Rural unrest in northern Tipperary 1750 to 1850

In Tipperary, as in most of Ireland, Protestants were in the minority. The 1731 religious census showed 1627 Protestant families in Co. Tipperary and 16,465 Catholic. Of these Protestants at that date only seven or eight of the families would have the surname Grant, and all were living within 10 mile of Thurles.

The area centred on Cashel was an intense grazing area, with a simple social structure. You were either a landowner or a herdsman, there were few intermediate categories of tenants, so this region witnessed the sharpest and most direct conflict between the grazier & the smallholder

North Tipperary, that is north of the Keeper Mountains, in the early 18th cent was an area of improving communications and commercial agriculture. The small estates of the numerous, resident but financially precarious gentry contained both large & small farms. The Cromwellian land changes in the 1650's were the first time that the area had really come under English control. It was essentially pastoral and economically backward. New English settlers then set about clearing wood and bog.

Agrarian unrest first appeared around 1760. And essentially occupied the period until 1805 as a non political organisation responding to particular grievances by the lowest classes. After 1805 a more pronounced factionalism took over.

The agrarian movement in County Tipperary went under a number of different names over this period, of which Whiteboy is probably the best known. Whiteboys - 1761-65. Oakboys - 1763. Houghers - 1778-79. Rightboys - 1785-88. Defenders - 1795. Threshers - 1806-07. Caravat Whiteboys 1813-16. Ribbonmen 1819-20. Rockites - 1821-24. Giving way to a general Tithe War in the 1830's.

Although each was a separate movement, in Tipperary in particular , these agrarian movements occurred so often that they became a deep seated tradition. There was an agrarian revolt at least once every decade from 1760 to the famine in 1845.

The features of each tended to be

The Caravat oath was an example of a standard oath of allegiance and solidarity. A full recorded version is

"To be true to each other and our friends, to attend all meetings when warned, no cause to excuse absence but sickness, of which sufficient proof must be given, to keep all secrets, to suffer until death rather than betray each other or whatsoever may be seen or heard of our cause, and to stand by each other at all fairs and patrons"

Each movement had its own cause such as rent increases, a succession of bad harvests or a depression in agricultural prices. The raising of a militia in 1793 led to an increase in unpopular taxes and conscription. The anti militia riots in 1793 was a turning point , over 200 lives were lost - the establishment was more prepared to turn guns on the crowds, and the movements themselves were more prepared to risk a pitched battle with the authorities. 15000 men were recruited for the militia - conscription being compulsory, with names chosen by lot.

Overlaid on these reasons was the population explosion, which went from 2.5 million in 1753 to 4.4 million in 1791 and 8.2 million in 1841. Population growth was concentrated at the lower end of the class structure, and the result was that there was a rapid increase in the number of landless labourers and very small farmers

In addition there was the question of tithes - grass land was exempt, so only crops attracted tithes, in particular the small grower of potatoes (mainly Catholic) felt aggrieved in having to pay part of his crop in tithe to a Protestant clergyman - and in times of falling agricultural prices this grievance invariability led to an outbreak of violence somewhere in Ireland.

The early unrest was in the south of the county, Cashel/Clonmel/Clogheen, Mullinahone. Although an incident is recorded in Borrisoleigh in Feb. 1760 on the Damer estate - the cutting down of an orchard.

Protestant settlers were being recruited by landowners, for example the development of Dundrum by Maude from 1767 attracted Protestant settlers.

In 1768 at Newport a church rate of 4d per acre on Protestants and 2d per acre on Catholics was levied, for the purpose of furnishing a new Protestant church. The Catholics refused to pay them and beat back the church wardens attempting to distrain their goods.

In spite the physical maiming, the beating of tithe proctors, and the sending of threatening letters, there was only one case of agrarian murder in the 1760's. The peak year for violence being 1763.

The unrest in the 1770's shifted to be centred on Carrick. By then the Whiteboys started to enforce a levy on the better off farmers as protection money. And attacks became more violent. Grievances centred on the tithes to the Protestant church And a strategy of swearing whole parishes to pay only an agreed tithe proved vary effective. In 1774 there was resistance to the church rates reported in the Birdhill/Newport area where "thousands" of country people defied their imposition.

A typical Whiteboy "threatening notice"
complete with gun and coffin

The gentry formed The Volunteers to protect themselves. The origins date from 1776 with small groups joining together for mutual self defence against the Whiteboys. Three corps were founded in that year. The withdrawal of troops for the American colonies prompted 18 Volunteer corps were formed to be formed in 1779, and a further 2 in 1781. Each corps comprised 40 men drawn from the head tenantry or from friends of the colonel, and were mainly Protestant

As grievances became more concerned with the tithes, some middle class, minor gentry became involved. For example, a reported leader of the Rightboys in Borrisoleigh in the 1780's was a Samuel Middleton, a man with property and distilling interests.

By 1785/88 the building of turnpike roads and the associated loss of leases due to the building of these roads gave rise to further unrest, again mainly in the south of the county. Rightboy oaths were sworn to ensure secrecy & adherence to the groups aims. Newport is mentioned as one of the towns where oaths were sworn in 1786. The aim was to create an impossible situation and force the local clergyman to comply with Rightboy demands.

In June 1786 between 400 & 500 Whiteboys made the Catholic priest of Newport swear to accept only a prescribed amount for marriages and christenings. An 1786 was the peak year for violence in this bout of violence.

The violence of 1799 to 1803 was characterised by attacks on people rather than property. The bad harvest, the failure of the potato crop led to both labourers and tenants being displaced. New tenants were murdered, and intimidation used to regulate potato prices. 1799 & 1800 were difficult in Tipperary, with near famine conditions. Both 1800 and 1802 were particularly violent years.

In May 1800, the Long family at Drumbane, Moyaliffe were sworn to sell as much of their potato crop as possible to the people of the area, and not to feed it to their pigs.

March 1798 saw an upsurge in attack on the houses of the gentry to obtain arms, these took place in a wide arc from Newport to Templemore. The resulting arming of the peasantry meant there was an upsurge in serious violence. And two pitched battles were fought at Dundrum & Toberadora near Holy Cross in March 1798

The relations between the small farmer/labourer on the on hand , and the medium and large farmer on the other (plus such people as millers, shop keepers and publicans) became strained. It was the middle classes who were the immediate employers of the lower classes. They rented larger tracts of land from the big landlords, and sub let to the small farmer. Hence it was the middle class who controlled the poor. It was this that led to the factional fighting in the early 1800's.

From 1806 to 1811 the Shanavest and Caravat conflict raged across large area of Tipperary, Waterford, Kilkenny, Limerick and Cork.. Its violence was unprecedented. Clashes between the two groups involved firearms and frequent deaths. This was factional fighting rather than anti establishment.

The Caravats were primarily a Whiteboy organisation, who recruited the poor in autonomous local gangs. They displayed intense hostility to the middle class as a whole, and not just particular offenders against their laws

The Shanavests were an entirely new middle class anti-Whiteboy movement. They used Irish nationalism as their standard bearer, they condemned the Whiteboys as anti-nationalist

Between 1802 and 1805 there had been a major Whiteboy outbreak in south east Tipperary. The usual attack would be made by a dozen armed men at night on the victims home. Beatings or even death would be handed out. Most of the victims were Catholic farmers, usually for the offence of taking land over the heads of the occupying tenants at the end of a lease.

Various Whiteboy gangs came to form a loose federation called the Moyle Rangers, co-ordinating their activities, under the leadership of Caravat Hanley. When Hanley was executed in 1805 the violence disappeared for about a year, returning in September 1806. A new Whiteboy oath was being widely taken in an area from East Limerick through south Tipperary to Waterford. The heartland of the new movement in Tipperary was the baronies of Middlethird, Slievardagh, and Iffa & Offa.

There were several distinct sub-regions. The old Moyne Rangers territory, centred on the towns of Clonmel, Fethard and Cashel, as well as the smaller towns of Ardfinnan and Mullinahone. But by mid 1808 its had also spread north to the colliery district round Killenaule and Ballingarry , and south west to Cogheen. There were also distinct gangs based on the villages of Newinn & Clerahan near Clonmel. And at Ardmayle near Cashel. Their raids spread north, for example a group of 150 Caravats from Newinn & Clonmel were surprised by soldiers near Holycross in 1810.

The Shanavests inhabited the same sort of geographic area as the Caravats, but were smaller in number, and tended to loose out in the faction fights between the two. By late 1810 Tipperary Caravat raiders had touched Killaloe on the Clare side of the Shannon.

A second group existed from the start in east Limerick/west Tipperary/North Cork. In west Tipperary both movements were found round Bansa and Cappaghwhite from 1806, with faction fighting in the Golden/Drundrum area in 1807, and in 1809/10 both movements spread to the Newport/Killaloe district. In Limerick there is mention of a group in the Pallas/Kilteedy/Knocklong/Caherconlish area. There was an upsurge in Whiteboyism and factional fighting in east Limerick as far west as Croom

There are several references to Whiteboys called The Blue Belt Boys in the area of Newport/Golden/Doneraile/Kilteely. And a group calling themselves The Liberty Rangers in the Tipperary Town/Cappaghwhite area were believed to be Shanavests. Between 1809 and 1811 the two factions had penetrated north Tipperary There were a variety of colourful names used by local groups, The Black Hens and the Magpies operated round Borrisoleigh.

One can consider an area of North Tipperary, Kings Co. panhandle, Mountshannon, and part of Limerick as being the North Tipperary Social Region. It is a geographical entity, separated from surrounding areas by major topographical features. By 1820 the Protestant population of Tipperary was concentrated in Northern Tipperary, except for the towns of the southern part of the county. The Irish language had disappeared from the region by 1820.

In the early 19th century, the Keeper Range of mountains which mark the southern edge of this region were wild tracts of land forming a barrier more formidable than their comparatively low height would suggest. Only in 1830 was a road constructed for the fist time between Newport and Thurles. The area is considered to be bounded by the Shannon, and the sweep of hills to the east. To the north east, beyond Birr, the land deteriorates into bog, merging eventually into the Bog of Allen.

The original Protestant colonisation shown by the Cromwellian poll-tax and hearth money returns was on the lower Shanonside lands between in a triangle Killaloe & Newport & Nenagh. But this concentration did not last. Newport's 115 Protestant families of 1766 did not grow in the 1831 figures

The parliamentary religious returns of 1831 show a Protestant population of the region of 17,000 out of a total of some 200,000. Or 8.5%. At parish level one finds clustering of Protestants as high as 25% in some parishes. The heartland of the Protestant settlement was the Borrisokane/Modreeny /Shinrone/Kilmurreyely parishes which had more than 20% Protestants.

Most of the villages existing in the early 18th century were built by the new landlords. Among the oldest an most important are Cloughjordan & Borrisokane, neither of which was present at the time of the Civil Survey of 1654, but were built in the late 17th century by the Cromwellian grantees

A few landowners had very large land holdings like the Dunally estate in Cloughjordan was over 18000 acres by 1876. The larger landowners tended to sublet to large, mainly Protestant farmers at low fixed rents. It was these middlemen who drove up rents by subletting at a time when the population growth was increasing the demand for land. Usually the middlemen tried to recruit Protestant subtenants.

The most important town established in the region at that time was Templemore, built by the Carden family in the 1780's. The population increased from 412 (of which 83 were Protestant) in 1766 to a total population of 5218 by 1831 (of which 12% were Protestant in 1831, a large Protestant centre )

Most of the Protestant colonies in the region grew from internal migration from within the area, rather than attracting people from further afield in Ireland or from England. This was how the Grant families came to be living round Shinrone from 1800.

Tipperary was the most easterly of the counties whose population continued to grow quickly up to the eve of the famine. The demand for land, and social disturbances in the county, encouraged early migration by those financially able to do so. The Catholic population was growing faster than the Protestant population in North Tipperary, and this added a sense of insecurity to the Protestants. In rough terms the Catholic population was growing twice a fast. This meant that the Protestants, as a proportion of the population, were falling fast. For example from 15% to 6% between 1766 and 1831 in Nenagh, and from 26% to 13% in Ballingarry.

A riot and the ensuing trial in Borrisokane in 1829 encouraged Protestants to emigrate from that parish. Protestant worries were further increased by Daniel O'Connell's popular agitation for Catholic right to sit in parliament in the 1820's

The particular economic circumstances of North Tipperary, where the resident gentry were of moderate means, with small estates, meant that uncertainty of rents forced many to seek economic survival by enlarging their demesne farms and hence converting arable to more profitable pastoral use. The knock on effect of this was to drive tenants and labours from the land. The need for agricultural labours was fully supplied by about 1820, and no jobs existed in the towns, as there were few local towns and virtually no manufacturing industry.

The small and middling farmers were caught in the middle of an increasingly polarised society. The paucity of prospects for their children in Ireland, short of subdividing already borderline viable farms, caused many to sell up and emigrate, particularly to Canada. The net effect was that the small middle class withered away, leaving North Tipperary even more polarised. The endemic disturbances that hounded the area in the second quarter of the 19th century were a result of this polarisation, and were a further cause of emigration by small farmers.

In 1812 a report by Wakefield stated that the agricultural practices in the area were good in comparison with other districts. Turnips were the mainstay of agricultural promoters round Roscrea.

But by 1846 the Parliamentary Gazetteer singled out Tipperary as a country where the ruinous system of conacre was prevalent. , and rents were said to be the highest in Ireland outside Dublin.

In the 1770's Young reported that North Tipperary was mainly pasture, and that only one acre in fifteen was tilled. The tillage area had nevertheless doubled since 1750. In 1801 a description of King's County by Coote states that the lowland farms were mainly sheep, and that the emphasis of larger farmers was still on grazing, but there was a move towards growing grain due to the increasing grain prices brought about by the Napoleonic Wars. These high grain prices were an incentive to conversion to tillage, and to early marriage due to rural prosperity.

In 1815, The end of the wars brought a fall in grain prices, and many small farmers were ruined. An abundance of lime & limestone gravel in the neighbourhood had enabled a continuous cropping of wheat and potatoes without fallow, and most land was by now tillage. Over 90% of all farms were below 50 acres, with some 60% below 10 acres.

By around 1830 it was getting to a point when further subdivision of land holdings was virtually impossible with out reducing the occupiers to poverty. In 1801 the term of a new rental agreement was 21 years or one life, but as the pressures of population were applied, shorter leases became the norm by 1820, and by 1844 annual tenancies were standard.

By 1840 the need for the impoverished minor gentry to eject tenants as they reverted their land to demesne pasture made Tipperary the second worst county in Ireland for ejections.

Borrisoleigh is described as a traditional centre of unrest with faction fighting at this time.

The region was primarily rural. Only three towns had populations over 5000 in 1821 - Nenagh, Birr and Roscrea. Templemore had just under 3000, and six smaller towns had a population of around 1000 - Shinrone, Cloughjordan, Borrisokane, Newport, Killaloe, Borrisoliegh. Only 8 more villages were noted in the census, with population in the region of 200 each. In total only about 25% of the population in 1821 lived in a town/village, these towns had virtually no manufacturing industry, and hence were solely service centres for the agriculture. A crisis in agriculture was felt in the towns.

The net result of all the pressures was that the larger farmers survived by converting to pasturage, and ejecting the existing tenants, the small farmers with some money emigrated, leaving the landless labourers without hope of employment. This inevitably led to the disturbances and rural outrages that typified North Tipperary in the 1840's more than any other part of Ireland.

The 800 Protestant families emigrating from the area to Canada over the period 1818 to 1860 was equivalent to about 25% of the Protestant population of the area in 1831.

The largest outflow of Protestant emigrants in a five year period were in the years 1830/34. Catholic emancipation in 1829 had no doubt led to this.

Modreeny parish was a particularly large exporter of Protestants to Canada, of 775 Protestant families in the region identified by Elliott, about 100 came from Modreeny. After the mid 1850's Protestant emigration from North Tipperary to Canada fell, and the direction changed to Australia and New Zealand.

In most parishes the effect of the famine was to reduce population by about one third between 1841 and 1851 from death & emigration.

The endemic rural violence from the early 1840's continued throughout the famine in the area. It was caused by the increase in evictions following the famine, a cause that had behind the earlier unrest.

Many of the minor gentry had been in debt even before the famine, and tried to reduce their poor law rates by evicting tenants and levelling the houses. In 1847 the eviction rate was the highest in Ireland for Tipperary - 7.9% of the population evicted in that year alone.

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