William Henry Hurlbert.

Ireland Under Coercion (2nd ed.) (1 of 2) (1888) online

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The town was gay with soldiers and police - whose advent had created such
a demand for bread and meat, a man told us, that all the butchers and
bakers in Letterkenny and Dunfanaghy were at their wits' ends to meet
it. "But they don't complain of that!" We reached Newtown-Stewart by
railway after dark. As we passed Sion the mills were all lighted up,
giving it the look of an English or New England town. A New England
snow-storm, too, awaited us at our journey's end; and, after a wild
drive of several miles through the whirling white mists, it was a
delectable thing to find ourselves welcomed in a hall full of light and
warmth and flowers by merry children and lively dogs, the guard of
honour of the most gracious and charming of hostesses.

BARON'S COURT, _Thursday, Feb. 9._ - Among a batch of letters received
this morning I find one from a most estimable and accomplished priest in
the West of Ireland, to whom I wrote from Dublin announcing my intention
of visiting the counties of Clare and Kerry. "I shall be very glad," he
says, "to learn that no evil hath befallen you during your visit to that
solitary plague-spot, where dwell the disgraceful and degraded
'Moonlighters.' Would not 'martial law,' if applied to that particular
spot, suffice to stamp out, these-insensate pests of society?" This
language, strong, but not too strong in view of the hideous murder last
week near Lixnaw of a farmer in the presence of his daughter for the
atrocious crime of taking a farm "boycotted" by the National League,
shows that the open alliance between this organisation and the criminal
classes in certain parts of Ireland is beginning (not a day too soon) to
arouse the better order of priests in Ireland to the peril of playing
with edged tools. For my correspondent is not only a priest, but a
Nationalist. I have sent him in reply a letter received by me, also
to-day, touching the conduct in connection with the Lixnaw murder of a
priest, a curate, I think, comparatively new to the place, who,
standing by the corpse of the murdered man, endeavoured, so my informant
states, to make his unfortunate daughter give up the names of the
murderers, the effect of which would have been to put them on their
guard, and "under the protection of that public conspiracy of silence,
which is the shield of all such criminals in these parts!" Baron's Court
is a very large, stately mansion, lacking elevation perhaps like
Blenheim, but imposing by its mass and the area it covers. It was
rebuilt almost entirely by the late Duke of Abercorn, who also made
immense plantations here which cover the country for miles around. His
grandfather, the handsome Marquis of the days of the Prince Regent,
came here a great deal towards the end of his life, but did little
towards making the mansion worthy of its site. Two very good portraits
of him here show that he deserved his reputation as the finest-looking
man of his day, a reputation attested by a diamond ring, the history of
which is still preserved in the family. A fine though irregular pearl
given by Philip of Spain to his hapless spouse, Mary Tudor, is another
of the heirlooms of Baron's Court; but the ring and the note left by
Mary Stuart to Claud Hamilton, Lord Paisley, mysteriously disappeared
during the long minority of the late Duke under the trusteeship of the
fourth Earl of Aberdeen, and have since, it is said, come into the
possession of the Duke of Hamilton.

Of the three castles given to Lord Claud Hamilton by James I., to enable
him to hold this country, one which stood at Strabaue has disappeared,
the memory of it surviving only in the name of Castle Street in that
town. The ivy-clad ruins of another adorn a height in this beautiful
park. They are "bosomed high in tufted trees," and overlook one of three
most lovely lakes, stretching in a shining chain through the length of
the demesne.

Another ruined tower of the time of King John stands on an island in
one of these lakes. When the Ulster settlement was made, these lands
with all the countryside were held by the O'Kanes. With the other Celtic
and Catholic inhabitants, they were driven by the masterful invaders
into the mountains and bogs. There still remain their descendants, still
Celtic and still Catholic, and still dreaming of the day when they shall
descend into the low country and drive the Protestant Scotch and English
from the "fat lands" which they occupy. In this way the racial and
religious animosities are kept alive, which have died out in Tipperary
and Waterford, for example, where the Cromwellian English have become
more Irish and often more Catholic than the Irish themselves.

I took a long drive and walk with Lord Ernest this afternoon through the
park, which rivals Curraghmore in extent. It is nowhere divided from the
lands of the adjoining tenants, and with great liberality is thrown open
to the people, not only of Newtown-Stewart and Strabane, but of all the
country. Parties, sometimes of seven hundred people, from Belfast come
down to pass the day in these sylvan solitudes, and it is to be recorded
to the praise of Ireland that these visitors always behave with perfect
good sense and good feeling.

The "terrible trippers" of the English midlands, as I once heard an old
verger in a northern Cathedral call them, who chip off relics from
monuments, pull up flowers by the roots, and scatter sandwich papers and
empty gingerbeer bottles broadcast over well-rolled lawns, are not
known, Lord Ernest tells me, in this island. As he neatly puts it, the
Irishman, no matter what his station in life may be, or how great a
blackguard he may really be, always instinctively knows when he ought to
behave like a gentleman, and knows how to do so. In the lakes were
hundreds of wild fowl. The sky was a sky of Constable - silvery-white
clouds, floating athwart a dome of clear Italian blue. The soil here
must be extraordinarily fertile. The woods and groves are dense beyond
belief. Cut down what you like, the growth soon overtakes you, as lush
almost as in the tropics.

There was a great cyclone here a year or two ago, which prostrated in a
night over a hundred thousand trees. You see the dentated gaps left by
this disaster in the great circle of firs and birches on the surrounding
hills, but they make hardly a serious break in the thoroughly sylvan
character of the landscape. We visited the centre of the devastation,
where I found myself in what seemed to be a backwoods clearing in
America. An enterprising Scot, Kirkpatrick by name, has taken a contract
under the Duke, built himself a neat wooden cabin and stables, set up a
small saw-mill driven by steam, and is hard at work turning the fallen
trees into timber, and making a very good thing of it, both for the Duke
and for himself. He has one or two of his own people with him, but
employs the labour of the country, and has no fear of disturbance. He
thinks, however, that he must get "a good wicked dog" to frighten away
the tramps, who sometimes stray into his woodland, and put the
enterprise in peril by smoking and drowsing under haystacks.

Near this clearing is a model village, the houses scrupulously neat,
with trees and flowers, and here we met the Duchess with her devoted dog
walking briskly along to visit one of her people, a wonderful old man,
bearing the ancient name of the O'Kanes, and five years older than the
Kaiser William. Until six months ago this veteran was an active
carpenter, coming and going, about his work at ninety-six like a man in
middle age. Then he went to bed with a bad cold, and will probably
never rise again. In all his life he never has touched meat or soup, and
when they are now offered him rejects them angrily. He has lived, and
preferred to live, entirely on oatmeal in the form of cakes and
porridge, and on potatoes; so I make a present of him as a glorious
example to the vegetarians. As in so many other cases, his memory of
recent events is dim and clouded - of events long past, clear and
photographic: the negatives taken in youth quite perfect, the lenses
which now take, dimmed and fractured.

He perfectly recollects, for example, the assembling here of the
recruits going out to the Continent before the battle of Waterloo, and
can give the names and describe the peculiarities of stalwart lads long
since crumbled into dust around Mont St. Jean. With the curious
unconcern about death which marks his people, this expectant emigrant
into the unknown world chats about his departure as if it were for
Dublin, and his kinsfolk chat with him.

"Ye'll be going soon!"

"Oh yes, I shan't trouble ye more than an hour or two more."

In quite another part of the domain we came upon a Covenanter - a true,
authentic Covenanter, who might have walked out of _Old Mortality_; the
name of him, Keyes. He greeted Lord Ernest cheerily enough, nodded to me
in a not unfriendly way, and at once broke into exhortation: "It's a
very short life we live; man that is born of woman is of few days, and
full of trouble. Well for them that are the children of light - if seeing
the light they sin not against it"; and so on with amazing volubility.

There are eighty-five of these Covenanters here. They touch not nor have
touched the accursed thing. To them all parties and all governments are
alike evil. The Whigs persecuted the Solemn League and Covenant - so did
the Tories. Nationalists and Unionists are to them alike abominable,
sold under sin. Withal they are shrewd, canny, successful farmers - and,
as I inferred from sundry incidents, before Lord Ernest confided the
fact to me, not averse from a "right gude williewaught" now and then.

Mr. Keyes, I thought, was not a blue-ribbon man, nor a ribbon-man of any

The Duchess told me afterwards she had vainly endeavoured more than once
to get these people to vote at elections.

We had a sprinkling of such people, and very good people in quiet times
they were, in the Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War, to whom
Federals and Confederates were alike anathema.

We wound up our drive to-day just beyond "the Duke's seat," a little
rustic bench put up by the late Duke on a hill range which commands a
magnificent view over the whole domain of hill and forest and lakes, and
far away to the mountains of Munterlony. There, in the bogs and woods
James Hamilton, "lord baron of Strabane," with "other rebels, unknown,
in his company," hid himself till, after the fall of Charlemont in
August 1650, he was captured by a party of the Commonwealth's
men - whereby, as the record here runs, "all and singular his manors,
towns, lands, and so forth were forfeited to the Commonwealth of
England." Under this pressure he sought "protection," and got it a
fortnight later from Cromwell's General, Sir Charles Coote, whose
descendants still nourish in Wicklow. But on the 31st of December 1650
he "broke the said protection, and joined himself with Sir Phelim
O'Neill, being then in rebellion."

Troublous times those, and a "lord baron of Strabane" needed almost the
alacrity in turning his coat of a harlequin or a modern politician! It
is a comfort to know that at last, on the 16th of June 1655, he found
rest, dying at Ballyfathen, "a Roman Catholic and a papist recusant." As
we came back into the gardens and grounds, Lord Ernest showed me,
imbedded in the earth, a huge anchor presented to the present Duke by
the Corporation of Waterford, as having belonged to the French 28-gun
frigate, on which in 1689 James II. and Lord Abercorn sailed away from
Ireland for Prance. I believe that because of its weight the present
First Lord of the Admiralty avers that it is no anchor at all, but a
buoy fixture. It might have been ten times as heavy, and yet not have
availed to keep James from getting to sea at that particular time.

BARON'S COURT, _Friday, Feb. 10._ - Here also, in County Tyrone, the
Irish women show their skill in women's work. Mrs. Dixon, the English
wife of the house-steward of Baron's Court, has charge of a woollen
industry founded here, after a discourse on thrift, delivered at a
temperance meeting of the people by the then Marquis of Hamilton, had
stirred the country up to consider whether the peasant women might not
possibly find some better and more profitable way of passing their
winter evenings than in sitting huddled around a peat fire with their
elbows on their knees, gossiping about their neighbours. Lord Hamilton
cited the women of Gweedore as proofs that such a way might by searching
be found.

The Duke and Duchess found the funds, the stewardess invested them in
buying the necessary yarn and knitting-needles, and the Marchioness of
Hamilton acted as corresponding clerk and business agent of the new
industry. The clothing department of the British army lent a listening
ear to the business proposals made to it, and the work began. From that
time on it has been the main substantial resource against suffering and
starvation of the families of some three hundred labourers in the hill
country near Baron's Court.

These labourers work for the small farmers from April to November; and
between the autumn and the spring their wives and daughters knit, and by
the Baron's Court machinery are enabled to dispose of, nearly twenty
thousand pairs of woollen socks. The yarns are brought from Edinburgh to
the store-house at Baron's Court. Thither every Wednesday come the
knitters. Mrs. Dixon weighs the hanks of yarn, and gives them out.

On the following Wednesday the knitters reappear, each with her bale of
stockings or socks. These are again weighed, and the knitters receive
their pay according to the weight, quality, and size of the goods. In
some families there are four, five, or six knitters. All these people,
with four or five exceptions, are small cottars living on wretched
little mountain farms, not on the Duke of Abercorn's property; and but
for this industry they would be absolutely without employment all the
winter through.

Some of them come from a distance of twelve or fourteen miles, and but
for this resource would literally starve. They are nearly all of them
Catholics, and the Protestants here being Unionists, they are probably
Nationalists. About three hundred knitters in all are employed. In the
year 1886-87 the orders given for Baron's Court work enabled Mrs. Dixon
to pay out regularly about five pounds a week, not including casual
private orders. For the current year the orders have been much larger,
and the expenditure proportionally greater. Mrs. Dixon's storehouse was
full of goods to-day. The long knickerbocker stockings which she showed
us were remarkably good, some in "cross-gartered" patterns, handsomer,
I thought, than similar goods in the Scottish Highlands - and all of them
staunch and well-proportioned.

For socks such as are supplied to the volunteers and the troops the War
Office pays 8-3/4d. a pair.

It was pleasant to learn from Mrs. Dixon that these people thoroughly
appreciate the spirit which prompted and still directs this enterprise.
Last spring when the Duchess was thought for a time to be hopelessly
ill, a young girl came down to Baron's Court weeping bitterly. On her
arm was a basket, in which were two young chanticleers crowing lustily.
The poor girl said these were all she had, and she had brought them "to
make soup for the Duchess, for she heard that was what the great people
lived on, and it might save her life."

This afternoon I went over by the railway to Derry with Lord Ernest to
attend a meeting there. The "Maiden City" stands picturesquely on the
Foyle, and has a fine, though not large, cathedral of St. Colomb,
restored only last year, of which it may be noted that the work never
was undertaken while the Protestant Church of Ireland was established by
law, and has been successfully carried out since the disendowment of
that Church. The streets were white with snow, but the meeting in the
old Town Hall was largely attended. It was, in fact, a sort of Orange
symposium - tea being served at long tables, and the platform decorated
with a pianoforte. The Mayor of the city presided, and between the
speeches, songs, mostly in the Pyramus or condoling vein, were sung by a
local tenor of renown. It was very like an American tea-fight in the
country, and the audience were unquestionably enthusiastic. They quite
cheered themselves hoarse when Lord Ernest Hamilton reminded them that
he had made his first political speech in that hall on a "memorable
occasion," when, being an as yet unfledged Parliamentarian, he had taken
a hand in a successful attempt to prevent the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Mr.
Dawson, from making a speech in Derry. One of my neighbours, a merchant
in the city, told me that a project is afoot for tearing down the old
hall in which we met "to enlarge the street," but he added that "the
people of Derry were too proud of their history to allow it!"

I understood him to say it is one of the very few buildings in Derry
which witnessed the famous siege, and the breaking of the boom.

We left the "revel" early, caught a fast train to Newtown-Stewart, and
returned here an hour ago through a driving snowstorm, most dramatically
arranged to enhance the glow and genial charm of our welcome.

BARON'S COURT, _Saturday, Feb. 11th._ - All the world was white with snow
this morning. Alas! for the deluded birds we have been listening to for
days past; thrushes, larks, and as, I believe, blackbirds, though there
is a tradition in these parts that no man ever heard the blackbird sing
before the 15th of February. I suspect it grew out of the date of St.
Valentine's Day. We had some lovely music, however, within doors this
morning; and, in spite of the snow and the chill wind, a little fairy of
a girl, with her groom, went off like mad across country on her pony,
"Guinea Pig," to fetch the mails from Newtown-Stewart.

Not long after breakfast came in from Letterkenny Sergeant Mahony of the
constabulary, on whose testimony Father M'Fadden was convicted. We had
heard at Letterkenny that he was now on leave at Belfast, and Lord
Ernest had kindly arranged matters so that he should come here and
tell us his story of Gweedore.

An admirable specimen he is of a most admirable body of men. He is as
thoroughly Celtic in aspect as he is by name - a dark Celt, with a quiet
resolute face, and a wiry well-built frame.

Nothing could be better than his manner and bearing, at once respectful
and self-respectful: that manner of a natural gentleman one so often
sees in the Irish peasant. He is a devout Catholic, but no admirer of
Father M'Fadden.

As to his evidence, he explains very clearly that he was not sent to
report Father M'Fadden's speech at all, but to note and take down and
report language used in the speech of a sort to excite the people
against the law. He was selected for this duty for three reasons: he is
a Donegal man who has lived at Gweedore for sixteen years; he is a fair
stenographer; and he speaks Irish, in which language Father M'Fadden
made his speech.

"I speak Irish quite as well as he does," said the Sergeant quietly,
"and he knows I do. What I did was to put down in English words what I
heard said in Irish. This I had to do because I have no stenographic
signs for the Irish words." He tells me he taught himself stenography.

"As for Father M'Fadden," he said, "he told the people that' he was the
law in Gweedore, and they should heed no other.' He spoke the truth,
too, for he makes himself the law in Gweedore. He dislikes me because I
am a living proof that he is not the only law in Gweedore!" Of the
business shrewdness and ability of Father M'Fadden, Sergeant Mahony
expressed a very high opinion, though hardly in terms which would have
gratified such an ecclesiastic as the late Cardinal Barnabo. Possibly
Cardinal Cullen might have relished them no better. "Certainly he has
the finest house in Gweedore, sir, and what's more he made it the finest

"Do you mean that he built it?"

"He did, indeed; and did you not notice the beautiful stone fences he is
putting up all about it, and the four farms he has?"

"Then he is certainly a man of substance?"

"And of good substance, sir! The Government, they gave him a hundred
pounds towards the house. But it was the flood that was the blessed
thing for him and made a great man of him!"

"The flood?" I asked, with some natural astonishment; "the flood? What

"And did you never hear of the great flood of Gweedore? It was in
August 1880. You will mind the water that comes down behind the chapel?
Well, there was a flood, and it swelled, and it swelled, and it burst
the small pipe there behind the chapel: too small it was entirely for
carrying off' the great water, and nobody took notice of it, or that
there was anything wrong, and so the water was piled up behind the
chapel, and at Mass on the Sunday, while the chapel was full, the walls
gave way, and the water rushed in, and was nine feet deep. There were
five people that couldn't get out in time, and were drowned - two old
people and three children, young people. It was a great flood. And
Father M'Fadden wrote about it - oh, he is a clever priest with the
pen - and they made a great subscription in London for the poor people
and the chapel. I can't rightly say how much, but it was in the papers,
a matter of seven hundred pounds, I have heard say. And it was all sent
to Father M'Fadden."

"And it was spent, of course," I said, "on the repairs of the chapel, or
given to the relatives of the poor people who were drowned."

"Oh, no doubt; very likely it was, sir! But the repairs of the
chapel - there isn't a mason in Donegal but will tell you a hundred
pounds would not be wanted to make the chapel as good as it ever was.
And for the people that were drowned - two of them were old people, as I
said to you, sir, that had no kith or kin to be relieved, and for the
others they were of well-to-do people that would not wish to take
anything from the parish."

"What was done with it, then?"

"Oh! that I can't tell ye. It was spent for the people some way. You
must ask Father M'Fadden. He is the fund in Gweedore, just as he is the
law in Gweedore. Oh! they came from all parts to see the great ruin of
the flood at Gweedore. They did, indeed. And some of them, it was poor
sight they had; they couldn't see the big rift in the walls, when Father
M'Fadden pointed it out to them. 'Whisht! there it is!' he would say,
pointing with his finger. Then they saw it!"

I asked him at what figure he put the income of Father M'Fadden from his
parish. Without a moment's hesitation he answered, "It's over a thousand
pounds a year, sir, and nearer twelve hundred than eleven." I expressed
my surprise at this, the whole rental of Captain Hill, the landlord,
falling, as I had understood, below rather than above £700 a year; and
Gweedore, as Father Walker had told me, containing fewer houses than

"Fewer houses, mayhap," said the sergeant, "though I'm not sure of that;
but if fewer they pay more. There's but one curate - poor man, he does
all the parish work, barring the high masses, and a good man he is, but
he gets £400 a year, and that is but a third of the income!"

I asked by what special stipends the priest's income at Gweedore could
be thus enhanced. "Oh, it's mainly the funeral-money that helps it up,"
he replied. "You see, sir, since Father M'Fadden came to Gweedore it's
come to be the fashion."

"The fashion?" I said.

"Yes, sir, the fashion. This is the way it is, you see. When a poor
creature comes to be buried - no matter who it is, a pauper, or a tenant,
or any one - the people all go to the chapel; and every man he walks up
and lays his offering for the priest on the coffin; and the others, they
watch him. And, you see, if a man that thinks a good deal of himself
walks up and puts down five shillings, why, another man that thinks less
of him, and more of himself, he'll go up and make it a gold ten-shilling
piece, or perhaps even a sovereign! I've known Father M'Fadden, sir, to
take in as much as £15 in a week in that way."

Sergeant Mahony told us a curious tale, too, of the way in which Father
M'Fadden dealt with the people of the neighbouring parish of Falcarragh.
He would go down to the parish boundary, if he wanted to address the
people of Falcarragh, and stand over the line, with one foot in each

At our request Sergeant Mahony made some remarks in Irish; very wooing
and winning they were in sound. Before he left Baron's Court he promised
to make out and send me a schedule of the parochial income at Gweedore,
under the separate heads of the sources whence it is derived.

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