Richard Davis, Boggaun.

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.

Richard with his grandson (author) circa 1959.

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.

Richard and Annie Davis on their wedding day November 1918

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.

Continues next blog.

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