The Memoirs of Master Hugh Rooney 1880-1970
|Master Hugh Rooneys Ancestors and townland details can be found here|
I begin these notes on the 8th October 1968 and hope that what I write may be of interest to my children and grandchildren. I am in my 88th year, fairly clear in intellect, a rather good memory for incidents of my younger days, though not so good for current happenings.
I was born in the townland of Derrygannon, about three miles from the village of Roslea, Co. Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, on the 10th December 1880. I went to Greaghawarren National School at an early age, the famous James Cassidy being the principal (indeed only) teacher. There were upwards of sixty pupils in attendance and how he contrived to teach so many so efficiently is beyond me. His salary was £46 pounds a year plus Results Fees!!
At the age of 14½ I was appointed monitor. The princely salary for this job £5 first year, £6 second year, £8 third year, £12 fourth year, and £18 fifth year. Having completed the monitorial courses I went to St. Patrick's Training College, Drumcondra, Dublin, in 1900, leaving it in 1902 to take up an appointment in Ballymena. Co. Antrim, in that year. I enjoyed my stay in Ballymena very much.
In 1906 I left Ballymena to take up the principalship of Bruscarnagh National School in my native parish of Roslea. In 1910 I went to Cordoola, where I taught until the school was transferred in 1934 to St. Tierney's, Mullaconnolly, where I worked until retirement on 31' December 1945.
Counting my monitorship, I had thus fifty years service as teacher under quite a variety of conditions. In Greaghawarren and Bruscarnagh the conditions were extremely bad, both being ancient buildings, erected without any mortar except clabber and thatched. The lighting was bad and no means of ventilation except door and chimney; but there were continuous currents of fresh air through fissures in the walls. Greaghawarren was blown down by a storm about 1904. Bruscarnagh, which was opened as a school in 1817 is still standing and is at present used as a dwellinghouse, notwithstanding all we hear about the erection of new houses. in Ballymena, the school where I taught, was much ahead of the cabins I had experience of in Roslea, yet conditions there were far from ideal.
THE LAND STRUGGLE
In the reign of Elizabeth I part of the territory of Slat Mulrooney in the barony of Clankelly was granted to Trinity College, Dublin. The College did not manage the estate directly but appointed a middleman who was given a portion of the rents. The first middleman was named King, and when this family died out, the Maddens, who were related to the Kings, took on the job. Both these families. like most other landlord families in Ireland of their time, were cruel and despotic, hated their tenantry intensely and did absolutely nothing to improve their miserable condition. They looked upon their serfs as an inferior race of human beings – I doubt very much whether they would admit even the word human. But landlords heeded not the warnings and forebodings of a day of reckoning which came in the end, and cleared them out forever. The world at present seems to be getting rid of tyranny, though there is too much of it in the world even now.
Most of the land on the Madden estate is of the poorest quality, much of it being reclaimed bog or mountain, the spade the only satisfactory method of cultivation. The farms were almost entirely uneconomic, averaging from ten to fifteen acres. From such wretched holdings had tenants to wring sustenance for themselves and their children. By great exertion they managed to grow great quantities of oats, which when ground into meal formed an important item of diet, supplemented by potatoes. Any oats that the farmer could afford was sold at from eight pence to a shilling per stone, according to the market. The growing of oats was so necessary that farmers usually took three crops in succession from the same ground. This was of course disastrous; but then artificial manures were almost unknown, so was agricultural science. Some of the farmers, indeed most, resorted to burning the soil and scattering the ashes over the ground; this, too, had disastrous consequences, especially on clay soils.
The rents were high, considering the poor quality of the soil. There were some farmers on the slopes of the mountain who had to pay as much as one pound per acre for their wretched holdings. The tenants had a tough problem to scrape up the rents; some who had relatives in America or other countries got help in this way; others whose women folk were engaged in the crochet industry also helped. Cattle, when saleable, were a poor price – you could buy a two-year stirk for from two to three pounds, while a good young cow could be had for seven or eight pounds. So bad was the cattle trade that small farmers sold dropped calves for as little as half a crown.
Generally speaking, all those who could, and some of those who couldn't, paid their rents. There were others who weren't able to pay any rent. So evictions started about 1800 and continued sporadically until 1904. Madden engaged a company of soldiers once to carry out his dirty work, but finding this a little too expensive, he was forced to trust to the willing R.I.C. The battering ram was not used owing to the inaccessibility of most of the houses, not on humanitarian grounds. The doors of the evicted were boarded up, the tenants, with their scanty belongings being outside previously. Stern warning was given the tenant not to re-enter his home; but the warning went unheeded, and scarcely had the agent, bailiff, "Emergency" men and police gone out of sight when the evicted coolly removed the boards from his door and reinstated himself and his family. Thus eviction proved a costly farce for the landlord, the reasons being (i)the Land League was strong in the parish at that time, so that there was no danger of land-grabbing (ii) the land was bad — too bad for "Emergency" men to cast covetous eyes on it and (iii) this portion of the Madden Estate was wholly Catholic, not a healthy environment for any "Emergency" man. Finally, about 1909, the estate was "bought out" and peace ensued.