Tag Archives: Diggin

Popular politics and agrarian violence in Kerry, 1880s

I just finished Donnach Sean Lucey’s “Land, Popular Politics and Agrarian Violence in Ireland: The Case of County Kerry, 1872-1886.” The link contains a review of this 2011 academic text.

My interest in Lucey’s subject are twofold. First, my maternal great grandfather and great great grandfather leased a 5-acre parcel in Lahardane townland near Ballybunion during the period. Second, I am researching the murder of a nearby North Kerry farmer two years after the period detailed by Lucey.

My maternal ancestors would have been well aware of the Land League and later Irish National League activities in the area, especially in the nearby market town of Listowel. Their level of participation in rent strikes and other protests, if any, remains unclear to me at this point. Property records from the Irish Valuation Office indicate great great grandfather William Diggin was evicted from the farm during the 1884-1899 period, but his son John Diggin is shown as occupier of the same parcel from 1900 forward.

Agrarian violence, euphemistically called “outrages,” was widespread during the period, especially in the north-central Kerry triangle between Listowel, Tralee and Castleisland. The activity ranged from maiming cattle to murder. As Lucey writes:

By the end of 1882 Kerry had become synonymous with agrarian violence and was one of the most disturbed counties in Ireland.

He goes on to detail how the violence was driven by complicated and overlapping motivations, including Fenian-inspired nationalism, anti-landlord rent disputes and family feuds. Not surprisingly, most of the violence was perpetuated by young, unmarried men who did not own or lease land and were not their family’s oldest son and thus in line to inherit such a role. They were late 19th century rural gang-bangers, called “moonlighters,” causing alcohol-fueled trouble for kicks as much as for any social or political reasons.

Which brings me to the case of farmer John Foran (Forhan, in some documents), who was shot to death near Listowel in July 1888. His trouble started in 1883, when he obtained the farm of another man who fell a year behind in his rent. The community shunned, or boycotted, Foran and his family to such a degree that it was reported he could not obtain a coffin to bury is wife.

Foran’s situation reached the attention of the English Parliament in London two years before his murder, and it was propagandized in anti-Irish home rule political fliers during the 1892 elections, four years after his death. English lawmakers continued to discuss the Foran murder as late as 1909, when the original tenant was reinstated to the farm. Foran’s daughter Nora, who immigrated to Pittsburgh, continued to seek remuneration for her father’s death as late as 1925.

Readers with information about the Foran murder or other late 19th century political activity and agrarian violence in North Kerry are encourage to contact the blog. Meanwhile, thanks to Donnach Sean Lucey for his excellent and enlightening work on the subject.