The Tithe War
Retired National Teacher, Goresbridge
Previously published in the 1993/1994 edition
of Carloviana pages 4 - 10
with the passage of more than a century and a half, the
application of the term "Tithe War" to the period 1831-1838
is still emotive. One might argue against the word "War"
implying a physical force movement with planned campaigns
and central direction. "Anti-tithe movement" would be a more
The tithe system whereby a tenth (or tithe) of the annual
produce of land went to the maintenance of church or clergy,
had a long history dating from Pre-Christian times. In
Genesis 14-17 we read that Abraham gave a tenth of the
spoils of war to the priest Melchisedec. After the building
of the temple, the Israelites contributed for its upkeep and
the upkeep of the priesthood. A similar tax was paid by
Roman citizens. When Christianity became the official
religion of the Roman Empire, it inherited the system.
In Ireland, tithes were not introduced until the Synod of
Cashel in 1171, and then were confined mainly to areas under
In theory, the revenue from tithe divided into four parts
one for the upkeep of the clergyman, another for Poor
Relief, a third for Church Maintenance and Education and the
fourth for the Bishop.
Exclusive property of the clergy
Practice did not follow theory, and by the 18th century, the
tithe had become the exclusive property of the clergy. From
Tudor times on, the Church of Ireland became the established
church and consequently, the Tithe revenue went to the
upkeep of the clergy of that church.
Opposition to the payment of tithes had been a feature of
every outbreak of agrarian disorder from the 18th century
onwards, but this-was directed more to excessive tithes than
to the parishes.
The opposition was a compound of religious and economic
objections. Catholics, Presbyterians, Quakers, Methodists
and other non-Anglicans considered having to contribute to
the maintenance of a Church of which they were not members.
This factor aggravated the basic economic objections on
which opposition to tithes was chiefly based.
Tithe was a tax on the produce of land and in the case of
non-Anglicans, a tax for which there was no return.
Moreover, prior to 1825, tithes were levied exclusively on
tillage land, as pasture had been exempt by the Agistment
Act of 1735. This meant that the burden fell heavily on the
cultivators of small tillage plots, while large graziers
enjoyed something like complete immunity. Patrick Kennedy of
Rathmeaden, Co. Waterford, father of the Graigue abductees,
was a typical example of the wealthy grazier. He was able to
£2,000 to each of his daughters. (1870).
The methods by which tithes were assessed and collected
caused considerable friction. Payments might be made:
1. In kind
one tenth of the actual crop this was discontinued in
2. By a fixed annual money payment, or
3. By an estimate or "view" of the value of the growing
crop, made by the tithe to his proctors. The crops liable
for tithe varied from region to region.
In some Leinster and Ulster counties, potatoes were non-titheable.
In Galway, the same was true of hay, but corn and sheep were
liable. In Munster, potatoes, milk, eggs and domestic fowl
The report by Rev. Edward Bayly, Rector of Grange Sylvia
(Goresbridge) in Shaw Mason's "Parochial Survey of Ireland"
1814, states, "The titheable article is principally corn
which is the staple commodity of this county. Tithes are
for hay but not proportionately smaller quantity and also
Legally tithes were a first charge on income which meant
they took precedence of rent or any other financial
Some rectors leased the tithes to tithe-farmers (investors)
who naturally squeezed the last ounce of profit from their
investment. Others appointed Proctors to collect the levies.
As these and the valuators were paid on commission,
inflating the liability was in most cases an irresistible
As might be expected, valuators and proctors were highly
unpopular. "Any but respectable" was the general description
of those who undertook the office. A Co. Meath Rector of a
Kilkenny family, Rev. H. R. Langrishe, observed: "I myself
tried to get a man of character and I have found it
impossible to get any man of proper description to act as a
tithe proctor or as a valuer. I have had Protestants and
Roman Catholics and found them all, one as bad as the other
and not to be trusted."
An enormous variation existed in the incomes of the clergy.
Parishes were held by pluralists who held more lucrative
living elsewhere. A curate administered the parish and was
obliged to transmit the rector's share of the revenue to the
absentee before the curate was entitled to a penny. In some
parishes, the tithes went in whole or in part to some lay
proprietor, e.g. Slyguff, Doneraile. Many clergy lived in
straitened circumstances, others in affluence. Few were
busy. Parishes without congregations were not unknown
Ref: St. Mullins, Laracor.
Resistance to level of priests' dues
While the resentment against the tithes is known, it is well
to remember that a strong resistance to
level of priests' dues also existed and the regulation of these
was a plank in the programmes of agrarian secret societies
such as Whiteboys, Thrashers etc. An argument against the
abolition of tithes was that if this were done the priests
would raise their own dues leaving the people no better off.
Even defenders of the tithe
principle felt a need to make changes in the system.
Accordingly in 1823
A Tithe Composition Act was passed. This provided that
special vestries should negotiate a composition for Tithes
for the entire parish with the Tithe owners. For each side
would appoint a commissioner and these would fix a sum for
the entire parish and for each payer in it.
Tithe Applotment Books registered and recorded the results.
The exact sum might be reached by simple agreement or
alternatively be based on: either the average tithe
payments, or the average corn prices, between 1814 and 1821,
with a further provision for revision after 7 years. A
Further Act of 1824 abolished the exemption of pasture.
Although the new arrangement reduced rectors' incomes, there
was compensation in the fact that it was now definitely
fixed and easier to collect. The small and medium sized
farmer gained in having a reduced liability but the large
farmer was now swept into the net and lost out.
It was this group that provided the cutting edge of the Anti
Anti-climax and dissatisfaction
The campaign for Catholic Emancipation caused intense
excitement in the years leading up to 1829. Like all such
political campaigns, the movement raised expectations far
beyond the aims or even desires of those who headed the
movement. The mass of people saw Emancipation as a token of
complete reorganisation of society, bringing direct
better wages, regular employment, lower rents talamh gan
chios abundant potato ground and an end to evictions. When
these benefits did not materialise, a feeling of anti-climax
and dissatisfaction was widespread, particularly among the
A priest writing in 1832 recalled "I heard their
conversations when they say What good did Emancipation do
are we or our children better clothed or fed?"
A leader of the Whitefeet in Co. Kilkenny remarked to a
French traveller: "Emancipation has done nothing for us. Mr.
O'Connell and the rich Catholics go to parliament. We die of
starvation just the same."
The Emancipation campaign had given the wealthy Catholics
experience of organisation and had created a very efficient
political machine. This experience they were now ready to
The decade from 1820 to 1830 was one of considerable fall in
agricultural prices. Due to the Post-Napoleonic war slump,
the average price for grain fell by almost 25% and cattle
prices showed an even greater drop. Milking cows, which sold
from 14 to 16 guineas in 1820 realised only between
£6 and £8 in 1830.
Landlords generally considered the circumstances of 1830
merited an easing of the farmers' burden and allowed rent
abatements. Naturally the farmers considered they were
entitled to the same indulgence from the clergy. First in
Kilkenny and then in the surrounding counties deputations
approached rectors demanding reductions. Usually the
spokesmen were persons of standing from outside the parish.
The invariable reply was a refusal on the grounds that
through Composition, the clergy had already taken
substantial cuts. The Tithe payers' response was a decision
to completely refuse payments.
Matters came to a head in Graignamanagh where two turbulent
priests clashed. One was a Protestant curate, Rev. Luke
Gardiner McDonnell, and the other the Very Rev. Martin Doyle
PP. The rector of Graignamanagh was Rev. Geo. Alcock, a
benevolent man much admired in the parish. He was 69 years
old and in poor health, so the management of the parochial
affairs was entrusted to the curate. Rev. McDonnell acted as
tithe agent and also a magistrate. As such it was illegal
for him to act as tithe agent.
An official report described McDonnell as a hot-headed and
violent man. His lack of judgement and tact was exceptional
and his conduct on the bench as a magistrate was such that
his fellow magistrates refused to sit with him.
He was a member of the New Reformation Movements; a burst of
evangelical enthusiasm which aimed at the conversation of
the Irish peasantry. Its approach consisted of mainly crude
attacks on the people's beliefs, so religious rancour was
added to an already overcharged situation. McDonnell's
activities went a long way to helping his Catholic tithe
payers to start the opposition (census for Graignamanagh
4,779 Catholics and 63 Protestants).
On the other side of the equation was the parish priest, Fr.
Martin Doyle (1777). A native of Ballinvegga, New Ross, he
was the first cousin of the Bishop James Warren Doyle (J.K.L.)
a situation which he was always ready to use
or abuse to his own advantage.
He was appointed P.P. Clonegal in 1818 and while there,
built the present parish church. His parishioners' protests
to the Bishop against what they considered his exorbitant
financial extractions and intolerable autocratic behaviour
led to his transfer to Graignamanagh in 1827
after the Tithe Composition had been agreed. An official
memorandum describes him as: "a stout active man, about 55
years of age, clever, ingenious and intriguing, and who has
proved himself to be capable of doing some good or a great
deal of mischief."
Supporter of law and order
A committed loyalist and a strong supporter of law and
order, his ministry in Clonegal was characterised by his
antipathy to popular violence. In 1821 he received the
thanks of the Grand Jury of Carlow for his exertions in
promoting the peace of the country and especially for
bringing the Finnegan gang to justice, and on his transfer
to Graignamanagh was presented with a complimentary address
from the Protestant clergy and gentry.
Initially unpopular in
Graignamanagh "because of raising his dues and his
overbearing manner," he gradually acquired great power over
his flock. In 1830 he began a career of land speculation
with the leasing of 40 acres in Raheendonore
a large holding in a parish where the average size of
holdings was 14 acres. By 1850 he occupied 475 acres scattered over a number of townslands.
He paid both the rent and the tithe for the first half year,
but he then took advantage of a clause in the Tithe
Composition Acts which in the case of new leases authorised
the tenant to pay the tithe and deduct the amount from the
landlord's rent. Fr. Doyle withheld the amount but did not
pay the tithe. The farmer complained to the bishop, who
admonished his cousin but without effect.
Would caution every parish
By this time, most compositions entered into an early stage
were felt to be excessive and at an anti-tithe meeting in
1831, Fr. Doyle declared his opposition to tithe
compositions telling his audience "he would caution every
parish that has not yet the misfortune of coming under it,
to beware and that it would never be adapted in Powerstown,
the official name of Skeaghvosteen parish, as Sir Nicholas
Loftus would not consent to it,, nor would he." Fr. Doyle
had clearly decided to make common cause with the landlords
and large farmers.
The family of Doyle were originally landed gentry settled in
the neighbourhood of Arklow. H. H. Doyle forfeited during
Cromwell's Plantation. His son James, claiming by "an old
though dormant title," made an unsuccessful attempt to
recover, but he obtained a perpetual lease of Kilcumney from
The ancestor of Bishop James Warren Doyle and of Fr. Doyle
became a leasehold tenant in the neighbourhood of New Ross.
The son of James, William Doyle of Clonmoney, left a son
Charles, a lawyer. Charles conformed to the Church of
Ireland in 1762. He married a daughter of the Rev. Nicholas
Milley of Jeanville, and became agent to Lord Clifden. He
resided in Bramblestown.
His son William became Master in Chancery in Ireland. He had
the elder became Gen. Sir Charles Doyle and the younger
Col. Ellis Doyle, died in 1797, as Commander-in -Chief in
Ceylon. His widow, Frances Ramsford, later married Prince
Joseph of Monaco.
The bishop maintained
friendly relations with his Protestant cousins. Both he and Fr.
Doyle would consider themselves, if not gentry, at least of
gentry stock, and their social outlook was conditioned
James Warren Doyle (1786-1834) was born in New Ross. He
joined the Augustinian Order and was sent to Coimbra in
Portugal. He left the college to serve with Wellington's
army as interpreter and intelligence officer. He returned to
college and was ordained in 1809. Four years later, he was
appointed professor in Carlow College and was appointed
bishop of Kildare and Leighlin in 1819. A highly
intellectual man, and an able writer, his letters on public
affairs, such as "An Indication of the Irish Catholics,"
"Letters on the State of Ireland" exerted a tremendous
influence on English public opinion and created a climate
favourable to Emancipation. These letters appeared over the
initials J.K.L. i.e. James, Kildare and Leighlin and by
these initials he is known in history. He gave valuable
evidence before Parliamentary Commissions on Ireland 1825-32
and was one of the most influential members of the hierarchy
of the time.
He was highly respected as a pastoral reformer and was
universally regarded as an ecclesiastical statesman rather
than a political priest. His political outlook was Unionist
and his views on social affairs conservative. His writings
are universally admired for their erudition and "the
irresistible might of his argument." He effected many
ecclesiastical reforms. A stern disciplinarian, he was
respected rather than loved.
By long-established custom, tithes were not levied on the
small holdings attached to Catholic parochial houses. Fr.
Doyle maintained the indulgence should extend to his forty
acre farm. Rev McDonnell responded by seizing the priest's
horse, an action which had explosive results. Meetings were
held demanding "an abatement of tithe as will enable them to
pay it cheerfully." The demand was refused and a committee
was formed under the chairmanship of John Doyle of Coolroe.
John Doyle held a lease of 900 acres of which he farmed 80
acres and sublet the remainder into 43 divisions. A levy of
1p per acre to defray expenses was agreed.
The movement spread rapidly through Kilkenny, Carlow, Laois
and Wexford and monster meetings were held. Two thousand
people attended one of these in Ullard. 100,000 people, of
whom 20,000 were on horseback attended a meeting in
Ballyhale. As well as from Kilkenny, contingents from
Tipperary, Waterford, Wexford and Carlow attended. Chairman
of the meeting was a Protestant landlord, Col. Sir Pierce
Butler, deputy lieutenant for Kilkenny. The Callan
schoolmaster and diarist Humphrey O'Sullivan, who addressed
the people in Irish, records the event in his diary.
Famous as boycotting
A meeting in Bennettsbridge was attended by a Dublin lawyer,
Patrick Costello. Costello advised a course of action which
in the Land League days became famous as boycotting. He
advised keeping within the law, offering no active
resistance, attending forced sales but making no bids.
Meanwhile, Sir John Harvey, Inspector General of Police for
Leinster, moved in force against the parish of
Graignamanagh. About 400 policemen supported by militia,
took up positions in Graignamanagh and surrounding towns
Borris, Goresbridge, Gowran and Powerstown.
But the farmers had been well prepared. Sentinels with
hunting horns were posted at vantage points on high ground
around the town so that any hostile movement out of it was
easily spotted. The law did not allow the seizure of stock
in houses nor at night: so as soon as the approaching band
of police, military, magistrates and bailiffs was espied all
stocks were locked up and not let out to graze until night.
The effort to collect was a failure. Considerable loss of
face to the authorities resulted and a precedent was set
which did not go unnoticed elsewhere. Tithes were withheld
and where goods were seized in default, no buyers offered
Magistrates used their
powers to suppress anti-tithe meetings but these continued
organised under the guise of hurling matches. The ruse was
not always successful, as witness in "The Carlow Sentinel"
23 Feb 1833.
"A large concourse of persons from The Ridge of Old
Leighlin, Graig, Castlewarren, Powers-town, Paulstown and
Ullard, assembled on the lands of Thos. Bookey, Esq Doninga,
on Sunday last under a pretence of deciding a hurling match.
On hearing of the intended meeting, W. Molloy Esq. R. M. and
a party of police proceeded to the spot and had great
difficulty in preventing the mob from attacking the houses
in the neighbourhood. His force was insufficient to disperse
them but he succeeded in arresting two of the ringleaders
who live in the lands of Castlewarren."
Rallying cry of tithe opposers
The Anti-Tithe movement received big boosts in 1831. One was
a letter from Dr. Doyle (J.K.L.) to Thomas Spring Rice in
which Dr. Doyle declared that as the Tithe Revenue was not
divided as required by law, payment of tithes was neither
moral nor legally binding a statement which tended to ease
any conscientious scruples some may have had. One passage in
the letter was to become the rallying cry of the tithe
opposers: "An innate love of justice and of indomitable
hatred of oppression is like a gem on the front of our
nation which no darkness can obscure. To this firm reality I
trace their hatred of tithe. May it be as lasting as their
love of justice."
What started as an axe-tax campaign, was fast assuming the
mantle of a sacred cause.
The attitude of the Catholic clergy was mixed. The P.P. of
Bennettsbridge, Fr. Kavanagh, tore down a church gate notice
announcing "a hurling match on the same principles as the
The P.P. of Fermoy Fr. Timothy Murphy, later to become
bishop of Cloyne and Ross, wrote to his bishop, "You know,
my Lord, while in college I flatter myself that I was
neither radical nor revolutionary. I haven't ever been
hostile to large aggregations or the giddy populace and have
at all times been strenuously opposed to the formation of
these unwieldy popular masses over which reason, wisdom and
even religion but have slender influence." stated opinion of
the local anti-tithe agitators was "visionary declaimers,"
"village spouters" and "eloquent nobodies."
The second thrust was tragic but it provided the movement
On June 18th 1831, cattle distrained for tithes by the Rev.
Alexander McClintock, rector of Newtownbarry (now Bunclody)
were being sold by auction. The Yeomanry, disbanded after
1798, were re-established in 1831 against the advice of
O'Connell, who described them as "inefficient for good, but
ever strong for mischief." From this force, 150 men,
including a contingent from Myshall, were drafted into the
town. Nobody bid at the sale and in the meantime the cattle
wandered off, or according to some reports, were rescued. A
detachment of police and yeomanry were dispatched to return
them to the town. On their way back, a crowd gathered,
stones started to fly and a detachment of yeomanry opened
fire. Fourteen people, including a married woman and two
boys (one the son of a yeoman) were shot dead. The confusion
was such that one yeoman was shot dead by his comrades.
Encouraged crusade against tithes
Dr. Doyle then issued a letter to the press which was bound
to rouse and encourage a crusade against tithes. To the
statements that tithes were right sanctioned by law, he
replied that so also was slavery. Submission to the law was
a duty but there was a wide difference between that
submission and acquiescence in injustice. About those who
attacked the tithe registers, the bishop used strong
language, calling them "murderers" and "revilers".
A wave of protest meetings followed. Petitions to parliament
were presented, subscription funds raised and a great outcry
started in the popular press. The trials of two Kilkenny
farmers, Patrick Blanchfield and Anthony Byrne from Clara,
for their part in the meetings of "hurlers," helped to keep
excitement at fever pitch. When £50 fines and a year's
imprisonment was meted out to them, popular opinion was
In this heady atmosphere, the passive resistance aspect
became progressively eroded. Proctors began to suffer
violence and some were murdered. Fatal collisions between
police and registers occurred but the most serious conflict
occurred at Carrickshock in Co. Kilkenny.
The rector of Knocktopher, Dr. Hans Hamilton, was well liked
in the parish although his tithes were high and regularly
extracted. His father was appointed Bishop of Ossory in 1799
having been translated from Clogher. The bishop was a highly
intelligent man, an outstanding theologian and an eminent
mathematician. He was a founder member of The Royal Irish
Tithes amounted to £1,750
Knocktopher was a plum parish. Dr. Hamilton's tithes after
Composition amounted to £1,750. He employed two curates
one at a salary of £200 p.a. the other on a lower scale at
In January 1831, a meeting took place between Dr. Hamilton
and twelve farmers. With Dr. Hamilton, was Col. Harvey and a
magistrate, Joseph Greene. The deputation demanded a
reduction of 25% which was refused by Dr. Hamilton. Col.
Harvey and Mr. Greene both tried to arrange a compromise but
without success. The deputation then withdrew, declaring no
tithe would be paid. The failure threw the initiative into
the hands of the extreme party in the parish, and leading
spirits of which were a local farmer, James Treacy, Fr.
Magennis, a Carmelite friar from Knocktopher and the
schoolmaster, from Ballyhale Wm. Keane. Keane, a native of
South Kilkenny had been an anti-tithe activist since his
arrival from Goresbridge where he had previously taught.
When no tithes were paid, Dr. Hamilton called on Col.
Harvey, to take strong measures. Col. Harvey was reluctant
to move, so Dr. Hamilton applied to Dublin Castle who
advised that legal action be taken. In November, processes
were issued and Dr. Hamilton employed a proctor named Edmund
serve them. Butler, a butcher by trade, was a foulmouthed,
offensive bully and thoroughly obnoxious to the people.
On December 12th, Butler began his work. For his protection,
a force of 50 policemen under the command of Capt. Jas.
Gibbons, accompanied him. Gibbons had served in the
Peninsular War at Waterloo. In June 1829, he was severely
beaten and had several ribs broken while assisting to quell
a riot at Carrick-on-Suir.
The first day passed off quietly enough. The people adopted
the familiar tactic of locking up stock and vacating the
dwellings. Treacy sent out messengers carrying instructions
to assemble for a football match at Kilcurl near Knocktopher.
On the following evening, the police force was 'halted by a
large crowd as it returned. Keane, wearing a sash and a
military cap, stepped out in front of the force and told
them, "Things passed off quietly today and yesterday but
they won't pass off so quietly tomorrow so we warn you in
On the following morning, December 14th, Gibbons, Butler
and the police escort left Kilmoganny police barracks for
Newmarket, and from there continued to Hugginstown. In all
three places, the church bells were rung and crowds soon
gathered. Leaving Hugginstown, the police left the road and
continued up a lane Boithrin na gCloch, to the house of
Dick (Waterford) Walsh where Butler succeeded in serving a
process by pushing it under the door. They found their
return blocked by a large crowd armed with a variety of
weapons under the direction of Keane, still wearing his sash
Road blocked by crowd
Gibbons gave the order to load and they wheeled about to
make for Knocktopher but found the road was blocked by the
crowd led by Treacy from the football match. The surrender
of Butler was demanded but Gibbons, seeing a side-lane
leading to an open space containing a cowpond known as Sean
na mBan's Lough, led his force into it. Treacy, realising
they would lose the advantage if the police reached the open
space determined to bring matters to a head here. He sprang
in among the police, seized Butler by the coat-collar and
dragged him outside.
Gibbons drew his pistol and shot Treacy dead, whereupon Kane
launched the attack. A thrown stone unhorsed Gibbons and he
was then killed by a blow from a maul. The police fired the
flintlocks but so close were the police that only two men
were killed. The guns were wrestled from them and in a few
minutes 12 policemen and the proctor Butler, were dead. The
survivors, many of them wounded, fled in all directions.
Dr. Hamilton, accompanied by his daughter, left Knocktopher
that evening, never to return. He appointed a curate and
passed the remainder of his life in London.
Following the affair, a sweep of the area was made by police
and military and twelve people were arrested. Keane went on
the run and eventually escaped to
America from Waterford on one of Lady Esmond's ships.
Widespread collections for the defence of prisoners were
made in Kilkenny and adjoining counties. Two of the
Carmelite Friars from Knocktopher were prominent among the
collectors as was also John Smithwick, a landlord and the
head of the brewing family, and £1,000 was raised.
At the time considerable reluctance to returning convictions
in capital cases or even to serving on juries, existed as a
result of recent notorious miscarriages of justice.
(1) In the Doneraile Conspiracy Case of 1829, 21 people were
arrested on a charge of conspiracy to murder 3 landlords.
The first 4 were found guilty and executed. But, on the very
same evidence, the remainder, when defended by O'Connell
were acquitted. Marjorie Bowen the novelist, whose family
were landlords in nearby Bowenscourt, Kildorrery, considered
the conspiracy theory was a panic reaction by the gentry to
a local outbreak of ordinary crime.
Hanged on evidence of children
(2) Two years later at Catslepook in the same parish two
tithe proctors, collecting tithes for a tithe farmer in
Youghal were murdered. A number of arrests were made and
four people were convicted and hanged on the sole evidence
of two children, one aged ten and the other eleven years of
age. Four others were later sentenced but the government
took the usual course allowing those out on continuing bail
and ordering the release of the remainder.
(3) In 1830, a Catholic Landlord in Galmoy, Co. Kilkenny
named Marum, a brother of the then bishop of Ossory evicted
a Protestant tenant and gave the farm to a Catholic. He was
shot by the Whiteboys following his ignoring a demand to
reinstate the evicted tenant. Six young men, five of whom
were widely believed not alone to have had no part in the
affair, but even had no knowledge of it were convicted of
the crime and hanged at Shanrath in March 1831.
The trials of the Carrickshock defendants took place the
following July, with O'Connell appearing for the defence. A
lady named Catherine Danagher, age 20, a native of
Hugginstown, reputedly of easy virtue, was the girlfriend of
Thomas Keegan, a local policeman. She was present at
Carrickshock and known to have made statements identifying
people present. It was conveyed to her that discretion might
be advisable, and she agreed to emigrate. A passage to
Newfoundland, in the name of Mary Ryan, was booked on a ship
out of Waterford. She was given £40 from the defence fund
and accompanied by two men and a woman, taken to Waterford
and put on board the ship as it was about to sail. Apart
from the police, the crown were now unable to procure any
independent witness for the prosecution. Good homework by
the defence gave O'Connell an opportunity to use with effect
his favourite tactic of impeaching witnesses and destroying
There were four separate trials, on each occasions the jury
refused to convict. The release of the prisoners met with
wide rejoicing and was a serious blow to the authorities.
Humphrey O'Sullivan records the verdict in his diary and
lists the bonfires that illuminated every hill not alone in
Kilkenny but in Wexford, Carlow, Laois, Waterford and
Tipperary, in celebration.
Carrickshock was a critical incident, but not the final one
in the "War."
Clashes on a lesser scale
From then on, tithe owners were reluctant to promote another
carnage and began to act with more discretion and
sensitivity, but clashes on a lesser scale continued. The
Government also used its legal powers to have Protestants
fined and imprisoned. It had two weapons to hand.
The Whiteboy Act of 1787 forbade any unlawful combination or
confederacy to deprive a clergyman of his tithe. Another
weapon at the Government's disposal was 2nd and 3rd of
William 4th which gave it power to collect tithe arrears of
1831. If any of the leading agitators were in default they
became crown debtors and could be imprisoned if they refused
Among those against whom the law was invoked were a number
of priests from the Kildare and Leighlin diocese. Fr. Doyle
P.P. Naas was arrested for publishing an illegal notice but
a jury failed to convict.
Dr. Fitzgerald, President of Carlow College and Fr. Rafter,
curate of Graig were arrested for their part in an
anti-tithe meeting. They refused to give bail and remained
in prison for some months. Fr. Martin Doyle P.P.
Graignamanagh was arrested for non-payment of the 1832
tithe. He paid the arrears and was released.
The plight of the rectors was distressful. A police report
at the end of 1832 stated little or no tithe was paid in
Carlow and the same situation obtained in Laois.
Seven were under protection
Eight clergymen from Kilkenny left the country, among them
Dr. Butler of Burnchurch and his son, also a clergyman. The
son was grandfather to Hubert Butler, the writer. Seven were
under police protection.
The London Morning Herald of Nov. 1831 carried the following
report, "At a meeting of the clergy of the dioceses of
Kildare and Ferns held lately in Carlow it was agreed that a
deputation" of four incumbents should proceed to the Castle
and represent to the Lord Lieutenant the distressing
condition to which the universal resistances to the payment
of tithes has reduced them."
The Lord Lieutenant's reply was, "That he views with the
deepest regret the combinations which prevail in the diocese
of Leighlin against the rights of the established church,
the illegal resistance to these rights is not only injurious
to the interests of the individuals who are sacrificed to
it, but is founded on a principle which, if admitted, would
warrant and justify not only the invasion of the property of
the clergy but that of any or of all other classes of His
Later a sum of £60,000 was made available for the relief of
In June 1833, at Rossmore in Co. Cork, during an attempt at
seizure for tithes, a crowd blocked the passage of troops
and police. The Riot Act was read by a magistrate and the
crowd ordered to disperse. The troops were ordered to fire
but the volley went over the heads of the crowd and nobody
was injured. The crowd lunged forward and fierce
hand-to-hand fighting took place. A policeman, named Dwyer,
raised his weapon and fired. The ball hit and killed a
soldier. The officer in charge, Capt. Nagle, feeling matters
had gone far enough, withdrew the troops. Shortly
afterwards, £1,000,000 was allocated to compensate clergy
for the loss of their income and the Under-Secretary for
Ireland, advised that the serving of processes should be
discontinued for the time being.
The Gortroe Massacre
The tranquillity created by these conciliatory measures was
rudely shattered by what was to become known as The Gortroe
Gortroe is a townsland in the parish of Rathcormac, Co.
Cork. Rathcormac is on the main road from Fermoy to Cork.
The rector was Archdeacon Ryder, locally known as Black
Billy, from his dark complexion. Part of the tithes accrued
to a Capt. Cooke Collis. Both he and the archdeacon were
Public opinion was outraged by the affair at Gortroe, which
was felt to be one tragedy too many. In England, Parliament
was thoroughly alarmed and bent to the task of finding a
The Tithe Commutation Act of 1838, affected by Lord
Melbourne's government, was the result. The Act confirmed
the £1,000,000 grant for arrears and reduced tithes by 25%
and converted to a fixed rent charge. This placed
responsibility on the landlord who, where possible, added
the charge to the rent, but the irritations of the old
system disappeared and a more friendly atmosphere between
parsons and people gradually arose. During the famine many
parsons worked heroically to relieve the starving poor,
among them Archdeacon Ryder who not only spent all his money
but sold his furniture to relieve the starving. The
settlement of the Tithe question cleared the ground for the
next phase of the land conflict the transference of
ownership to the occupiers. Many of the effective tactics
used in that struggle derived from the experiences of the