Hi, it is the boy from Barrystown, charming, charismatic, inspiring and inspired, ebullient, scholarly, erudite, original, a hawk-eye for telling detail in obscure sources, a right boyo, a historian supreme, gifted with a penchant for elegant diction and grandiloquence, a born hero and above, all else, wily—that wily boy from beside the mine pits. Gold and silver will always follow the Barrystown children as St Kevin of Kilkaven prophesised.

In the early winter of 1827 Tom Boyse sent the first of a few letters to the Right Honourable R. Wilmot Horton, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Emigration. I will this week quote that first letter in its entirety:–

“Bannow, Taghmon, County of Wexford

February 22, 1827


I have just read with deep interest and unqualified pleasure your speech in the House of Commons, on th esubject of emigration. I beg to be premitted to offer the tribute of my humble admiration to the industry with which the details of that question (so vitally important to Ireland) have been considerd and the judgement with which they were introduced to the attention of the House.

The only apolgy which I have to offer for this unauthorised intrusion on your valuable time, is that I have sanguine hopes of being enabled to usefully and practically illustrate the view which you took of emigration on a large scale, as it more immediately affects the present state of Ireland, by furnishing you with the gratifying results which have accrued to this parish (Bannow) from its adoption on a scale comparatively circumscribed.

The acuracy of your statement, with regard to the Irish department of this intersting question, quite surprised me when I reflected, that it had not emanated from a person who had ever resided in Ireland or had personal opportunities of becoming conversant with the rural statistics of the country.

For the present highly improved and propserous state of this parish, I beg to refer you to several members of the House of Commons who have visited it and borne alrady their testimony to the judicious plans, by the operation of which its great and permanent improvement has been effected

The members to whom I allude are, Mr S. Rice, Lord Ebrington, Mr Arthur Chichester, Sir john Newport and Mr Carew; the two later being my own near relatives.

The immediate cause of my present address to you is to state the important fact, as it bears on the question which you have so fully considered—that the present condition of this parish would have been altogether (as I must concive) unattainable, had we not, in the commencement of our proceedings, twelve years ago, endeavoured to induce, by every means within our reach, the redundant labourers to cross the Atlantic in search of a happier settlement than it was possible for them to find at home.

Our endeavours proved successful; and every year since 1816 a few families have gone from hence to the Canadas; and I have held with them, since their transplantation, a regular and most satisfactory correspondence.

The means of an individual so humble as myself to effect the deportation of several families to America have been, of course, inadequate. Yet although the emigrants have gone out comparatively unprovided, in no single instance has a failure or disappointment occurred; and they are all now giving their strenuous advice to the friends whom they have left in Ireland to follow them with all convenient haste.

They are, one and all, in a prosperous state; and their absence is actually the basis on which a successful and valuable system of amelioration has been established in this place; a syste which has effectually, and I trust for ever, banished pauperism and mendicity from our precincts.

The experiment with which I have the honour to make you acquainted, I think, authrises me to draw the inference, that privided the parties emigrating to be young, industriously disposed, and of a vigorous habit of body, there can be little, if any, doubtof their eventual success in North America.

The observation of Mr Baring, in the debate, that “where there is an “excessive” population, the abstraction of even a small portion of the excess was calculated to produce the most extensive benefit” has come home with great force to my mind, in consequence of the facts which I have taken the liberty to detail to you, and which I request you may render applicable, in any mode you may deem desirable to the public service.

Three families are preparing now, in consequence of the flattering representations of the preceding adventurers, to proceed to Canada in the month of April.

One young man, who went there about eight years ago, not older than twenty-two years and who on his landing was possessed of only about six pounds, has since become possessed of considerable property, a large house in Quebec and an extensive farm of good land near the town.

He last year sent for a younger brother to go out to participate in his amended fortunes. They are now both of them proceeding in a career of extraordinarily successful industry and are the children of a blind Irish pauper residing in this parish.

Mr Richard Wellesley (who, I believe, is not a member of the present Parliament) is well acquainted with the state of this parish and I am sure would be happy to give you any information you might wish regarding its present condition. I feel very anxious to impress on your mind, that had emigration not entered into the groundwork of our proceedings here for the civilisation of the district, all other expedients would have proved abortive.

Before the report of your speech reached me, I had been much struck by the article on the subject of emigration in the last Edinburgh Review, to which, as comprising much practical knowledge and useful details, I endeavoured to direct the attention of my friends.

Although I have in this letter considered the subject solely as it refers to Ireland, yet am I fully sensible that the interests of England and Scotland are most deeply, indeed, involved in the actual state of the Irish poor. It is idle to indulge a hope that, if Government and Parliament do not seriously undertake the relief, by whatever means, of Irish pauperism, (and what mean so effectual as that which you have suggested?) it must inevitably, sooner or later, have the effect of reducing to its own very depressed level the labouring classes of the sister island.

I beg, Sir, again to apologise for the liberty, I have taken, and I shall be happy to add any further information which it may be in my power to afford you.

It may be of importance to add, that considerably less than twenty pounds sufficed to transport and locate the persons whose happy present circumstances I have mentioned.

I have the honour to be, Sir,

With Great Respect

Your Obedient Servant

Thomas Boyse”

Tom Boyse gave his address as Bannow, Taghmon as the nearest Post Office was, then, in Taghmon. At this remove of nearly two centuries I am still confounded about how the emigrants from Ireland coped with conditions in North America, especially in Canada—the business of finding accomodation, getting started at employment and simply coping with the lethal winters would have to be utterly daunting. I think that Tom Boyse may have painted an excessively roseate picture of the emigrant adventure. In that era the mortality rate of infant children, even, among prosperous families in both Canada and America was pungently high.

The flaw in Boyse’s paradigm or model is obvious: in an era devoid of any effective means of birth control—apart from compulsory celibacy—the demographic thrust would be, inexorably, upwards! He would not only have to arrange for surplus of labourers in each succeeding generation to go to Canada but, also, expect that he would have successively greater numbers of unwanted young men and women with each succeeding generation. All the landlords, even the most liberal one, knocked vacant cabins on their estates to deter youngsters from marriage or to make it difficult for impecunious men and women from outside their estates (especially if married) settling on their estates. It is clear from Boyse’s letters that Irish society was living on the border-line of famine; it is equally clear that he was embarked on a personal crusade to rectify the problem—his grandfather and father had not, he wrote, visited the Bannow estate for over fifty years.

Tom Boyse’s letter of March 7th 1827—which I will quote in full in my next blog—is extremely revealing. He wrote that nearly the entire potato and oats crops had failed in the miserable summer of 1826; he was, then, engaged in buying potatoes and oatmeal from the West of Ireland to feed the labouring families on his estate and in the local neighbourhood. The labourers could only pay two-third of the price that he was paying for this produce in the West of Ireland and to make the matter more grimly risible the labourers could only pay him by providing their labour to him! They simply had no money. Boyse had a deep Christian conviction that he was obliged to feed starving people, if necessary, at great cost to himself. He acted, likewise, during the Famine of 1845-48.

In the letter of March 7th 1827, Boyse wrote that he had sent on a list of all the people who had emigrated from the parish of Bannow within the past 13 years. It would, indeed, be a gem if one could find that list. On the basis of simple arithmetic it would seem, therefore, that Sam and Tom Boyse came to live at Bannow in 1814. Tom Boyse was (as we shall see in next week’s blog) somewhat critical of his grand-father and father for not bothering to visit the Bannow estate in over fifty years: by 1814 the Bannow estate was blighted both by seemingly infinite sub-division of leases and worse by “a surreptious sub-tenantry”.

The great debate was on the subject of the mooted Poor Law System: in Ireland the Orange Order opposed the introduction of the Poor Law System. Phayre of Killouhgram Forest was strongly oppossed to its coming; but, surprisingly, the more moderate and rational Orange Order member, John Rowe of Ballycross was, in the modern parlance, negative about the Poor Law system. During the drainage of Ballteigue Lake post 1858 John Rowe claimed that he brought men from the Workhouse to work at this project and most of them slipped back to the Wexford Workhouse. I am not sure if I would have disagreed with their decision! For older men and infirm men plus lazy men the option of guaranteed food, clothes, shelter and medical treatment in the Workhouse might well be preferable to digging canals at Ballyteigue in horrendous nineteenth century weather for a few pence per day. The criticism of the Poor Law System from latter day commentators is that the conditions for receiving it were punitive and humiliating but the converse argument is that if the Poor Law System did not have such conditions the probabilty is that a large fraction of the general population would have poured into the Workhouses. It would not be possible for the economy of that time to finance such an extension of Poor Law Relief. As the nineteenth century progressed the Poor Law System was ameliorated with the introduction of out-door relief for sick people and for widows with four children. The introduction of old age pensions by Lloyd George circa 1909 was a logical extension of this enlargement of the Poor Law.

From The Enniscorthy Guardian January 8th 1910:–

“Wanted, a young man to serve his time as Blacksmith. Apply to W. Cullen, Ballylannon, Wellingtonbridge, Co. Wexford.”

At the Petty Sessions in Duncormack in March 1910, inter alia (Latin for among other things):–

“Constable Foley against Thomas Keane, Bannow Moor, for cow and horse wandering. Complaints had been made to police of these wanderings. Fined 2 shillings and costs.

Same against Simon Devereux, Bannow Moor for a wandering ass. Fined 1 shilling and costs…..

Same against John Stafford, Brandane, for two goats, coupled together in the centre of the public road.

Chairman (Mr W. H. Lett, Balloughton)—That is very serious. Fined 2 shillings and costs”