Carmelite Friars from Knocktopher were prominent among the collectors as was also John Smithwick, a landlord and the head of the brewing family, and £1,000 was raised.

At the time considerable reluctance to returning convictions in capital cases or even to serving on juries, existed as a result of recent notorious miscarriages of justice.

(1) In the Doneraile Conspiracy Case of 1829, 21 people were arrested on a charge of conspiracy to murder 3 landlords. The first 4 were found guilty and executed. But, on the very same evidence, the remainder, when defended by O'Connell were acquitted. Marjorie Bowen the novelist, whose family were landlords in nearby Bowenscourt, Kildorrery, considered the  conspiracy theory was a panic reaction by the gentry to a local outbreak of ordinary crime.

Hanged on evidence of children

(2) Two years later at Catslepook in the same parish two tithe proctors, collecting tithes for a tithe farmer in Youghal were murdered. A number of arrests were made and four people were convicted and hanged on the sole evidence of two children, one aged ten and the other eleven years of age. Four others were later sentenced but the government took the usual course allowing those out on continuing bail and ordering the release of the remainder.

(3) In 1830, a Catholic Landlord in Galmoy, Co. Kilkenny named Marum, a brother of the then bishop of Ossory evicted a Protestant tenant and gave the farm to a Catholic. He was shot by the Whiteboys following his ignoring a demand to reinstate the evicted tenant.  Six young men, five of whom were widely believed not alone to have had no part in the affair, but even had no knowledge of it were convicted of the crime and hanged at Shanrath in March 1831.

The trials of the Carrickshock defendants took place the following July, with O'Connell appearing for the defence. A lady named Catherine Danagher, age 20, a native of Hugginstown, reputedly of easy virtue, was the girlfriend of Thomas Keegan, a local policeman. She was present at Carrickshock and known to have made statements identifying people present. It was conveyed to her that discretion might be advisable, and she agreed to emigrate. A passage to Newfoundland, in the name of Mary Ryan, was booked on a ship out of Waterford. She was given £40 from the defence fund and accompanied by two men and a woman, taken to Waterford and put on board the ship as it was about to sail. Apart from the police, the crown were now unable to procure any independent witness for the prosecution. Good homework by the defence gave O'Connell an opportunity to use with effect his favourite tactic of impeaching witnesses and destroying their credibility.

There were four separate trials, on each occasions the jury refused to convict. The release of the prisoners met with wide rejoicing and was a serious blow to the authorities.

Humphrey O'Sullivan records the verdict in his diary and lists the bonfires that illuminated every hill not alone in Kilkenny but in Wexford, Carlow, Laois, Waterford and Tipperary, in celebration.

Carrickshock was a critical incident, but not the final one in the "War."

Clashes on a lesser scale

From then on, tithe owners were reluctant to promote another carnage and began to act with more discretion and sensitivity, but clashes on a lesser scale continued. The Government also used its legal powers to have Protestants fined and imprisoned. It had two weapons to hand.

The Whiteboy Act of 1787 forbade any unlawful combination or confederacy to deprive a clergyman of his tithe. Another weapon at the Government's disposal was 2nd and 3rd of William 4th which gave it power to collect tithe arrears of 1831. If any of the leading agitators were in default they became crown debtors and could be imprisoned if they refused to pay.

Among those against whom the law was invoked were a number of priests from the Kildare and Leighlin diocese. Fr. Doyle P.P. Naas was arrested for publishing an illegal notice but a jury failed to convict.

Dr. Fitzgerald, President of Carlow College and Fr. Rafter, curate of Graig were arrested for their part in an anti-tithe meeting. They refused to give bail and remained in prison for some months. Fr. Martin Doyle P.P. Graignamanagh was arrested for non-payment of the 1832 tithe. He paid the arrears and was released.

The plight of the rectors was distressful. A police report at the end of 1832 stated little or no tithe was paid in Carlow and the same situation obtained in Laois.

Seven were under protection

Eight clergymen from Kilkenny left the country, among them Dr. Butler of Burnchurch and his son, also a clergyman. The son was grandfather to Hubert Butler, the writer. Seven were under police protection.

The London Morning Herald of Nov. 1831 carried the following report, "At a meeting of the clergy of the dioceses of Kildare and Ferns held lately in Carlow it was agreed that a deputation" of four incumbents should proceed to the Castle and represent to the Lord Lieutenant the distressing condition to which the universal resistances to the payment of tithes has reduced them."

The Lord Lieutenant's reply was, "That he views with the deepest regret the combinations which prevail in the diocese of Leighlin against the rights of the established church, the illegal resistance to these rights is not only injurious to the interests of the individuals who are sacrificed to it, but is founded on a principle which, if admitted, would warrant and justify not only the invasion of the property of the clergy but that of any or of all other classes of His Majesty's subjects."

Later a sum of £60,000 was made available for the relief of the clergy.

In June 1833, at Rossmore in Co. Cork, during an attempt at seizure for tithes, a crowd blocked the passage of troops and police. The Riot Act was read by a magistrate and the crowd ordered to disperse. The troops were ordered to fire but the volley went over the heads of the crowd and nobody was injured. The crowd lunged forward and fierce hand-to-hand fighting took place. A policeman, named Dwyer, raised his weapon and fired. The ball hit and killed a soldier. The officer in charge, Capt. Nagle, feeling matters had gone far enough, withdrew the troops. Shortly afterwards, £1,000,000 was allocated to compensate clergy for the loss of their income and the Under-Secretary for Ireland, advised that the serving of processes should be discontinued for the time being.

The Gortroe Massacre

The tranquillity created by these conciliatory measures was rudely shattered by what was to become known as The Gortroe Massacre.

Gortroe is a townsland in the parish of Rathcormac, Co. Cork. Rathcormac is on the main road from Fermoy to Cork. The rector was Archdeacon Ryder, locally known as Black Billy, from his dark complexion. Part of the tithes accrued to a Capt. Cooke Collis. Both he and the archdeacon were magistrates.

Public opinion was outraged by the affair at Gortroe, which was felt to be one tragedy too many. In England, Parliament was thoroughly alarmed and bent to the task of finding a final solution.

The Tithe Commutation Act of 1838, affected by Lord Melbourne's government, was the result. The Act confirmed the £1,000,000 grant for arrears and reduced tithes by 25% and converted to a fixed rent charge. This placed responsibility on the landlord who, where possible, added the charge to the rent, but the irritations of the old system disappeared and a more friendly atmosphere between parsons and people gradually arose. During the famine many parsons worked heroically to relieve the starving poor, among them Archdeacon Ryder who not only spent all his money but sold his furniture to relieve the starving. The settlement of the Tithe question cleared the ground for the next phase of the land conflict — the transference of ownership to the occupiers. Many of the effective tactics used in that struggle derived from the experiences of the Anti-Tithe Movement.


Tithe Sale in Carlow


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