The curlew, or crotach, is one of Ireland’s largest wading birds, known for its long elegantly curved bill and its haunting call, cur…lee cur…lee. A generation ago it was common on wetlands from the mountain to sea but now the curlew’s call is seldom heard.
My Grandfather, Richard Davis left behind an unsolved riddle, the answer to which should uncover the 18th century roots of his family. Before the advent of radio and TV, riddles were a popular source of entertainment. I have included one told in the Davis household of that time.
Elward Burnside, a Canadian cousin, was working on a Davis family genealogy when he met my grandfather in the 1950s. Richard became one of his primary sources. Years later when Elward heard that I had an interest in the family’s past he sent me part of his original material, including some handwritten notes, wherein lies the riddle.
Elward’s brief notes are from an undated interview with Richard and include the lines:
“Grandfather John Davis born about 1803 had brothers Abraham and Robert
Richard named after a brother of his father Richard Abraham
Had lots of property in Northern Ireland, Antrim
Father could have fought for the property but stood to lose everything. Grand uncle pulled yoke? out of sled to keep from partner”
While some of this is consistent with fact, most of it is obscure. There are, however, some intriguing resonances with another Davis family living in the north Leitrim area at that time.
In his final document Elward did not include or comment on the potential import of “illegitimate” or “could have fought for property”. However, here surely are the bones of a story of sex, money and power in the late 1700s. With some more research and a little luck, hopefully the riddle will be solved.
Throws it after four legs to get back the one leg.
What is it?
Answer. A man comes into his house with a leg of mutton and lays on a three-legged stool. A dog runs in and steals the leg of mutton. The man returns, picks up the stool and throws it at the dog, to get back the leg of mutton.
The Davis family in Glenboy and Boggaun, had been known for their activity in the Orange Order, and for their determined opposition to Home Rule and impending Independence. When the events of First World War and the Easter Rising overtook the gradual political change, their opposition, like that of the Protestant community generally, melted away.
There is no doubt that Richard and his family, certainly harbouring reservations, threw their lot in with the new Irish state. Throughout the worst of the turbulent and uncertain times they emerged relatively unscathed and were targeted on only one occasion by an IRA group searching for guns.
In the fifteen years up until 1926, the Protestant population in Co Leitrim fell by almost a third, compared to just over five percent in the Catholic population, although there is no single factor that can explain the decline. While a good number left for nearby Co Fermanagh, many, like the Davises who had put down deep roots, probably felt, on reflection that they did not belong anywhere else.
A significant factor in the fortunes of the Davis family at this time, was Richard’s response to the collapse of his cattle shipping business, precipitated by his runaway business partner. He decided to pay all debts owed to his farmer suppliers at whatever personal cost.
This engendered considerable sympathy and support for the family, and the wider community saw to it that Richard and his family would not be evicted by the Bank seeking payment. Each year when the Bank re-advertised the farm’s sale, there was the same staunch refusal to bid. Given the families recent Orange activism such widespread community support and generosity must have been affirming, and humbling. And the community would rally round again some years later during another family tragedy when Herbie, Richard’s favourite son, became ill and died from diphtheria.
He had been comfortable borrowing from banks to buy land and for his business, but now Richard was now forced to sell. He disposed of one farm and cut spending to the bone; the family tightened their belts, and depended on what they had historically relied on, their labour, paying the bank whatever they could. When Reco, in 1939, at sixteen years of age went out to work drawing stone with their horse and cart, it marked the turning point in the family’s fortunes.
Despite his difficulties during the 1920s, Richard stood in the Leitrim Council election of 1926, proposed, and seconded by his neighbours, James Maguire and James MacGowan. He canvassed under the Ratepayers Defence Association, focusing on taxation and farming issues. The party would later, through a series of moves merge into the centre right party, Fine Gael. He polled a significant number of first preference votes but was eliminated on the 10th count.
My grandmother, Annie with more middle-class aspirations – and the backbone of family in that time of turmoil, as Richard readily acknowledged – was forced to give up any hopes of a Sligo Grammar education for her seven children. The hoped for jump out of their small farmer, peasant roots, although she would never have entertained such a description, was now abandoned. Their neighbours remarked that with Annie’s support, Richard remained surprisingly calm through this lean and stressful time.
Granda took me to fair days, showed me off on the counters of crowded pubs, then with a bottle of Cidona, left me, temporarily forgotten amid dark trousers and wellington boots. Above the clink of glasses, as mediums of stout eased the humid talk of cattle and weather; boots shuffled in the white sawdust on the floor, turning it the colour of cow dung.
He introduced me to the world of men and made me feel at home amid the work and clabber of the farm; told me stories of his encounters with the fairies up at the gap into Frank’s ground, his horse and cart stuck, leaving saucers of milk in return for their favour.
When he died in the winter of 1961, I remained at home with my aunts, sensing exclusion from some vital event, while my mother and her family grieved, waked and buried my grandfather in the graveyard of Manorhamilton Parish Church, within the walls of the fortified seventeenth century garrison.
1. The Davis lease of the 47 acre farm at Bogguan is first noted in the Griffith’s Valuation (1856-57), and it was here that the brothers James – Richard’s father – and Thomas Davis moved from nearby Glenboy where they were born on an 18 acre farm. The Boggaun farm was purchased in 1901. The neighbouring farm of Frank McLoughlin, of 23 acres was purchased in 1907, and that of Pat Lonegan, of about 20 acres in the 1940s, when Richard’s bank debts had been settled. Richard put at least one farm up for sale in 1934, but it may not have been sold. In the context of Irish agriculture and the land quality in that part of Leitrim, the Davis farm in the 1920s was probably above average size but not particularly large.
2 “Protestant and Irish, The minority’s search for place in independent Ireland.” ed Ian D’Alton and Ida Milne. A good reference to this period of change, particularly the introduction, Content and Context, and Chapter 3, Defining Loyalty, 1926-30, Brian Hughes.
These next few blogs tell a little of the story of my Grandfather, Richard Davis (1882-1961). He died when I was ten. I recall what others told of him, and some discoveries I have unearthed.
I was his first grandchild. He sat me on his knee, on his coarse woollen trousers, and gave me bread with sugar. He smelled of tobacco, and turf smoke, sitting by the open fire with its hanging blackened kettle. I watched intently as he filled his pipe with rubbed plug tobacco, an index finger bent with Carpal Tunnel, but made for the purpose, I thought.
In my Ballymena family I was surrounded by the busy lives of women. Granda’s farmhouse in Leitrim was very different. Outside, Reco and Cecil, his remaining sons, worked, argued, smoked and cursed; strong young men, they turned from no task. In the evenings in the small crowded kitchen, they told stories, laughed and flicked their cigarette butts like bullets into the glowing fire, their boots scrapping off the stone flag floor. On weekend evenings and Sundays, they were gone.
I saw in him occasional flashes of anger and frustration, perhaps sensing his failing strength or lost dreams, saw pride in his farm and stock; a working man in his late 70’s who dressed up for a fair day and Sunday church.
His time was almost gone then and not long after my 10th birthday he was dead. In those short years we had developed a bond that would connect his distant past to my present. I knew nothing then of the tribulations of his life or of the monumental changes he had lived through.
Richard was born thirty five years after the worst ravages of the Famine; the Protestant Ascendancy was in decline; land laws were changing rapidly and tenants would for the first time be able to purchase land; political and Land League agitation grew, and violence increased; then came the Easter Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War marking the height of the turmoil; the British left and new independent Ireland became culturally Gaelic and Catholic, women having a vote for the first time; and not 25 miles away from Richard’s Boggaun farm, the border with Northern Ireland marked the boundary to the new Protestant state. It was a period of rapid change, full of uncertainty and challenges for Richard and his family.
The Davis family were descendants of C17 planters who serviced the stranded enclave of the Manor of Hamilton; a buffer against the colonised natives. As small tenant farmers they depended on their labour and the sale or barter of their produce, while their advantaged position yielded opportunity, most often taken to accrue land. However, in 1852 they did not have enough property to vote in the election of that year, after which the male franchise was significantly expanded.
Richard’s home place at Boggaun was first leased by his grandfather, during the time of the potato Famine, probably when the family of Patrick McKay emigrated or dwindled to just Patrick, who remained there as sub-tenant until his death in the late 1800s. This was typical of the time when the multitude of very small farms, growing potatoes and oats, were abandoned or subject to eviction, to be taken up by those with spare resources and an eye to an opportunity.
When John, Richard’s eldest brother acquired a similar farm in Garradice in south Leitrim 30 years later, he was boycotted, sentiment having turned against those who were then seen as “land grabbers”; these boycotts were organised by the Land League, seeking to achieve a more equitable system of land distribution.
In changing circumstances, Richard would continue to purchase small farms whenever he could, until misfortune changed the path of his life.
While preparing a story on my Grandfather, Richard Davis, I recently came across three newspaper articles which describe a relatively minor incident in North County Leitrim in 1902, when Richard was twenty. The incident of “The Glenade Hut” illustrates the major political fault line of that time, local community tensions, and Richard’s family involvement. I post this by way on an introduction to the next blogs on my Grandfather.
Seven years after this incident Richard’s father, James died suddenly, leaving the farm, and the future, to his sons, Richard and Alex.
To help follow the newspaper articles below here is a summary of what was said about “The Glenade Hut” and those involved:
In 1902 in Glenade near Manorhamilton a claim of intimidation was made by an individual there, by inference, a Protestant. The authorities responded by planning to increase the police presence in the area, and to locate an additional hut near the existing barracks. Richard’s father, James Davis (called Jas in the article) was part of a group of Orange activists who transported the new police hut to Glenade, against local wishes. The incident was raised in the House of Commons in London. James lived in Boggaun and his family from nearby townland of Glenboy were also active in the Orange Lodge.
The Sligo Champion, Saturday, February 22, 1902
Correspondence – Removal of the Glenade Hut
To the editor of the Sligo Champion
A paragraph in last week’s “Champion” re the above omitted to give credit to the following loyal gentlemen who were engaged in the removal of the hut to Glenade, viz: Tom Anderson, Donaghmore, who some time ago kept an Orange Lodge, at the meetings of which the stentorian voice of Tom, and the rounds of ‘Kentish fire’ would bear favourable comparison to the brethren in Sandy Row; Jas Davis, Buggaun, whose son grabbed the evicted farms in South Leitrim; C Dennison, Meenymore; Edward Trotter, alias the ‘Evangelist’ of Tullyskerney. Some of these men are the descendants of the Pound Peelers who, in days of yore, cut the cravats off the necks of their Roman Catholic neighbours on their return from Mass at the R.C. Church of Glenfarne. Those and several acts of Orange brutality, perpetrated on inoffensive Roman Catholics of both sexes, are fresh in the memory of some of the old inhabitants of the district today. At the formation of Pitt’s Police (circa 1790_smcw) which were exclusively composed of Orangemen of the most rampant type, the Orangemen about Glenfarne were subsequently known by the name of ‘Pound Peeler’ on account of their atrocious conduct towards Roman Catholics. I am, dear sir, etc
Signed: An anti Pound Peeler
From the same edition
Leitrim County Council, Quarterly meeting. (excerpt)
Extra Police in Glenade
A resolution was received from the KInlough District Council protesting against the action of the Government in drafting in extra police to Glenade.
The Chairman said it was an outrage to see police brought in there. There was a Police hut in Glenade, and that should be sufficient, for it was one of the most peaceful districts in Ireland. When neighbours fell out it was no reason why the Government should levy a tax on the people by sending extra police.
Mr McGuiness- and the hut is erected within a mile of the barracks.
Chairman- a copy of this resolution should be sent to the member for North Leitrim (hear, hear)
Mr Fallon said at the meeting of the Asylum Board one of the Committee bragged that there was one man in North Leitrim had the backbone to give land for the erection of the police hut. The hut was conveyed from the Manorhamilton railway station to the barracks by four or five boycotts, and it now remained there. He was glad to hear the chairman speak as he did. Mr O’Donnell was a J.P. for the county and one of the heaviest ratepayers in their district and he knew there was no necessity for this hut or these extra police.
Mr Gaffney asked would the County Council have to pay for the extra police.
The Secretary said that he got no account of it.
Mr Gaffney understood that the hut was erected in the district on the requisition of a certain individual. It was most unjust that they should be called on to pay. The council should adopt the resolution.
Mr Kearney- as a matter of fact the man whom they were supposed to protect refused them the site.
A councillor asked what was the party who gave the site of this in Glenade.
Mr Fallon said it was Mr Corscadden
Mr Keane- And his son is a solicitor in Ballinamore (oh!)
The resolution was unanimously adopted.
Donegal Independent 14 March 1902
Extra Police in Leitrim
In the House of Commons,
Mr PA McHugh – I beg to ask the chief Secretary whether his attention has been directed to a letter recently addressed to him by Mr Tottenham, of Glenade, County Leitrim protesting against the extra taxation about to be imposed on the people of Glenade by the introduction of extra police; is he aware that the Ballyshannon Rural District Council and the Leitrim County Council have recently passed resolutions against the imposition of extra police in Glenade; will he inform the House of the number and character of crimes committed in Glenade during the past nine years; and will he have the extra police withdrawn.
The Attorney-General – Representations have been made, as stated against the employment of an additional force was sent for the protection of individuals who were subject to intimidation, and the preservation of public peace. It will be withdrawn when no longer required. I am inquiring as to the number of outrages committed in the district during the period mentioned.
“Kentish fire” is vehement and prolonged derisive cheering. The practice is so called from indulgence in it in Kent at meetings to oppose the Catholic Emancipation Bill (when passed Catholic Emancipation Act 1829). Source: Wikipedia.
“Pitt’s Police” – The bill (Pitt’s 1785 Police Bill_smcw), though withdrawn in England was successfully introduced in Dublin the following year, to widespread acclaim from the governing class. It was here that Sir Robert Peel encountered the new system of police during his tour of duty as Chief Secretary of Ireland, 1812-18. As Emsley notes, “the uniform, the discipline, and the organization of the new force suggest that Peel had imported into London many of the policing policies developed in Ireland to deal with civil disorder”. Source: Wordsworth’s Vagrants: Police, Prisons and Poetry in 1790s. Quentin Bailey.
RIC portable hut: Stock Photo thumbnail Mary Evans Picture Library – Portable hut for police in County Mayo, Ireland. A Royal Irish Constabulary policeman stands outside a portable hut used for temporary lodging when the armed constabulary are sent into a district where there has been unrest. This one is in Newfield, near Newport in the county of Mayo, overlooking Clew Bay. Published Illustrated London News, May 1870