Land-related violence in late 19th century Ireland was euphemistically known as “agrarian outrage.” Mutilating a rare political pamphlet about those crimes might be called librarian outrage.
For several years now I’ve been exploring Ireland’s Land War period, 1879-1889. In particular, I’ve focused on the 1888 murders of farmers James Fitzmaurice and John Foran, which occurred within six months and just a few miles of each other in the northern section of County Kerry. Both men were condemned as “landgrabbers” for leasing property after other farmers were evicted. In the case of Fitzmaurice, the previous tenant was his brother.
Cover of the 1888 pamphlet.
In the 1880s, the Irish National League (or Land League) was waging a campaign to break the grip of absentee landlords, who controlled hundreds of thousands of acres. Farmers were told to refuse paying their rents until the League negotiated lower rates and other rights. When landlords evicted tenants for these or other reasons, the League provided financial assistance and housing. It also declared that the acreage should not be leased by other locals and remain fallow.
Because Fitzmaurice and Foran did not abide these strategies, they were condemned by League officials and subjected to social and economic ostracism, or boycotting. Notices of their offenses were posted near the leased property and at local market places. Each man received limited police protection, but both fatally waved off the security. (Read my piece on the Foran murder for The Irish Story.)
The 68-year-old Fitzmaurice was shot point blank by two assailants near Lixnaw, Kerry, on 31 January 1888. His daughter Nora, about 20, witnessed the murder in the “cold grey dawn of morning,” according to a 16-page political pamphlet, “A Deed of Blood,” published a few weeks after the crime.
“A Deed of Blood” was produced by the Irish Loyal and Patriotic Union, an alliance of Irish businessmen, landowners and academics who sought to preserve the existing political ties with Great Britain. The group was formed in 1885 to oppose efforts by Charles Stuart Parnell and the Irish Parliamentary Party to win land reform and limited domestic autonomy, called home rule.
The pamphlet featured original reporting and quoted from newspaper coverage of the Fitzmaurice murder. It appeared in mid February 1888, shortly after two men were charged with the murder, but before their trial, conviction and execution by hanging at the end of April. For the ILPU, the crime was “yet another link … added to the strong chain of evidence connecting the National League with the latest murder in Kerry.”
Probably only a few hundred copies of “A Deed of Blood” were ever printed and distributed, most likely in London and Dublin. Two copies of the pamphlet are listed on WorldCat, the online global library catalog: one at the Hesburgh Library at the University of Notre Dame, the other at the University of Manchester Library in the U.K.
I obtained Notre Dame’s copy of the pamphlet through an interlibrary loan and was disappointed to learn that “some pages [are] cut,” according to the library’s notes. A total of three paragraphs are clipped from two pages, creating a gap-tooth effect that also disrupts the narrative flow on the opposite pages.
So I reached out to the University of Manchester to obtain intact copies of the four mutilated pages. Here are the missing passages:
- Cut from the bottom of page 10 is a reference to the 12 June 1887 resolution against Fitzmaurice by the Lixnaw branch of the National League, which was “unanimously adopted.” The missing section at the bottom of page 9 describes “threatening notices” against Fitzmaurice posted near the disputed property on 6 April 1887.
- The cut section at the top of page 11 continues the resolution against Fitzmaurice from the bottom of page 10. It is attributed to the 18 June 1887 issue of the Kerry Weekly Reporter. Missing from the top of page 12 is the headline ‘The Landlord’s Story,’ which quotes from a letter by Mr. S. M. Hussey.
- Cut from the middle of page 11 is the text of an October 1887 resolution against the future victim, which calls on the public to show their “disapprobation of the conduct of James Fitzmaurice, who has been so base and inhuman as to grab his brother’s land.” From the middle of page 12 is part of Hussey’s letter that Edmond Fitzmaurice’s farm “seemed hopeless” because “he either could not or would not pay his rent.”
The ILPU later republished the pamphlet in a collection of its works from 1888, but without small details such as the drawing shown below. This version is available online through the Hathi Trust Digital Library.
I’ve sent copies of the four intact pages of the University of Manchester pamphlet to the University of Notre Dame with my interlibrary return. I know this isn’t the type of text many readers or researchers seek on a regular basis. When they do, however, they should get the full story of “A Deed of Blood.”
Page detail from ‘A Deed of Blood.’