Hi, it is the boy from Barrystown, beside the mine pits and stacks; charming, charismatic, ebullient, innovative, inspired and inspiring, humble, modest, self-effacing, generous, a right boyo, a historian supreme, a pure genius, a hit with the girls and above all else, wily, that wily boy. As St Kevin of Kilkaven prophesised gold and silver would always follow the Barrystown children and maybe he was right! At the A. G. M. of the Ui Cheinsealaigh Historical Society on Thursday night they asked me to speak about my article in The Local History Review and they are ordering 8 copies of it. The Bannow Historical Society is one of the three societies in the Co. Wexford affiliated to the Organisation of Local Historical Societies so I presume that all my readers in Carrig-on-Bannow will avidly read the Review. In the article I return to the subject that initiated my return to historical research in 1998—the date of the construction of Boro Hill House in Ballymackessy beside where I now live.
From The Enniscorthy Guardian, February 18 1922:–
“Accident at Rosegarland
Nicholas Hanna whilst engaged working in scutching at Rosegarland sustained injury to the hand. He was treated by Dr Kehoe and admitted to the New Ross Infirmary.”
The death of Tom Boyse in January 1856 could be cited as a terminus point of a previously held nexus and complex of social values in Irish society: the ideal was of the patriarchal landlord conscious of an obligation to his tenantry. Ordinary farmers may have felt a deference to their landlords, may even have adulated them….After the death of Tom Boyse, there were attempts by writers in the newly established People newspaper to revise the legacy of Tom Boyse and to subject his life and his management of the Bannow estate to scrutiny. This would have been part of a wider phenomenon: the emergence of democratic theory and resultant egalitarian ethos—men now came to resent all forms of social control and especially that of landlords, even of kind ones, such as Tom Boyse. The religious factor came into it also as a predominantly Catholic peasantry, at a time of triumphal Catholicism, aspired to native and Catholic ownership of the land. The polemics and propaganda of the Land reformers—and indeed of the People newspaper—was laced with toxic humour and inclined to take liberties with facts—if such suited their purposes! The People newspaper and its correspondents are, conversely, a corrective to the excessively adulatory disposition of the Wexford Independent towards the landlords. There is an obvious caveat in regard to the Boyses: the high regard, indeed nigh reverence of the Bannow people for Tom Boyse utterly confounded and totally contradicted the constant thesis of those seeking both reform of the land system and the extirpation of landlordism that the people detested all landlords as vile oppressors and callous exterminators, especially of the Catholic community. Tom Boyse did not conform to that stereotype.
On October 25th 1856 The People newspaper published this letter:–
“To The Editor Of The People
Sir—having by chance fallen in with the “Independent” of Wednesday, the 15th inst., my eye caught an article headed “Bannow revisited by an old Irelander”. It is greatly to be desired that such writers would confine their scribbling to things on which they have solid information and not be saying much about what they know little. Speaking of Mr Boyse, he says:–“But now I saw him as a landlord on his ground and everything I saw, redounded to his honour.” There could scarcely be a sentence more false than this. The estate of Bannow looks well; but that such appearance could be ascribed in any way to Mr Boyse, is quite false. As a landlord, he deserved no praise, as his exorbitant rents evidently prove; for his lands in Bannow are let at £3 an acre and this in a locality seventeen miles from any market town. The actual condition of his tenants was little better than that of the Spartan Helot. He acted as his own receiver, until a few years previous to his death, when he employed an agent with limited powers; how this gentleman has acted since his death we all too well know and how he is likely to act under the present Mr Boyse we have no favourable idea. The Independent seems to have a passion for praising landlords. Like the character in Lalla Rookh, who could not pronounce on the merits of the poet, until he knew what religious sect he was, he cannot well bestow his meed of praise until he is certain whether the object of his lauds is a landed proprietor; perhaps, it is because he has himself become a possessor of the soil. The name our scribe gives our Chapel is one I have never heard before. I have been an eager admirer of it from its foundation under the labours of Father Moran, to its completion by the exertions of the present Curate and I have never heard the name applied by any individual except by him, who loses no opportunity of mentioning the name of Boys. Mr Boyse did give to our Chapel and did so liberally, for which we are all very thankful but if he did it, as was once judiciously said, from the grubs of a burdened tenantry.
I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
A Bannow Man.
October 22 ‘56”
This letter certainly merited a reply and on November 1st 1856 The Wexford Independent published a reply by “Spectator”:–
“A Libel On The Dead—The Independent Adrift In The Bay Of Bannow
To The Editor Of The Independent
Sir—In a recent number of your paper, a correspondent writing of what he saw during a tour through Bannow, introduced the name of the late Thomas Boyse Esq., in a laudatory manner, as a landlord. This it appears, gave offence to a person who borrows for the occasion the signature of “A Bannow Man” thereby inserting the small point of the wedge into the reciprocal cordiality which has existed for the last 30 years between the landlord and the tenant on the Boyse property in Bannow. This “Bannow Man” no doubt of it, is a “patriot” who, if he ruled over broad acres, would let them at “valuation” as cheerfully as a real Bannow man would sell his fat hogs, at the “valuation” of a committee of Waterford pig-buyers and promise to refund half the money, in the event of the porkers going down in the Channel on their way to the English markets. The “Bannow Man” must be a fisherman, for he opens the indictment against the dead lion in the following sea-faring phraseology—“having by chance fallen in with the Independent”. Indeed he does not say whether it was in the bay of Bannow or off the Saltees, he hooked it, but the language is the same as that of the Arklow fishermen who say that “having by chance fallen in with the brrawaddy they thought it no harm to fish up a few bales of dry goods out of her.” But the Arklow men are amenable to the law of the land for their filching propensities and “Bannow Man” is amenable to public opinion for his attempt at robbing the dead of a good name by picking up from the Independent materials for his libel. Here are some of the counts of the “Bannow Man’s” indictments against the fair name of the late Mr Boyse as a landlord. “Bannow looks well but that such appearance could be ascribed in any way to Mr Boyse is quite false.”
“As a landlord, he deserved no praise, for his lands in Bannow were let at £3 an acre.”
“The actual condition of his tenantry was little better than that of the Spartan Helot.”
“He acted as his own receiver.”
Now the writer of the above extracts lays it down as an axiom that a public scribbler should have solid information on the subject on which he scribbles. If he possesses that “solid information” and yet writes what is false, all I can say is—that he has a very elastic conscience. Previous to Mr Boyse’s day, Bannow was traversed by one ziz-zaz, miry road. To whom are we to attribute the many beautiful and public and private roads and bridges which at the present day intersect it?
Will the “Bannow Man” inform us how many of the comfortable farm houses—those bright specks in a landscape—which attracted the notice of a tourist through Bannow, have been erected within the last 30 years, to the building of which Mr Boyse did not contribute more or less from his own income?
But the foregoing advantages on an estate, the man of “solid information” does not consider add anything to the beauty of its look, he means simply the verdure of its fields, the number of its “flocks and herds” and its well-stacked haggards of grain. But had Tom Boyse been the rack renter and money grubber, he is represented to have been, the verdure would long since have been absorbed by the consecutive corn crops –“the flocks and herds”, nowhere and the corn in the stores of the merchants to meet the call of this money grubber or the law agent of the bank.
“As a landlord, Mr Boyse deserved no praise, for his lands in Bannow are let at £3 an acre.”
This is a general proposition and as such will be understood by the general reader and which I pronounce false. There is but a small portion of the estate of Bannow let at £3 an acre and I will leave the “Bannow Man” to solve the paradox, why there are as much “solid” wealth, and comfort to be found on the £3 land as on another portion of the estate held at Fourteen Shillings an acre and I believe some at 9 shillings.
“The actual condition of his tenantry was little better than that of the Spartan Helot.”
I wonder he did not call then New Zealanders, as they were once styled by another personage but for a very different reason. Still these Helots acquired wealth, under their tyrant, and made him their banker. Mr Boyse held in his hands money to a large amount—the savings of his tenants—and for which he allowed then a liberal interest. When the bad times arrived did the rack renter and money grubber insist on the full amount of his bond, having the money in his hands. No, he abated them 20 per cent on their rents. This indulgence he extended, not only to those who held the £3 land, but down to some who held at half that sum.
“He acted as his own receiver.” Had he resided in London or on the Continent and left the property and his tenants to the safe keeping of the Val Mac Clutcheys and Darby O’Drives, the Bannow men might have known more of the lot of Spartan Helots than they do. But he lived on his property and among his tenants and was his own “receiver” and for this, his memory is now taunted by the tenants’ friend, who borrows the signature of a “Bannow Man”. “What he gave to the Church were the grubs of a burdened tenantry”. I do not understand this passage, except it be that having starved their bodies by his exorbitant rents, he returned some of the money to feed their souls by building a Chapel.
Mr Boyse was not a tyrant landlord, he was a man who considered his own interest and the interest of his tenants as inseparably interwoven with each other and therefore, it was the study of a long and useful life, to have his tenants independent and respectable. To the industrious and thrifty tenant, he always held out an encouraging hand and the more wealthy and comfortable he became, the more encouragement he still received from Mr Boyse. Bannow looks well, says the libeller of the dead, but those good looks are solely due to the tenantry. Alas the grave, the poor house and the emigrant ship have proved that thrift and industry were of no avail, when unassisted by the fostering care of a good landlord. Mr Boyse knowing that several of his tenants possessed spare capital, pointed out to them a method of permanently investing it, some years previous to his death. He proposed new leases for long terms of years and for every £100 paid him as a bonus or fine, to reduce the rent in the new leases by £10. Such as had short leases and at low rents, availed themselves of the offer; others, who conscientiously considered their present rents too high refused. Those who accepted his terms congratulate themselves that they did so; and those who refused, I hope, may make better terms with the new proprietor.
The best criterion by which to judge of a landlord is the condition of his tenantry and the appearance of his estate. By this touch stone let the impartial tourist, who may visit Bannow, judge of the character of the late Mr Boyse as a landlord? Let him observe them coming out from their place of worship on the Sabbath and I think he will exclaim—“if these be Spartan Helots, I wish that the tenantry on all the estates in Ireland were such as they.” It is not be pseudo patriots hounding down the memory of the gifted and noble-minded Thomas Boyse that tenantry can be improved and their social condition elevated. I take “Bannow Man” to be one of those flaming tenant righters, who, if accident placed any power in his hands over his fellow men, would grind their very faces into dust.
October 28, 1856.”
The intriguing question is—who was Spectator? The logic or reasoning sounds like that of John C. Tuomy the Taghmon schoolmaster who spent a lot of his free time exploring Bannow and wrote extensively on the greatness of Tom Boyse. In Tuomy’s writings there is a constant sense of every man as having an agenda of sordid self-interest and avarice; he included himself in that description of human nature. The argument that he did not write this letter hinges of the nome-de-plume or pen-name: Tuomy had written for the Wexford Independent under the alias of Rambler but in articles on the Chapel in Carrig he signed himself as “fair play”. The negative and scornful reference to the tenant righters might mean that Fr Nicholas Codd wrote it as he approved of landlordism—of the kinder type such as exemplified by Boyse. Another possibility is Fr Peter Corish P. P. Carrig-on-Bannow (actually he lived at Ballymitty) who was deeply grateful to Tom Boyse who gave him authority at the height of the Famine to provide whatever was required to preserve the lives of the people of his parish—Tom Boyse undertook to pay the cost involved.