The Land War 1881-1883




By Laurence Noonan

“While the gentle Anner flows along,

Thy glory will remain,

And Slievenamon looks proudly on

Kilburry’ s lone domain.”

THE following account of the Land War (1881) as it affected the Cloneen quarter of the vale of Slievenamon was recorded from my aunt, whose grandmother, Rebecca Dalton, was daughter of Richard Dalton, who succeeded in neighbouring Kilburry after the Cleere family, whose ancient tomb is in Fethard Augustinian Abbey. The Meagher family followed the Daltons, and the Meaghers’ stern and protracted struggle to regain Kilburry after being dispossessed was to win for Kilburry the proud title of “The Cradle of the Land League.”

The Meaghers were a well-to-do and highly respected family and they remained in possession up to the time of the founding of the Land League by Michael Davitt in 1879; but their lands and property were so heavily rack-rented that the position became intolerable in the end.

Finally, when eviction notices were served on them, a Monster Meeting was summoned for Cloneen, and this meeting was attended by some 20,000 farmers and labourers. It was then and there resolved that no farmer would take over or grab the lands, or have any dealings whatsoever with the landlord, until a fair rent was fixed. Then commenced a period of great tension and excitement around Cloneen. The very fields around our own home were part of the Kilburry property held by the Meaghers. Evictions, attended by detachments of military and police in battle array, and bailiffs fully equipped, became the order of the day.


Kilburry House was manned by twenty determined farmers, who were to resist the authorities for ten days. Large trees were felled and stretched across the long avenue leading to the house. The paving-stones forming the high entrance steps were uprooted and used as material for barricades. The gates were interwoven with wire and fortified with stout iron bars.

An old blacksmith from the slopes of Slievenamon named Tom Britton, whom Charles Kickham introduced into a novel as “Shawn Gow,” supervised the barricading of the house. My aunt often heard Tom use his favourite expression, “Let me have wan bellas at them!” On the final day, the Sheriff, after many fruitless parleys out- side on the roadway, eventually forced a passage through the fields to the back of Kilburry House, which he succeeded in entering from the rear. The little garrison of twenty farmers fought stubbornly, but were poorly armed for a fight, and finally they were overpowered and all were arrested. They were defeated militarily, indeed, but they had gained their objective—- which was to prove to the authorities as well as to the landlords that the countryside was fully prepared to resist rack-renting. The whole country around assembled in Cloneen that evening to see “the men of Kilburry” removed in wagonettes as prisoners to Clonmel Gaol. The local Unionist paper reported that a dense and hostile crowd surrounded the soldiers and police at Cloneen, and that it had been feared that an attempt to rescue the prisoners would be made.

The “men of Kilburry” were subsequently released, and there followed an evening of the wildest enthusiasm, with torchlight processions and bonfires on Slievenamon and the surrounding hills, while several bands played rousing airs—demonstrating the temper of the people, and their sympathy with the brave men who had put up a sturdy fight for their rights.


In 1882 a settlement was made and the Meaghers regained possession. In 1883 the family was again served with notices to quit—which were served in August at the very time when the crops were ready for harvesting. The Meaghers at this period had the Fíodh Mór, a large tract of thirty-six acres under crop. At this juncture, the local leaders of the Land League met together and devised a plan to save the fine crop. They were Michael Cusack, Thomas Ryan (“A Drangan Boy”), C. ]. Meagher, and several others. On the night following the meeting, thirty stalwart Tipperary men with scythes flashing like swords in the moonlight, mowed steadily all through the long autumnal night. Before the break of day, every threshing-machine in the parishes of Cloneen and Drangan was humming away in Meaghers’ Fíodh Mór, while hundreds of volunteers with horses and cars removed the corn to a field adjoining. The next day was August the 15th, the feast of the Assumption, and directly after first Mass the great field was thronged by men, women, and children who started off to bind all the corn. So immense was the crowd of volunteer helpers that the whole thirty-six acres of corn were bound by four o’c1ock that same evening.


A Land League organizer named Boyton who had come from Dublin addressed all those assembled from a rise of ground in the Fíodh Mór, and a tremendous cheer greeted the closing words of his address :—–

For those who sow shall reap,

And Kllburry’s shown all Ireland

How we did the harvest keep !

The crowd then formed in procession, and, preceded by the band, marched in triumph through the little village of Cloneen——-bound for Kilburry, where refreshments were served to all. The musicians then proceeded to play for the dancing which followed, and the young people present spread all over the level lawn before Kilburry House to enjoy themselves in a victory dance. There was a moving scene when Mrs. Meagher appeared at the hall-door of her home, holding a spray of laurel leaves, and thanked the neighbours who had loyally come to the midnight reaping. There was a great hush as she repeated the lines from Kickham’s song of the maid of Anner :——

“Ah, cold and well-nigh callous

This weary heart has grown,

For thy hapless fate, dear Ireland,

And for sorrows of my own.”


A second monster Land League meeting was also held in Cloneen in connection with Kilburry. The attendance included A.M. Sullivan, Thomas Sexton, john Dillon, and Canon Meagher of Templemore. After an eloquent address, A.M. Sullivan stirred the hearts of the people when he exclaimed:-—-~

Wert thou all that I wish thee, great, {glorious and free,

 First flower of the earth, and first gem of the-sea,

 I might hail thee with prouder, with happier brow,

But, oh, could I love thee more deeply than now! ”

The drama of Kilburry continued, and a stern, protracted struggle ensued for the reinstatement of the Meagher family in their old home. Worn out by the constant strain, Henry Meagher died, but Mrs Meagher never relaxed her own efforts for thirty years. Even when her cattle were seized for arrears of rent she pursued the bailiffs to every fair and market to lodge her objection and prevent their sale. Kilburry, nevertheless, was not restored to the Meaghers, but the family eventually was compensated by receiving a farm and property of equal value near Cahir. Mrs. Meagher, whose maiden name was Margaret Sheehy, was a near relative of the martyred Father Sheehy, and of David Sheehy, M.P., of Land League fame, father of Mrs. Hanna Sheehy Skeffington. Blood will tell.

Extract from : Romantic Slievenamon – A Tipperary Anthology

Speech made by Mr Michael Boyton at a National Land League meeting held in Cloneen.

On the 1st August, Irish American Mr. Michael Boyton, from the National Land League, attended a remarkable meeting at Cloneen, in the county Tipperary. Cloneen was connected with a case, as you may have seen in the newspapers the case of the Meaghers. That is a case in which there was direct interference with property. Boyton attended at Cloneen, and on the 1st August made this speech, in which he said:

“Therefore, I tell you again, we are beginning at the beginning. We are beginning to try to educate the Irish people into the knowledge of their power, for they have a power, if they would exercise it that would cranch this miserable system in twenty-four hours. To come home to the direct object of this assemblage is this. There have been rumours in the air that there are men wanting to take or desirous of taking the land of Henry Meagher. It matters not who or what they be, I tell these men here to-day, and I desire them to mark it, the people of Ireland, at least so much of them as we can command under this national organization, and so much of the funds of their brothers in America as they can command, have through their council sent you. Men of Tipperary, you in the gap, you are in the gap. Upon how you hold that gap now depends on the future the land question in this county. (A voice : ‘ It will never be lost*)

We have given you a bit of work to do. We are at your back with the people of the Land League throughout Ireland. We are coming to see with our help what you will do to fight for yourselves, for in holding that land you are asserting a principle, you are deliberately showing the landlord the power you have to crush his interests, the only thing that he ever consults in Ireland. It was said of these landlords, and when all is said and done they are only a handful, some five or six thousand, some one in every thousand of the people ; and surely, granted that there are 500 men, and these all cowards, if we got only one to every landlord, it ought to be enough to settle the land question, provided always, as the lawyer says, that you mean business, and that you are united.” He was referring in that to the same theory maintained by my friend, Mr. Curran, when he said Nally meant murder if he believed in it. ” I myself, would be the last one to interfere with the free expression of any man’s right, or his belief, or opinion on the settlement of the land question ; biit for the present I wish once for all to tell you what we have to-day in view. It is a peasant proprietary ; and, failing that, we vow that the land of Ireland shall become just like that farm must become, if you are faithful to yom- vow, a wilderness. If they do not give us the land for the people, why then give the land to the game, but they will never get it (cheers). I have talked more than I would have done under other cii-cumstances. There are gentlemen here who know the immediate circumstances of this place, that know the parties, that there has been, as I have said before, rumours that they were looking to spit in the people’s faces. Let them take to-day a word of warning, for I tell them that there is something round they do not think about (cheers). You can tell them it is not in cheeiing or in meetings that the firm determination of a resolute manhood is ever carried out. It is in exercising quiet and peaceful methods ; but the moment the spark is struck, then they had wished that they had thouglit before they had provoked it. Once for all, a word of warning is never wasted (‘ never”). And I tell these men, and I tell them most truly, it would be better for them they had never been born than that they attempted by foul means to defeat the resolution of the people of Tipperary (cheers).

I could not add one word to what I have said. I say now that we are going, your worthy junior member and myself, to organize the county Tipperary, and that those who to-day wish us to strengthen their hands in the settlement of the land question know what the meaning of an organized Tipperary is (cheers). They will know it when we have twenty, ay thirty thousand men to say, * We will hold the land.'” (A voice, ** It will be.”) Mr. Boyton ” Go on, and if you want to fight it out, it will take thousands of the police and regiments of soldiers to serve a single process of ejectment in the county Tipperary (cheers) ; and all that -without ever firing a shot, unless we are provoked and have the means to do it, we must always have the means. But while we are waiting for that, we want the men of Tipperary, the men let the old women stand aside and come up resolutely, earnestly, fearlessly, and manfully, and give their names to such young men as Mr. Cusack, and men who will be appointed secretaries (cheers for Mr. Cusack). Give him your name, and as you have received his name so warmly, I may perhaps tell you that the secretary of the Sleevenamon Land League that is the name they have given it it takes in all the branches that will be established within the immediate vicinity that he is a young man that has the confidence of the Irish National Land League.”

Boyton burning leases

Mr Boyton burning the Duke of Leinster’s leases

Print collection Maggie Land Blanck, The Illustrated London News, January 8, 1881


Michael Boyton was an Irish American member of the Land League. He was also one of the 14 people brought to trial in Dublin in 1881 for seditious conspiracy. The demonstration depicted in this engraving occurred “on the eve” of the trial in Dublin.

The building in the background is the market house in Kildare.

The ’98 Pike refers to the Irish Rebellion of 1798.