This is a work-in-progress blog serial tracking the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. Previous posts and other background material are available at the project landing page. #IUCRevisited
“We soon left the wooded country of the Swilly and began to climb into the grand and melancholy Highlands of Donegal.”
–William Henry Hurlbert”
After a one-day visit to Sion Mills, Hurlbert and Lord Ernest William Hamilton traveled 20 miles northwest to Letterkenny, then into eastern Donegal. They passed near Glenveagh Castle, an estate built 20 years earlier by Irish landlord and businessman John George Adair.
Adair began to acquire tens of thousands of acres in the Glenveagh/Derryveagh area shortly after the mid-century Famine. In April 1861, before building his castle, he evicted some 45 families totaling nearly 250 men, women and children in a fit of spite.
“Exactly what prompted him to clear the estate is disputed. It may have been the murder of his steward, James Murray, in 1861, or it may have been an incident during which he was surrounded and intimidated by tenants while he exercised the hunting rights he claimed over their land,” historian and broadcaster Myles Dungan wrote in a 2016 blog post.
Adair later acquired land in Texas and married an American widow. He died in St. Louis, Missouri, age 62, three years before the reporter’s arrival.
“A Dead Despot,” is how The Nation headlined its May 1885 story. “An American packet is bearing to a grave in Irish soil the remains of one who in life swept ruthlessly from the land hundreds of families where for generations their forefathers had dwelt. … Who speaks but good of the dead need never name John George Adair.”
As for the tenants, some found shelter in nearby workhouses and remained in the region. Many received relief passage to Australia. Others emigrated to America.
Hurlbert showed no compassion for the former tenants. He suggested that considering “the wild and rugged aspect of the surrounding country it is probable enough that these evictions were to the evicted a blessing in disguise, and that their descendants are now enjoying, beyond the Atlantic, a measure of prosperity and of happiness which neither their own labor nor the most liberal legislation could have ever won for them here.”
He approved of the plans by Mrs. Adair (“my charming country-woman”) to create a fenced “deer forest” on some of the land, “provided the people can be got to like stalking stags better than landlords and agents.”
Hurlbert wrote that “no traces are now discernible … of the too celebrated evictions.” In fact, ruins of some of the former tenants’ homes remain in what today is Glenveagh National Park, where Adair’s castle is a better maintained attraction.
NEXT: Father McFadden
NOTES: This post is based on pages 77 to 81 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American.
Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan