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By reclaiming the title is meant the title of “Cradle of the Land League” which is almost always credited to Irishtown. One author not guilty of such a claim is Jim Greaney in his “Dunmore” where he writes:”Irishtown has been called “The cradle of the Land League”, but the village of Quinaltagh has a strong claim to the title”. The aim of this narrative is to present and promote the case for Quinaltagh right to the title. In the majority of Land League histories the role of Quinaltagh is so unimportant as to be almost airbrushed out of their accounts and to regard Irishtown alone as the “only begetter” of the Land League.
The People:
When 1879 came around the down-trodden people of Quinaltagh, living in marginal tenant holdings, were determined not to let themselves suffer again from what today is referred to in the Balkans as “Ethnic Cleansing”. More than a century or so before, their forebears were evicted from their fertile homesteads in Ulster by the superior firepower and absolute political power of their new neighbours, the Protestant planters, and like many more Ulster folk before them and after them, they had fled south to the more hospitable if less fertile marginal lands of North Galway, South Mayo and Roscommon to start new homes. In school we heard that the word “Quinaltagh” meant “Cine Ultach”---Ulster folk, but of late, at one of the Heritage sessions it was stated that the new refugees from the North wept so regularly for their lost fertile Ulster homes that their new habitat became known to their neighbours as “Caoine Ultach”. (Cry for Ulster).
The Occasion:
The reason for their determination not to find themselves again evicted was this:
The Bourke’s of Oldtown, (just off the Irishtown road to Milltown), were the landlords of three estates_----at Garryedmond, near Claremorris, at Quinaltagh and at Irishtown. The landlord living in Oldtown at the time was Sean – Uaitear, (Old Walter). Having acquired the townland of Quinaltagh in 1878/79, he found 14 of the 26 tenants unable to pay the rents. This was due to a combination of poor crop returns and lower prices. Sean- Uaitear imposed a fine of half a year’s rent on top of the arrears. The tenants were distraught at this turn of events. At this juncture Sean- Uaitear died; his heir was Colonel Joseph Bourke, a surgeon in the British army in India, who made his brother, Canon Geoffrey Bourke his agent as he felt unable to leave his post in India. Thus the Canon represented the landlord interest and threw down the gauntlet of rent recovery to all Bourke lands.
The Reaction:
The Quinaltagh people were having none of it. Fourteen of their number was for eviction. They formed a protest group and met in the old thatched school house on the property of John Kilgarriff of Garrafrauns. The meeting was chaired by Patrick Canny of Cloondalgan who was married to a woman from Quinaltagh—Mary Noone. Doubtless his Quinaltagh bride conferred on Patrick Canny the status of honorary Quinaltagh man! Membership of this group entailed a levy of one shilling per annum. All of the Quinaltagh tenants were at the meeting, fourteen of whom were, as already stated, in arrears of rent. Also present were Mike O’Loughlin of Gortnagoyne, James Gildea and Mike Mannion of Cloondalgan; Andy Mullarkey; and Peter Quinn of Darrary. This comes to a total of 31 present at the meeting. The 26 tenants listed in the 1901 census were:
John Glynn,                    John Fleming             Pat Nestor
Patrick Tully                  Thomas Clarke           Catherine Higgins
Martin Divine                 Bridget Curran          Michael Nestor
Michael Kerrigan           Catherine Gilmore     Patrick Henehan
Robert Hebron               James Mullin             Patrick Noone
Edmond Mullaney         Luke Mannion           Michael Connolly
James Sheridan             Michael Costello        Patrick Dolan
Patrick Fleming            Thomas Hernon          Patrick Glynn
Martin Reddington                            Daniel Gleeson.
It was agreed at the meeting that the powerful assistance of Michael Davitt was essential if they were to prevent the notices to quit threat. Davitt’s reputation was well known to them because of his linking of the land question with national politics in his New Departure Policy. But to get to him needed intermediaries. Their first contact was the Fenian, John O’Kane from Bawnmore (in Dunmore parish) near Kilclooney; he was in business at that time in Claremorris. John put them in touch with P.W.Nally of Balla (of the Nally Stand in Croke Park) and James Daly of the Connacht Telegraph. Davitt was delighted at their approach. The Quinaltagh tenants had provided him with an opportunity to destroy landlordism and thereby to restore the “land of Ireland to the people of Ireland”. Davitt recognised that Canon Bourke would be (what today is referred to as) a “soft target”---a Parish Priest, located in his native parish, threatening his fellow Catholics and even parishioners, with notices to quit.
They met in James’ St., in Nally’s Hotel. Davitt decided on a public meeting; that Irishtown, the home of the Bourke’s, was the appropriate place; the planned eviction of the Quinaltagh tenants the ideal situation; and that Canon Bourke was a vulnerable target. As the Bourke estate did not extend north of Irishtown----this area was the property of Mrs. Higgins, a native of Claremorris (she was the grandmother of Dr. Michael John Browne, Bishop of Galway immediately before Dr. Casey and the man responsible for the construction of Galway Cathedral) ----Mrs. Higgins provided the site for the meeting, leaving the organisers free from interference from the Bourke’s. Davitt himself did not attend the meeting, on Sunday April 20th. 1879; some versions say he missed the train; others that as a “ticket of leave”man, he had to take precautions to avoid re-arrest if he overstepped the conditions of his release from prison in 1877. However he secured the speakers and provided the resolutions to be proposed and adopted at the meeting.
Among those present on the platform, according to the Tuam Herald of April 26th., 1879 was Andy Mullarkey of the White House who actually is recorded as seconding the motion proposed by a Mr. Leonard (a retired Customs and Excise Officer) of Cartown House, that the Chair at the meeting be taken by James Daly esq. of the Connacht Telegraph, Castlebar.
It is perhaps worth mentioning that Joe Dalton (father of Cardinal Dalton), a member of the Invincibles, was good enough to lend the organisers timber for the platform with instructions not to damage it. As nails were driven into the timber, it was not returned to McDonnell’s where Joe was manager. It was bought instead by the organisers to be used as material for kitchen furniture in the Irishtown area.
The Result
As a result of the meeting, the Davitt doctrine swept the land, resulting in the establishment of the Land League. For the Quinaltagh tenants the eviction notices served on them by Canon Bourke were withdrawn and a reduction of 25% was made in the rents. Canon Bourke was credited with saying:” The tenant farmers have a right to assert themselves as men”. Touché!
So I rest my case and with Jim Greaney assert: “Irishtown has been called “The Cradle of the Land League”, but the village of Quinaltagh has a strong claim to the title”!
It would be remiss to conclude this narrative without paying tribute to Michael Davitt who literallyMichael DavittMichael Davitt transformed the New Ireland of the 20th. century. Ironically, his status among his contemporaries is perhaps overshadowed in that his true greatness is less appreciated, first by his association with Parnell and later by the reputation of the 1916 signatories. The war of Independence was assuredly fought by a risen people. One asks: Why so?
It has been estimated that the land, 95% of it, was in the hands of the planters, the Protestant settlers, by the end of the 17th. century; it was not just the land ownership. The landlord class were in fact the absolute masters of the country fulfilling the accepted function of all colonists, to represent the interests of their masters.
So it was that native attempts to undo the conquest were doomed to failure. What indeed could independence mean to a downtrodden landless people! Still, change is the lot of man and so by the arrival of the 19th. century the landlords were beginning to lose their grip on the people, because the British, as they introduced reforms to counter ideas emanating from the French Revolution, had less need of their landlord garrison in Ireland. They thus centralised the system of government, brought professional lawyers to administer the courts, professional policemen to the streets, and local administration to the regions. Simultaneously, such events as Catholic Emancipation, the Famine, disestablishment of the Protestant Church, the Griffith Valuation--- all had a negative impact on landlord control.
But they still held on to the land. By 1830, Tenant Rights had been a political aim, introducing the 3F’s---Fair Rent, Fixity of Tenure and Free Sale. Among the pioneer land reformers was James Fintan Lawlor who was first to link the National Independence Movement with the land question as an instrument to undo the conquest. He provided the battle cry: “The land of Ireland for the people of Ireland”.
Then in 1877 a one armed Fenian prisoner, Michael Davitt, was released from prison. Approaching John Devoy in the U.S. and Parnell, he proposed his New Departure Policy which led to the growth of the Land League. His Irishtown meeting was the spark that led to a spontaneous growth of the demand for Peasant Proprietorship and an end to evictions. New elements had entered Irish politics – self-reliance, conservatism and stability—that have remained to this day ; and of course landlordism is no more. No doubt, Michael Davitt, tapped into the fact that proprietorship is an essential element in our lives, not just the land but our homesteads too, giving us a stake in our community. For this, Davitt must be given credit above his contemporaries.                               
ByKevin Kilgarriff.   R.I.P.