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Parnell Commission Inquiry

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Parnell Commission Inquiry

Post by Karen on Tue 19 Feb 2013 - 10:59

Eighty-first Day of Proceedings - Thursday, May 16, 1889





The threads of the story of Woodford, as told by Mr. John Roche - the well-known farmer and miller of that historic Irish town - were this morning taken up where they were broken off last night. Yesterday Mr. Roche sketched the history of the Land movement in the locality, pithily interjecting personal reminiscences and escapades, up to the formation of the Tenants' Defence Association. Today the Attorney-General took him in hand again. The Clanricarde estate, upon which, it will be remembered, the greatest amount of bitterness has been instilled into the agitation, was first of all discussed.


Coming down to recent times, Mr. Roche - who had Lord and Lady Lawrence, Lady and Miss Davy, Sir J. Baird, Mrs. Brett, and Mr. Leslie Stephens among the attentive listeners to his evidence - drew the attention of the Court to the fact that in 1888 a petition was presented to Lord Clanricarde, asking for a reduction of 25 per cent. That was (said the witness) fixed solely by the tenants, and he would not admit that he had interfered with the formulation of the demand, nor that he had advised the tenants to ask a reduction of 50 per cent. However, the Attorney-General produced a copy of United Ireland, in which was a report of a meeting of the tenants, at which it was represented Mr. Roche presided, and at which a resolution was to have been passed declaring that nothing less than 50 per cent should be accepted. "Dr." Tully cropped up again, as Mr. Roche proceeded. He didn't claim that the "Doctor's" speeches were harmless, but the "Doctor" himself was a most inoffensive individual. He didn't deny that Tully used the word "pills," but he was positive he never used the words "leaden pills." About the term "medicine" there ensued a long wrangle. The "Doctor" had used the word thus, "I hope you will have another Saunders' fort, and when the police and the red fellows come they will get hotter medicine than before. My office is at Woodford. There is plenty of medicine there, and you will be instructed how to use it." Would Mr. Roche swear that that meant boycotting? Certainly it meant that, and nothing else, for the police and the soldiers were boycotted at the "fort." It might have meant hot water, too, for the officers also met with a lot of that in storming the "fort." In a parenthesis, the Attorney-General asked if Mr. Roche knew who supplied the lime, which was slacked, and thrown with the hot water during the siege, but he declared most positively he was ignorant of its source, though he thought, perhaps, Saunders provided it himself.


The Attorney-General then asked Mr. Roche whether he still adhered to his statement that in his "Balaclava" and "Fontenoy" speech he did not allude to the process-server, Finlay. Mr. Roche denied that he intended to allude to Finlay, but certainly the nickname of "Balaclava" suggested the metaphor to him. Mr. Roche declared with emphasis that he was no more capable of suggesting outrage than the Attorney-General himself was.


The much-talked of mock funeral, which was alleged to have been held by the tenants of Woodford at the time of Finlay's murder was again the subject of the Attorney-General's interrogatories. He asked the witness whether it was not a fact that that mock funeral took place in the wood while Finlay's body was lying there. - "No, indeed, it didn't," was Mr. Roche's decisive answer, amid a loud outburst of laughter, and not till three months after. The mock funeral took place on the 3rd of May, and Finlay was murdered in March. Mr. Roche added that he understood the mock funeral to represent the burial of landlordism. Next the witness was taken back to a meeting held outside the house of the landlord, Mr. Lewis, on the 6th of December, 1885. Yes, he recollected it. Martin Egan, Father Egan, and O'Horan thereat denounced Mr. Lewis for his arbitrary conduct to the tenants. A threatening note was afterwards, too, posted up, authorising the boycotting of Mr. Lewis and his mother. Mr. Roche himself, however, decidedly disapproved of such notices, and emphatically denied that they were posted up by the tenants of Woodford.


Mr. Roche denied that the Tenants' Defence Association passed resolutions deciding to boycott persons in the locality, observing, "I may tell my lords that I believe there is no greater victim of boycotting in the parish of Woodford than myself." How did he explain that? Well, up to the initiation of the more serious phase of the agitation, the landlords of the locality dealt with him. Now every one of them, including even his own landlord, "would rather send to Timbuctoo then get a pennyworth of stuff from him."


Here came one of the most pathetic incidents the Court has yet witnessed. With feelings of the deepest emotion, and with tears in his eyes, Mr. Roche, in an outburst of quiet indignation, described a scene in the tragic siege at Saunders' Fort in 1886. For three days the police were held at bay, and amongst those who were apprehended when at length the defenders surrendered was a young boy - Tim Larkin. For his share in the work he was sentenced to eighteen months' imprisonment in Kilkenny Jail. He died in the prison cell. "And, Sir," observed Mr. Roche, with emotion, "the poor unfortunate boy was lying stiff and dead when we went to see him. He was so disfigured that even his own father didn't recognise him, and he was lying in a small cell no larger than this box" - pointing to the witness-box.


The effect of the recital of this sad story having subsided, Mr. Roche was asked whether it was not a fact that, after the surrender of Saunders' Fort he complimented the men on their bravery, and expressed the hope that the police would meet with similar obstacles in the future. "It would not be me if I did not," was the emphatic reply.
"And that is what you call constitutional agitation?" essayed the Attorney-General.
"I will tell you what I call a constitutional action," Mr. Roche went on, very earnestly and very impressively. "When a man - as did his forefathers before him - has spent a lifetime in building his house, without ever getting a penny from anyone to help him, I believe that when a landlord comes and tries to deprive him of that house, and to throw him out on the roadside without a shelter for him and his family, and without the prospect of compensation, I consider a man is justified in resisting him."
"That is what you have always taught the people?" - "It is."
"That is your idea of "passive resistance?" - "No, sir; that is what I call defending my home."
"Was not hot water thrown out on this occasion?"
"Yes; but although it was used the first day at Saunder's Fort, that was not considered an offence." (Laughter.)
"That appears to be very funny to you, Mr. Roche?"
Mr. Roche's answer was given with great emphasis, he striking the desk in front of him. - "No, Sir," he said, "not to me nor to you if you had seen these poor people as I have. It may be to some of our English friends who have never seen them, as I have seen them in all their misery and distress.


Having denied that he had ever been a member of the Fenian organisation or of the I.R.B.,
Mr. Roche was re-examined by Sir C. Russell. At the outset he declared - this with some emotion - that he courted an inquiry, in the fullest possible manner, into both his private and political life, for it would be found to be as high as that of any gentleman in the Court. The case of Saunders again came up. Mr. Roche explained to the Court that the house from which Saunders was evicted was erected by himself, and at his own expense; that Saunders paid 90 pounds to clear off the arrears before entering upon the building, and that the farmhouse, which was one of the most substantial in the locality, must have cost 200 pounds or 300 pounds. Owing to bad seasons he got behind in his rent, and then offered to pay a half-year's arrears and 2 pounds 10s., which was refused, he being evicted. This naturally awakened a great deal of sympathy with the man, and led to the demonstration on the occasion of the eviction.
Here there arose a brief discussion as to the legal formalities gone through prior to an eviction in Ireland. In the course of it Mr. Roche asserted that in the case of Saunders the agent of the estate instituted proceedings in the Superior Court, so that the expenses might be heavier than if they had been laid in the County Court, as they could legally have been. The discussion was stopped by the President, who expressed his pleasure that he had not to give a decision on the point, as it was very complicated.
Against the imputation of the Attorney-General that Mr. Roche had recommended the tenants to hold out for 50 per cent reduction, Sir Charles Russell produced and read a copy of the actual memorial that was sent to Lord Clanricarde. In this a reduction of 25 per cent only was distinctly asked for.


Sir Charles Russell was about to re-examine Mr. Roche upon an incident connected with the administration of the estate of Mr. Lewis, when the President asked that it might be taken very briefly, "because," he added, "I have already explained that it is impossible to say these circumstances can justify either resistance to the law or denunciation."
The learned counsel did not pursue the point.
Mr. Reid, however, rose, and asked to be allowed to read the summing-up in the case of "Joyce v. Clanricarde." It was the utterance of a most eminent Judge on the Irish Bench, in regard to the condition of the Woodford District, and the revelations between Lord Clanricarde and his tenants. If he was not allowed to pursue that course, he would have to call witnesses to prove the condition of things in Woodford; and the case would then be practically interminable. He therefore, on the ground of fair-play, appealed to be allowed to read that summing-up, as it was the only way they could present to their Lordships a picture such as they desired to present of the condition of things in Woodford.
The Attorney-General protested that that was not a matter arising out of the cross-examination, and Mr. Atkinson pointed out that the verdict in the case of Joyce and Clanricarde was subsequently set aside by a higher Court on the ground of misdirection of the Judge, and several other grounds. He also alleged that the report of the Judge's summing-up which Mr. Reid proposed to read, was an incorrect report.


The President suggested a compromise in this matter. Assuming that they got a correct report of the learned Judge's statement, would the Attorney-General still object to have it read? He would, however, say at once that it was plain to him, as a matter of law, that the report would not be admissible in evidence. They could not take the opinion of a Judge, however eminent, as evidence before them. He had a direct inclination, however, to allow the statement of a Judge made upon evidence to come before them, and he was very anxious that that should be taken as a compendious mode of stating what many witnesses might be called upon to elaborate.
The Attorney-General said, provided a correct report was produced, he would withdraw all other objections.
The matter was consequently left in abeyance, and Mr. Roche disappeared from the witness-box.


His place was taken by another Woodford witness. This was Patrick Keary, a merchant, and a Land Leaguer. He was questioned by Mr. A. O'Connor concerning the murder of Finlay and stated that after the murder the Land League denounced the outrage. He also denounced it strongly. He, in fact, deeply deplored it, as he thought it was injurious to the reputation of the district.


Mr. Atkinson rose to cross-examine the witness when the Court resumed. He endeavoured to prove that prior to the arrival of Father Egan in the parish there was no organisation there. But the witness asserted that had not Father Egan come there at all the agitation would have reached the same dimensions. He produced one of the books of the League, which contained simply a record of members, and such trivial matters. The branch kept no minute book, and it wasn't necessary, because most of the resolutions were merely "verbal resolutions." (Laughter.) The witness denied most emphatically Mr. Atkinson's insinuation that Father Egan, his brothers, and Mr. Roche got up the Tenants' Defence Association, and, following Mr. Roche, described it as the outcome of spontaneous action on the part of the tenantry. Questioned about what is known as the mock funeral incident in connection with Mr. Finlay's murder, the witness gave it as his opinion that it was never in the minds of those who joined in the demonstration to associate it with the murder. As a matter of fact, the inscription above the coffin was "Down with landlordism," and the whole demonstration was typical of the ultimate demise of landlords as a class. Keary refuted a statement made earlier in the case that he refused wood for Finlay's coffin. It was a positively untrue statement, he said, and he believed Sergeant Coursey merely asked him to supply wood to get a distinct refusal, so that it would militate against the organisation in the future.


"Were there any cases of boycotting in Woodford?" asked Mr. Atkinson. - "Yes, a few," said Keary. "The police were at one time boycotted for the brutal manner in which they had carried out some evictions." - Did he take part in the meetings at which resolutions were passed deciding to boycott the police? - Yes, he was, and he helped to carry out the boycotting. He, however, scarcely believed that Sergeant Murphy was unable to get anything to eat or drink, or get milk for his child. - "Would he have supplied him?" Mr. Atkinson asked. "Well, no," Mr. Keary replied, "because I do not keep a provision shop. So long as the boycotting lasted through, he added, he would not have supplied Murphy with anything, however necessary it was that he should have it. He certainly approved of that boycotting.
Why - asked Mr. Lockwood, in re-examination - did you approve of it? - Because the police acted with unnecessary harshness at the evictions, and had exceeded their duty.


Another parish priest next entered the witness-box. This was the rev. Patrick White, of Miltown Malbay, county Clare. He was interrogated by Mr. Reid. The Father described the expulsion of a man named Connell from membership of the League because he had offended against its rules, and protested that the statement that he set the machinery of the boycott in motion against Connell was absolutely untrue. He also denied Mrs. O'Connell's statement to the effect that she had "begged for the honour of God not to boycott her." Mrs. O'Connell, he said, had never visited him at all on such an errand. He added that upon his advice, the public-houses of the town were closed on the occasion of the trials of some of the shopkeepers for boycotting this woman. The sequel was the prosecution of the landlords of the houses, and eleven of them being sent to jail.
Was the closing of the houses an ordinary thing? asked Sir Henry James in cross-examination.
Yes. It was quite a usual thing, was the reply. On a Church holiday the priest requested the people to close the shops, and, rightly or wrongly, he was usually looked upon as a guide in such a matter. Father White was unable to produce the books of the defunct League. He informed the Court that he had always made it a rule of his life to destroy papers he considered of no value, and he thought, though he had no recollection of it, that it might be he destroyed these after the suppression of the League.
Did he do anything to prevent the boycotting of Connell? - Certainly he did. He prevailed upon the League to give Connell a fair hearing, but they were not satisfied with his explanation, so expelled him from the League, as they had a right to do. It was not true that Connell had to give up his vocation as a fisherman. Connell certainly never came to him and urged him to leave him to his living. Neither did Connell go to witness and ask him "in the honour of God" to save his mother from hunger. When Father White heard that Mrs. Connell was suffering from boycotting, he went round to the shopkeepers and urged them to sell to her.
(The report will be continued.)


A Killarney Correspondent of the Dublin Express says that rents are being secretly paid on the Kenmare estate, and many tenants, dissatisfied with the "Plan," are discussing an abatement of 30 instead of 40 per cent.


United Ireland says there is no truth in the statement that Mr. T.W. Russell is negotiating with the Olphert tenants. Any arbitration with which he was allowed to meddle would be scouted by the tenants.


United Ireland quotes the Sub-Commissioners' schedule of rent reductions on Lord Lansdowne's estate, the average reduction being 38 per cent.

Source: The Echo, Thursday May 16, 1889, Pages 2-3

Karen Trenouth
Author of: "Epiphany of the Whitechapel Murders"
Author of: "Jack the Ripper: The Satanic Team"

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