Brothers at Law, concluded.

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.

John and Maria Davis with their family outside their home at Corballis, c 1930. (James, eldest had by then emigrated to the US)

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.

Some of John’s prizewinning stock.

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. 

Alex Davis after returning to Boggaun c 1934.

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.”

A group of Davis family from Co. Meath visits Boggaun c 1960. Annie and Richard Davis are first and third from the left.

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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‘Brothers at Law’

The past series of blogs have attempted to capture a sense of the lives of my grandfather Davis’ generation, all born at the Boggaun farm in County Leitrim. There is a final story I want to relate which illustrates an aspect of the family that puzzled me. Doing the background for these stories I had asked a number of times if the Davis family had a hunger for land, and the answer I got back was that it seemed no greater than that of most farmers. However, I discovered a report of a 1925 Drogheda court case that indicated the potency of land in a protracted quarrel between three of the Davis brothers: John, the eldest, Alex, his younger brother by eight years, and Richard, the youngest.

John Davis c 1920

John Davis was born in 1861 at Boggaun, his grandfather having taken up the lease there by 1850, most likely on what was a bankrupt Famine-era farm. Richard, my grandfather, the youngest died there in 1961. This period of 100 years saw enormous transformation in Ireland. In 1861 Ireland was governed by the Protestant Ascendancy, a century later it had been independent for forty years.

Alex Davis after returning to Boggaun c 1934

I have fond memories of my grandfather Richard. He gives me some connection to his older brothers and sisters, none of whom I knew. He witnessed a period of significant change. While keeping the values of his Church of Ireland community, and with a strong ambition to better himself and his family, he was able to accommodate the transition to a new Ireland, at a time when many of his contemporaries emigrated. After Independence he stood for election with the Ratepayer’s Defence Association (a proto Fine Gael party) and polled a reasonable number of cross-community votes. He won widespread support and respect when he put his family and farm into severe debt, following the collapse of his cattle shipping business, to pay farmers for their stock.

Richard sketched from a damaged wedding photograph, 1918.

‘Brothers at Law’ is a story of the conflict primarily between John and Alex, with Richard apparently involved. John left his home farm on his marriage to Anna Maria Cartwright in 1883 and moved to her home in south Leitrim. At that time Alex was farming at Boggaun, while Richard was a child of four. In south Leitrim John became embroiled in a conflict with the Land League, settling on an evicted farm at Garradice where he was boycotted as a “land grabber”. He faced down this opposition and appeared to prosper. Ten years later with a family of eight he had the resources to move ‘lock-stock-and-front-door’ to a farm at Corballis in County Meath. ‘Lock-stock-and-front-door’ because John brought with him his County Leitrim front door which was fitted to his new home, ‘Boyne View’. Some years ago, this door was replaced by the current owners and was used in an out-building, as it was still of good quality and in some respect to its history. John’s family most likely travelled to County Meath by train as there was a train halt very close to their Garradice farm.

Sisters, Maria Davis and Margaret Davis, nee Cartwright, c 1927.

John encouraged a south-Leitrim friend, William Taylor to make the move to County Meath, and William built a house on a thirty-acre farm adjacent to John at Corballis. Their houses were some 50 yards apart. In 1911 William married John’s sister-in-law Margaret Cartwright. William died in 1916 and in his will, he left everything to Margaret. The will was challenged in the High Court by William’s brother. The Court ruled for Margaret, and she took ownership of the farm. Two years after William’s death, Margaret married Alex Davis and he moved into the farm beside his brother John; Alex was 49 and Margaret 36 at that time. Margaret appeared to play some role in the brother’s quarrel.

To be continued in next blog.

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