The Raftis Family Eviction At Powerswood Thomastown
The Land War, resulting from the formation of the National Irish Land League and Ladies Land League in 1879, was one of the largest movements in Irish history. Seething resentment had been building-up over the preceding decades since the Great Famine and the failure at that time to form a mass movement against landlordism was not going to be repeated in the 1870’s.
Tenant farmers in County Kilkenny were finding it difficult to make a living and could not pay, or would not pay the exorbitant rents being asked. James Raftis and his wife, Mary Tobey, farmed 88 acres at Powerswood, Thomastown, and when they failed to pay rent they were evicted in May 1879 by Dr. Jennings, a Dublin based landlord, who lived at Merrion Square. On the day of the eviction, the chapel bell rang and bailiffs, with police back-up, were resisted by a large crowd. The Raftis house was razed to the ground, leaving only the chimney breast. The land was rented to the family’s neighbour, Patrick Hanrahan, and this caused resentment among local tenant farmers. When a local branch of the Land League was formed in 1880 its members supported a boycott against Hanrahan.
The Ladies Land League worked to raise funds to provide wooden huts for evicted tenants. In 1880 it sent a hut by train from Dublin to Thomastown railway station as living accommodation for the Raftis family. The hut, which was the first to be erected in Kilkenny, created great excitement in the area. A large crowd led by a band accompanied the hut as it was being transported to Powerswood, where it was erected in a field, known locally as ‘The Gloryhole’. The hut, a prefabricated wooden structure with a felt-covered wooden roof, consisted of two rooms; a living/kitchen area divided from the bedroom by a curtain.
In the meantime, there is little doubt that Patrick Hanrahan was feeling the pressure of being ‘boycotted’, and it is evident from the reports of the Court case against six members of the Land League in December 1880, that there were other forms of intimidation. The members were sent for trial at Kilkenny Assizes in March 1881.
At sometime between January and the trial in March 1881, matters came to a head. Hanrahan went into Moore’s public house in Thomastown, where there were a number of persons drinking, and requested a glass of whiskey. When the drink was refused he went to Cullen’s public house and while there he heard the bell ringing in the street outside, as was the custom when a boycott was in operation. He then heard his name called out by the bellringer, a young man called Langfrey, that he was being boycotted and saying that, “no one is to buy or sell to Paddy Hanrahan.”
When Hanrahan requested a glass of whiskey in Cullen’s he was told to go into the kitchen and a glass of grog would be brought to him. Hanrahan then sent for Forristal and Cantwell, secretaries to the League and when the men arrived he told them that he would give up the farm. A form was completed and Hanrahan put his mark on it, paying seven shillings and six pence for membership of the League, thus ending the boycott against him and making way for James Raftis to be reinstated at Powerswood.
In the subsequent trial, the case against six members of the Land League collapsed, because the principle witness, Patrick Hanrahan, had not borne out statements he had previously made.
Today, much of the timber and felt roof of that first Land League hut is safely stored in an outhouse on the former Raftis farm, now in the ownership of his great-grandson, Eamonn Dempsey.