HC Deb 02 April 1846 vol 85 cc485-9

After witnessing the consumption of three hours devoted to an examination of the case of six factory girls in Scotland, I hope I shall not be considered as trespassing too far on the attention of the House when I ask about twenty minutes or half an hour of time, whilst I bring under your notice what I consider to be a case of great oppression. The complaint to which I refer regards the expulsion of sixty-one families, in all 270 persons, from the homes of themselves and their fathers. An ejectment under circumstances of a painful nature, a short time back, attracted general attention as described in a Roscommon paper. This statement caught the eye of a most respectable friend of mine, the proprietor of the Dublin Freeman's Journal—a gentleman to whom the right hon. Secretary for the Home Department has given an historical name, by classing him with those who, with all respect, I must ever consider were the victims of an infamous prosecution. He sent a special reporter to the spot where the alleged clearance was said to have taken place; and it is to the report of the gentleman so sent down that I am now about to call the attention of the House. It is certainly written in strong language, but not stronger than the occasion justifies.—The hon. Gentleman read a long statement from the Freeman's Journal, dated Mountbellow, county of Galway, Wednesday night, March 25, describing the village of Ballinglass, parish of Kilasobe, and barony of Killyon, county of Galway, and the eviction of a number of tenants from huts they had erected on land obtained from the bog on the estate of a Mrs. Gerrard. The principal features were these:— At an early hour on the morning of Friday, the 13th instant, the sheriff, accompanied by a large force of the 49th regiment, commanded by Captain Brown, and also by a heavy body of police under the command of Mr. Cummings, proceeded to the place marked out for desolation; the people were then according to the process of law (I could not procure a copy of the habere) called on to render possession, and then the bailiffs of Mrs. Gerrard commenced the work of demolition. In the first instance the roofs and portions of the walls were only thrown down; the former, in most instances, lie on the side of the road. Great pains must have been taken to demolish the houses, as the walls were very thick, and composed of an umber clay, and when the inside turned up good plaster and whitewash always appeared. Not content with throwing down the roofs and walls, the very foundations have been turned up. When this last act had been perpetrated, the 'wretches' took to the ditches on the high road, where they slept in parties of from ten to fifteen each, huddled together before a fire for the two succeeding nights. I saw the mark of the fires in the ditches; every body can see them, and the temporary shelter which the 'wretches' (I cannot help quoting the word so often) endeavoured to raise round them with the sticks, rescued from their recent dwelling. A boy there about nine or ten years of age, told us that one of the bailiffs told his mammy not to take in any of the people who were turned out, but his mammy let in an old woman after that. I would not have placed much relianee on this corroboration, except for what you will learn some further on. It is to be hoped, for the sake of humanity and of womanhood, that Mrs. Gerrard is ignorant of that order. I expressed a wish to be direeted where I could meet some of the poor people, when the man said, 'Oh, here is one of them coming down the hill.' This person who soon joined us was old, and as he raised his hat to salute me, his fine white hair floated on the breeze. He was a fine athletic handsome old man, with a mournful countenance, and as he addressed me in the beautiful and simple salutation of the country, with 'God save you, sir!' (he spoke English very well) I felt a reverence for the old, ill-treated, and unhappy man. Are you one of the people who were recently turned out? I inquired.—Indeed, I am, Sir, said he, with a heavy sigh. How old are you, Sir?—Nearly eighty. How long did you reside in the village of Ballinglass?—Over sixty-eight years, Sir; and he burst into tears. How many in family have you?—Three, together with myself; but I had a great deal more than that. Some of them are dead and gone, and well for them they didn't live to see this desolate day: others of them are married, and some more of them are gone to America. How much land had you?—Why, I can't rightly tell, as there are no regular farms, but there was over 400 acres belonging to the village. Did you owe any rent?—I did, Sir. Were you able to pay it?—I was, Sir, and willing, too, but she wouldn't take it for the last five half years. Why so?—Why, because, Sir, she wanted to throw down the houses to make bullock pastures. Did you ever offer the rent to the lady?—I did, Sir, more than twenty times, and I offered it to her agent also, but they would not take it. We went to the hall-door (meaning the hall-door of the lodge already mentioned) often with the rent, but they would not take it from us. Every man in the village but one offered the rent over and over, but they wouldn't take it; and we offered to pay that man's rent, but they wouldn't take that either. Is it true that the remainder of the walls were ordered to be thrown down to prevent the people from sheltering themselves at night?—In truth it is, Sir; they wouldn't let any one go near the place; we slept in the ditches for two nights, and I got pains in my poor old bones after it. Did the women sleep in the ditches?—They did, Sir, and I saw one of the women with a child at her breast hunted by the bailiffs from three places the night after; they threw down the houses when we were under the walls, and they came to put out the fires, and they put out the fires in the road ditches on us too. The report then proceeds to give a list of the persons, from which it appeared that sixty-one families, numbering two hundred and seventy persons, had been evicted. It appears that the 'one man' so often before mentioned who refused to pay the rent, had some of his land let to under-tenants. He went away leaving some rent due; the people offered the rent which they used to pay this man to the agent of Mrs. Gerrard, and demanded receipts, but he would not give any receipt except one 'on account' of rent due. The people owed no rent, and therefore they refused to take receipts on account. That was the statement. He was bound to say that of the transactions he knew nothing of his own knowledge, but taking the representation of them as correct, here was a picture of an Irish village! This was a picture of the civilization which had been introduced into Ireland. Why it would be better for Ireland to return into the state of barbarism which existed before the English connexion than to enjoy such a state of civilization as this. At least it was right, when the House was called upon to enact coercive measures, that they should know what were the circumstances which stimulated the people of that country to outrage. Give fair play to both parties, that it might be known against whom coercive measures should be passed; whether against the peasantry, by locking them up in their homes away from their lawful occupation, or against the landlords of Ireland, by passing some measures by which they should be compelled to perform their duties. He had done what he conceived to be his duty, and it would be for the House to determine what course they would take. The hon. Member concluded by moving— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, to inform Her Majesty that the attention of this House has been directed to a case of ejectment of tenantry which has recently taken place at a village named Ballinglass, in the county of Galway, in which it is stated that not less than sixty-one families, comprising 270 individuals, have, in one day, been expelled from their habitations, under circumstances the most cruel and heartrending, and to pray Her Majesty, that She will be graciously pleased to give directions that the Stipendiary Magistrates, and other officers of the Irish Constabulary, who are in the habit of reporting to the Executive outrages committed by the peasantry of Ireland, or such Commissioners as Her Majesty may be pleased to appoint, be required to furnish to Her Majesty's Government such authentic information respecting the facts of this case as they may be able to collect upon the spot, and that such Reports may be laid before Parliament at as early a period as possible.


said, that the hon. Gentleman declared that he knew nothing whatever of the transaction except what he had collected from newspaper report, which he had read, and which, he said, had been positively contradicted in another newspaper which he had not seen. He took it, that the hon. Gentleman knew nothing of the transaction except from newspaper report. He wished he could state that he entirely discredited it. He had already stated that under the present circumstances of Ireland, he had expected that Irish landlords would exhibit more than ordinary forbearance—that they would do so in the present unhappy circumstances of Ireland; and generally there had been that forbearance exhibited. The hen. Gentleman talked of outrages that had been committed. He was confident that there was no person in that House, but had a sincere desire that outrages should not be committed, and when committed should be suppressed by all lawful means. But, to render Ireland habitable, tranquillity should be preserved. He must say that that terrible system which went under the name of "clearing estates," ought to be discountenanced; and if it proceeded it would be absolutely necessary to check it by legislative means. At present he knew nothing of the facts of the case. Having made this statement, he thought the hon. Gentleman would agree with him that it would be superfluous to move an Address to the Crown, as the matter was under inquiry by the competent authorities, and the Ministers had not yet received the information. When that information was received, he should be prepared to inform the hon. Gentlemen and the House what on inquiry were the real facts. In the meantime he thought it only justice to the parties concerned that the House should suspend their judgment, these allegations having been met by a positive denial.


observed, in reply, that it was not with any view to give sanction to outrages that he had made the present Motion. He had no desire to be popular with murderers; he had denounced such crimes in language stronger than any that had been used in that House; and he had more than once exposed his life to danger in an endeavour to suppress such crimes. His object was to impress on the House the necessity of taking some steps to remove the causes of these crimes. He would withdraw the Motion on the understanding that the right hon. Baronet would lay before the House the results of the inquiry.

Motion withdrawn.

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