Tag Archives: Eviction

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Irish press

This blog serial explored aspects of 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


“It was difficult to recognize the [eviction] events yesterday witnessed by us at Glenbehy [Glenbeigh] in the accounts which we read of them to-day when we got the newspapers.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Few newspaper readers pay as close attention to press coverage as reporters who cover the same topics and events for competing publications. Hurlbert, the veteran New York City journalist, was no exception.

As detailed in my previous post, Hurlbert witnessed the 22 February 1888, eviction of tenant farmer James Griffin in Glenbeigh, County Kerry, which he described as being “as dull as a parish meeting.” The American reporter, whose coverage revealed his own conservative, pro-landlord bias, was wary of Irish nationalist propaganda. “I shall be curious to see whether the story of this affair can possible be worked up into a thrilling narrative,” he wrote.

In the 23 February 1888, entry of Ireland Under Coercion, Hurlbert does not name the newspaper coverage of the Griffin eviction he found “difficult to recognize.” He suggested that because “these accounts are obviously intended to be read, not in Ireland, where nobody seems to take the least interest in Irish affairs beyond their own bailiwick, but in England and America, it is only natural, I suppose, that they should be coloured to suit the taste of the market for which they are destined.”

There is a grain of truth here. News of Irish tenant evictions and the Home Rule struggle certainly attracted the attention of politicians and large immigrant communities across the Atlantic Ocean and the Irish Sea.

But Irish newspaper readership was growing in the 1880s. As noted by Marie-Louise Legg and other historians, Ireland’s literacy rate increased as its population declined since the mid-century Famine. About 31 new papers, a 25 percent increase, began circulating during the period. “An important feature of the 1880s was not just the increase in numbers of provincial newspapers, but the increase in the number of newspapers which claimed to have nationalist politics,” Legg observed.

The Irish press “performed a central and essential role in the spread of the Land League,” Legg wrote. Agrarian activism “flourished on a network of communications dependent on the press, and newspaper proprietors and editors were major Land League politicians.”

James Daly of the Connaught Telegraph helped to organize the League’s first meeting in County Mayo in 1879. In Kerry, brothers Edward and Timothy Harrington, owners of the Kerry Sentinel, were both Irish nationalist MPs. North Meath MP Pierce O’Mahony generated considerable attention about mass evictions at Glenbeigh in 1887 with his newspaper article “The Truth About Glenbeigh” (where at least one reporter was assaulted as the authorities removed tenants.)

An evicted family in Glenbeigh, probably 1887.

Hurlbert probably read the 23 February 1888, issue of The Irish Examiner, published in nearby Cork. Under the headline “An Extraordinary Display of Force,” Griffin was said to have “naturally anticipated a little extra persecution on the part of the landlord,” and the tenant took the eviction “calmly and even cheerfully.” Where Hurlbert concluded that Griffin was “very well off” for not paying rent, the Examiner described his farm as “good land, as land goes in Glenbeigh,” where “the chief crop seems to be rock.”

Published beneath the page 3 news story was a letter from Father Thomas Quilter, the Glenbeigh parish priest who calmed neighboring tenants during the Griffin eviction. Quilter wrote the episode was another example of “the hydra of landlordism.” In a nod to one of Aesop’s Fables, Quilter also wrote the eviction “was a fiasco, the mountain in labor with the tiny product.”

The Freeman’s Journal, a national paper, recalled the 1887 Glenbeigh evictions in its next-day, page 5 story about Griffin. It suggested that his removal was “the first shot in a new [eviction] campaign.”

Two days later, the weekly Kerry Sentinel said the booing, horn-blowing neighbors who watched the eviction from the hillside, which Hurlbert described, “had by their presence shown their sympathy for Mr. Griffin, and that was all that was required of them, and their was no use in their coming into unnecessary collision with the police.”

All three of these pro-tenant papers confirmed that Griffin was an active leader in National League agitation, who in fact owed quite a lot of back rent. They also portrayed the 50 or so police and military on hand to carry out the eviction as brusque and heavy-handed.

On 27 February 1888, The Times of London, hardly sympathetic to tenant activism, noted Griffin’s eviction near the end of a page 7 roundup of Irish news. The story made the same point Hurlbert did in his book: while Griffin refused to pay rent on the farm he occupied illegally since his first eviction in 1883, the landlord Rowland Winn remained liable for all the property taxes.

Griffin’s eviction does not appear to have been reported in the American press, according to my search of three newspaper databases containing hundreds of titles. Plenty of other cases during this period, including the 1887 Glenbeigh evictions, were covered in detail.

NOTES: From page 215 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. … Pages 119-120, 125, and 135 (reporter assaulted at Glenbeigh) of Newspaper and Nationalism: The Irish Provincial Press, 1850 – 1892, by Marie-Louise Legg, Four Courts Press, 1999. .. Newspapers accessed via Irish Newspaper Archive and Newspapers.com.

NEXT: Cork tourism

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: An eviction

This blog serial explored aspects of 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 are here on the eve of battle! An eviction is to be made to-morrow … ”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Near the end of February 1888, Hurlbert witnessed an eviction on the Winn (Wynn) estate in Glenbehy (Glenbeigh), County Kerry. The date, 22 February, was George Washington’s birthday. The American reporter suggested the “stern old Virginian landlord” would be amazed at the “elaborate preparations” required to evict a tenant in Ireland.

Tenant James Griffin was targeted for removal from the small holding eight miles southwest of Killorglin, and about twice the distance northeast of Cahersiveen, which his family had leased since the 1850s. He was evicted from the property in 1883 and again in 1887 for failing to pay several years of back rent but “re-entered unlawfully immediately afterwards,” according to Hurlbert. Griffin “was then and he is now, an active member of the local branch of the National League … actively deterring and discouraging other tenants from paying their rents.”

In 1886 and 1887, Sir Redvers Buller, special police commissioner, and Father Thomas Quilter, parish priest, negotiated new lease agreements between the landlord and about 70 tenants on the estate. Only a handful of the tenants paid the reduced rents they agreed, however, either because of pressure from the National League or because they were too poor. In turn, the authorities burned and leveled numerous houses to prevent re-entry by evicted tenants who did not meet their new rent obligations.

This “made a great figure in the newspaper reports and ‘scandalized the civilized world’,” Hurlbert reported. He suggested “the sympathy excited by the illustrations of the cruel conflagration and the heartrending descriptions of the reporters, resulted in a very handsome subscription for the benefit of the tenants of Glenbehy.”

Period newspaper illustration of 1887 Glenbeigh evictions.

Hurlbert contended that because of  the subscription fund and “despite, or because, of the two evictions through which he has passed,” James Griffin was “very well off” with “a very good horse and cart, and seven or eight head of cattle.” He remained 240 pounds in arrears.

On the five mile hike to the Griffin house, Hurlbert joined other “gentlemen of the Press” in addition to about 50 police and troops deployed for the eviction. The group passed Winn’s Folly, “a modern medieval castle of considerable size” that no one ever lived in except as a temporary police barrack. It remains a tourist curiosity.

Hurlburt continued:

After we passed the castle we began to hear the blowing of rude horns from time to time on the distant hills. These were signals to the people of our approach, and gave quite the air of an invasion to our expedition. We passed the burned cottages of last year just before reaching Mr. Griffin’s house … [As the eviction began] there was no attempt at a resistance, and but for the martial aspect of the forces, and an occasional blast of a horn from the hills, or the curious noise made from time to time by a small concourse of people, chiefly women, assembled on the slope of an adjoining tenancy, the proceedings were as dull as a parish meeting.

The authorities took about two and a half hours to complete the eviction process, which required that “everything belonging to the tenant, and every live creature, must be taken out of the house.” Hurlbert suggested that New York City authorities could evict 50 tenants in the same amount of time. Griffin, “a stout, stalwart man of middle age … took the whole thing most coolly,” Hurlbert reported. An Irish bailiff told him that Griffin was “going to America.”

Troops on their way to an eviction in Glenbeigh, County Kerry, circa 1888-1890. The Eblana Photograph Collection, National Library of Ireland.

The scene got a little tense when Father Quilter tried to pass through the police cordon to deliver a telegram, the contents of which Hurlbert did not reveal in his narrative. “A squad of men” was put in charge of the house to prevent re-entry and “the rest of the army reformed for the march back” to the scattered boos and groans of the bystander tenants, Hurlbert observed.

“I shall be curious to see whether the story of this affair can possible be worked up into a thrilling narrative,” he wrote. I will explore Irish press coverage of the eviction that Hurlbert witnessed in the next post.

NOTES: From pages 196 to 214 of  Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American.

NEXT: Irish press 

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan