The 'Land Question' in Kilbrittain
Like many parts of the country, the West Cork area was gripped by the 'Land Question' of the late 1870’s and 1880’s. A branch of the National Land League was established in Kilbrittain in April 1884. A sizeable meeting was held which was attended by bands from Kinsale and Timoleague. Notable persons present included Mr. John Deasy M.P. and Fr. William Murpy PP who presided.
At the meeting resolutions were passed calling for National independence to be restored; for a system of ‘occupying ownership’; and hearty support was offered to the Irish Parliamentary Party and in particular its ‘gallant leader’ Mr. Parnell. Afterwards approximately 200 people were enrolled and the sum of £30 in subscriptions was collected and sent to the Head Office in Dublin by Treasurer Mr. John O’Hea.
Another large meeting was held in Kilbrittain in May 1886. On this occasion the gathering was in the open air and was a colourful event with no less than five bands in attendance. Fr Murphy PP gave a rousing speech at the meeting.
Of course evictions were a common feature of these times and the West Cork region saw its fair share. Often when farmers were evicted, the Land League would provide a small hut for temporary relief. In 1888, William Fahy, a tenant farmer from Barleyfield was evicted from the estate of John Sealy. To compound matters Fahy’s hut was later smashed up by the Landlord’s men. The reason that Sealy put forward was that he didn’t want Fahy to remain near the holding in case of repossession.
In cases of eviction, men who took over the land holdings were despised as ‘landgrabbers’. Intense political and peer pressure from the League and wider community would often prevent people from taking the holdings. Condemnations such as that expressed by the Kilbrittain branch of the League gives an idea of the feelings aroused - ‘landgrabbers in whose hearts the demon of greed must reign supreme’.
On other occasions acts of violence were carried out, sometimes fatal, by groups known as ‘moonlighters’ - usually by cover of darkness as the name suggests.
In 1890 Parnell was named in the O’Shea divorce case as the lover of Katherine O’Shea. Naturally this caused scandal in Victorian England and even more so in Ireland. The Catholic Church, many of whose individual clergy had actively supported Parnell, now turned against him. Practically every branch of the League followed the church’s lead. In Kilbrittain, in December 1890, the local branch decided that Parnell’s position as Chairman of the Parliamentary Party was untenable and would be ‘disastrous to the Irish cause’.
The split of the Parliamentary Party was followed by the tragic early death of Parnell - the ‘Uncrowned King of Ireland’ in 1891.
The details for this article are primarily from newspaper and other reports as recorded in the excellent book ‘The Morning Star’ by Michael Galvin. In fact the book covers the whole Mid-Cork and East Carbery area and also has interesting information on social, sporting and other topics.
Brendan Shiels, Nov-2004.
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