The mass evictions in the Kilrush Poor Law Union during the Great Famine

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Matthew Lynch

The mass evictions in the Kilrush Poor Law Union during the Great Famine


Matthew Lynch


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Acknowledgements                                                                         v
Abbreviations                                                                                  vi
Preface                                                                                            vii
Introduction                                                                                     1

Chapter 1      Land and community in Kilrush Union
before the mass evictions                                                          12

  • Establishment and extent of the Union
  • Population profile
  • Social and economic conditions
  • Land and community
Chapter 2      The course and extent of mass evictions                    34
  • Legal powers and administrative procedures
  • Commencement of the mass evictions
  • The course of mass evictions
  • Analysis of eviction records

Chapter 3      The Kilrush clearances in context                               67 

 -Other mass evictions in Clare during the Famine              
-  Mass evictions in other areas of the country at the time
- Mass evictions up to and including the Land War (1879-1882)   and the Plan of Campaign (1886-1891)
 - The Highland clearances in Scotland                       

Chapter 4    Contemporary accounts and responses                         85

  •  Reactions of priests and people
  •  Responses of  the Poor Law Union administration      
  •  Newspaper accounts
  •  Political responses


Chapter 5    Causes and consequences                                             108

  •  The £4 rating clause
  •  The question of middlemen
  •  Other possible causes of the evictions
  •  Fate of the dispossessed
  •  Social and economic consequences
  •  Political consequences

  Conclusions                                                                                            125

Notes     and references                                                                              135
Bibliography                                                                                                146

Index                                                                                                          156



  1. Location of Kilrush Poor Law Union                                            13
  2. Electoral divisions of Kilrush Poor Law Union, 1839-1849    14
  3. Changes in boundaries of Poor Law Unions, 1850                16
  4. Types of houses during the Famine period                                20
  5. Map of the area showing elevations                                            27
  6. Soil classification map of the area                                               27
  7. Landholdings of the ten largest landowners                             33
  8. Number of ejectment cases at Kilrush Court, 1844-1850       42
  9. Col. Crofton Moore Vandeleur                                                       43
  10. Capt. Arthur Edward Kennedy                                                       45
  11. Grouped frequency distribution of family numbers evicted     50
  12. Pie diagram of sizes of evicted holdings                                    53
  13. Correlation between sizes of holdings and numbers evicted                                                                                               54
  14. Evictions in proportion to population of Electoral Divisions    62
  15.  Boundary changes                                                                         63
  16.  Col. George Wyndham, 1st Baron Leconfield                           69
  17. George Bingham, 3rd Earl of Lucan                                            72
  18.  Eviction scene, Kilrush, July 1888                                             77
  19. Second eviction scene, Kilrush                                                   78
  20. Battering ram at eviction (1), Kilrush                                          79
  21. Battering ram at eviction (2), Kilrush                                          79
  22. Poor Law rates in Kilrush Union, 1842-1852                           112



  1. ‘The town of Kilrush’                                                                  21
  2. ‘The ejectment’                                                                           96
  3. ‘The day after the ejectment’                                                    97
  4. ‘The village of Tullig’                                                                  99
  5. ‘The village of Moveen’                                                            100
  6. ‘Scalpeen’                                                                                  101
  7. ‘Scalp of Brian Connor, near Kilrush Union house’           102
  8. ‘Bridget O’Donnel and her children’                                      103
  9. ‘Judy O’Donnel’s habitation under the bridge at Doonbeg’  104
  10. ‘Scalpeen of Tim Downs at Dunmore’                                      105



 1.   Changes in area and population of Kilrush PLU,  February. 1850     15

 2.   Population trends in Kilrush PLU, 1831-1846                                       18

 3.   Numbers of families in each class of house in Kilrush Union,        1841                                                                                                                       22

 4.   Language competencies in south-west Clare, 1851                           24

 5.   Literacy levels in Kilrush Poor Law Union, 1841                                 25

 6.   Numbers of persons holding land in Kilrush PLU, 1845                                                                                                                      30

 7.   Owners of over 5,000 acres in Kilrush Union, 1840                            32

 8.   Ejectment cases relating to Clare in each court 1846-1849               37

 9.   Ejectment cases at Kilrush Circuit Court, 1844-1850                          39

10.  Evictions by individual landlords in Kilrush PLU,

       Nov.1847 to June1849                                                                                48

11.  Grouped frequency distribution of families evicted by

       twenty eight named proprietors                                                                49

12-1  Grouped frequency distribution of numbers of evicted

       holdings, by size and named proprietors, Part 1                                   51

12-2  Grouped frequency distribution of  numbers of  evicted

          holdings, by size and named proprietors, Part 2                                 52

13.  Comparison of numbers of evicted holdings with total                       55

14.  Areas of land cleared by specified evictions                                          56

15   Total areas of land cleared by all evictions                                            56

16.  Numbers of people evicted by the top ten evicting landowners                                                                                                         59

17.  Evictions up to June 1850 as a percentage of the populations
of electoral divisions                                                                                          61

18.  Evictions reported by the constabulary in county Clare, 1849-1855    64

19.  Evictions recorded by the constabulary in Kilrush Poor  Law Union, June 1850-December 1852                                                                                         66

20.  Comparison of Famine-time mass evictions with the Vandeleur       evictions of 1888                                                                                                   81

21.  Decline in the numbers of tenements in Kilrush Union, 1846-1850                                                                                                              109

22.  Changes in the numbers of holdings in Kilrush Union, 1847-1853                                                                                                               110

23.  Poor Law rates made in Kilrush Union, 1842-1852                                 113

Other Information: 

Kilrush Poor Law union encompassed a large area of the south-west of County Clare in the 19th century. The union achieved national notoriety during the Great Famine in Ireland due to the very high level of poverty, hardship, hunger, destitution, famine-related diseases and deaths among its population. A primary cause of those distressed conditions and of the union’s notoriety was the extraordinary level of mass evictions that occurred there during the Famine years. County Clare had the highest level of evictions, relative to its population, of any county in Ireland during the Great Famine and Kilrush Poor Law union had the highest level of mass evictions in Clare.

This book presents, for the first time, a detailed analysis of the context, course, causes and consequences of the mass evictions in Kilrush Poor Law union during the Great Famine. It describes the pre-famine community and land-holding patterns, the onset and progress of the mass evictions. It identifies the main evictors, the numbers evicted and their locations. Context and perspectives are examined by reference to other mass evictions in other places and at other times. Extensive contemporary accounts of the Kilrush clearances are reviewed, including the many iconic images from the pages of the Illustrated London News.

The causes of the mass evictions and the aims and motivations of the evictors are examined and assessed. The historically-contested issue of responsibility for the evictions is addressed. The book concludes by describing the social, economic and political consequences of those traumatic events, including the elimination of a vast number of small land-holdings, the associated permanent disruption of the social structure, the relative insignificance of emigration as a significant relieving factor and the dismal fate of the dispossessed.


Matthew Lynch is a native of Kilmurry Ibrickane, Co. Clare and a graduate of the University of Limerick’s MA programme in History and Local Studies. He has published several papers on local history in counties Clare and Tipperary.
He was co-editor of Clare History and Society, a set of interdisciplinary essays on the history of County Clare.

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Card cover
Mass Evictions


Old Kilfarboy Society, 2013


ISBN 978-0-9556037-1-6 (pbk)