The end of hidden Ireland :

rebellion, famine, and emigration


Scally, Robert James.: 1995.

941.75 SCA


"Engrossing and imaginative.... The End of Hidden Ireland opens a window on a lost world in the process of becoming lost. Robert James Scally combines the labour of an archivist with the speculative verve of an historian of mentalities." The Washington Post

"On the 150th anniversary of the Irish Famine, no memorial to the victims could he more fitting or more moving than Robert Scally's spectacular recreation of the life and death of the community of Ballykilcline. Painstakingly researched, lucidly written, his work provides a sudden and intimate access to a world and a series of individual lives cruelly destroyed during the terrible forties of the last century."

Seamus Deane, University of Notre Dame

"Robert Scally has penetrated more deeply into the heart of "hidden Ireland" than any previous scholar, and the result is a lasting and compelling contribution to Irish history and to migration and peasant studies."

Kerby A. Miller, University of Missouri

"Using an astonishing array of social history techniques and writing with the profound pity of a modern Villon, Professor Scally has united imagination and analysis upon the melancholy facts of a pre-famine Irish village."

Peter Linehaugh, University of Toledo

"Scally's book is compulsively readable, an intimate and humane portrait of a society on the brink of dissolution."

Kevin Whelan, Royal Irish Academy, Dublin

"Robert Scally's The End of Hidden Ireland is a beautifully written, deeply researched work of historical investigation that makes an important contribution to a true accounting of the Irish past. Scally fuses modern historical methodology with forceful, elegant prose - a rare achievement. His book is a revelation."

Peter A. Quinn, author of Banished Children of Eve

"This work is based on painstaking research into an extraordinary range of primary and secondary sources. Overall it is an outstanding piece of original researcher genuine contribution to Irish, British and U.S. social history."

William J. Fishman, University of London

About the Author

Robert Scally is Professor of History and Director of the Glucksman Ireland House at New York University.

The Townland

A general description of townlands from the writings of Toqueville

The Hidden Townland

The difference between the English village and the Irish townland , some descriptions of the rundale system of land utilisation . The destruction of the townland community whether by improvement , eviction or emigration inevitably threatened the survival of their language , their family and community systems , and the authority of tradition , including the distinct form of Christianity peculiar to rural Ireland before the famine . Though there was probably a good deal that the squire , the upstart native farmers and the peasants shared , the cultural gap between the owners and tillers of land still remained broad enough to cause much conflict and incomprehension in their profoundly differing perceptions of the land , the rights to it , its division and usage . The land was often let to a tenant at law who was a figurehead for a group of the townland occupants . The landlord may have been unaware of this arrangement .

Conflicting Measurement

There was different measurements of land statute acres and Irish or plantation acres , also a third measurement more of use than area . A collop was the grazing required for a milk cow . This was roughly 2 acres , a quarter of this was known as a foot and a half of a foot as a cleet . A tenant having any part of a townland could have the land divided into thirty or forty parcels . At the time of Union the currency changed from the Irish pound to the English and rents were subsequently increased by 8%

The townland of Ballykilcline

comprised of 620 acres with a population between 470 and 526 . 3 miles from Strokestown . Very few people from outside the townland knew anything about it . When the first eviction notice was served in 1836 , those writing it were not sure with what name to identify the territory .Lord Hartland of Strokestown House had 27 townlands in his estate . Maurice Mahon the first Baron Hartland had leased the land from the Crown in 1794 for 41 years but the third Lord Hartland did not renew the lease in 1834 as he was declared insane .

The Land System

The whole population of the townland had been forced to leave by May 1848 . The lands in Ballykilcline had been forfeited to the crown in the rebellion of 1688 . In 1834 when the lease expired the Crown was negotiating with Lord Hartland for the sale of Ballykilcline for £9,500 . Lord Hartland had let three quarters of the townland to substantial tenants who had sublet it . Of a total of £412 , £200 was passed on to the Crown and Hartland made a profit of £50 to £60 in a good year .Without this system of middlemen the Crown found it impossible to make a profit after Lord Hartland did not renew the lease .

The base of the land system

Even after paying relatively modest rents , tithes and cesses no surplus of cash or goods remained among the occupants to be expended on anything else that might improve their material life. A lot of the information on the inhabitants lifestyle was obtained from the House of Lords returns for 1847 . Small farmers had been under pressure for over a century to vacate their holdings in order to accommodate cattle graziers .All the inhabitants were tenants at will holding their land from year to year and none holding more than 10 acres .There were several farmers in the townland who were regarded as "important" . the others were dependent on them for access to the land and often as their defenders with the law and the landed elite . Their status did not depend upon land alone but on a variety of personal , mental and traditional factors like courage , intelligence , or the possession of a good name , with the weight of generations behind it . It was through these leading figures that the townlands relations with the outside were conducted – with the landlords agents , the tax and tithe collectors , and at critical moments with the police authorities .Traditional forms of co-operation among neighbours among labour and landholding wer also adaptable to the struggle with scarcity . Communal discipline and solidarity became all the more necessary and in enforcing them the townland employed a variety of devices both coercive and persuasive .

Land and Society around Strokestown

Intensifying bitterness between cottiers and commercial farmers . Increasing debt added to this bitterness and the increase of the power of the middlemen intensified it .

The Mahon Murder

The murder of Denis Mahon , a Major in the 9th Lancers and heir to Lord Hartland occurred on 2nd November 1847 . Six other landlords and ten middlemen were also murdered . Mahon’s murder was as a result of a policy of clearances he had started in the years up to the famine and also the miserly arrangements he made for assisted passage of 900 tenants to Canada , resulting in 158 dying at sea and them arriving at Grosse Isle in a very poor condition .. There were others that said that Mahon was a paternalistic landlord forgiving arrears , tirelessly organising relief for the starving and rescuing thousands at great personal expense by sending them to a land of plenty .

The people of Ballintobber Roscommon in the 1840s

A description of the population of Ballintober based on the 1841 Census .

The Landowners

Four pages on the history of the Mahon family

The locale and the Murder

A description of the "parks" built by the local landlords for themselves

Gentlemen and Squireens

A description of the middlemen in the area , most but not all of which were Protestants

"Squireens" ; the Little Squires

After the estate was returned to the Crown agents several local squires in the area made a bid to obtain a lease on the townland and felt that with the support of respectable people in the area against recalcitrant tenants they would be successful

Middlemen , Agents and Poor Gentlemen

When Denis Mahon found that the finances of the estate were not going well , he employed as a land agent ,his cousin , John Ross Mahon of the Dublin firm of Guinness and Mahon . Denis Mahon was reluctant to take the extreme measures recommended by John Ross Mahon but due to loss of rents and rising poor Law rates was obliged to take extreme measures in order to avoid bankruptcy . Massive land clearances and assisted emigration of 1200 families would increase the average farm from 3 acres to a more viable nine acres . This had been carried out by several other major landlords before Lord Palmerston , the Fitzgeralds , Lord Clonbrock , and Sir Robert Gore-Booth .George Knox of Strokestown succeeded John Ross Mahon as land agent when the estate reverted to Her Majesty’s Quit Rent Office .

4 Ballykilcline: Deputies and Defendants


What survives of the "Ballykilcline Rebellion " is found in the correspondence between George Knox and John Burke of Her Majesty’s Quit Rent Office in Dublin. Knox’s deputy in administering the estate was John Cox , the rent collector or driver . Cox was also responsible for arranging the carriage of the tenants to Dublin on their emigration to Canada .

The Tenants

Various surveys of the townland carried out between 1834 and 1848 are used to determine the population of the townland . A list of tenants compiled by Knox and Cox between 1842 and 1846 lists 101 households and 476 persons . Other lists include rent books which only listed tenants at law . Other tenants known as tenants at will sublet from the major tenants . All the defendants in the case brought by the Court of the Exchequer who were evicted and later reoccupied their holdings and instigated the rent strike were tenants at law or sons of tenants at law

The Microgeography of Ballykilcline

'Rebellion' in Ballykilcline, 1836-1847

Facts from Ballykilcline

The Official View

The Tenant’s View

Outrage and Riot in the Townland

The Eviction Riots of 1844

Dissension and the Blight

The Level of Violence in Ballykilcline


The Decline of Life in Ballykilcline

The Time of Petitions

The Missing

Women and Widows

The Remains of Ballykilcline

Knowledge and Isolation

Schools and the Townlands

Hedge Schools

National Schools

Pobble O’Keefe-Kingwilliamstown


Political Economy

The Way Out

Town and Townland

New Emigrants

The Plan of Travel


The Road

The Liverpool Ferries

Liverpool and the Celtic Sea

Liverpool and Ireland

The Inland Sea

Entering Liverpool

The Liverpool System

Liverpool Streets "Via Dolorosa"

Milesians : How Liverpool saw the Irish

The Liverpool Mirror

The Crossing: 'Just Over a River ‘

Spillage and Evasion

Ballykilcline in America

Epilogue: Identity and Emigration



Of all the changes experienced by European peoples in the nineteenth century, none was more profound or more widely felt than migration. Whether it was merely a few miles from village to town or a journey across great oceans, its effects were usually irreversible, distancing minds as well as bodies from the past. In the century before 1914 alone, some forty million individuals crossed the Atlantic, the greatest movement of peoples since the dawn of civilisation and an event comparable in its human effects to any of the great wars or revolutions of the modern era. While Irish emigrants did

not make up the largest part of this movement, no other country lost a larger

part of its population to it or was altered more profoundly by the loss. Nearly

a million had already left Ireland before 1845 and in the terrible decade that followed the country sent out a quarter of those remaining, more than two million emigrants. Added to those who died of the hunger and its companion diseases, the slightly more than eight million people of old Ireland were reduced by almost half. Thereafter, tens of thousands followed every year, until the ritual of mourning the departed in the 'American wake" became as familiar a part of life as burying the dead.

The narrative that follows describes a minute part of this historic movement. It is based mainly on the experience of the townland of Ballykilcline,.. a community of small farmers and labourers living on an obscure estate in the Irish midlands near the provincial market town of Strokestown, County Roscommon. Such a community as Ballykilcline was known as a bane in the Irish language and so it was called by its people, becoming the common prefix "bally" in English maps and surveys. But by the nineteenth century the general usage in English, both for the community and the surveyed unit of land in which it lived, was the 'townland." Hence, this

Roscommon community was known as the townland of Ballykilcline.

Ballykilcline consisted of about one hundred families, most of whom had

been on the land or in the vicinity for an unknown number of generations, some of them apparently since before the conquest. Like thousands of other townlands, Ballykilcline was emptied by death and emigration in the winter and spring of 1847-1848, the blackest year of the great hunger. Within a few years after its emigrants arrived in the New World the townland's name disappears from the local estate surveys and the ordnance maps, leaving only a few traces of its existence in the overgrown stone foundations and patterns of its roads and paths, its history remaining precariously in the memory of a few of the oldest residents, with whom the living part of the townland's history will most likely die. Many peasant communities in Ireland and elsewhere have left such attenuated images of their existence, receding like microscopic images in the wrong end of the telescope, making it more difficult to see who they were and how they may have understood what was happening to them.

Although Ballykilcline left clearer traces than most pre famine townlands, our view of its internal life is still impeded by the nature of the record that does survive. Because it was kept by outsiders whose main purpose was either to collect the rents or to enforce the law, the townland did not expose its mind to the record-keepers willingly. As a part of "the hidden Ireland" that Daniel Corkery celebrated some seventy years ago, it was an axiom of survival to evade that surveillance by all means possible.' Fortunately, the residents' evasions were not entirely successful; because they lived on lands belonging to the Crown and refused to pay their rents, an account was created that offers glimpses into their mental and material life that do not exist for many of these otherwise nearly invisible communities. For the most part, it offers a downward-looking view from various strata of the pyramid of "deputies" that stood between the townland and its landlord, ending in this case with a permanent committee of the House of Lords, sitting in London. It is primarily the record kept by its deputy in Dublin, Her Majesty's Clerk of the Quit Rents, that allows us to see how the tenants began to decipher their place in the world and to envision the prospect of entering it as strangers, something none of them had been before. What came to be known as

the "Ballykilcline rebellion' was largely a response to that vision, of removing themselves three thousand miles across an ocean they had never seen from the townland's narrowly circumscribed landscape of life and labour, perhaps a radius of fifteen miles, containing for most of them their entire experience and expectations along with the memory and bones of their ancestors.2

The only moment in the townland's history that left traces enough to enlarge our view was a period of fourteen years between 1834 and the residents' emigration. There is no sign that the townland's life was in any way eventful before that time and after the evictions its occupants scattered to the winds of New York and probably far beyond. Although many of them were literate, none left a memoir of this time. The only indications that the townland became conscious of "making history" were that neighbours for

for miles around gave the name 'rebellion' to the tenants' struggle and that they received an extraordinary degree of attention from the authorities. For those who wish to see their experience from within, this window into their history contained several distinct but dusty panes, one of false victory and three of misery. A lease that had been held for the previous forty-one years by the local landlord, the Lords Hartland of Strokestown, lapsed in 1834. In effect, Ballykilcline was left waiting to be 'rediscovered" by the Crown's distant ministers, "Their Lords, His Majesty's Commissioners of Woods and Forests," who managed the far-flung lands and revenues of the Crown from Westminster. This took about two years, a time of illusions of great

luck in which the tenants paid no rent and lived among their neighbours as those rarest of creatures in rural Ireland, triumphant rebels. The commissioners eventually made themselves known when they issued writs of eviction on the tenants in 1836, offering to let them back into their homes if the two years of arrears were paid. The "rebellion' of Ballykilcline, consisting of ten more years of rents withheld and sporadic confrontations with bailiffs and police, began with these eviction notices, which they ignored. The last episodes in their microrebellion began with the failure of a lawsuit they brought against the Crown, coinciding with the onset of the hunger in the spring of 1846. Both were fatal blows to their hope of staying in their homes. The interval between this point and their departure eighteen months later was the "time of petitions." Resistance broken by the law and the blight, most of them were reduced from demanding to begging the right to remain, besieging every level of the Crown bureaucracy with "Memorials" of hunger, suffering, and "good will.' The Crown offered free passage to the New World if they willingly surrendered their cabins and holdings. The last trace of them was as famine emigrants, entries on estate and shipbrokers' accounts and finally on passenger arrival lists in New York.

Even for its own sake, the record of their piecemeal 'discovery" of the New World seemed worth pursuing as an artefact of the European peasant's Atlantic migration, a piece of the history of those who were about to undergo what some have called 'the great transformation" of the modem era. One part of this process was in breaking the peasant's hold on the land and stimulating an outward flow of wage-laborers. In most of western Europe this process took generations. Overseas emigration into wage labour in North America might be described for most of the famine emigrants as an accelerated version of the general experience, a transition from village to urban slum in a matter of months or even weeks. But for those who migrated in this era as well as those who remained, the first stages of this transition had begun much earlier, reaching them in small, imperceptible increments, disguising the fates that awaited them.

One might say that in Ireland that process becomes noticeable with the seventeenth-century settlements, in which the bulk of the land eventually changed hands and came under the Anglo-Irish pyramid of grandees, squires, and their numerous deputies, while the land's former masters and their descendants nursed hopeless schemes in exile or in squalor. In the colony it envisioned, the Anglo-Irish ideal was not unlike the hidalgos' dreams of Mexico or the dreamed-of lebensraum of Prussian warlords: a hereditary elite of unassailable landlords living in picturesque comfort amid a sea of cowed but still merry tillers of the soil. And in Ireland, the defeated were already Christians, superstitious but morally disciplined against murder and theft by centuries of eloquent, scolding priests who were now largely cut off from their source of power.

But the pastoral idyll of the Irish landed elite was adamantly static, self-

indulgent, and consequently porous to all manner of intrusions from the outside. The commercial and demographic dynamism of England leached through the Irish countryside, demanding its food, the Englishman's bread, beef, and cheese, for the cash, goods, and protection of the metropolis. Filling this need through a system of subdivision that maximised rents and reduced the peasantry to poverty and the potato was the source of the landlords' comfort but also the groundwork of ultimate ruin for squire and tenant alike. Before the blight fell, the foundations of the land system were already being undermined by debt and arrears accumulated not only by its inherent wastefulness and injustice but by its dependence on outside forces over which no power in the country had control. The main conduit of these forces on the eve of the famine was the network centring on Liverpool, through which the bulk of the land's produce and eventually its surplus population was extracted. Ireland was Liverpool's hinterland much more than it was Dublin's, Belfast's, or Cork's. The Lancashire port was not only Ireland's marketplace but its mediator with England and its gateway to the outside world.

For the majority of emigrants, Liverpool was also their first sight of the world outside of Ireland. Liverpool in 1848 was the most turbulent and exotic Atlantic city of the age. Next to London only, it was also the commercial capital of the British Empire, on the eve of the Pax Britannica, the disreputable junior partner in the great enterprise. Because of the immense shadow that London cast over all other cities of the British Isles as the centre of empire and the wellspring of Victorian culture, Liverpool's extraordinary character and importance is often obscured. Above all, Liverpool's

place in the great European migration of the nineteenth century was unrivalled. It had established its primacy in the previous century as the carrier and countinghouse of the slave trade and left its imprint through that callous business on the future of three continents, linking them for two centuries in an Atlantic economy of labor, manufacture, and commerce that bestrode the world. When that migration began to shift in the first half of the nineteenth century from one of Africans in chains to one primarily of distressed European peasants, the Liverpool maritime dynamo had already

shouldered its Old World rivals aside and again carried the lion's share of the traffic across the Atlantic. If its ships are seen as movable parts of the city itself, it might be said that more people entered the nineteenth century via Liverpool than through any other city-more than London, more than New York, immeasurably more than Paris or Vienna.

The thought of witnessing the passage of a peasant community from its

thresholds through the great emigration port and into the Atlantic seemed to offer an opportunity to observe an instance of the migration in an unusually high focus, possibly enough to see some of the human outlines of the transformation that is generally supposed to accompany the movement from peasant to industrial life. It seemed especially promising when that community left an articulate record of its thoughts in its own words. The events that began to expose Ballykilcline to the outside world and to a progression of insights that revealed its residents' place in that world were particular to that community. But similar encroachments from outside, economic, informational, and aesthetic, were part of the experience of virtually every Irish household before one or all of its members emigrated. All emigrants needed cash and information. They had to make calculations about the past and the future that few had ever made before, especially about the need to sever themselves from a social milieu that had previously governed all aspects of their daily lives, defining their place and fixing their identity

within it.

The great majority of the peasantry in the 1840s was still outside that world of calculation. This was especially true of the townlands, first because many there were insulated to a startling degree for Europeans from up-to- date knowledge of the outside world, and second, because in varying degrees their internal economics were too marginal to respond "rationally" to distant market forces. But perhaps most decisively, "voluntary" emigration from the townlands before the famine was restrained by a culture and worldview consonant with this seclusion, deeply suspicious of outsiders, secretive in its dealings with them, and scornful of those who strove to

become like them, whether in regard to property, social station, or personal ambition.

A particularly passionate edge was given to the conflict between the traditional and modern value systems in rural Ireland because the latter was regarded as alien by the common people and associated with their oppressors. A resentful consciousness of subjection coloured nearly all communication between the townland peasants and the nearest outposts of the intruder. In the case of Ballykilcline, this conflict was played out in its relations with the nearby market town of Strokestown. There could be found the houses of their landlord, his agents, the constabulary, the court, the gaol, and the Church of Ireland, no longer an army of occupation but supported at a distance by Dublin Castle and the power of a great empire. That confrontation between native communities and the outposts of the empire was often attended by coercion on one side and resistance on the other. From time to time the conflict was dramatic and revolutionary, but more often it was shadowed in the mundane and unrecorded events of daily life, blank interstices of history in which life on the land became more and more intolerable, more exposed to observation, more despised, and more vulnerable to the "liberating' information and material enticements from the industrial and commercially dynamic cores.

The suffering of the famine and the accompanying migration was the same

experience compressed into a sudden calamity. This left an especially bitter memory in the minds of the survivors. But the destruction of the 'old Ireland" left behind essentially the same myth as all other peasant cultures of the old regime, in which the peasantry suffered the loss of real and imagined old liberties and of a morally superior civilisation. But in English eyes, the men and women of Ireland were a paradigm of the barbarian: an easily conquered race, apparently cheerful and satisfied in conditions of the most revolting poverty, and lacking in any ambition to exert themselves out of

it. Forgetting the history of violence and coercion that had brought them to it, this colonial imagery drew the Irish peasant as a brute creature whose food was that of the domestic animals, especially the pigs, of civilised Europe. He was an cater of the lowly potato, a crop that, like corn, required the minimum of human intelligence and discipline to maintain an indolent life. In the early years of the conquest, when western Europe was enslaving widening concentric rings of the Atlantic world, these features marked the Irish peasantry more than any other European peoples of the time as born


In quiet times, when he was not pictured as 'the wild Irish" rebel or rapparee, the Irish peasant was invariably the fool or the grotesque. Writing just after the famine, William Carleton thought that depiction was based on the peasants' speech in English, 'unjustly heaped upon those who are found to use a language which they do not properly understand.' With ridicule came contempt, as he said, "for it is incontrovertibly true, that the man whom you laugh at, you mill soon despise."3

An array of pseudoscientific glosses was added soon after, but this was

the imagery of racial colonialism at the time of Victoria's accession, dividing humanity into a ragtag taxonomy of species and subspecies in which "Paddy" stood beside the Fedayeen or Aborigine, just above the apes on the 'monkey chart.' Its logic of the classification of species was as indecipherable to the townland emigrants as their thinking was to the landlords who sent them across the Atlantic. The economic and political consequences for England's first true colony are notoriously melancholy, a culture torn within itself, riven with ancient hatreds and grievances impervious to reason, its creative future still hemorrhaging in generation after generation of escaping youth. The young men and women who can now be seen making their way out of Ireland, more European than they have ever been but still laden with the mark of illegality in almost every city of North America, carry the colonial history of their ancestors with them. Until the recent past, the heaviest part of that burden was often that part of their identity lost in leaving, including the memory of those left behind, carried like a penance in their baggage.