The Avondhu - By The Fireside
A ‘PROCLAIMED AREA’
“Had they weapons in their hands?
Did they come as robber bands? Nay without a word or frown They were slain at Mitchelstown.”
In March 1887 Arthur Balfour was appointed the Chief Secretary for Ireland, declaring “I shall be as restless as Cromwell in enforcing obedience to the law, but I shall be as any reformer in redressing grievances”. Before Balfour could introduce conciliatory legislation, law and order had to be established in the country, which in 1887 was in the midst of the Plan of Campaign.
“It was on the Kingston Estate that the effectiveness of the Crime Act relentlessness and the willingness of the tenants to accept the promised Land Act (redress) was first put to the test”.
By December 1886, the tenants on the Kingston Estate, Mitchelstown were demanding a further 20% reduction in rent. This was an impossible demand as far as Lady Kingston was concerned and perhaps she felt like singing:
‘Bad luck to you O’Brien and Dublin,
You’ve robbed me of all my Champagne,
Bad luck to you Healy you villain,
My curse on
The Kingston tenants massed under the banner of the Plan of Campaign and responded enthusiastically to the exhortations of the
Plan’s leaders – William O’Brien and John Dillon (both M.P.s) and John Mandeville of Clonkilla, Mitchelstown, director to the Plan of Campaign in the Mitchelstown area.
By late April 1887, boycotting had been brought into play on a ‘prodigious scale’. The headquarters of the Plan of Campaign was Maurice O’Sullivan’s Pub in Upper Cork Street, who like many others in the area threatened with eviction, had converted his house into “a standing fortification”. Committees were formed to watch the land agent. Mitchelstown was obviously a ‘Proclaimed area’.
William O’Brien paid a special visit to the estate in August 1887 when he delivered two speeches on August 9th and 11th to the Kingston tenants in the square in Mitchelstown. “I tell you that eviction will take place... be prepared to defend your houses”.
Incitement to resist evictions was a punishable offence under Balfour’s Criminal Law Amendment Bill – “Coercion’s Scar”, “and the Government could hardly have asked for a clearer case”. Accordingly, William O’Brien and John Mandeville were to appear at the Court House in Mitchelstown on September 9th, 1887 before two royal magistrates and Mr. Edward Carson (later leader of the Ulster Unionists) was to conduct proceedings on behalf of the Government.
“September 9th the day was fine, the year was ‘87
At a meeting grand we took our stand.”
Large crowds of people National League branches,
GAA clubs with hurling players assembled from all parts of the country around – Limerick, Tipperary, Cork - many with bands of music, many having tramped or driven up to 20 miles. They were in Mitchelstown to see Balfour’s Crime Act tested by a famous Parnellite (O’Brien) and by a local hero (Mandeville). Neither, as they had planned, appeared for trial.
Instead, a great protest meeting attended by John Dillon and several English radical M.P.s including Henry Labouchere, was held in that soon to be ‘historic square’. Two wagonettes were assembled at the top of the square for the visiting speakers. Mr. Dillon rose to speak. Just then, a commotion arose on the outskirts of the crowd of several thousand. A group of policemen headed by Head Constable Doherty, was trying to clear a passage to the speakers platform for the Governments’ customary note taker.
According to Higginbottom “the mission of this array of constables was misunderstood by many of the people”, who then turned to confront the policemen, but according to the official report “no attempt was made at this time to strike”. The people carried blackthorn sticks (a habit among local people according to Mr. Davitt) and hurleys (evidence of GAA involvement).
“Blackthorn sticks, they swept the square
Of ash plants too they got their fill (Hurler to his Ash)”.
Mr. T. Condon, M.P. shouted from the wagonette to the men at the back of the crowd “Stand firm, they are far enough”, meaning evidently that the government note taker was near enough to hear the speakers – as he was.
Order was restored, but no sooner had Mr. Dillon resumed his speech - “I ask you to pay no more attention to those men...” - when he was forced to stop again when the police made a second charge, having been called from the police barracks in close proximity to the square. They carried batons and rifles. Wielding ash plants, blackthorns and hurleys, the excited tenants “swept the police down the slope, making for the barracks’ as a flock of frightened sheep.” (Cork Examiner)
“And then they riddled down our ranks
With Balfours bloody lead”.
3 SHOT DEAD
Mr. Dillon attempted to maintain order, running towards the barracks. Even though only a few minutes had elapsed, County Inspector Brownrigg (‘reckless, infuriated person’ - Cork
Examiner) had failed to maintain control of his constables. They now began to appear at the upper windows of the barracks, thrusting their carbines through the small pane of glass and fired in the direction of the square. “A dastardly murderous revenge” (Cork Examiner) - many people had begun to move away.
“Peelers guns fired at our sons And three were found shot down”.
John Casey, a 17 year old from Mitchelstown had his hands in his pockets when he was hit on the opposite side of the street. Michael Lonergan a middle aged farmer from Galbally, Co. Limerick was shot by buckshot in the skull. He was 20 yards from the barrack. John Shinnick of Fermoy, who had that day refused to bring police to Mitchelstown, was hit by a ricochet while standing in the square, 90 yards from the barracks.
More police under the command of Captain Seagrave marched into the Square, who read the Riot Act and chased the speakers form the wagonette – shouting ‘Hunt the Dogs’. According to Higginbottom “the police were under no visible command”. The people who remained in the square were rapidly dispersed by their own leaders and the priests.
Lonergan died immediately. Bloodstains pointed to the places where Casey and Shinnick fell, their wounds would also prove fatal.
The Mitchelstown Inquest into the deaths dragged on until October 12th, 1887. The forceful Timothy Harrinton pitted against Edward Carson, who had the unpopular duty of defending the actions of the Mitchelstown police. A verdict of “wilful murder” was recorded against Brownrigg and five of his men, who as one newspaper account suggested, “mapped out the day’s slaughter”.
“And the word did sound all the world around
The immediate reaction to the Mitchelstown Massacre was facilitated by the presence in Mitchelstown of Fredrick J. Higginbottom of the Press Association in London, who flashed information worldwide.
“They (the Government) have meant to provoke to the shedding of blood” (The Daily News)
“The police who acted in self defence and under underexampled provocation” (TheTimes)
“”Constabulary set upon by the mob” (The Post)
“Bloodshed created... by the minions of the Government” (Cork Examiner)
The so called Mitchelstown Massacre had serious and significant repercussion.
“Our Plan of Campaign, it did not fail
We have our rights again”. Immediately, Lady Kingston abandoned the eviction campaign on her estate and the following year cancelled all proceeding and accepted the rents less 20%. This signalled the end for the Kingston Estate. By the Wyndham Act 1903, 23,000 acres were sold to the tenants, with the demesne and Mitchelstown Castle remaining with Lady Kingston.
“Here Mandeville’s memorial Martyred names I’m reading now”
Mandeville would soon join the ranks of the martyred. Imprisoned because of his defence of the “people of Mitchelstown’s inalienable right to public meeting and free speech”, he would die on July 8th, 1888 allegedly because of his treatment in Tullamore Jail. That 6,000 people marched at his funeral emphasised “the ease with which nationalistic prisoners became martyrs” (Curtis).
“For the Tories with all their campaign
Blood and their bluster amain”
This Mitchelstown Massacre earned Balfour the title ‘Bloody Balfour’. It was also at this time that Balfour came into contact with Edward Carson. Carson would remark that Mitchelstown “made” Balfour, in the sense that he showed he made no idle threats. “Coercion’s Scar” would be followed by “redress”, giving as he said a “heroic measure” in the Land Act of 1891.
This was the end of the tragic story as far as Ireland was concerned, but the Liberal Party in Britain did not let the matter rest and Mr. Gladstone’s famous slogan ‘Remember Mitchelstown’ was delivered from every Liberal platform for month’s afterwards, as a rallying cry in an attack upon ‘Bloody Balfour’s’ coercion policy in Ireland.
Yet, it is said that in this Mandeville dominated square: “The banshees wail
Oft told the tale