Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What To Do About the Poor?

In 1834, John Martin was living in Dublin, studying medicine at Trinity College. Dublin was a fine town then with wide streets, lined with shops selling luxury goods for the rich merchants and property owners who lived in fine houses around St. Stephen's Green. A different and darker Dublin existed down the dark alleys behind the grand houses. There the poor, the unemployed, the sick, the aged, lived in hovels, and basements unfit for human habitation. The wealthiest men of Dublin had little compassion for the misery of these people who were only visible when they crept out of their dark holes to beg.

A visitor from England, Henry Inglis, came to Ireland with his wife to see with his own eyes what Ireland was really like. The fact that he had his wife with him opened doors for him that might have been closed under the suspicion that he was a government spy. He was horrified by what he saw, and said so in a book he wrote on his return to England. In it he said "that the individuals whose charity prolongs for a little the existence of these miserable objects of their compassion, are not the individuals throughout the country whose improvidence, harshness, sordidness, and neglect, have contributed to swell the mass of pauperism, - nor those who possess the chief property in town, - nor those who are best able to help the indigent; and that, in those circumstances, it becomes an imperative and a sacred duty - alike urgent by the demands of humanity and the requirements of religion, to provide by legislative enactment, for the support, on equitable principles, of the aged, impotent, and infirm poor of Ireland."

John always considered that it was his responsibility as a landlord to care for the poor who lived on his property and in his neighborhood. Though his part of Ulster had a veneer of prosperity, neat cottages of weavers, bleach fields where the products of their work were stretched out to whiten, he knew that in the far corners, down overgrown lanes, there were people who were too sick or too old to care for themselves. The Martin family had always seen to it that they had food, and warmth. John continued to provide the same kind of help and in addition, he treated their sicknesses and provided medicine to ease their pain.

Sadly, Ireland had too many people without health or work, and too few John Martins. Parliament had first noticed the "poor problem" in Ireland in 1829. But nothing had resulted from the debate held then. On March 19, 1835. an Irish landlord, William Smith O'Brien, MP for Limerick, rose to present a resolution that Parliament should provide relief of the "aged, helpless, and infirm" Irish. To support his resolution, he quoted from Henry Inglis's eyewitness account of what he saw in Dublin. "I entered upward of 40 of the abodes of poverty; and to the latest hour of my existence, I can never forget the scenes of utter and hopeless wretchedness that presented themselves that day. Some of the abodes I visited were garrets - some were cellars. Some were hovels on the ground-floor situated in narrow yards or alleys. Let the worst be imagined, and it will not be beyond the truth. In at least three-fourths of the hovels which I entered, there was no furniture of any description, save an iron pot; no table, no chair, no bench, no bedstead - two, three, or four little bundles of straw, with one or two scanty and ragged mats, were rolled up in corners." In these terrible places, there was no sign of food at all.

Such distress should have produced uniform sympathy and support. But that wasn't the case. Some members of the House of Commons argued that the situation in Ireland was much improved, referring to the prosperity of County Down and County Antrim as evidence. Besides, a Poor Law would "destroy the sympathies of all human beings for one another, and the feelings of the poor toward each other." Daniel O'Connell was the natural leader of the Catholic part of the population. So he might well have been expected to support O'Brien's resolution. But he did not. One of the reasons he offered was that workers who were poor because there was no work would not be helped. Then he continued, "He feared that the effect of the introduction of poor-laws in to Ireland would be to make youth careless, and manhood reckless, if there were a certainly that old age would be provided for. It would ... be the cause of depriving poverty of its remunerating quality, of loosening the close ties of social life, and inducing callous hard-heartiness to the necessities of relation. At present, the poor of Ireland were remarkable for their attention to their aged and infirm parents."' He concluded that the report on Irish poverty which the government had approved should be presented before any kind of poor law should be created.

The MP for Cork, Poulett Scope, agreed with O'Connell's analysis. "it was as notorious as that the sun shone in the heavens, that distress and starvation overwhelmed the country. In times of famine, instances of actual starvation were not unusual. The reason why they were not more common was, that the poorest individual would and did share the very last thing he had with a fellow sufferer, rather than allow such a person to die from sheer want." The "let's wait for the report of the commission on Irish poverty" argument prevailed and Smith O'Brien withdrew his resolution. As John read the report of the actions in Parliament in the Newry Commercial Telegraph, he could not have dreamed that Smith O'Brien would become a friend.

Most of another year would pass before Parliament again debated help for the poor in Ireland. The report on Irish poverty had been presented by then. On February 9, 1836, Sir Richard Musgrave, MP for Waterford, summed up what the report had concluded. "No document that was ever laid upon their table showed a greater amount of suffering, misery and destitution."

Now the argument turned on what Parliament should do about it, not whether they would act at all." Smith O'Brien had ideas about how the help should be offered. Administration of aid should be as local as possible. Emigration of extra Irish should be promoted by Parliament, and paid for through public funds. Parliament should also fund land reclamation projects to employ more of the Irish who chose to stay. Only then should houses for the poor be built.

This debate was cut short with a government promise to bring in a bill of its own. The leadership might have intended for the promised kind of quick action to take place. But the death of King William intervened, and another year passed before the Whig Prime Minister, Sir John Russell presented the government's law for the Irish poor. There was little dispute about the necessity for such a law, and general agreement on what the form should take. Ireland would be divided in some fashion into Poor Law Districts, the purpose for which was to tax the landlords in the area to support the poorhouses that they intended to build for the elderly, sick and disabled. Half of the Poor Rate, as the tax was called, would be paid by the landlord. The other half would be paid by the tenants on his property. Poor laborers with holdings of less than 5 pounds in value would be excluded from the tax. There would be no funding for workers who wanted work but could not find it.

John, for one, opposed having the British government create this new tax on the land, one that would increase as the needs for poorhouse support increased. But another concept expressed during the endless hours of debate was that any local supervision of the law would be corrupted by favoritism. So the entire program of support for the poor would be run by the same men who administered the English Poor Law with the addition of one man from Ireland. This control was supposedly necessitated by local officials who tended to play favorites, a slander that certainly caused much angry conversation in Loughorne.

During the debates, there were things said that John agreed with. Sir John Russell explained that Ireland was caught in a vicious cycle. There was little capital in the country, so there was great unemployment. That led to violence and crime, which in turn led to insecurity. Little capital would flow into Ireland without the promise of security for investments. And so the downward cycle continued. One Irish MP made clear how strongly John and his friends and neighbors felt about a poor law. "A very strong sensation was excited by the present Bill, in the north of Ireland... Persons of different creeds and politics who scarcely agreed upon any other question, agreed that this measure would operate most injuriously." Without a provision to make absentee landlords share the burden, it would never be popular.

As the debate neared its predictable conclusion, one member denied that the deplorable state of Ireland was in any way affected by the Penal Laws directed against Catholics and Presbyterians, which had been enacted by previous parliaments. That was too much for Mr. Wyse. "Religious and political differences, ignorance, and physical destitution," were amongst the principal causes of Irish poverty. Penal laws had created the structure and practices of Irish society which created political division, ignorance and physical destitution. "Was it not notorious that a country in which there was a constant war going on between rich and poor - in which there was no intermediate or middle class to separate them - in which the rich feared and the poor hated - was one of the disorganized, the most perilous, and naturally the most destitute which could well be conceived? Was it possible that this should not be the case, when two races and two religions - distinct, if not opposed - were placed front to front - where the rich were of one race and faith and the poor of another - where every means were taken to keep up this opposition and hostility - was it possible... that in such a state such a war should be in constant and most injurious action?"

Nothing anyone said stopped the steady progression of the bill. On April 30, 1838, the House of Commons passed the Poor Law for Ireland. On July 9, the House of Lords followed suit and the bill became law for Ireland. John Martin would now face a large increase in his taxes in the best of times. In times when occupancy of the poorhouse was high, his taxes would be increased still more

Just two months after the passage of the Poor Law, implementation began. Newry was selected as the first place for the law to be activated. Two assistant commissioners were dispatched from Dublin to explain that the poorhouse they planned to build there would cost L8,000, money which would be loaned by the British government. The plan for Newry was that the poorhouse would be completed by the end of the following summer, a plan over a year too ambitious. The commissioners didn't return until the spring of 1839. By that time, the Poor Law Commissioners had divided the area into Poor Law districts. Each of these districts would elect one member to the Board of Guardians who along with some appointed members would supervise the poorhouse. Loughorne was placed in the Ouley Poor Law District. When the election was held there, John was elected Guardian. This was his first small step toward a life in politics.

Birr Workhouse

Sources: Birr Historical Society; (search for Newry), Newry Journal series on workhouses and Poor Law; Newry Commercial Telegraph, April 6, 1839; Hansard Parliamentary Debate, March 19, 1835, Feb. 9, and March 3, 1836; May 1, 1837, Feb. 12, 16, 19, March 2, 16, April 30, and July 9, 1838; Ireland in 1834: A Journey Throughout Ireland, by Henry D. Inglis; Tour Round Ireland, Through Seacoast Counties, in the Autumn of 1835, by John Barrow Esq.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

When Church and State Were One

John Martin had little interest in political issues, his entire attention being focused on his responsibilities as a new landlord. Like many other Irishmen, he didn't pay much attention to the actions that the English Parliament in London were taking to govern Ireland. At least not until he felt a personal impact.

The first issue that Parliament took up in which John had a great interest was the endlessly contentious subject of Irish tithes. Centuries before, the British government had chosen one religion to be the official religion of Ireland, whose needs would be met by acts of the government. Not surprisingly, Parliament chose the official church of England to become the officially established church in Ireland, though members in the Church of Ireland represented a small portion of the Irish population. Out of a population of 8 million, less than a quarter of them attended this Established Church.

This situation created a distinct problem for clergymen of the Church of Ireland. There were simply too few of them to support the clergymen of the Church of Ireland in the style and comfort of their English counterparts. To remedy this problem, Parliament passed a law requiring members of the other churches in Ireland to pay a tithe of every fall harvest to the clergyman of the local Church of Ireland. This requirement fell on both Catholics and Presbyterians. Since John was a member of the local Presbyterian Church, he was a follower of a lesser religion, and forced to pay his share of tithes. He was lucky though. The loss of a tenth of the value of his crops didn't lead to starvation for him as it did for many poor farmers.

The injustice of having to support a church to which they didn't belong greatly angered both Catholics and Presbyterians. The justification for such unfairness was stated during one of the many Parliamentary debates on the subject by one member of the House of Lords. He explained that an official church had been chosen for the benefit of the people of Ireland, and should be regarded as a blessing, not a curse. John and the other farmers of Ireland had but to forsake their lesser religions and join the one true religion to avoid this impost.

Most Irish farmers had no intention of converting, and couldn't possibly afford this tithe obligation. So they simply didn't pay it, leaving the clergyman who was to benefit the distasteful job of calling on the local police to seize the tithes. Though Parliament had given them the right to take that action, the hostilities that followed placed them in physical danger. Clergymen begged Parliament to take action. One letter from a clergyman in Roscrea was typical of what members of Parliament and the government were hearing. "Our situation is pitiable in the extreme. We cannot sit down and starve; we cannot proceed but at the hazard of our own lives, or the lives of the people we employ."

So, in the session of Parliament which sat during the summer of 1836, Parliament attempted to fix the tithe problem once and for all. Their solution was quite simple on the face of it, but more complicated in the doing. Instead of having clergymen or their employees collecting the tithes, the landlords would from then on be the collecting agents. After all, since tenants were used to paying rent to landlords, this would just be one simple additional fee that would be due with the harvest rents. Then landlords, like John Martin, would have to deliver the payment to the local clergyman, tucking his own tithes into the payment. To make the payment less painful, the tithe payments would receive a discount.

Sharman Crawford, an Irish landlord and member of the Church of Ireland himself, had a better idea. On July 1, 1836, he made a motion in the House of Commons to abolish tithes altogether. "The principle he advocated was not whether the Catholics of Ireland should be relieved from a fractional portion of the tithe assessment but whether they should still continue to pay the odious impost which stamped them with the name of slaves in the land of their birth. But there was still a higher question - it was the religious (and consequently the civil) liberty of all Protestant as well as Catholic non-conformists in the British empire. It was the right of conscience against the tyranny of establishments - It was whether men should be accountable for his religious faith to his God or to his fellow-men. It was, whether the state was entitled to set up an idol of its own, and say you shall worship this idol and pay the priests who minister it."

Then he warned Parliament that "Presbyterians of the North were as determined against tithes as the Catholics of the South." This was certainly true in John's case. He generously supported his church, the Donaghmore Presbyterian Church and the poor of this neighborhood. Through the tithes he had to pay, he also supported St. Bartholomew's Church, the local Established Church and its poor parishioners. Not surprisingly, Mr. Crawford's motion lost by a vote of 61 to 18.

With that minor diversion attended to, the House of Commons debated their legislation through a hot London summer. The basic concept was widely approved, that landlords from that time on would be required to collect the tithes and to pay the local clergyman what was due him. But in order to mitigate the basic unfairness of tithe payments, Parliament had to concoct some way to assure Irish farmers that their tithes would in some way benefit them, thus making the payment more collectible. They came up with the idea of removing from the clergymen the personal use of all tithe receipts. Instead they would essentially put clergymen on salary, thus guaranteeing a surplus would exist that would be used to benefit all the people who paid it. The amount of money that clergymen would get would depend on the size of their congregations and the importance of the parish. How to translate that concept into pound amounts proved very contentious. After many hours of debate, the new tithe law passed the Commons on July 25, 1836 and moved on to the House of Lords. The Lords made changes that did not please a significant number of members of the Commons. On August 2nd, members voted to reject the Lords amendments and the bill died for the year.

The new tithe law may have died, but the anger and violence did not. Shortly after the failure of Parliament to produce a solution, more violence broke out during the harvest of 1836. This time, some of the violence occurred in Ulster. A tithe collector was attacked in the town of Foughill, southwest of Newry. James Morris, a Catholic by conversion, had been hired by the rector of the Established Church in the nearby town of Jonesborough to serve notices that tithe payments were due. He had already served 7 of them when a mob appeared outside his home on November 28, 1836. The farmers stormed into the house and dragged James outside. There they began beating him with shovels and stones while his wife tried frantically to save him.

As James struggled for his life, he cried out to his attackers, "Oh, God! Have mercy on me! Boys, dear, don't take my life!" But the beating continued, and his screams faded to silence. James Morris lay a lifeless heap in the dark. Sadly, he was just one of the many victims of the failure of Parliament to free the Irish from the control of the church they had placed in a position of power over them.

There was no time to make much progress on a new bill in 1837. In June of that year, King William died and was succeeded by his niece Victoria. The death of a monarch required dissolution of Parliament and a new election. This new Parliament didn't get to a new tithe law until the spring of 1838.

As the new battle began, the Prime Minister, Sir John Russell, explained that having a union of church and state was a benefit to both. The church benefited from having the government pay their ministers, from enjoying a major role in creating legislation that would benefit their interests, and from having the state enforce these benefits. The state benefited as well. They had a governmental arm "that gives a sanction to morality and enforces the precepts of religion and thus induces the great mass of the people to subdue those passions which it is the business of the civil magistrate to punish."

Sir John warned of the dangerous effects of separating church and state. The majority of the learned citizens and people of importance were members of the Established Church of Ireland. Without the active support of the state, they would be put in a position of inferiority and the country would be in actual breach of important provisions of the Act of Union. The British Empire would be at risk.

Lord Russell then pointed out the English dilemma, the necessity of reconciling the English wants with those of the Irish. An Irish leader, Mr. Fox, had made clear what the Irish wanted in previous debates. "The Roman Catholics must have wealth - they must have importance - they must gain professional honour - they must acquire from day to day, as Ireland makes progress in trade and agriculture, more and more importance, - they are 6 millions and a half - they are in influence and in intelligence daily increasing; and I tell you it is not safe to use these people with contumely and contempt, to foster in them feelings of alienation, and to think that you can maintain the empire of this country in the same state in which it has been in former days upheld ... You cannot longer keep the people of Ireland subject to your sway as if they were a low, a vile and an alien race ... You cannot say at once that they are ignorant, priest ridden, superstitious, and governed by a desire to subvert the Protestant constitutions and that you nevertheless have confidence in them. You must do one thing or the other."

When debate resumed on May 15, Daniel O'Connell, the widely accepted leader of the Irish Catholics, rose to address the bind into which playing religious favorites had gotten Parliament. Daniel was a large man who always wore a curly red wig. He was a great speaker, and though most people were opposed to anything he said, they flooded in from the cloakrooms to hear him. Daniel didn't like the new version of the law, as he saw it as a way to get more money for the Protestants to use to convert Catholics. He warmed up with a dose of sarcasm. "Oh! how I enjoyed that the struggle in which my country is engaged and in which you are combined against her, that you stand before the world the parties to such a contemptible and such an unjust resistance to her rights - that you, despite the scorns and defiance, of the sneers of mankind, should thus stand before civilised Europe."

One of the issues that England interspersed with the tithe debates was the freeing of the slaves in English controlled territory. The difference in concern for slaves and the impoverished Irish that O'Connell witnessed was the reason for his cynical comments. But Daniel O'Connell didn't stop there. "There is a herd of morbid humanity abroad; it is to be found amongst men who affect philanthropy - who are tenderly alive to all the evils which may be endured by those who are not of an agreeable colour and who are found in distant regions, they are men who overflow with the milk of human kindness for black men and women, but who can with patience, with equanimity and even with approbation, look on, and see all the injuries you inflict upon Irish men, and all the injustice you do in Ireland. I wish the Irish were negroes, and then we should have an advocate."

He then pointed out that the Church of England was the church of the majority of the English people. Naturally it was the chosen church to establish there. In Scotland, the Presbyterian church was the church of the majority, so it was the established church. "In Ireland, you have trampled on the religion of the people and you perpetrated your tyranny in the worst form, and in the most odious shape, until at length the people of Ireland spoke to you in a voice too loud not to be heard, and too unanimous to be misunderstood, and you found yourselves unable to continue them in their former state of degradation. .. The Church of the People should be the church of the State."

O'Connell continued his opposition at the next session on July 11. "So long as the fact existed that nine-tenths of the Irish population consisted of Roman Catholics and Presbyterians, it was idle to think of forming any scheme for reconciling them to pay for maintaining the religion of the other tenth."

Not surprisingly, nothing that O'Connell could say would change the majority opinion of the members of Parliament. On July 26, 1838, the new tithe law passed the House of Commons. It went quickly on to the House of Lords where this time, the law passed swiftly and in a way, the Commons could support.

With Queen Victoria's approval, the new tithe law became law for Ireland. Now John was required to collect tithes from his tenants. This was a law it was impossible for him to ignore. John would follow the law, no matter how much he didn't like it. He collected the discounted tithes, and along with his own, passed them on to the clergyman of St. Bartholomew's church. As England had hoped, this put an end to the tithe wars and danger to the local clergy. Catholics and Presbyterians would be obliged to support the Established Church for another 30 years.

A Receipt for Rent and Tithes From John Martin

Sources: Newry Commercial Telegraph, Nov. 30, 1836; Hansard Parliamentary Transcripts, April 25, June 1, July 1, July 25, Aug.2, 1836; Hansard May 14, May 15, July 10, July 26, Aug. 9, 1838. Image of receipt courtesy of Adrian Murdock

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Irish Landlord

John Martin loved his new life, loved being an Irish landlord. He liked rising early in the morning to make the most of the short days in the winter, and the long days of summer. But by the time he left the house, there was usually a cluster of people at the door waiting for him, farm laborers waiting to be given the day's work, or a tenant's wife begging him to visit her sick child. Groups of children would hang on gates waiting for him to pass by, as he always had candy treats in his pocket to make them feel special.

The Fields of Loughorne

At the age of 23, he had become one of the most important people in the area. Soon, he would be able to share his happy life with his friend John Mitchel after Mitchel married a lovely young woman, Jane Verner, and settled down in nearby Banbridge to raise their growing family and to practice law. The two men would take long walks, and sit on the lawn at Loughorne Cottage to debate some issue of interest while Jenny Mitchel watched over Mitchel's children.

It was very strange that John would embrace an occupation so widely hated throughout much of Ireland. But there was a reason, deeply rooted in Irish history why this was so. There were two distinct and widely different relationships between landlords and tenants depending mainly on location and religion. Eastern Ulster where John lived had been settled in the 1600s when landlords and farm laborers arrived to occupy the land from which Catholics had been pushed west and south. Though of different classes, these men shared a "community of interests and a community of feeling." This relationship had evolved over the centuries into the Ulster Custom. This meant that rents couldn't be raised arbitrarily, and that tenants couldn't be ejected unless they failed to pay their rent. But the Ulster Custom also insured that tenants would receive at least some portion of the value of improvements they had made to their holdings if they were evicted or chose to leave. John's outlook on his job was like most of the landlords in his part of Ulster.

No such tradition existed in most of Ireland. Over the centuries of English control, most of the land in the rest of Ireland had been confiscated from Catholic owners, and acquired by prominent English land holders. The new English masters treated the Catholic tenants as slaves without value. They were determined to keep them in a permanent state of degradation of mind and body, at the same time squeezing from them their last few pennies with excessive rents. No mercy existed in the hearts of southern landlords, no justice for the miserable tenants in the halls of Parliament in London. Most of these landlords never stepped onto Irish soil, but hired agents to administer their estates. The agents risked their lives while the landlords remained well out of harm's way in England.

The Ulster Custom was well known in the southern and western parts of Ireland and much desired and often fought for. However, when John became a landlord, the situation that had prevailed in Ireland for centuries still existed. He could see the result of these problems whenever he traveled, the wretched hovels that served as shelter, the rags that served as clothes. And when landlords ejected tenants from these miserable holdings, families had no choice but to head to cities to beg, or to lurk behind hedges to rob passers-by. One writer described the beggars in Newry "Like Pitchy clouds of Locusts warping on the Eastern Wind."

From the moment he became a landlord himself, John considered himself obligated to set a good example for other landlords by assuming his proper responsibilities, the easy along with the onerous, and thereby creating a "community of interests and a community of feelings."

In 1835, the testing of John Martin, and the strength of his beliefs lay a decade away.

Sources: Sharman Crawford, (also here) speech in Parliament, Hansard 10 March, 1836; Newry Democrat, Feb. 7, 1818.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Education of John Martin

Glebe School
Most Irish children had no formal education at all. There were no schools to for them to attend, and no literate parents to teach them. John Martin was born lucky, as his parents were educated and there was a school nearly. Even before John was old enough to make the long walk to school, Jane Martin taught John to read and appreciate literature.

 Leaders of St. Bartholomew Church, the local Establishment church, opened a school directly across from the church gate. Though it was a church sponsored and funded school, it was open to local boys of all religions. Twenty nine of his classmates were Presbyterian, 26 were Catholic, and 12 were parishioners of St. Bartholomew's. John and the other boys of Loughorne walked several miles to school and back, sat in a cold room on hard benches to learn to read, write and do the simple math that farm life required. 

When John was just 12 years old, Jane and Samuel enrolled him as a boarder in Dr. Henderson's Classical School in Newry. There he joined the sons of the Newry's most prominent families to prepare to enter Trinity College in Dublin. John was an excellent student with a real thirst for knowledge. Almost immediately, John noticed something that made boarding school even more pleasing. While he was in school in Newry, he suffered no asthma attacks at all. But since he was used to sleeping with open windows winter and summer, he sometimes felt he was smothering in the closed air of the dorm room. Every 5 or 6 weeks, he would return Loughorne for the weekend. He would leave Newry at noon, immediately suffer an asthma attack from which he would recover on Monday in time to return to school.

While John attended Dr. Henderson's School, he met John Mitchel, the son of a local Unitarian minister. They became close friends, though young Mitchel was 3 years younger than John. Sometimes when he was free, John walked over the Clanrye River and up the hill on the other side to visit the Mitchel family at Ivy Cottage in Dromalane. John was a very popular student with other friends as well, such as the Henderson brothers, George and James, whose father owned the local newspaper, The Newry Commercial Telegraph. But it was Mitchel whose friendship lasted throughout John's entire life.

The battle for Catholic Emancipation was raging during John's time in Newry. Under the leadership of Daniel O'Connell, Catholics united in an effort to repeal that last of the Penal Laws which had constricted their lives for over a century. They wanted the right to hold seats in Parliament. John heard many arguments against Catholic rights in school, and began to join in their anti-Catholic sentiments. Fortunately for John, he made a derogatory statement about Catholics and their rights in the presence of his mother's brother, Uncle Harshaw. James Harshaw immediately reprimanded his nephew. "What! John, would you not give Catholics the same rights that you enjoy yourself!" Perhaps this scolding reminded him of the Barnmeen Martyrs. At any rate, he became a staunch defender of Catholic rights.

The year that Parliament first granted Catholics the right to serve in Parliament, John graduated from Dr. Henderson's school. In his final exams, he took first honors in Algebra, Euclid, Homer, Livy, Horace and Roman History. He was ready to enter Trinity College in Dublin. Though John was 17 when he first took the stage coach to Dublin, he looked much younger and had yet to reach his adult height of 5'8''.

Dublin was a bustling city of 180,000 people when John first arrived. For a country boy, it must have been an exciting place to be. Along the main street, known then as Sackville Street, there were many shops of all descriptions. Street hawkers roamed the sidewalks selling their handkerchiefs and candy treats. A grand new Post Office Building had just been completed on the left side of Sackville Street, and dwarfed any building John had ever seen. Trinity College was located on the other side of the Liffey, in a more quiet part of the city. With its great arch entrance and old buildings, his new school was worlds removed from the small country school where he started his education. John stayed in Dublin for about a week while he became acquainted with the city and signed up for his classes. He was an extern student which meant that he was responsible for mastering his course material and passing the tests on his own. 

A year later, in 1830, John was joined on his trips to Dublin by his friend John Mitchel. John remained an apt student, mastering 5 languages before he completed his Arts degree in 1832. By that time, John had noticed that when he was in Dublin, he was in perfect health. So he decided to move to Dublin and study medicine. John was to be a landlord, so he had no intention of practicing medicine as a profession. But he knew that the poor farm laborers of Loughorne lived and died without medical attention. With his medical training, he could provide free help for them. John had one major setback along the way. When he went into the disecting room for the first time, he was overwhelmed by the smells. John had a particular sensitivity to smells which often seemed to trigger asthma attacks. He was particularly sensitive to scented soap, flowers, smoke, and mold and mildew, and now dissecting rooms. To make up for his lack of disection experience, he studied anatomy books with great intensity, and was able to master the intricacies of the human body just as if he had spent days in the disecting rooms.

In 1835, John was suddenly summoned home to Loughorne, when his uncle John became ill. By that time, the other Martin brothers, including his father Samuel, had died. Uncle John Martin soon died as well, leaving John to assume the responsilities for which he had been destined. He was responsible for the lives and welfare of hundreds of tenants and farm laborers as well as the family assets. John moved from his childhood home in Loughorne Cottage to the large home that Uncle John had occupied, Loughorne House. It wasn't a grand home, but nicely furnished with such luxuries as mahogany furniture and fine silver. He received a yearly income of 400 pounds, enough to allow him a comfortable life. The happiest time of his life had begun.

Sources: Dr. Hyde Salter, Asthma; P. A. Sillard, Life of John Martin; Newry Commercial Telegraph - January 2, 1828.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Death on Rathfriland Road

John Martin learned early to read signs. Clouds and shifts of wind provided crucial clues about impending changes in the weather. Missing them could mean the ruin of a year's work. 

Other signs, more subtle, but equally visible, warned that religious tensions were on the rise. Followers of each of the 3 main Irish religions lived in close proximity in the area around Loughorne. About three fourths of the total population were Catholics. The remaining quarter were members in about equal proportions of the Presbyterian and Protestant churches. "Protestant" was the term used to refer to members of the Church of Ireland, which was the Irish version of the Established Church in England. Members of this small denomination held total control of Ireland, their power extending beyond the church walls into every structure of government.

Small wonder then that tensions between John's Catholic and Protestant neighbors were there for a precocious child like John to notice. Frowning faces and clenched fists when Catholics and Protestants came near each other were clues too simple to miss. But John could feel the wariness that existed as well, particularly around the time when each religion celebrated their special days. For the Catholics it was St. Patrick's Day. For Protestants, it was July 12 when the Orangemen marched out of their lodges to celebrate the defeat of the Catholics at the Battle of the Boyne. The history that had led to this religious distrust was beyond John's understanding. But just after he turned seven, he experienced an event much like many others that had occurred before he was born that provided an explanation.

 On the morning of November 2, 1819, Loughorne was engrossed with event that had happened just a few miles east of Loughorne the previous evening. It was discussed by farm laborers as they drank their tea in the fields. It was retold by women as they arranged their laundry on the hedges to dry. So John heard the story often enough for him to understand what happened. A day of horse-racing had been held in the fields next to the Newry Canal. As was the custom, beer consumption was a feature of the day. As dark fell around 4 PM, groups of drunken men began to stumble toward their homes. One such man was Samuel Duncan, a shoemaker from the town of Rathfriland. He was traveling home on the Rathfriland Road with two men, John Hollingsworth and William Beatty. View Larger Map Traditionally, drunken Protestants were prone to shout derogatory epithets when they traveled through Catholic areas. They had almost reached the townland of Barnmeen shortly before 7 PM, when they passed Doyle's Public House. There they began shouting such phrases as "To hell with the Pope," as they passed by. These shouts were heard inside the pub and across the fields and inside the cottages that lined the road. Soon, Duncan and his companions were being followed by several men. In his drunken condition, it is unlikely that Duncan was aware of the danger behind him until he was suddenly struck heavy blows by the sticks the men carried. He fell to the ground as the blows battered him. John Hollingsworth and William Beatty dove for the cover of the ditches along the edge of the road and were uunharmed. View Larger Map The perpetrators faded into the darkness, leaving the dying man on the road. With the danger past, John and William climbed out of their hiding places, and along with other passers by, carried the dying man to the nearby home of Collin McConville. He was given what aid the McConvilles could provide, and then transported home to Rathfriland where he soon died from his injuries. 

Such events were all too common, and in most cases were quickly forgotten except by the grieving families. However, this time what happened next intensified religious divisions for many decades. And it provided for John Martin, a new understanding of the causes of the religious hostilities he had so frequently observed. Only Catholics were accused when Protestants were murdered. 

Though neither of the men could have seen the attackers, and Beatty returned to Doyle's Pub and reported to those present that he didn't know the attackers, neither man had difficulty in producing the required names when asked for them by the local Magistrate, William Paxton. Though the witnesses were of low repute, Mr. Paxton rounded up 12in all. Catholics and sent them to Downpatrick Gaol, and locked them into the dark cells there until trial in the spring. Most of the accused men had excellent alibis for the time of the murder, so Mr. Paxton moved the time of the murder. This act simplified the prosecution even though it was common knowledge that Catholic testimony carried little weight, even under oath. Six weeks after the crime, Mr. Paxton was still rounding up suspects. One night he led an army raid on the house of a prominent Catholic businessman, named Fegan. The troops stormed into the house, rousted out all the inhabitants at rifle point, tore into every corner of the house, and probed furniture and walls with their bayonets. They found no suspects, and marched away leaving the occupants terrorized and the house badly damaged. Mr. Paxton was later obliged to apologize for the raid, but it emphasized a strong tool of Protestant intimidation that no Catholic was safe even in his own cottage.

Anger in the area was intense. The trial took place in Downpatrick Court House on March 24, 1820. The Judge was Charles Kendal Bushe. Judge Bushe had strongly opposed the Act of Union, proclaiming in a speech before the Act of Union passed, that England "never conceded a point to you which she could avoid, or granted a favour which was not reluctantly distilled. They have all been wrung from her like drops of her Heart's blood." Judge Bushe represented the best hope of the accused, for the jury, as always in Catholic/Protestant cases when lives were at stake, was carefully selected and entirely Protestant. Judge and jury listened to testimony that should have produced quick vindication for all the accused, so weak was the evidence against the prisoners and so strong in favor of their innocence.

The judge gave a passionate two hour address to the jury, but it did little good. When the jury returned their verdict, death for 7 of the accused, the people in the courtroom erupted in disbelief. Word of the injustice swept through the Downpatrick, and across the countryside to Loughorne. Angry conversations took place in fields and around fireplaces that at night. Jane and Samuel certainly discussed what happened where John could hear them. Perhaps they explained to him how unfair the trail had been. At any rate, the pursuit of justice became one of the guiding principles of his political career.

The interval between sentencing and execution was very small. On Monday, March 27, five men, John Hanratty, Hugh Johnston, Felix McConville, Hugh Toman, and Francis Doyle were hanged outside the Downpatrick Gaol for maximum terrifying effect. Two more men, Daniel McConville and John McAlinden, had their death sentences changed to exile in Van Diemen's Land. They were quickly taken in chains to Warrenpoint and shipped into exile. As the men climbed to the scaffold, they asked their priest, "Father, do we die martyrs?' Father McAleenan replied, "You do my children."

The funeral procession from Downpatrick to the Drumgath Cemetery was at times 2 miles long as people joined to express their outrage that so many innocent men had been murdered by British law. The 5 men were buried side by side on the slopes of the Mourne Mountains. But if the Protestants believed that local Catholics would be cowed by the deaths of so many innocent men, they were very wrong. The memory of the Barnmeen Martyrs provided a link in the chain of events that would lead to Irish independence, and foreshadowed events that lay ahead for John.
Drumgath Cemetery
Source: "The Rathfriland Conspiracy of 1820, a Vindication of the Condemned" by Joseph Connellan. 

After Thought. 
I began to wonder what had happened to the two men who were sentenced to transportation. Time spent in prison and on the long voyage to Australia was all too often a more protracted death sentence than a hangman's noose, but one no less certain. So I did some research to see if I could find out what happened to John McAlinden and Daniel McConville. I could find no trace whatever of John McAlinden. But I did find some information about Daniel. While the 2 men were hustled quickly away from home, they didn't leave Ireland immediately. The ship that carried them down Carlingford Lough and into the Irish Sea, took them to the large prison in Cobh City, Spike Island instead of Australia. Daniel remained in the prison there for over 2 years. On June 21, 1822, he was put on board the Mangles, destination Sydney Australia. There are good convict records to search through, so it is clear that John McConville didn't reach Australia, but Daniel survived. When Daniel arrived on November 8, 1822, he was sent to Parramatta, near Sydney to serve out his 7 year sentence. On March 15, 1827, Daniel was set free. There was no way for him to raise the money to return to Ireland. So his fate was permanent transportation. A year after he was freed, Daniel married another convict, Elizabeth Johnson. Hopefully, the young couple had children whose descendants have prospered there.