The Memoirs of Master Hugh Rooney 1880-1970
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The Famine

THE UNITED IRISHMEN

This was at first a Protestant movement, but gradually Catholics were admitted to the ranks. The Society was introduced to the Roslea district by Captain Thompson, a Protestant whose people were farmers in the townland of Derrylea, Co. Monaghan. Whether his title was from the British Army or not I cannot say, but from what I have heard he was highly respected and trusted by all.But England wasn't sleeping, her spies kept her informed of every move and she bided her time. Her great danger was that Catholic and Protestant were united and sundered they must be at all costs, and sunder them she did. The Orange society was formed in 1795 and this was, in the main, why most Protestants withdrew from the United Irishmen. The Presbyterians of Antrim and Down. though, held on to the end.

My mother's people — the Boyles — owned a farm of upwards of twenty acres in the townland of Derrygellia occupied at that time by her great grandfather. Owing to the attentions of the yeomen his two brothers had to flee the district . One of them settled at Killeshandra in Cavan, I forget where the other went. After they fled, the yeomen came and raided the home in Derrygellia. The family were in bed, her great grandfather was bayoneted until the floor of the bedroom was covered with blood and the unfortunate victim left senseless on the bed. He recovered after a few days and decided to leave the district. So he, his wife and son aged nine, set out on the long trek to Connaught, leaving two of his sisters to look after the farm. They took a cow along to supply their needs on the journey, which, by the way occupied a month. They settled somewhere in Co. Mayo, my mother didn't know exactly where, all she knew was that they found the people nice and friendly, that the church they attended was a country one, that as soon as Mass was over on Sunday the young men went into a field adjoining the church and played hurling for hours. The Boyles stayed for a year in the friendly shelter of their Mayo home, and then imagining that conditions should be settling somewhat in their native Fermanagh decided to return. Alas! When they did return their home and firm were in possession of a neighbouring farmer who "bought" it for twenty pounds, from the sisters who were left in charge, and who of course had no power or authority to sell.

And now began a period of want and privation for this unfortunate family. They lived for a time in Lannet in a makeshift shelter at the back of a ditch, in a similar habitation in Tanaghaboy and in several other places. that [ cannot recall. It was very kind of the good people who allowed them to put up such shelters on their farms and I know that: the Boyle family and their descendants never forgot the goodness and charity of those kindly people.Somehow my mother's grandfather contrived to learn the tailoring trade, perhaps his father was a tailor as well as farmer — I cannot say. At that time tailors and other tradesmen stayed in the homes of those who employed them and remained there as long as the work lasted, with board and lodging of course.

He went to England for a time, but returned after a short time there. On the return journey he was shipwrecked and his ship was lucky to gain the shelter of Dublin Bay, though one of the Northern ports was its destination. They arrived in Dublin about daylight and he set out at once for Roslea, a distance of some ninety or a hundred miles, arriving there soon after sunset. Some performance!! But then. feats of this magnitude were not so very rare in those days. Indeed in this part of Fermanagh there were no roads, those that we have at present were not constructed until 1850-1860. After many years of toil and privation my great grandfather was able to purchase a small holding in a portion of the townland of Derryheanlish known then as Pollamateera (Poll an mactyre — the hole of the wolf). The location of the "hole" was in a field on the Boyle farm known as the "Bogey". The Boyles have at the present time over fifty acres of land and are sole owners of Pollamateera". And I may add that a descendant of their's (a niece of mine) is the present owner of the ancestral home in Derrygallia. "The mills of God grind slow".

 

I return now to the activities of the yeomen in '98. Their chief duty was to raid homesteads usually at night, and to pillage and destroy what they found there. If they found arms of any kind, these were promptly seized, if nothing of this nature was discovered, they proceeded to smash all in and about the house. But generally the people heard the coming of the yeomen and cleared out for the mountain where they remained until it was considered safe to return. I met an old man on Garran some years ago who pointed out where people from various townlands used to camp in '98. Pointing to different parts of the mountain he remarked: "That's where the Derryneese man used to lie, that's where the Derrygannon men were, the Greaghawarren men next to them" and so on until he had named most of the surrounding townlands. It must have been a most trying experience for all, especially the young and very old. for there is absolutely no protection on this bare mountainside from rain or wind. Others, who lived farther from the mountain, sought hiding in lakes and bogs. If they succeeded in getting well into the bog there was very little danger of the yeomen following.

There were three men from the Roslea district hanged in 1798, Smith from Mullabrady, Connolly from Pottiagh and McMahan from Clones parish, though some of his family lived in Drtunmerhave. There is a suitable monument erected in memory of all three in the cemetery of St. Tierney's Catholic Church, Roslea. (see below) Their history is well known in the district, and it is assured that their memory and patriotism will never be forgotten as long as this monument remains. Smith was a substantial farmer and a cooper by trade. An uncle of my father's Hugh Rooney by name, was apprenticed to the coopering trade with Smith and worked with him until his arrest. The mere fact that he was associated with Smith in this way was enough to have him suspect in the eyes of the authorities. So he thought it prudent to clear out and went to Ballybay for a short time, but finding this place insecure also, he proceeded to Drogheda where he remained, conditions having become somewhat normal, he returned to Roslea. Later he settled on a farm in the townland of Crockada, raised a large family of boys .and girls, lived to a ripe old age and saw all his family settled comfortably at the time of death. He got the epithet "Can" from the Smiths to whom it properly belonged. The Rooneys here and in other places, for all I know, were often referred to as the "yalla" Rooneys, and some of them certainly were worthy of the title, but it was always taken in good part. The colour of one's hide shouldn't really matter.

My father was born in 1830. He was thus sixteen when the famine started in 1846. He must have been pretty strong for his age, for he carried two sacks of oatmeal, one weighing thirty-two stones and the other thirty-six stones when he was sixteen years. The meal belonged to a neighbouring oldish man who didn't feel up to the task himself. He complimented my father when the task was done, saying that he was a good "caddie", but was careful not to mention the weights until the meal was safely in his kitchen. He was what was known as a meal-monger, who, like all of his brood, stored all the meal they could lay their hands on and sold it at an exorbitant price to the starving people. The price was sixpence per pound. If their customers could not pay. they were given credit, but the interest charged was outrageous. I heard. on good authority, of one small farmer, with a farm of ten or twelve acres, who got one hundredweight of meal from a meal-monger, who, after the lapse of three or four years, seized the farm for what was due!!

 

The Public Works were supposed to be road-making, but roads they certainly were not, as they led from anywhere to nowhere, the stipulation made by the Government being that they were to be of no public utility. There were two such schemes in this locality, one at Crockada and the other at Knocknalair. Viewing the matter calmly, one can come to no other conclusion but that these schemes were started for no other purpose but to finish what hunger had begun, namely the extermination of the workers.The work was heavy and the supervision strict. There was no consideration for the young or the old, the weak or hungry. The clay had to be wheeled, sometimes considerable distances on wheelbarrows, and this was no easy job if the ground was wet, as it very often was. Then the barrow had to be frill; if it wasn't, the gaffer would have something to say about it. The pay was disgraceful. My father earned sixpence a day, though he was doing a man's work, which was paid for at tenpence per day. They were paid at the end of each week. Before the actual payment, the paymaster went to an eminence near the work and fired two pistol shots. I suppose this was done to frighten off any would-be highjackers. There was no need. The people were so dispirited with want and suffering that violence of any kind was out of the question.

 

 

Hunger, fever, was raging throughout the country. There was no medical attention: except what care the patients got in their own homes, there was no other treatment. A small two-roomed cottage on a farm belonging to the Croarken family and in front of St. Tierney's School was used as a temporary hospital for those who had none to attend to them at home; but for all the attention they got here they might as well have remained at home. It was a familiar sight to see the delirious patients running through the field beside the "hospital". Of course the accommodation was hopelessly inadequate and attention to the patients, even if available, was out of the question.

 

 I heard of a baby, whose mother had the fever, being brought to the hospital, where she died a few days after admission. She was put into a coffin for burial. and the baby with her, hut as the coffin was being closed, the baby began to cry, and just in the nick of time. The child was taken away by some kind friends or relations, and in due course went to America where she did well. She returned many years later to see her old home and to view the spot where she was almost buried alive. I saw her when she visited the district over seventy years ago and certainly there was no evidence of the ravages of famine in her appearance then. Her people lived at the time of the famine in a house inside the Deerpark wall near the Roslea-Fivemiletown road

 

 

 

Famine "relief' in the form of Indian meal porridge was distributed from Mr. Chambers' yard, where a huge pot was used for the boiling of the porridge. This pot or boiler was long preserved and may still be in existence for all I know. When the porridge was boiled for some time it was allowed to cool and a watery liquid came to the top. This was known as "shirings" and had little food value, but was doled out to the poor suppliants instead of porridge; it was said that most of the solid porridge was fed to Chambers' pigs. 

There were many tales of horror and suffering told by the old people in my youth about the horrors of this shocking period of our history. The record of such tales would fill many volumes and would, perhaps, take more time than I have to spare; but I cannot finish this account of some of the horrors of the period without mentioning the following pathetic tale of Garret Dalton. Garret and his wife lived in a small house in Eshekeerin.  The house was in the midst of the heather, no arable land near h and neither road nor lane leading to it. The wife took ill and died of famine fever and was buried in Roslea. After the funeral Garret set off for his native Aghabog but only succeeded in reaching the Co. Monaghan border about a mile from Roslea. Next day he was found dead, in a standing position, leaning against a front wall of a house by the wayside. The walls of the house where he and his wife lived still stand.  

The following points in connection with the famine are worthy of consideration and may show that this catastrophe was not altogether a visitation of Providence:

 

There was more grain shipped out of Ireland during this period than would have been sufficient for the needs of the people. This was necessary because of the demands of the landlords. A few of the latter acted very nobly by foregoing their rents, but they were very, very few. Oat bread was a common article of food in every home at that time and for years afterwards. There was a bannock or two baked in every house daily and a portion taken with each meal, especially dinner and tea. When I was a schoolboy I rarely had any other kind of bread to school; the story was the same with my fellow pupils. The only objection was that it made us very thirsty in the Summer; though if one of the famine sufferers got a chunk of a bannock, this objection would not arise.  

No attempt was made by the British Government to stop this export of grain. as was their bounden duty when they became aware of the position in Ireland.  

It is said that Queen Victoria contributed £5 for the relief of famine victims in Ireland; some say she didn't contribute; there was so much misery in England and Scotland and throughout the glorious Empire where the sun never set that she was afraid of creating a precedent!!!  

Turkey sent a ship laden with food for the starving people, but the British,through some technicality would not allow the food to be landed,but sent the ship and its cargo back to Turkey.   

Shortly after the famine that organ of the British elite gloated that the Celts had gone with vengeance, that they would be as scarce on the banks of the Shannon as the Mohawk on the banks of the Hudson!! I refer to the "Times".  

The stipulation that the Relief works should be of no public utility is ominous. If they had no utility why start them?

THE FENIANS

 

Most of the young men of the Roslea district belonged to the Fenian organization. They were a body of men, earnest and determined for Ireland's welfare and unselfish in the pursuit of their ideal. I know most of the leaders and quite a few of the rank and file who survived until my youth; and generally speaking, they were men of whom any country should be proud. They had tremendous difficulties to contend with and they faced these difficulties with courage and persistence that was bound to have effect. 

 

Time has vindicated most – if not all – of their principles; and as the years roll on we realise more clearly the debt our country owes to their memory and achievements. That is the way of the world. We have to die before our good qualities are appreciated. It would be desirable if we were as charitable to the living. 

 

As might be expected there were some informers among the Fenians; but considering the size of the Organization their number was small – almost insignificant. Wild tales were in circulation about "Castlehacks" and traitors in general, but there was never a word of proof. Some of the leading men in the movement were farmers, some business men and shopkeepers and some in other walks of life. I knew two substantial farmers, prominent in the Fenians, who were reduced to beggary almost by the attention to public affairs rather than to their farms. Yet some were referred to by some uncharitable people as Castlehacks. I also knew a teacher who hadn't two sixpences to rub together and couldn't afford a new suit, but had to content himself with a secondhand one, accused in the same way. Traducers of this type should be treated with the contempt they deserve; they seem never to realize that there is a certain sin known as calumny. 

 

The Fenians did their drilling at night. Sometimes the police might chance to see them, but if they did, they always, cautiously, remained in the background. Route marches were held from time to time. One such march was to Moan's Cross in the Brooke territory. It was a perfectly orderly affair, no interference with person or property or riotous conduct of any kind. Some Protestants in the district through which the march passed reported the matter to Colebrooke (Sir Douglas I think it was) and he and John Madden of Springrove proceeded to raise hell as was to be expected. Three or four were arrested, tried and given gaol sentences. I knew two of those sentenced namely, the McMahon brothers of Eshnadara, Pat and Henry. Neither was a Fenian and neither was in the march; but a well-buttressed case with perjured witnesses did the trick. Madden graciously provided his shooting lodge for a barrack and the Eshnadara district was saddled with four or five R.I.C. men for the next thirty years. There was no crime in the district except some poteen-making and somehow the police could never locate this! 

 

Another march was to Blackwater, a distance of some eighteen or twenty miles. This march was uneventful – no interference of any kind, though they passed through Scotstown where there was a police barrack.

  

For some reason which I never heard satisfactorily explained, the Fermanagh Fenians never seemed to "pull" with those of Monaghan, though there were some Fermanagh men in the Monaghan side, as there were Monaghan men on the Fermanagh side. The two actions met in scuffles many times and firearms were used in some of the engagements. The Monaghan men were the better armed; they had some antiquated shot guns which when loaded with backshot or metal slugs could be dangerous enough.

  

I met and talked with many men who had taken part in these disgraceful proceedings. None of them seemed to know what the fighting was about, they were ordered to turn out and that was that. The worst of these shameful clashes occurred at the "Long Hollow", where the Monaghan men drove their Fermanagh opponents before them as far as Corragunt. If the Fermanagh men had any firearms, they didn't get time to use them with slugs and buckshot whizzing through the air, flight was the sensible alternative. I don't know if any were killed in this engagement, but certainly some were wounded. In all the clashes it is said that two were killed outright. What a shocking disgrace! 

 

As I said earlier, I could never get any satisfactory account of these hostile meetings between the two factions, but having given some thought to the subject, I shall give what I consider may have been the cause of the trouble — or maybe one of the causes. The man in supreme command of the Fermanagh side was a Monaghan man, and being of some consequence in the Fenian organization, we may safely assume that he brought a contingent of his followers from his own county to the fray. This would explain how Monaghan men were on the Fermanagh side. I would say that the dispute was purely a Monaghan one, and was between the two leaders. ,about some matter which might or might not have any connection with Fenianism. There are always people of this type who don't scruple to make use of any society to which they belong to further their own selfish ends . 

 

The Fenian movement and abortive rising were generally considered a failure at first; but not very long after people began to recognize that it was far from a failure, that in fact, it was the inspiration of all the subsequent movements for the freedom of our country. Much of the criticism of Stephens and his men is unfair and carries little weight at The present time. Indeed all the leaders of the I.R.A., who have been responsible for the measure of freedom we have obtained, have reminded us continually of the debt we owe to the memory of the Fenian.

DRESS

In my younger days, when I was a boy of ten or twelve, I used to see some of the older men wearing knee-breeches, grey woolen stocking, shoes and claw-hammer coats. The breeches were of white corduroy, with four brass buttons at the knees. If the wearer were a man of good physique, with well-shaped legs, the result was satisfactory — if not the effect was not so good. For every day wear the sleeved waistcoat was worn by most of the men. The front of this garment was like an ordinary waistcoat and was of white or brown corduroy, the sleeves were of white calico dyed blue, the back of strong frieze of a brownish colour, while the sides were lined with flannel. It was a very warm article of clothing, much too warm to work in, being always cast aside at the commencement of a job of work. It was quite common until recently but is now no longer to be seen. 

 

Boys and young men used to wear bell-bottom trousers and claw-hammer coats. Again, if the wearer were tall and of good physique the effect was pleasing; if the wearer were of low stature, the result was somewhat ridiculous. Some of the men dressed very well — expensive broadcloth coats with tweed trousers, and some even got as far as top hats; but then this was not such extravagance after all, for when a man got a suit of clothes, it was pretty certain that he would not get another for nine or ten years.

  

The girls of the parish dressed very well, especially when the crochet industry was booming. The latest fashions were always late in coming to our backward district. But not so any longer. You will find them now, in the Roslea district as well "advanced" as in any other part of the country, and why not? 

 

Married women were very poorly catered for; except in rare and exceptional cases did any of them escape the traditional shawl and bonnet, which were expected to last a lifetime. But I think this attitude has changed; and on my last visit to Roslea, I was pleased to see that the women there were as neatly and stylishly dressed as in other part of the country. The older women in my younger days used to wear white caps of linen or muslin, nicely trimmed with a border of frills which were kept in shape by the use of a "tallying" iron. A heated iron rod was used to provide a moderate heat to the tallying iron and each of the frills was pressed gently to the iron to give it the proper set. It was a very becoming addition to an old woman's make-up. But it too has gone.

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