by Bernardine Ruddy (extracted from Tipperary Historical Journal 2007)
Eviction and Aftermath
Kilburry comprises Kilburry East in the Barony of Slieveardagh and Kilburry West in the Barony of Middlethird and lies close to the village of Cloneen.
The Cleare family occupied Kilburry and adjoining lands from Cromwellian times. When John Cleare M.P. for Fethard died in 1754 the estate passed to his daughter, Mary, who married William Parsons. Their descendants became Earls of Rosse.’ see link here
In 1792, John Cleare’s grandson, Sir Laurence Parsons, sold Kilburry to Richard Beasley of Dublin for £4,725. The lands were estimated at 250 acres Irish plantation measure, the tenant being Henry Meagher? According to Griffith’s Valuation Robert Meagher (probably Henry’s son) held 268 acres and l7 perches from William Beasley in Kilburry East, the annual valuation being land £202 and buildings £l6.l5.0. The immediate lessor in Kilburry West at the time of the Primary Valuation was still the Earl of Rosse and here Robert Meagher’s holding was 136 acres 3 roods and 6 perches, the valuation being land £l49.l7.0 and buildings £0.l0.0.
Robert Meagher died in 1856, leaving a wife and several sons and daughters but naming the youngest son, Henry born circa 1852 as heir to Kilburry. The first of the Revaluation Books for Kilburry is dated 1856 (by which date Kilburry West is also in William Beasley’s name). Entries for the next two decades show various members of the Meagher family named as lessees. Thomas Ryan, hon. secretary of Kilburry Land Meeting, in a letter to the Clonmel Chronicle gives a picture of what was happening to the Meaghers during this time.
From the then Lord Ross (sic) they held it under lease up to I84l, at 17/ = per acre. A Mr. William Beasley, some time prior to that, became owner of Kilburry by purchase from Lord Ross (sic) and when the lease expired, his first act was to raise the rent to 30/= an acre.
Mr. Henry Meagher, then a mere child, came into possession of his father’s interest in Kilburry under his father’s will his sister, a Mrs. Bradshaw, managed the place for him, but the first act of the landlord was, when £500 had been expended in building a range of out-offices, to come down and raise the then rent of 30/ = per acre to £2. What had a helpless woman and an infant tenant to do but submit and under threat of eviction, take a lease of this, the last enormously increased rent.
The lease here referred to, was one taken in 1867 for two lives of members of the royal family or seventeen years at a rent of £5l2.’ Thomas Ryan continued:
After the fortunes of older members of the family had been expended in keeping this rack rent paid, the place eventually fell into arrears and Mr. Henry Meagher mortgaged it to Mr. Cooney, the agent, for £800 — the sum of the arrears. You will understand by this that that was not selling his interest in the farm, as he would not get 800 shillings for that. Mr. Henry Meagher subsequently got married and got by his wife a fortune of £1,300 by which he paid up the arrears then and since due.
But at last, when depression was weighing heavily on the land, a running gale was fished up and that not forthcoming, a Writ was raised in the High Courts, and the subsequent proceedings all know well.”
The writer, obviously sympathetic to the plight of the Meaghers, adds that money spent on improvements and on planting was not taken account of by the landlord and also refers to an independent valuation which valued the land at only twenty-eight shillings an acre, and not the unrealistic figure of two pounds. The Meaghers appear to have been beset by financial problems in the decade before the eviction of 1880, as attested by a number of documents in the Registry of Deeds.’ In addition to maintaining the place, provision had to be made for the young daughters of the family and Henry, even when he reached his majority, was young and inexperienced, a fact to which Mr. Justice Barry alluded, when passing judgment at the Winter Assizes in December I880.
You, when a minor were led to accept a most improvident lease at a rent – at an entrance rent so far as I can judge — which no man except a man indeed possessed of that thrift which you do not appear to possess, could be expected to meet and realize a profit.’°
The severe agricultural depression of the late l870s caused by a series of poor harvests added to the Meaghers’ troubles. The crisis finally came in the spring of I880 when an habere to recover possession was placed in the hands of the sheriff. On 28th April the Clonmel Chronicle carried an account of proceedings at Kilburry, the first of many reports throughout 1880 on what that paper came to refer to as the Kilburry Case. This first report records that ‘Upon the farm in question it would appear a year’s rent had accrued to November I879 — though had the May gale been paid, an abstract of twenty percent was to have been given.’ The landlord was now Miss Maria Beasley of Dublin, her legal representatives being Messrs. Reeves of Merrion Square. Probably in order to effect a peaceful solution, the Sub-Sheriff of the County, Gerald Fitzgerald and Mr. McLoughlin of Messrs. Reeves visited the farm in mid-March and possession was promised. However, when the sheriff and a party of constabulary arrived at Kilburry a couple of days later, they found the house barricaded. A forcible entry was then made but as the stock was advertised for sale by auction on 1st April and it appeared the Meaghers were preparing to vacate the premises; Mr. Fitzgerald agreed to leave matters until after the sale. The stock was sold but the Meaghers refused to vacate and on 22nd April another force of police and a number of bailiffs arrived and cleared out the outhouses. Henry Meagher stated that they were going to another place not far away and asked that their household effects be left in the outer courtyard, which request was granted. The report continued to say that possession was retaken and further refers to a threatening notice that was posted in Cloneen warning against having anything to do with the farm as whoever took it would suffer.
“The Tipperary Free Press gave a more brief account which said that the notice was posted on the chapel gate.”
The situation took a serious turn less than a month later when the Sub-Sheriff, Gerald Fitzgerald, again went to Kilburry attended by the local R.M., Capt. Slacke and a large constabulary force of thirty one men under Head-Constable Cottrell and three other constables from Carrick-on-Suir, backed up by reinforcements from Fethard and Clonmel. They encountered the ﬁrst signs of resistance at the entrance gate which was bolted, with the almost quarter mile long avenue blocked by felled trees to impede their progress. When they eventually reached the house they found the windows and door barricaded and a large number of people inside, including Henry and Mrs. Meagher. On being addressed by the sheriff they refused to give up possession, Mrs. Meagher saying that they would defend their rights to the last. Considerable force was then used to effect an entrance, in the course of which Mr. Fitzgerald narrowly escaped injury as heavy missiles were directed at him. Entry was eventually gained and fourteen people, including Mrs. Meagher, were arrested. The house was cleared and the prisoners marched to Clonmel, where they were remanded to Clonmel gaol. In Court the next day the defendants were charged with resisting the writ of possession and assaulting the Sub-Sheriff during the execution of his duty. A lengthy hearing ensued, the upshot of which was that the prisoners were allowed out on bail and committed for trial at the next assizes.” During the following two weeks the Clonmel Chronicle carried correspondence giving background and comment on the case. The edition of the 9th June carried a long report running to four full columns of newsprint describing the meeting held on the lands of Kilburry the previous Sunday (6th June).
This meeting was of great signiﬁcance, not just in the history of the Meagher family of Kilburry, but also of the county as it was the first meeting held in Tipperary by the National Land League. It was well advertised in the press and special trains at low rates were run from Waterford, Limerick and Thurles on the new line (KiIkenny Journal), stopping at intermediate stations on the way to Fethard. Estimated attendance varied between 5,000 — 10,000 while some of those on the platform thought it was considerably more, a ﬁgure of around 20,000 being mentioned. Being a Sunday and a fine day, plus the provision of special transport, probably helped to engender this remarkably large attendance. For the Land League executive, the case was an ideal one with which to launch the organisation in Co. Tipperary.
All reports are unanimous in saying that though the crowd was so large there was no trouble whatsoever. A festive atmosphere was created by an abundance of flags and banners and by the presence of eight bands which had come from surrounding towns and villages — Waterford, Clonmel, Fethard, Mullinahone, Cahir, Golden, Drangan. A large platform was erected from which the principal speakers, Rev. N. Meagher P.P., Drangan, Very Rev. Archdeacon Kinnane, Fethard, Rev. Fr. Meagher C.C. Fethard, Rev. ]ohn Ryan P.P. New lnn and Mr. M. P. Boyton, the Dublin representative of the Land League, addressed the attendance. A message from Dr. Croke, Archbishop of Cashel, was read, as were letters of apology from Dean Quirke and Messrs. Parnell, Marram, Leamy and Biggar M.P.s. It was from this meeting at Kilburry that the Land League was to spread throughout South Tipperary.
Boyton concluded the speeches on a populist note by saying that ‘Mrs. Meagher was a member of the family of the illustrious and martyred Fr. Sheehy who had been so grossly calumniated, slandered and murdered for standing by the people’.
Early in August another Land League meeting was held in the chapel-yard at Cloneen.
While the attendance was not as large, most of the clergy present at the first meeting were present as was M.P. Boyton. Again, it was a peaceful demonstration and again those present were urged to use only passive resistance to landlordism: there were rumours that there were those in the locality who were interested in taking the Kilburry farm, but Archdeacon Kinnane told the assembled crowd that such people should be spurned.“
Throughout the month the Chronicle published copies of an exchange of letters between Messrs. Reeves and Edmund Power, solicitor for the Meaghers. By then, events had taken an unexpected turn. On 21st August the paper’s correspondent reported from a crowded Petty Sessions held at Mullinahone, M. P. Boyton of the Land League being present on this occasion also. Henry Meagher and another man — called John Keane — were charged with making a forcible entry at Kilburry and assaulting the caretaker, a man called David Fennessy. The evidence given against them by the local Constable was that he was called to Kilburry early on the morning of 29th July on foot of a report that a party of armed men had broken into the house and assaulted the caretaker.
When he went there he found Henry Meagher who had a revolver in his possession. Meagher gave evidence that he was taken from Mrs. Cleary’s house in Knockelly by four armed men to Kilburry where he was forced to swear that he would keep possession unless put out by armed force. Fennessy described how he was assaulted at gunpoint, taken out into the yard, forced to kneel down and made to swear he would never be seen in Kilburry again. He did not know his assailants as their faces were blackened. The only one he recognized was Henry Meagher whom he said was also made to kneel down. He did not bring any charge against Meagher or Keane, and the Constable in his evidence said he had only arrested Keane from a description. The court discharged both prisoners and ordered the gun found in Henry Meagher’s possession to be returned to him.
The report in the Tipperary Free Press states that while Meagher was in possession of a revolver he had no ammunition; the intruders are described as a ‘party of about twenty men with blackened faces.’
It would appear from these accounts that the Meaghers had taken temporary refuge in nearby Knockelly with Mrs. Margaret Cleary who was an aunt of Mrs. Meagher and that Henry Meagher was being used as a pawn by some elements in the community. Elsewhere in the Chronicle of 2lst August there is a report from the Nisi Prius Court in Dublin at which a second application was made to renew the writ of habere. Messrs. Reeves applied to have police stationed at Kilburry House or to place an iron hut there to protect life and property but the legal position was that this could only be done by regaining possession legally.
In the face of a renewed writ of possession and the prospect of a forcible re-taking of the house, a settlement was reached according to which the tenant was to pay, within one week, the sum of £192 to Messrs. Reeves in full discharge of all rent due up to lst May 1880.
The annual rent was to be reduced to £4-00 from £512 for the remainder of the term of the lease and was to be paid half-yearly, on lst May and lst November with no hanging gale on the lands. Payment was subject to the condition that the landlords (stated to be William Beasley and T.A.W. Ker) were to borrow £300 from the Board of Works for drainage of the land, paying all interest on the borrowed sum. The terms of the settlement and its signing by both parties were published by the Chronicle on 25th August. Earlier in the summer, on the l5th June, in a letter to the Tipperary Free Press James O’Halloran T.C., Clonmel, wrote that he had known Kilburry for the previous fifty years and described it ‘as a marshy, swampy land with yellow clay near the surface, and at all times subject to great damage from the overflow of the Anner’.
On 28th August the Chronicle reported the ‘Remarkable Wind-up of the Kilburry Case.’
ln essence this was a request made to the Meaghers on behalf of the Sheriff, Gerald Fitzgerald; the County Inspector, Mr. De Courcey P. Ireland; the R.M., Capt. Slacke and Mr. Reeves, Solicitor, to visit Kilburry. When the party arrived they found ‘the blockading garrison gone and the house accessible, though the windows were closed, barred and barricaded. It was in complete darkness but when a light was procured a champagne luncheon for the visitors was revealed. Complete harmony prevailed as the guests sat down at the invitation of Henry and Mrs. Meagher. The health of the landlord was toasted as was that of Mr. Fitzgerald, Capt. Slacke, the R.I.C. and that of the tenant himself. After all this conviviality the guests were shown ‘the corn which had been cut the previous week by the masked three hundred men, who acted in the interest of Mrs. Meagher. On their way home the party were met by the Cloneen band, which escorted them with loud cheers towards Fethard. This bizarre scene is described by the Tipperary Free Press as ‘strange and novel’ but the report does corroborate the champagne luncheon and does refer to the corn which ‘the masked multitude had cut down and removed last week under the banner of the Land League’.” Aspects of both reports were contradicted in a letter from Michael Cusack, Secretary of the Slievenamon Branch of the Land League who wrote that the crops at Kilburry were not cut down by ‘masked men’ but by ‘a most respectable body of tenant-farmers and their men, acting for their own cause.‘ He also reported that ‘Mrs. Meagher states that she drank no healths, which l am sure is true.“
Locally, the reinstatement of the Meaghers was celebrated by a big demonstration at Market-hill to the south of Fethard, at which bonfires blazed and the Fethard Brass Band provided music. The parish priest of Fethard, Venerable Archdeacon Kinnane and the Rev. C. O’Keeffe C.C., addressed the assembled people, condemned rack-renting and tyrant landlordism and declared that clergy and people acting together achieved the Meagher’s victory.”
Later in the year at the Winter Assizes held in Waterford in December before the Right Honourable Mr. Justice Barry, Henry Meagher and the other occupants of Kilburry House on the occasion of the resistance to the eviction were sentenced. While two years imprisonment with hard labour was the usual sentence for this type of offence, Henry Meagher was sentenced to imprisonment for one calendar month with a fine of £20 and in default of payment, to be imprisoned for another month. Mr. Justice Barry gave a lengthy explanation of his reasons for passing such a light sentence. The jury had recommended clemency; the judge himself believed that Henry Meagher was not the ringleader in the resistance offered, but that others had manipulated him. Both the (Sub-Sheriff Mr. Fitzgerald and the R. M. (Capt. Slacke) had spoken well of him, the former describing him as a man easily led. The Justice referred to Henry Meagher as ‘a respectable young man‘ and elaborated on the circumstances preceding the eiectment order that brought the Meaghers to the point where they were to be put out of their home. An extenuating circumstance, in his view, was that Meagher, early in the proceedings before any violence was offered to the sheriff, had submitted and given himself up. He regarded the other prisoners as more culpable as they had come from a distance and were meddling in what was not their business. He sentenced them to two calendar months and a fine of £5, while Patrick Shea, who had attempted actual physical violence, was sentenced to four months hard labour and a ﬁne of £5.20.
This last report on 22nd December 1880 brought to an end the coverage of the Kilburry Case in the Clonmel Chronicle. In the Spring of 1881. H. Sadlier, auctioneer, Fethard advertised the grazing of 150 acres of the lands of Kilburry on behalf of Henry Meagher and in July meadow sales were also advertised. During this period the Meaghers were presumably resident in Kilburry House. However, at the Clonmel Quarter Sessions held in January 1882 a case was brought against the Meaghers by Mr. Moriarty, Solicitor, for non-payment of costs for services rendered: one of these services occurred ‘on the occasion of the sale of defendant’s interest in his holding’ Did Henry Meagher finally capitulate and sell the only thing he had left to sell, namely his interest in Kilburry? The Cancelled Land Books show that in 1882 Henry Meagher ceased occupancy of Kilburry: Henry Beasley being the occupier, the immediate lessor being William Beasley.
What happened at this stage to Henry and Margaret Meagher? Were they completely exhausted financially and was the reduction of rent from £512 to £4-00 achieved in the settlement beyond their means? Also Kilburry had sustained considerable damage at the time of the ejectment. In September 1882 they (or at least Mrs. Meagher) were in trouble again.
Mrs. Meagher was charged under the Prevention of Crimes Act with having unlawfully assaulted a bailiff. This man, William Napier, was acting under a warrant signed by the High Sheriff permitting him to seize property belonging to the Meaghers to be sold in payment of debts incurred in the case of Cuddihy v. Meagher. In Moore (now Burke) St., Fethard, he seized a horse and harness which he (wrongfully) believed belonged to the Meaghers. Mrs. Meagher coming upon him in the act of taking the horse to the pound asked him where he was going whereupon he told her he was going to sell it. Exasperated beyond measure, she struck him several times on the side of his head with her umbrella and also struck the horse.
There were plenty of witnesses as several police were present at the time. She was sentenced to seven days without hard labour in Limerick Prison, the R.M., Col. Carew observing ‘We shall be as lenient as we can and we hope that in future you will not take either the law or the umbrella into your hands.’”
The future for Henry and Margaret Meagher was bleak. They spent the remaining years of their marriage until Henry’s death on 4th October 1896 in a Land League hut on a site near Melbourne Bridge given to them by a cousin, C.H. Meagher of Cloneen House, struggling and hoping always that they would eventually return to Kilburry.”
During that time, the lands of Kilburry passed through a number of hands, Henry Beasley, the Land Corporation of Ireland, Robert E. Going, Henry Beasley again before being eventually sold in April 1896 in the Landed Estates Courts to William Lysaght.“ The Nationalist carried an obituary stating that ‘Mr. Meagher bid within £5 of- the sum for which it was sold to a Mr. William Laysite (sic) of Mallow.’ The editors of the paper took the unusual step of adding their own observation at the ending of Henry Meagher’s life, ‘seeing the transfer condoned by so many of his neighbours — by many who had watched and witnessed — aye, and profited by — is it any wonder that his heart was broken’.”
Henry Meagher was forty-four years of age when he died at Kilburry hut, the address recorded on his death certificate, the cause of death being given as ‘bronchitis probably’.
There was no medical attendant. He is buried in the Meagher family burial place in the old graveyard at Cloneen. His wife continued to live at the hut and kept up the fight for restoration, but without success. Two years before her death in 1912 she was given a Land Commission farm of 97 acres at Loughlohery (Loughloher) near Cahir.“ Her obituary in The Nationalist described her as ‘one of the most notable figures in the Land League struggle in this country.”‘ Her funeral took place in Cahir and she is buried in the Sheehy family burial ground in the old graveyard in Ballysheehan near Burncourt.”
Who was Margaret Meagher? M.P. Boyton of the Land League executive speaking at the land demonstration in Kilburry said that she was a member of the family of Rev. Nicholas Sheehy executed in Clonmel in I776. Whether she was related to Fr. Sheehy is uncertain but what is certain is that she was the niece of another well-known cleric, Fr. Patrick Fogarty of the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore. It was Patrick Fogarty, then a curate in Dungarvan, who in I832 was the intermediary between the Cistercian monk, Dom Vincent Ryan and Sir Richard Keane of Cappoquin. As a result of his good offices Sir Richard offered a tract of mountain land at the foot of the Knockmealdowns to Dom Vincent. Mount Melleray Abbey was built on this site.
Margaret Meagher’s mother was Catherine Fogarty, a sister of Fr. Patrick Fogarty. The Fogartys came from Lisfuncheon, near Ballyporeen, not far from the townland of Cooladerry where William Sheehy, Margaret’s father was born. William Sheehy moved to Clonmel and set up a saddlery business in ]ohnson (now Gladstone] St. One of William and Catherine’s sons, also called William entered the priesthood. At the time of his death in I902 he was Archdeacon P.P., V.G. of Dungarvan.” It was in Clonmel that Margaret Sheehy, then aged about nineteen, married ]ohn O’Halloran in 1856.” ]ohn O’Halloran, described as a merchant, died in 1870.3‘ Widowed, Margaret married Henry Meagher on the l9th March 1878 in the church in Killusty. About fifteen years older than him we can well imagine that this was an arranged marriage as he would have been about twenty six at the time, arranged perhaps in an effort to save Kilburry. She had a fortune, most likely from her first husband.
There are a number of references to this fortune in the accounts of the case: ]ustice Barry at the Winter Assizes addressing Henry Meagher, said ‘She brought you a considerable fortune, a great deal of which was swallowed up endeavouring to extricate you out of your difficulties/3′ Thomas Ryan, secretary of Kilburry Land meeting, describing the background to the case, gives the figure of £1,300. Even before the marriage, part of this money was used to pay off the mortgage from the agent, William Cooney.”
From the newspaper accounts, Margaret Meagher comes across as a feisty, energetic woman of strong character. On the occasion of the eviction on 22nd May I880 it was she, not her husband, who told the sheriff that under no circumstances would he and his men be admitted, and that they would defend their rights to the last. This appears to contradict Mr. ]ustice Barry’s observation that Henry Meagher, very early in the proceedings, appeared anxious to submit to the authorities. It is possible that it was she, whom ]ustice Barry described as a ‘respectable and well-behaved woman’ who was the principal force behind the couple’s resistance to the eviction and subsequent struggle to regain Kilburry. On the occasion of the eviction she was arrested along with the occupying party and taken to Clonmel where she appeared next morning in court. While not on the platform at the big demonstration held at Kilburry on 6 ]une 1880 (a position probably considered inappropriate to a woman), she was present, ‘Mrs. Meagher occupied a seat on a car.’ Her name is frequently mentioned in the coverage of events and most especially so in 1882 when, possibly goaded beyond endurance, she struck the bailiff with her umbrella on the street in Fethard.
‘She was evicted by Lysaght.’ This statement, uttered by my elderly informant recalling hearsay of an event which had occurred more than half a century before, turned out not to be quite accurate, though like much recollection it contained elements of truth: the Lysaghts played their part in the story of Kilburry. William Lysaght bought Kilburry in 1896 and shortly afterwards it passed to his son George. George Lysaght was shot and seriously injured while walking his land at Kilburry in March 1921.“ He died four months later at a private nursing home in Dublin.“ The motive for the shooting is unclear. Was it retaliation for recent l.R.A. killings in the area or, as has been suggested, did it date back to issues from the time of the Land War?“
Kilburry was the first test case for the Land League in Co. Tipperary. From it the ripple effect spread and branches were formed all over the county. It was still early days for the objectives of the League, fair rent, free sale and ﬁxity of tenure, objectives that were eventually to change patterns of land ownership in Ireland. For Margaret and Henry Meagher, as for so many others at the time, it was a personal tragedy as ultimately they lost everything.
NAI National Archives of Ireland
NLI National Library of Ireland
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‘°Clonmel Chronicle, 22 December I880.
“ClonmeI Chronicle, 28 April I880.
“Tipperary Free Press, 30 April I880.
“CIonmel Chronicle, 22 May I880.
‘4 Tipperary Free Press, 4 ]une I880.
“Clonmel Chronicle, 4 August I880.
“Clonmel Chronicle, 21 August I880.
‘7 Tipperary Free Press, 27 August I880.
“‘CIonmeI Chronicle, I September I880.
“Clonmel Chronicle, I September I880 quoting a report in Tipperary Free Press.
2°ClonmeI Chronicle, 22 December I880.
“CIonmeI Chronicle, 25 ]anuary I882.
”ClonmeI Chronicle, I3 September I882.
“Patrick C. Power, History of South Tipperary (Cork, I989), p.189.
“Cancelled Land Books Valuation Office.
“The Nationalist, IO October I896.
“Cancelled Land Books Valuation Ofﬁce.
27 The Nationalist, 23 March l9|Z.
Z°CIonmel Chronicle, 23 March I912.
“Waterford Daily Mail, 23 ]anuary I902.
“Will Book I870 NAI.
“Clonmel Chronicle, 22 December I880.
“RD I879, Book I3, N0.202.
“Clonmel Chronicle, I6 March l92l.
“Clonmel Chronicle, 25 ]une I921.
“Patrick C. Power in Seén Nugent ed. Slievenamon in Song and Story (Kilsheelan n.d.) p.137, I38