Hi, it is the boy from Barrystown, the most devious and most wily of them of all, that wily boy from beside the mine pits, so charming, charismatic, obliging, inspiring and inspired, historian supreme but as I am a bit caught for time, I would ask my millions of readers to consult any of the previous blogs for a comprehensive recital of my greatness: my greatness is axiomatic, so obvious that it needs no proof or so self-evident as to require no proof. I hope in my next blog to examine folklore accounts of the re-opening of the Barrystown mines circa 1840. My problem with folklore is that events and personalities from different eras and chronologies are hybridised so it becomes a warped history, a mix of truth and imagined history. A succession of teachers, including Mr Healy at Clonroche, the Christian Brothers at Enniscorthy and lay teachers there (Brother Frankie Delaney, Brother Tom Mc Donagh, Mr Tony O’Loughlin, Jack Kelly, Mr Mooney etc et al) and at U. C. D. the likes of Dr Ronan Fanning, Professor Francis John Byrne, Professor Pat O’Farrell, Dr Donal Mc Cartney, Sr Margaret Mac Curtain, Robin Dudley Edwards all impressed upon me the necessity of strict conformity to fact. Since my return to the study of history in 1998, a looser approach to determining the factual basis of issues and events would have made my writings more accessible at the popular level but I have not wanted to go that road. The imperative of focussing on facts is imprinted on my mind. As soon as I access the folklore on the Barrystown mines I will give my response to it. In the meantime I will do something less exciting and exotic: I will outline the contemporary accounts of the mines at Barrystown, from circa 1840 to 1851. As always, Tom Boyse strides onto the scene, with a typical humanitarian gesture—clearly costing him a lot of his money—to establish the destitute miners in America after the mines proved a financial failure. The other local proprietors gave him no assistance of any kind.
The most succinct account from contemporary sources of Barrystown mines—in the mid nineteenth century— that I have is from The Wexford Independent 31st of March 1877:–
“About the year 1840 the mines of Barrystown were again re-opened. A gentleman from Cornwall experienced in such matters, had them in charge but the Famine came and with it the general decay of business, which caused the works to be discontinued.”
Reports in the Wexford Independent and the Wexford Conservative on, respectively, October 21 1841 and October 23rd 1841, do not clearly identify the Company or individuals responsible for the re-opening of the Barrystown mines—after a hiatus of some centuries. The Independent account stated:–
“A lease of the mine for 31 years, we understand, has been procured from the owner of the property, the Rev. [Richard] King, at a royalty rent of one-sixteenth part of the ore raised and a liberal grant of surface for the necessary operations has been obtained, with an allowance of the first twelve tons of duty ore to assist in the cost of getting it opened.”
The Wexford Independent on October 8th 1845 carried an item, first published in the Irish Railway Gazette, which while largely and tediously technical, did give details of the extent of employment there:–
“There are at present, employed sixteen men on tribute; forty on tut-work; breaking ore on tut-work, ten; surface labourers, six; pitmen, smiths, carpenters &c, eight; dressers including girls, twelve; buckers, six; boys filling and landing, four—in all from 102 to 120.”
The Wexford Guardian on January 28th 1846 was guarded in its estimate of the prospects for the Barrystown mines:–
….the renewed operations of these ancient mines are becoming of a more promising character.” [Barriestown was another variant of the name Barrystown].
My impression is that mid nineteenth century Ireland was in the throes of utilitarianism: the re-opening of old and long disregarded mines [there were similar operations initiated at Caime, Co. Wexford at that time], the tearing down of forests, like that of Killoughram Forest near Caime, and the transformation of this forest into agricultural land and the experimentation with steam driven machinery arose from a conviction that the combination of capital and new machinery plus the exploitation of cheap labour was a formula for generating cornucopias of new forms of wealth. The men, women and children who laboured on these projects braved mind-numbing cold and wet weather, were usually paid by a task work rate and were ever in risk of dangerous accidents. Some of the men taken by John Rowe of Ballycross from Wexford Workhouse to work on draining Ballyteigue Lough, unable to cope with the intimidating conditions, went back to the Workhouse! The converse interpretation is that in an era of dire scarcity of employment of any kind, many of the younger and stronger men took on this work with comparative gusto: it was unprecedented opportunity for these poor people. The individuals who initiated and invested in these projects were hyperbolic and naïve in their expectations and financial failure was quite regular. That is the ultimate outcome of this phase of the story of the Barrystown mines.
From The Wexford Independent 15th of September 1849:–
“Fatal Accident—Barristown Mines
To the Human and Charitable
The family of the late James Leary who was accidentally killed at the above mines on Friday 7th instant, being in the deepest of distress and consisting of his widow and five young and helpless children are compelled to appeal to a humane and generous public for a favourable consideration of their deplorable circumstances. The deceased bore an excellent character and was the sole support of his wife and family.
We have been requested to receive at our office contributions towards the relief of the afflicted and desolate widow and orphans. We shall feel pleasure in doing so and in making suitable acknowledgments.”
Barristown was the older variant of the name of the townland of Barrystown.
To the latter day observer, the plight of the widow and family of Mr O’Leary seems astonishing: no liability seemed to attach to the Mining Company nor were there any insurance to protect against a calamity of this kind.
Tom Boyse and the Destitute Miners
The early decades of nineteenth century Ireland could be classified as a pre-truth era—at least in relation to Tom Boyse, the opulent proprietor of Bannow and other estates in Graignamanagh Co. Kilkenny, Waterford and the West of Ireland. If Donald Trump ushered in a new era of post-truth, then the previous era must have been a truth one—and before that there may have been a pre-truth era. I should get a job in the circus. The truth of Boyse’s career which in turn inspired the pre-truth or non truth from his opponents, was unusual but not unique in the Ireland (and indeed the County of Wexford) of that time: Thomas Boyse, of a Protestant family, and with a brother a Rector of the Established Church, and another brother a high ranking officer in Wellington’s army, led the campaign for Catholic Emancipation in the Co. Wexford and later attracted mega-crowds to hear his impassioned, fiery, erudite and feisty speeches at public meetings to petition Parliament to abolish the tithes—the charge levied on all cultivators of arable land, on the musty and risible basis that the Established Church or Protestant Rector ministered to all the inhabitants of his parish, regardless of their professed denomination, Catholic, Presbyterian, Dissenter, etc, et al. The opponents of Tom Boyse were basically adherents of the Orange Order and like-minded severely conservative Protestants who (objectively speaking with some justification!) feared that Boyse’s espousal of civil and religious liberties and comparatively extreme liberalism would undermine the residue of Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland. British policy at the century progressed was tilted towards an imperceptible whittling away of that Ascendancy.
In the summer of 1851 a Waterford newspaper—in that era newspapers engaged in most partisan political polemics—carried this astounding report:–“We have heard that six hundred persons, connected with agriculture, residing in and about Bannow, county Wexford, are preparing to emigrate to America. These emigrants held small patches of land in that locality.”
On May 27 1851 “Fair Play” a pseudonym for John C. Tuomy, a schoolmaster in Taghmon and fervent admirer of Tom Boyse, wrote a long missive to the Wexford Independent. He was a most erudite man, but given to excessive literary elaboration and over long sentence structures; he wrote in rebuttal of that astounding claim of hundreds of farmers emigrating from Bannow. At the outset he recalled other previous pre-truth nonsense written of Mr Boyse: the story (of which there were variants) that 40,000 French troops had landed on the hill of Graigue, presumably seeking the leadership of Tom Boyse, a man who had a congenital lameness in one of his legs and whose only experience of guns was of an old blunderbuss that his Orange opponents alleged he used to frighten off the men of Tintern from rowing across in boats to steal sea-weed off the coastline along his estate!
Mr Tuomy in skilled juggling of the census figures of 1841 demonstrated that if 600 farmers emigrated from Bannow, they would leave behind an occupied and deserted wasteland. Maybe T. S. Elliot would eventually write a poem about it. It would become Mr Tuomy asserted “a second Connemara”.
Mr Tuomy insisted on a recital of two facts. Firstly, not one solitary farmer had emigrated from Bannow. I quote him on the second fact:–
“But we have had an emigration from Bannow this year, and one which reflects much credit on the man who devised it, and at his own private expense had carried it out on a pretty large scale.” He, then, narrated an account of Barrystown and the surrounding district over the previous few years:–
“Previous to the late change in the electoral divisions, the Barrystown lead mines were included in this electorate. These works had attracted miners here from Wicklow and other parts; and when the mining ceased, some two years hence, many of them and their families, took refuge in the Wexford Workhouse, at the expense of the Bannow ratepayers. Again there are two hamlets or little villages in this locality, with the cabins of which Mr Boyse has much to do as he has with the people of China. Here are poor people from different districts, as “cabin keepers” or lodgers, without any prospect before them in life before them but the Workhouse; for in the fearful depressed state of the agricultural interest, constant employment for all, as farm labourers, in the division, is out of the interest. And although the proprietor has never received a penny, still, in the event of their crowding into the workhouse, both he, and the other ratepayers must be responsible for their maintenance. And not only is the agricultural labourer out of employment but the carpenter, the tailor, the weaver, &c, are no longer able to support their families by their handicrafts, particularly in a district like this, where several persons of those trades are located.”
The rule was that if a person was admitted to the Workhouse, then the electoral division in which that person had resided for the previous twelve months, became liable for his or hers maintenance in the Workhouse, paid by an increase in the Poor Law Rate on all ratepayers in that division. Mr Tuomy seems to be lumping together two distinct types of paupers: the redundant miners and their desperate families and the miserably poor people who drifted into the villages and towns, some of them evicted people with small sums of money; upon which they eked out a livelihood for a short time. I presume that the two hamlets referred to by Mr Tuomy are Carrig-on-Bannow and Wellingtonbridge. I will allow Mr Tuomy narrate very recent developments in the area:–
“In the autumn of last year, Mr Boyse took up the idea of bettering the condition of some of these poor people and although he could not in the most remote degree charge himself with being in any manner accessory to their poverty, as not even one of them, had ever held the rank of “small farmer” on his property, still they were on his estate, and if once in the workhouse, all hope of their future independence or self-reliance was gone for ever. He convened a meeting of the ratepayers for the purpose of assisting some poor families to emigrate and offered to pay half the sum which should be assessed upon his estate.” Two other proprietors in the division, “to whom application was made” refused co-operation. Their tenant farmers did likewise; the majority of them were struggling “small farmers”. Mr Tuomy continued:–
“Three families were selected and decently and comfortably fitted out. They crossed the Atlantic ferry in safety; found employment for themselves and children and rejoicing in their good fortune, have since written to thank Mr Boyse for his generosity and kindness.”
Mr Tuomy continued:–
“This year he again convened the ratepayers and offered an advance of £500 for the same laudable purpose….In fact £5,000, instead of £500, would not cover the expenses of passage money and outfittings of all candidates. A selection was made of the most deserving; and to show you how much it partook of a flight of farmers, I have to state that among those selected are three tailors, three shoemakers, one weaver and one carpenter, with their families. So anxious were the people to leave the country that two sons pulled down the cabin over the heads of their mother and sisters and then applied to Mr Boyse for a free passage, as having neither house not home, they had nothing before them but the workhouse. The ruse succeeded and the entire family are by this time on the shores of America.”
Mr Tuomy wrote that the emigrants “had a decent outfit” and in that context he specially praised the sister of Tom Boyse:–
“Much and deserved credit is due to Miss Boyse, the amiable and benevolent sister of the worthy proprietor of the historic and picturesque little peninsula of Bannow. This highly and respected lady has been most unremitting in providing for the wants and comforts of the female emigrants. All their outfits were got up under her own immediate inspection and for the last three months she has been constantly superintending all the preparations necessary for their voyage.” Many of the emigrants “have lived for the last two or three years on the bounty of their more fortunate neighbours.”