Lord Kilmorey and the Famine
Until the early 20th century, Ireland was a country made up of large landed estates. The town of Newry and its surrounding area was no different, with the principal landlord being Lord Kilmorey. With these large estates came a significant amount of administrative records in the form of rental volumes, leases, maps and other miscellaneous items. These documents serve as a reminder of the vast expanse of what were once the landed estates of Ireland.
Included in the Museum’s Reside Collection is a complete series of rentals from 1844 to 1851, which is the period covering the Great Famine. To date, there has been no in-depth research carried out on the direct impact of the Famine in our locality. The rentals offer a glimpse into the hardships that tenants often experienced and provide details of the conditions during this period in Irish history.
The Famine era rentals are dotted with references that are indicative of the social conditions experienced during that time. There are numerous references to tenants who emigrated to England, America and Australia. Added to this are cases where former tenants who could no longer pay rent arrears and were noted as having become paupers. In one case a calf was seized as a form of payment.
In Drumalane, the November 1847 rental tells of how the rent was lost after the ‘tenant died of fever leaving no property'. The rental for May 1848 explains how Lord Kilmorey paid Alexander Montgomery £1 10 shillings for arresting and conveying two individuals to Armagh Gaol. The two men, who were named John Rowland and John Lavell, were imprisoned for debt due for fields in the townlands of Ballinlare and Lisdrumgullion. These men were however liberated under the Insolvent Act in 1848. A notation for one such tenant in Lisdrumliska in May 1849 states that the ‘tenant after disposing of his crop abandoned his wife and four children and fled to America’.
The Census figures between 1841 and 1851 for Newry tell us that there was a marginal decrease in the population. Taking a closer look, in the townland of Ballynacraig located to the east of Newry, the population actually increased by 21 people from 217 to 238. The rentals, however, tell quite a different story; there were a total of 139 plots of ground in this townland and between May 1844 and November 1851, 67 of these plots had changed hands caused by 16 tenants being in arrears, at least 2 tenants emigrating, 2 becoming paupers and others through death. In summary, almost half of the tenant population left Ballynacraig between 1844 and 1851 which suggests a population very much affected by the Famine.
The Newry Telegraph stated on March 2nd 1847 that Newry’s streets had ‘latterly been infested with miserable-looking mendicants, not known to be of the town, and who alleged that they came from the Commons, Grinan, Crieve and Killevy.’ Lord Kilmorey’s land agent at that time, Thomas Gibson Henry, stated that there was ‘no destitution in the commons … that if any does exist, relief is readily obtainable’. The evidence in the rentals partly corroborates this as in May 1844, the total half years rent was £4890 15 shillings 11 pence; this amount had been reduced by around 8% by November 1851 to £4493 0 shillings 3 pence. This reflects the various applications to the Trustees of the Kilmorey estate from those who could not afford to pay. In May 1844, the unoccupied land on the estate comprised of 91 acres, by May 1850 this more than doubled to 221 acres. The combination of unoccupied land and lack of incoming rent would have encouraged the Trustees of the estate to decrease rent in order to keep their tenants.
The rentals also note details of money given to the relief of the poor. For example in 1846 a subscription of £50 was paid to Samuel Parsons for supplying the poor of Newry with soup and bread. Joshua Michael Magee, a Poor Law Guardian in Newry, was highly critical of Lord Kilmorey. Magee wrote in February 1847 that ‘burthen of destitution is thrown, almost entirely, on the shopkeepers and inhabitants of the town – the trustees of Lord Kilmorey, who derive £11,000 a year out of the union, having contributed the bare sum of £50.’
In May 1847, it was also noted that a total of £30 2 shillings 11 pence was paid to ‘several poor persons on the Newry estate in small sums during the past winter’. It must be noted that cases of eviction are very few and far between on the Kilmorey estate between the years 1844-1851. There are however a number of instances where tenants have surrendered their property. In some cases it was simply that a tenant could no longer afford to pay and the arrears were too much. Mary Cunningham in Ballynacraig in November 1847 was due to pay a rent of £2 7 shillings per half year. In this case the rent and arrears were lost as ‘the tenant from death and other causes having been reduced to poverty.’
It is fair to conclude that Newry, and in particular its rural hinterland felt the pain and suffering that was experienced by so many Irish during the Great Famine. The primary evidence contained in the Reside Collection demonstrates displacement of populations through migration, poverty and death. Whilst it cannot be forgotten that the poorer classes were badly affected, it should also be stated that the Kilmorey estate did help many of those in trouble by reducing rents and contributing to relief for the poor, and the low number of recorded evictions are a testament to this.
The rentals cover the following areas: Altnaveigh, Ballinlare, Ballyholland Upper, Ballyholland Lower, Ballynacraig, Croreagh, Commons Upper, Commons Lower, Carnbane, Cloghogue, Crownmount, Drumcashellone, Drumalane, Derrybeg, Fathom, Gransha, Edenmore, Lisdrumliska, Lisdrumgullion, Low Ground, Ouley, Ryan, Strand, and Turmore. Also included are some of the streets within Newry: Boat Street, Church Street, Castle Street, Chapel Street, High Street, Mill Street, Market Street, North Street, William Street and Buttercrane Quay.
Over the coming weeks Newry and Mourne Museum will produce a number of articles looking in more detail at the effects of the famine on the Newry and Mourne area. Articles will include, emigration, effects of famine in South Armagh, and local encumbered estates.
Newry and Mourne Museum will host a wide range of events for schools and for all those who are interested in learning more about this period in Irish history, one that altered Irish life completely; everything from economics, politics and culture was changed.
These events form part of an extensive programme of activities organised by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council for the 2015 Annual Famine Commemoration taking place on 26th September in Newry.