Richard Davis, swindled.

This is a series of writings inspired by my ancestors, their families and their imagined lives – Stan McWilliams.

Richard Davis at Larkfield / Boggaun circa 1930

Thomas (1827-1902) and James Davis (1833-1909) were the first Davises to live at Boggaun or Larkfield. Their father John (1797-1859), from nearby Glenboy leased the lands for them from the Fox Lane Estate sometime before 1856. James lived out his life on the farm at Boggaun with his wife Elizabeth (nee Mealy 1838-1910); they had eight children. Thomas however joined the Dublin Metropolitan Police remaining there for about six years.  In 1861 he sailed for Canada having sold his share of the farm to James. The following year his wife Frances (nee Duncan, ?-1906) and their four children, aged 1, 2,3 and 6, made the arduous journey across the Atlantic to join Thomas.

When James died in 1909 and Elizabeth the following year, the farm passed to my grandfather, Richard (1882-1961) and his brother Alexander (1869-1941). Alexander with his eldest brother John (1861-1931) left and settled in Co Meath, marrying Cartwright sisters.

Richard Davis married Annie Gillmor (1889-1978) on 23rd Oct 1918 in the Church of Ireland in Dromahair and she moved the few miles from Boihy to live at Larkfield. Richard’s unmarried sister Mary Jane (1864-1937) was living there at the time and lived out the remainder of her life until she died in 1937. She was some 20 years older than the new bride and was used to running the household on her own. These turned out to be turbulent times in the house and many rows ensued between the two women.  Granny’s family felt that their daughter had “married down”; in effect the Gillmors were long standing landowners and had established commercial businesses in while the Davises at Boggaun were relatively small farmers.

Since they moved to Larkfield it appears as if the Davises had prospered.  A new two storey house was built on the farm in the late 1800’s when the economy boomed after the potato famine – the same house that is there today that became a second home for myself and my siblings from the 1950’s onwards.  The house was a substantial statement of success for the time, situated on elevated ground facing the Manorhamilton to Carrick-on-Shannon Road, unlike the original cottage which faced roughly North South and sits just behind it. Ulster Bank books from the period show growing balances from 1901 when the farm was passed to Richard and Alex following their mother’s death. These records show many transactions in and out with healthy balances. Business was good in the early 20’s.  The bank books show that in 1901 the bank balance was typically £45, equivalent to £5,485 in Sterling in 2019; in 1915 it was £250, approximately equivalent to £25,485; and in 1920-22 it was £850 approximately equivalent to £41,269 in Sterling in 2019.

By the mid 1920’s Richard had set up a cattle shipping business with a Protestant partner from Manorhamilton. They bought cattle in the North and West, rented good grazing land in Co Meath, before shipping the fattened cattle to England. It’s likely that Richard’s brother John in Co Meath helped with some of the arrangements. The business was going well and there was a strong demand in England for cattle and horses during the First World War and after it.  But tragedy struck Richard Davis when Mr X absconded after delivering a shipment of cattle to England.  He fled to Canada with full pockets. This left Richard with large debts owed to farmers, to the shippers and to landowners for grazing lands. Following the swindle next to nothing remained of their healthy bank balance.

The family were now in effect bankrupt. Scraping up money from their reserves, the farms appear to have been mortgaged to pay the debt.  But not managing to satisfy the full repayments, the Bank advertised the farm for sale each year.  And each year no one would make an offer; Richard in paying farmers for their stock had earned a great deal of respect and no one would act against him.

During this turmoil the children were born Herbie (1920-1939), Reco 1921, Maureen 1922, Ena 1923, Cecil 1924, Phyllis 1926, Alf 1929, Wallace 1927, and Jack 1932. In 1928 Granda’s brother Alexander returned to the home farm from Co Meath following the death of his wife. All 12 of them were living off the farm while paying the bank what they could, and apparently with Annie and Mary Jane still rowing. It must have been very tough in these years. And that is not to mention the political and economic turbulence of the times: the Easter Rising, the War of Independence, the subsequent Civil War and the first World War; ongoing emigration and then economic war with England.

My Mother, Ena used to say that they survived those times because her mother Annie was such a strong, good and frugal woman and that without her the house and family would not have held together. Granny kept farm, financial and diary records, she knew where the money was coming from and going to – she ran a tight ship, she had to. As a legacy from those times I remember the bed sheets made from strong cotton flour bags, washed and sewn together.  The sale of the farm at any time would have put the family on the road, and my Mother told us that they lived with this fear for many years.

All the family living and growing up at Boggaun during this time must have been severely impacted by these events. Those of my generation will probably recognise aspects of our parent’s personalities that were moulded by these early experiences; frugality, a belief in hard work and a fear of financial ruin, among them. My Uncle Jack (John) repeated to us over years, rather cynically I thought then, “Here’s some good advice in life – never trust your own, they will be the first to fleece you!” Given the early experience of his family’s financial ruin it is somewhat understandable he felt this way.

From the neighboring Fitzpatrick farm and thatched cottage across the valley all looked well at Larkfield. Padraig’s father Patrick arrived in Boggaun in 1920 from Cavan. He remembers his father saying that at that time the Davises were finding it tough. He said that following the cattle business collapse they had 8 cows, a horse and a fairly rough cart. Padraig’s father was impressed that Richard could maintain a cool temperament with all that was going on around him, in the house and outside of it. He believed that when Herbie and Reco went out to work carrying stone on the horse and cart, family fortunes turned around with the extra money coming into household. This was probably in the mid 1930’s. The Fitzpatrick’s were close neighbours and friends and were always there at Larkfield when the work needed extra hands.

Herbie and Reco’s first job was carting stone from the nearby Bird’s Quarry to the main road that ran past their farm house.  When Herbie died at nineteen in 1939 from diphtheria it was a great tragedy to his parents and his siblings and impacted on the course of some of their lives.  Reco continued to plough around the country where his skills were in great demand. He developed a love of horses and successfully bred Irish draught mares at his home in Bunnanadden, Co Sligo.

The family and farm recovered but only to a degree. Debts were paid and hardship relieved, the farm turned a profit and it was reinvested in the farm; but despite all of this the young adults had difficult choices; leave home or face the very limited opportunities in Leitrim and Ireland in the 1940s, and 50s – simply put the farm could only sustain a single family and as a result all but Cecil left. My grandfather and grandmother took the strain over the years and survived, but it probably took the best part of their lives. And despite these events or maybe because of them, Richard and Annie and their offspring remained tough, resilient, and optimistic throughout their lives.

Granny and Granda Davis circa 1959

What I first remember of Larkfield is of a warm, safe and special place where we were spoiled by our grandparents and where we could play and explore with an unbound freedom. I was completely unaware of what had happened some years earlier. The household was neither obviously wealthy nor poor. As we grew into our teens, we discovered that honest hard work was currency there, and was expected even during our holidays. Leaving the farm at the end of each holiday was a tearful event for us as children; looking out the back window of the car, waving at the lonely figures of Granny and Uncle Cecil standing together at the gable of Larkfield, until they could no longer be seen behind the thickening roadside hedges and trees. Had we caught an echo of others looking back, heavy in their leaving for unknown places and perhaps of dreams lost and unfulfilled?

After Cecil died, we found a very small five-line memo from the Agricultural Credit Corporation Bank dated 1941. It returns a cheque for £244 and the farm folio (ownership) document, the loan having been fully repaid. 

One hundred years earlier there is similar story to be told of Richard’s grandfather, John Davis from Glenboy, where this story began, and who also appeared to lose everything and recover, but that’s for another day.

Notes:

Boggaun and Larkfield are neighbouring townlands to the south of Manorhamilton in Co Leitrim. The Davis farm is in Boggaun. However, in my memory the Davis’ home and farm was always called Larkfield. In all the Cloonclare Church records from the earliest in about 1850’ the address is written as Boggaun and the first time “Larkfield” appears is in the Church’s registration of my Grandfather’s burial in 1961. I have suspected that as the townland of Larkfield was more Anglo-sounding than Boggaun it was more in tune with my Grandmother’s aspirations; it was her preference.  Following her husband’s death, she could perhaps finally assert her choice in the matter, with her Church at least. In the piece above I have used both names.

The bank account figures are indicative of balances in the account at that times and when I converted them to 2019 equivalents. Calculated at the following link

http://www.in2013dollars.com/uk/inflation/1920?amount=100

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