Forced emigration

The disgraceful extended incarceration of four Mayo farmers for protesting the danger to their lives and families from Esso’s high-pressure gas-lines running contiguous to their homes, brought to mind the similar treatment of their forebears a century and a half ago from occupation landlords.

Achill, Mayo

In 1847 the Irish Poor Law Act was revised to give those landlords the right – under the Gregory Clause – to deny public emergency assistance to tenants holding more than a quarter of an acre of land. If they were to be held responsible for their tenantry, the absentee landlords asserted – and since they dominated Imperial Parliamentary representation they could force through any measure they desired – they wanted a reason to remove tenants from what they deemed unworkable parcels of land.

The Earl of Lucan (a more recent Lord Lucan also is recorded in infamy!) who ‘owned’ over 60,000 acres in Mayo removed more than 2,000 tenants and cleared the lands for pasture. Houses were tumbled and the shells levelled or burned to prevent distressed tenants from seeking shelter in the remains.

Often tenants were offered the stark choice between eviction and assisted forced emigration to Canada (the British Government wanted workers and settlers in her North American dependency and made emigration there cheaper than to the new United States – though many Irish used the former as a way-station to the latter, their preferred final destination).

Denis Mahon, a similarly harsh landlord, was murdered in November 1847. Already then he had evicted 3,000 tenants from his holding in Strokestown (now the site of the Famine Museum). Mahon shipped out, for example, 981 passengers on four vessels, two of which, the Naomi and the Virginius suffered 464 passenger deaths on the journey. The Erin’s Queen and John Munn also saw many passenger deaths. Of the almost one thousand total Mahon tenants, more than half died en route to  Canada.

In the same Famine year refugees from Lord Palmerston’s Sligo estate were shipped out to Grosse Isle on board the Lord Ashburton. Virtually all the 174 people on board were naked or almost naked on arrival and had to receive charity clothes so as not to cause public offence to those on the quayside. Palmerston was British Foreign Secretary. Lord Clanricarde, the Postmaster-General was another evicting landlord as was Lord Brougham, who in the Lords on March 23, 1846 asserted,

‘Undoubtedly it is the landlord’s right to do as he pleases, and if he abstained he conferred a favour and was doing an act of kindness. 

If on the other hand, he chose to stand on his right, the tenants must be taught by the strong arm of the law that they had no power to oppose or resist.’

Is this the same lesson being ‘taught’ by the present-day property defenders and the Irish Court system, on behalf of the international corporation exploiting Irish national resources off our coast?


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