Siege of Loughrea
The ‘Siege of Loughrea’, as it became known, took place in May 1906 after local businessman Martin Ward refused an eviction notice from the infamous and most notorious absentee landlord and miser, Hubert George deBurgh (Lord Clanricarde).
Clanricarde was the younger brother of Lord Dunkellin, whose statue once stood at Eyre Square in Galway. Ward made a heroic stand against the landlord system and proved that one man can make a difference when it comes to justice.
Ward had rented a two story thatched premises from Clanricarde in 1890 and spent hundreds of pounds restoring the building as it was in a dilapidated condition at the time. He practically rebuilt it and opened a hardware and general merchant’s business, which proved very successful.
He then rented a building on the opposite side of the street, also from Clanricarde. He had to pay seven years arrears already owed on this building, with the additional cost of £250 to renovate it as a store. He was an excellent businessman and, by 1905, he had also established a saddlery as part of the stores, which employed six men.
He then applied for a lease on the building, instead of the yearly tenancy rent. Clanricarde refused, but assured Ward that he would never be dispossessed as long as he paid the rent. However, a short time later, on 29 April 1905, Ward received a letter from Clanricarde’s agent, Shaw Tener, and with it came a notice to ‘quit’ the promises.
‘...you’re doing a good trade and I have mentioned you as a capable and energetic man of business. It would be well, I think, for the country if it had more traders like you with push and determination to succeed and as a tenant you have given me satisfaction. Holding this opinion of you it is with regret that I feel its my duty to send you a notice, the effect of which would oblige you to remove from the premises you hold. I have been an agent for many years, and have always as far as possible to me, tried to protect tenants ill treated by their fellow tenants. I do not believe you personally desire to cause pain, annoyance or injury to anyone, but as secretary of the Loughrea branch of the United Irish League you have done so and I feel bound to use an ‘argumentum ad hominem’ in the spirit of the notice served upon you.’
It was, it seems, simply a way of removing the man and taking over the business.
Ward refused the eviction notice and warned the agent that the only way he would be removed from the business, which he had built from the very foundations, was by force.
Tener then accused Ward of being involved in the boycotting and intimidation of landlords and their agents around the county and that he would be removed by force if necessary.
Ward had hundreds of copies of the letter printed and sent to supporters throughout Ireland, England and the United States. Tener’s reaction was to offer Ward an ultimatum.
‘You will be allowed to retain possession of your premises on one condition only: that you will forthwith entirely sever your connection with political agitation.’
So the real reason behind the eviction was out in the open. It was politically motivated by Tener and Clanricarde. Ward, being a seasoned Land League campaigner under Michael Davitt and John Dillon, would not bow to the landlord or his agent and thus the process of eviction was put in place.
Clanricarde issued his orders for eviction. It was planned for Tuesday 29 May 1906.
The night before the eviction, Ward and some of his closest supporters gathered in the shop and prepared for action. Just before dawn on that historic morning, the grey winding roads leading to Loughrea carried crowds of people to the town and soon the streets of Loughrea were jammed. It was an amazing morning in small town, as the people waited unsure of what would happen. One thing was certain, Ward and his men would not be defeated easily, despite what the police, Tener and Clanricarde thought.
Lessons had obviously not been learnt at the Woodford evictions some years earlier. A green flag with a harp emblazed on it floated proudly over Martin Ward’s shop. All the doors and windows of the building were barricaded. It had all the appearances of a fortress and the occupiers were prepared for a long siege. The other shops in the town placed shutters on their windows, which was a symbol of support of Ward.
County Inspector Tyacke arrived commanding a huge force of police (over 100) and cordoned off both ends of Church Street. However, a large group of men and boys had already taken up positions inside the railings of the Protestant church close by and began shouting abuse at the police. This continued for several hours.
Ward refused the orders to surrender from the police and thus the siege began. A day and night watch was maintained by about 15 men on rotating shifts. Provisions had been stored up in case the ‘garrison’ was cut off from supplies. Hundreds more police then poured into the town under District Inspector Brittian. Bailiffs with battering rams and axes marched towards the barricaded shop. It was defended by a defiant band of local men, stripped to the waste and armed with pikes, swords, sticks and stones.
However, the weapon of choice for the defenders that morning was boiling gruel, which was kept at scalding temperatures over blazing fires. The upstairs windows were manned by sentries armed with ‘great ladles’ ready to hurl the gruel at any attacker that came within range. Suddenly, there was another huge up-roar from the men in the grounds of the Protestant church, as they watched the arrival of the bailiff, McKevin, and his five assistants. The men in the shop garrison waved flags and shouted ‘No Surrender’. When the bailiffs arrived at the front door of the shop with a cartload of weapons and implements of eviction, the defenders were waiting.
Moments later, there were screams of agony from the attackers as boiling gruel found its mark on their heads and arms. They fled the scene screaming as the people cheered for the defenders. The police then surrounded the bailiffs in a bid to protect them, as fusillade after fusillade of stones flew through the air finding their targets. A number of policemen were injured. One stone actually took the spike off of Inspector Brittian’s helmet.
The attackers were joined by a little old lady, wearing a black shoulder sequins cape. She picked up a stone, ‘nearly as big as herself and screeching a Gaelic war cry, flung it at the nearest constable’. It struck his helmet, but did little damage, as the force behind it was not very strong.
The police turned their attention on the now stone-throwing crowd in the churchyard. Inspector Tyacke ordered his men to clear that area, which resulted in bloody hand-to-hand combat before the crowd was forced to abandon their position. This ended the first phase of the Siege of Loughrea, but the garrison in the shop were still in control of their ‘fortress’.
Events of note: The Siege of Loughrea will conclude next week.
The launch of A Place in Our Hearts – St Bridget’s Terrace 100, will take place of Friday, 28 September in the Western Hotel, Prospect Hill at 9.30pm. This is a once-off book (limited edition) and all are welcome to attend. The people of the terrace would be delighted if all their neighbours and friends from the Bohermore, Woodquay, Hidden Valley, St Bridget’s Place, Prospect Hill, Waterlane and all areas would join them in this celebration. There will be finger-food and music, songs and fun.
The 75th Anniversary of Meánscoil Mhuire will take place in the school on Friday, 28 September 2012 at 1.30pm. All past and present students, staff and friends are invited to attend. The event includes a presidential visit, army band, a variety of entertainment.
On Saturday, 29 September, Mass will be celebrated in the Abbey Church at 5pm followed at 7.30pm by a dinner in the Radisson Blu Hotel.
For details, phone 091-566595.
President Michael D. Higgins will also visit the Mervue National School on Friday 28 September at 11.30am to officially launch a Comenius Partnership involving schools from Ireland, Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. Over the next two years, the school will be working on a project titled ‘Landmarks and Monuments’.