Glen of the Birch Trees

Glenveagh Castle, County Donegal

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Photo of Glenveagh National Park by P.J. McKenna

And even the longest winters rain,
Can’t wash away all the suffering and pain,
Of the Evictions at Derryveagh.
– The Evictions, song by Goats Don’t Shave

When John George Adair arrived in the remote Derryveagh area of Donegal in 1857, he was “enchanted by the surpassing beauty of the scenery”. As well he might be, for the place possessed an imposing if bleak beauty reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands. Adair, originally from County Laois, had made his fortune on land speculation in America. Ten years after the Great Famine, land in Ireland was going cheap, so he proceeded to buy up 28000 acres in Donegal.

In the land around Lough Veagh, he purchased “fee-farm” rights, which meant the right to collect rents but not “sporting” rights (hunting, shooting, fishing). He decided the remoteness of the estate meant he could ignore the rules, but some of the tenants objected, beating the bushes and forming a ring 50 paces around him to disrupt his hunt. He threatened them with his fowling gun and swore “they would pay dearly”.

Tragically, he was soon in a position to make that threat real.

In 1861, Adair took full possession of the land and houses in Derryveagh. To the local authorities, he pleaded fear of local reprisals and received a special force of over 200 constabulary; in addition, he hired a 10-man “crowbar brigade” from County Tyrone. The tenancy grew justifiably nervous.

To fit with his Highlander theme (his home would later be built in the “Scottish Baronial” style), Adair had imported Scottish sheep and Scottish shepherds. These men were distrusted by the locals, both as outsiders and for their connection to the bad-tempered Adair. One man, James Murray, was particularly hated. When Murray’s bloody body was found dead on the estate, there were too many suspects to pin the blame on anyone. Adair decided that his entire tenancy were responsible for sheltering a murderer.

Between the 8th and the 10th of April 1861, he sent the constabulary and his own heavies in.

Forced to discharge an unpleasant duty, the sheriff entered the house and delivered up possession to Mr. Adair’s steward, whereupon a Crowbar Brigade of six men who had been brought from distance immediately fell to with right good will to level the house to the ground. The scene became indescribable. The bereaved widow and her daughters were frantic with despair and throwing themselves on the ground, they became almost insensible, and bursting out in the old Irish wail – then heard by many for the first time – their terrifying cries resounded along the mountains for many miles.
—  Londonderry Standard, 1861-01-10

244 people were evicted in all, including 159 children. Once the cottages were unroofed and the former tenants turned out onto the road, there was a deathly silence over the area. Some found shelter with neighbours, while others were forced into the Poorhouse for survival.

The news reached all the way to Australia. Michael O’Grady, representative of the London Insurance Company in Sydney, founded the Donegal Relief Committee to gather funds. In January 1862, many of the younger residents took up the offer to start a new life Down Under. Accompanied by parish priest Father James McFadden, they took the train to Dublin and from there a boat to the other side of the world.

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Photo of Glenveagh Castle by P.J. McKenna

Adair married an American heiress and the two of them built the imposing Glenveagh Castle, whose name translates as “Glen of the Birch Trees”. It became a fashionable residence where they invited friends and celebrities to go hunting, shooting, and fishing. But to the locals that remained and those forced to emigrate, the name “John George Adair” remained bitter on their tongues.

Adair died in 1885 on return from a business trip to America. His wife inscribed a rock on the Glenveagh estate with her husband’s name and the words “Brave, Just and Generous”. One stormy night, the rock was struck by lightning and sent crashing to the bottom of Lough Veagh.

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The Hunger Road

Louisburgh, County Mayo

Photo of Mayo churchyard by P.J. McKenna

On last Friday, 30th ult., Colonel Hogrove, one of the vice guardians of Westport union, and Captain Primrose, the poor law inspector, arrived here on that morning for the purpose of holding an inspection on the paupers who were receiving outdoor relief in this part of the union.
— Letter from “A Ratepayer” to The Mayo Constitution, April 5th, 1849

March is said to go “in like a lion, out like a lamb”, but at the end of March 1849, the weather showed no signs of easing.

The people were exhausted. Three years of failed harvests had starved them; waves of diseases such as typhus and cholera had further weakened and winnowed the population. The rebellion of the previous year had reduced any residual pity the British government had for the destitute population of Ireland.

There was still some pity in the world, however. The Quakers, or Society of Friends, provided soup and medical attention across Ireland. On the other side of the Atlantic, the Choctaw nation donated $170, the equivalent of tens of thousands today. It was an extraordinary sum; the Choctaws were themselves in dire straits, having been forced to leave their own homes the previous decade in the “Trail of Tears”.

But such isolated acts of charity were not enough. Many thousands in Mayo were depending on outdoor relief to stay alive. An inspection was due to take place at Louisburgh to determine who was eligible, but the two men from the Board of Guardians decided that they would much prefer to go hunting at Delphi Lodge instead. The locals were told that the inspection would take place in Delphi at 7am the next morning.

The distance was only 12 miles (19km) to the south, but for starving people on foot in atrocious weather it must have seemed like the other side of the country. Perhaps the Board of Guardians thought the journey would discourage those indigents from claiming from the public purse, but they underestimated their desperation.

Hundreds of these unfortunate living skeletons, men, women and children, might have been seen struggling through the mountain passes and roads for the appointed place.
— Letter from “A Ratepayer” to The Mayo Constitution, April 5th, 1849

Throughout the night, hundreds walked the soggy goat path along the shores of Doolough lake. Their starved flesh hung loosely and their bones had little protection against the bitter March wind. With little strength in reserve, some slipped along the scree that lead down to the lake. Parents carried children, children carried younger siblings, older adults leaned against the young and upright.

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Photo of Doolough from National Library of Ireland

That morning, there were already bodies on the picturesque road along the Doolough valley. In the opulent surroundings of Delphi Lodge, the inspectors sat down for breakfast. When the starving hordes arrived, they were sent away empty-handed, back down the road from which they’d come.

The bodies of these ill-fated creatures lay exposed on the road side for three or four days and nights, for the dogs and ravens to feed upon, until some charitable person had them buried in a turf hole at the road side.
— Letter from “A Ratepayer” to The Mayo Constitution, April 5th, 1849

No-one knows how many died that day. A “ratepayer” reported in the Mayo Constitution that seven bodies were found and nine more people were never seen again. Other eyewitnesses claimed that over a hundred fell by the wayside. It was just one story of many in a famine that killed over a million and sent the same number fleeing abroad.

A Celtic cross now marks the scene of the Doolough Valley tragedy. In 1990, the first annual Famine Walk between Louisburgh and Doolough was held to commemorate the event. Among those present were members of the Choctaw Nation, descendants of those who had made such a generous donation to Ireland in its hour of need.

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The Stolen Village

Baltimore, County Cork

A Barbary Pirate, Pier Francesco Mola 1650

The summer sun is falling soft on Carbery’s hundred isles.
The summer sun is gleaming still through Gabriel’s rough defiles…
And full of love and peace and rest – its daily labour o’er –
Upon that cosy creek there lay the town of Baltimore.
– The Sack of Baltimore (Thomas Davis 1844)

On 19th June 1631, the inhabitants of Baltimore in West Cork settled down for the evening. At that time of year, the days in Ireland are long and the sun doesn’t set until past 10PM. Perhaps, as twilight lingered, Joan Broadbrook placed a hand on her pregnant belly and smiled at her husband Stephen and their two children. Perhaps William Gunter led his seven sons in prayer before tucking them into bed.

Baltimore was a colony, a “town of English people, larger more civilly and religiously ordered than any town in this province”, according to the Lord Bishop of Cork. The Protestant settlers earned a living by catching and processing pilchards. In summer, the village likely stank of fish.

As the sun finally set, a group of ships anchored themselves at an inlet just outside Baltimore Harbour. Their leader was known as Murat Rais of Algiers, although once he had been called Jan Janszoon of Haarlem in the Netherlands. His men were Barbary Corsairs, pirates from the coast of North Africa. Murat was a renegado (the term rais simply meant “captain”), a European sailor who had converted to Islam and now waged terror on Christendom, although likely more for the sake of profit than for belief.

At two in the morning, the corsairs came ashore at The Cove of Baltimore. They ran up the pebbled beach in darkness – and then attacked.

The yell of “Allah” breaks above the prayer, and shriek, and roar,
Oh! Blessed God! The Algerine is Lord of Baltimore.
– The Sack of Baltimore (Thomas Davis 1844)

Iron bars broke down the doors, and torches lit the thatched roofs on fire. Dressed with turbans and red belts, armed with curved scimitars, the Barbary Corsairs came from many nations and yelled at the villagers in many languages. Any European who lived near a coast would have heard rumours about the vicious “Turks” from the Barbary Coast, but nothing could have prepared the people of Baltimore for the real thing.

All was confusion and terror. Stephen Broadbrook was separated from his family, as was William Gunter; although both men escaped, their wives and children were captured. John Davys and Timothy Curlew resisted and were killed. All in all, 109 people were taken prisoner: 22 men, 33 women, and 54 children. It would be the largest attack by Barbary pirates on Ireland or Great Britain.

The elderly were not valuable to the slave traders, so Old Osbourne and Alice Head were left behind on the beach.

They only found the smoking walls, with neighbour’s blood besprint
And on the strewed and trampled beach awhile they wildly went
Then dashed to sea and passed Cape Clear and saw five leagues before
The pirate galleys vanished, that ravished Baltimore.
– The Sack of Baltimore (Thomas Davis 1844)

When the ship arrived in Algiers, the traumatised captives were led ashore. The Algerians demanded ransom, but none was forthcoming. The remaining inhabitants of Baltimore didn’t have the money, and the authorities felt that paying would only encourage more attacks. William Gunter travelled to Dublin and then to London to plead for help in the return of his wife and seven boys, but he would never see them again.

So, what became of the Baltimore captives? The unluckiest men were chained to the galleys to row until they died. Other people were sold on the slave market, their teeth and limbs checked before money changed hands. Those with a trade fetched a higher price, as did children, who could be trained by their new masters. The women entered domestic service or the harem. Algiers was then part of the Ottoman Empire, and perhaps some of the Irish slaves were sent eastwards as gifts to Istanbul.

Only two of the Baltimore captives are known to have returned. After fifteen years, ransom was paid for Ellen Hawkins and Joan Broadbrook. No record exists to say what happened to the rest of Joan’s family.

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