Continuing the story of ‘Brothers at Law’, with John and Alex Davis, Alex’s wife Margaret and his brother Richard, involving a farm in County Meath and in County Leitrim.
By 1910, when John’s father and mother had died, he had moved to County Meath and was building a substantial house, ‘Boyne View’, after living and farming for some fifteen years in south Leitrim. In his mother’s will, his father having died the previous year, John was left 10 shillings while his brothers, Alex and Richard, inherited the family farms. John never claimed his share, probably considering it derisory, and perhaps feeling it an affront to his sense of himself as a “self-made man”. Maybe he had fallen out with his parents, or they considered him wealthy enough without any of their inheritance, we do not know.
Alex married Margaret Taylor in 1918, a few years after her husband died. Margaret was John’s widowed sister-in-law who had spent time living with his family before her first marriage. Alex claimed that when he moved to Margaret’s farm, he came with nothing. This must have further stoked John’s ire towards his brother. It appears from postcards between Margaret and Alex, aged 36 and 49 respectively when they married, that they had some plan in mind, possibly that the brothers, Alex and Richard, would attain a foothold in County Meath, as John had done. For ambitious farmers in the west, a move to the better lands in the east was considered a major achievement. Significant land reform at that time had encouraged a broader ownership and, along with the breaking up of large estates, resulted in considerable land sales and transfers.
A year or two after Alex arrived there, John sued him for damages to one of his horses. John was exhibiting his farm stock at various shows, including the Royal Dublin Show, and had a considerable standing within the farming community. Due to the War of Independence and then Independence itself, court work was upset for some years, and it was 1925 before John’s case came to the District Court in Drogheda. Indeed, in the previous year there was a trespass case in the courts against Margaret and Alex, which was supported by John, against the couple. Clearly there was considerable friction between the two neighbouring households. In a further unexplained twist that same year, Margaret advertised their farm for sale in a local newspaper.
The case, ‘Brothers at Law’, and Alex’s appeal is reported in the Drogheda Argus, 1st August and 14th November 1925. It is interesting to read it in full, particularly as the court reporter appeared to have an ear for dialogue, read it here in full. Some highlights are as follows:
Mr Tallen, representing Alex, defended the charge,
“(Alex)… had no means of any description. The debt of £34 17s 3d sued for was not an ordinary debt as between the plaintiff and defendant. They were two brothers and lived next each other. There had been a lot of bickering going on for a number of years and there was an action brought by John Davis against Alex Davis for injuries to a horse which was alleged to have got frightened as the defendant’s conduct and the Co Court Judge gave a decree.”
Mr Mullen for the plaintiff, John, cross examining,
“Are you going to tell the Court you walked into a woman with thirty acres and had absolutely nothing yourself?
Alex – “Yes, sir.”
“You walked into the woman without a penny piece?”
Alex – “She asked me … ” (laughter)
“We won’t mind the romance; let us come to the £ s d part. Did you bring any cattle?”
Alex – “I didn’t bring one heifer.”
Mr Mullen questioned Alex on the will on the home farm in Co Leitrim,
Alex – “There were 23 acres odd in the farm that I assigned at Dromahaire, Co Leitrim. It was of more value when it was above water (laughter). There was a claim against me by a workman named Gallagher, and my brother (Richard, smcw) took payment of it. As a consideration for that I released any claim I had to the farm, and soon afterwards I came to the Co Meath. My brother (John) was living beside the widow and annoying her. I took the widow and her small farm – or she took me in.” (laughter)
Mr Mullen – “And that put the tin hat on your brother’s chance of the small farm.”
Justice Goff’s judgement,
“Mr Goff said he was satisfied that the defendant’s services on the farm for a number of years were very valuable, and if he had got no payment, it should be a very small thing for his wife to settle this debt. Accordingly, he would make an order for payment by instalments of £5 a month and £1 5s costs, the first instalment to commence 29th August.”
On appeal by Alex, Circuit Court Judge Doyle ruled a few months later, this was again reported in the same newspaper,
“His Lordship said he was perfectly in accord with the order of the District Justice. Apparently, the defendant had evaded the responsibility in Co Leitrim by some subterfuge which he could not understand. He had contracted responsibilities in Co Meath which had been forced against him in Co Louth, and very properly. He affirmed the order.”
Margaret died four years later in 1929, and some three years afterwards Alex returned to his home farm in County Leitrim. For Richard, other events in the mid-1920s had overtaken any hopes of farming in County Meath, if that had been his intention, with the collapse of his cattle business after his partner absconded to Canada with the proceeds of a cattle shipment. It is not known what happened to Margaret’s farm, or if it was ever assigned to Alex after her death. Local reports said that Alex returned home penniless.
This murky dispute, however unpleasant, had little impact on the wider families and in subsequent years the Davis families in Meath and Leitrim kept up close ties, visiting each other regularly, drawn together, to a degree, by a mutual interest in horses.
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