Clearing out the Peasants
GWEEDORE, FRIDAY NIGHT. Evictions preoceed with unabating vigour, and the patience of the people seem much strained. In one or two cases to-day there was an unusual display of feeling on the part of the tenants turned out. This produced a sterner attitude on the part of the force, and a close packed cordon of men was drawn around each house to be operated upon, which effectually prevented the approach of anyone from without.
The work commenced at Lunniagh, where it was left off last night. In the first case the extreme course of turning the family out was departed from owing to the age and infirmity of the tenant, a widow of over 80 years of age, who has been bedridden for some years. The formality of giving possession to the landlord and putting the tenant back as caretaker was gone through. In the case of Margaret Boyle, an unmarried woman, the house was carefully closed up and padlocked. Margaret and her brother make up the family. The brother is off in Scotland, and Margaret betook herself to another small place they hold on an island. The sheriff"s bailiff drew the staple of the door and removed every moveable article within the house, and the place is handed over to the landlord. In the next case the tenant, who is a widow, was re-admitted caretaker.
The sub-sheriff next proceeded to the house of a widow, Mary Gallagher. Mary seemed to feel her position with anguish, approaching desperation. She violently complained of the action of this landlord, and challenged his title to a crop planted by charity, which she avowed to belong to the parish priest first of all men. She had struggled to maintain life and support her family since the death of her husband, many years ago, till they had just come to the age when they would be able to help her. By November she would be in a position to do something; now she was unable to command a shilling. Her two eldest boys were in Scotland, her other three children were at service in the Laggan. On these she built her hopes, and if the landlord waited on the arrival of her earnings she might be in a position to redeem, but he would not. The time for redemption had passed, and he now proceeded for recovery of land and premises on title, and Mary Gallagher should get no quarter. The work proceeds, and the poor woman became very much excited. She is clamed for the moment by the priest, and she leaves the house to the bailiffs. They persue their work with all despatch, preserving their balance with great difficulty over the uneven and hollowed earth of the worst description. I noticed shells on one corner of the house which evidenced one of the wants in which this poor woman allayed the pangs of hunger. About four pounds of Indian meal was on a tin dish in a hole in the wall. I did not see any other article of good food. The potatoes have not yet ripened. The poor woman had also a small grain of tea on top of an old dresser that rested obliquely against the rough wall. In removing the dresser the bailiffs tossed this grain of tea in a gripe at the door, and over this the woman lost control of herself, and in a great rage ordered the bailiff to gather up the little tea. This official not minding what she said, the woman struck him with her clenched hand.
One would think that a shell had been dropped amongst the force. There is great excitement, and the usual lounging and indifference are laid aside. There were only a few women and children present, with a very small number of men and boys. The house being cleared, one of the estate bailiffs came up with boards carried specially for the purpose of barricading the doors. For a long time after the party left, Mary and a small group of sympathising neighbours remained listlessly squatted on the ground at the gable end of the house, which was Widow Gallagher"s hitherto, but which is now pronounced by the law to belong to Captain Arthur George Sandys, Blundell-hill. The evicting army next environ the wretched cabin of Charles Gallagher, Magheragallon. There seems an unusual anxiety on the brow of every office, and the orders ring out firmly and sternly. It is the green award on the bog that surrounds Gallagher"s house, and the tramp of the companies forming around the house is inaudible, but in a short time there is a black wall of constabulary standing around and outside the almost equally black walls of Gallagher"s wretched dwelling. Charles, his wife, and six small children are inside, and their very appearance would plead mercy and compassion to any heart. They spent a considerable part of the summer in the odious workhouse, and they have been living on charity, as Gallagher himself stated, since Christmas Eve. They seemed not to realise the situation until the troops had joined around the house and until the sheriff entered; then a heart-rending, piteous, shrieking cry rises from within the walls from the poor mother and children; the mother becomes simply frantic, and continues her terrible wailing. Even after being removed from the house she runs around like one in despair, and she indulges in wild, angry threats against the bailiffs. "Mind that woman, lose not sight of her at your peril," are the words addressed by an unfortunate sergeant. The house is cleared, or rather it is satisfactorily ascertained that there is nothing to clear. The pile of boards at the door was not worth 1s. A huge granite stone is put down on the top of the bright fire, and it is quenched, probably forever. The boards are produced and the doorway is barricaded. The law is carried out and also the wish of landlord, except in so far that the instructions to pull down the walls of any house against which the ejectment was on the title if the door of said house had been removed or put out of the way, were not complied with.
Poor Charles Gallagher is out by the roadside to-night, and he has not a shelter or home in the world. There remains only the dreaded workhouse for himself and his weak family. The next house visited was that of Mary Gallagher, an unmarried woman, who is the sole occupant of the small cabin on the holding. It contains hardly anything in the shape of furniture. There is a pallet of a sort of grass on the floor on one side of the fire, with two rough bags thereon, which is the poor woman"s miserable bed. She inveighed vigorously against the agent, and threatened some obnoxious official with the contents of a tin vessel that was sitting on the little fire. She was removed however, to the outside and put beyond the protecting cordon by a swarthy, weather-beaten sergeant. There being very little to do, the work is rapidly accomplished, and the black mass is again on the move. On the next holding, there being no house, the extraordinary formality of lifting a handful of bog and giving it to the representative of the landlord, repeating at the same time some form of tradition, is gone through by the sheriff. The next two cases possessed no feature of interest, the tenants being readmitted caretakers owing to the age and infirmity of some members in each case. In the next case the form of giving possession without a dwelling was repeated. There was a considerable walk to the next case, that of Jack Boner, of Ardnegappany. Jack happens to have a wretched dwelling on another small place, and he treated the sheriff with supreme indifference, and left this hovel in the moor with its door open and untenanted. The house is placed down in a hollow in the bog, and is hardly visible until one almost steps over it. The holding is known as a "new cut," and was held by Boner at 25s rent until it was reduced by the Land Court to 10s. In the last house visited to-day there was an old woman of over 80 years, very ill, which warranted the exercise of a discretion to re-admit as caretaker, and this was done. There are still 50 cases to be gone through. More than half of that number is scattered over four very inaccessible islands lying in Gweedore Bay. A continuance of those painful scenes may be therefore expected for some days. To-day the result in money was nil, and all visited were the recipients of public charity in some shape during the year.
GWEEDORE, SATURDAY NIGHT. It is a source of immense relief to everybody that all the work of extermination, which has been steadily prosecuted here for the last five days, is stayed for even one clear day. Many poor families rejoice that they can pass another Sunday in the undisturbed possession of their little houses. Though unexpected progress was made to-day, fifteen cases having been put through, there still remain to be executed ten cases on the mainland and thirteen on the islands. Already preparations are being made for transporting the constabulary in sufficient strength to effect a landing on the islands on the first suitable day. The sad fate of the Wasp is still present to one"s mind, and cannot but exercise a strong influence on men undertaking a similar expedition in very view of the spot where the ill fated gunboat perished, nor is the sound of Innishirrer in any sense less dangerous than the sound of Tory. All the constabulary boats along the coast are requisitioned for this service, and to-day the constabulary from Arranmore returned to their station to bring round their boat early on Monday. Everything going well and weather permitting, it is expected that the work will be finished by next Wednesday, and that the forces will be withdrawn. In the fifteen cases disposed of to-day eight families were put back as caretakers, in two cases there were no habitations, and five families were turned out. Hugh Doogan"s family was the first flung upon the roadside. This man complained bitterly that he had not got credit for the last payment of rent which he made, and that if he had this prosecution did not lie. He foolishly paid the money to one of the bailiffs of the estate without getting any receipt, and the thing is now conveniently forgotten, and Doogan is the sufferer. Doogan"s wife is a frail woman, of chronic delicacy, and it was generally expected that this circumstance itself would obtain for him readmission as caretaker, but no, the law must be carried through to the bitter end, and Doogan and his wife and child are put out of house and home. The next case, in which a thorough clearance was made, was that of Neal O"Donnell. The parents of this family died within a few years, and there are now but two sons and one daughter in the family. The elder boy is in Scotland, and the younger boy and girl witnessed to-day the painful scene of the pitching of everything they possessed on the street, and breaking up all the fixtures they had made in their once happy, if not comfortable home. The house contained more chattels than any as yet gutted, and the scene was the more distressful on that account. The sullen silence and suppressed feeling with which the young man watched the proceedings at some distance was remarkable and touching. The young girl demeaned herself the same way - neither said a word. It was a sad scene, which visibly affected many present. That silent young man will assuredly yet avenge the wrong that has been done him. We next come to the case of Widow Rose O"Donnell. This poor woman had been in the Workhouse for about a month in order to reach to the time the potatoes would be mature. She looks the picture of starvation diet as she sits down on the floor with her hands folded, the only child she has at home being at her knee. The rest of the children are at service. She pleads delicacy, but all to no purpose, she must go out. The house is shortly cleared, the work being anticipated even to the extinguishing of the fire; the door is barricaded with boards, and the procession moves on to the next house at which the formality of giving possession and putting back as caretaker is gone through, owing to the age and infirmity of the tenant, Widow Coll. Owen Coyle"s is the next case, and he and his wife and family of small children are flung on the street despite all entreaty for mercy. Then follows a few cases in which tenants are put back as caretakers, owing to age and sickness, and the townland of Dore is finished.
We next proceed to Knockastolar. This townland looks all granite rocks, without any land, and its inhabitants judging from their appearance are exceedingly poor. There is an adjournment for luncheon, and every one chooses a suitable seat on the granite rocks around. Here upon these occurs an incident deserving notice. While all are lying around enjoying their luncheon a literary treat is supplied by a small lad of eight years reading aloud for all a stirring article out of this week"s issue of the United Ireland, "For bare Life." The lad was cheered at intervals as he brought out with marked emphasis the important parts of the article. Much praise was lavished on the young lad for his masterly performance, and the constabulary marked their appreciation by literally loading the boy with coppers on resuming. A few families were put out, and put back as caretakers on the ground of illness and old age. We then come to the wretched house of Daniel O"Donnell; he too, and his family had been to the workhouse during the summer, and all his crops was put down by charity seed. It is the third time the house has been cleared for the last thirty years. O"Donnell and his wife and three small children look very miserable; they are wretchedly clothed, and starvation is graven on their faces. There is only one bed, a few boards, a few sacks, and one single blanket supplied last April by Father McFadden. The poor wife and children were crying. O"Donnell himself, a man of strong powerful frame, seemed to make a great effort to suppress emotion. At last the poor fellow gave way, with the exclamation, "Oh! God, is it not hard that a man must calmly bear to see himself openly robbed of all he has and his wife and children thrown out to die." The next case was that of a holding without a dwelling, and with it ended the work to-day. Few of the peasants took any interest in the proceedings except those of the townland in which the scenes lay. Those that did appear not only to-day but during the week, gave strong proof of very general destitution and poverty. Nearly all the men and boys were without shoes, and men, women, and children, were very sparsely clad with clothes.