The Brave Men of Carrickshock

Finnoula Lynch
(2020)

A High Cross monument sits aloft a boreen, on eastern slopes, looking down upon the M9 motorway between the townlands of Carrickshock and Rockhall. Sculptured with an interlaced Celtic limestone cross, designed and executed by Pat Molloy of Callan, and unveiled by Rev. E.A. Foran of New Ross, it stands six metres proud and is quite splendid! The front panel of its platform bears a carved battle scene, depicting the tithe collector, a Mr Butler being ‘unhorsed’ while Treacy lies injured on the ground – urging his men on in their struggles – the year was 1831, the 14th December.
What provoked this attack on the King’s men here in 1831? Several factors lead up to this incident; one was the cruel English legislation, the Penal Laws of the day, in exacting exorbitant rents and tithes from wretched agrarian tenants who were hardly able to eke out a living for themselves from their land. Land agents did not take into account either the poverty of the county or a failed crop, and demanded equal returns regardless!
The second contributor was that similar skirmishes at Graignamanagh and Bunclody (then called Newtownbarry) fuelled and empowered the present mood of resistance!
Lastly – an opportunity to settle old vendettas by the inhabitants at the time, and now there were appropriate individuals in place, and ready to take action!

Rev. Dr. Hans Hamilton, Vicar of the Union of five local parishes of Knocktopher, South Kilkenny, to whom tithes were paid, was regarded by his parishioners, both Catholic and Protestant, over a thirty year period, as a mainly charitable and humane gentleman of the ‘black coat’ class. He collected £1,700 annually from his Union – but with no return for the Catholics of these areas! Also, it was his intention to propose a further levy in order to build an unnecessarily high wall circumferencing his church in the village of Knocktopher! He attempted to justify the wall as a precaution against stone-throwing youths – albeit – some parishioners believed it necessary to save him from being shot while at prayer!

Approximately one year before, tenant farmers tried to negotiate a 5% reduction on heavy tithes imposed, but Hamilton refused to make any reduction – he wouldn’t negotiate with a delegation of Carrickshock ‘hurlers’ who had assembled on his front lawn at ‘Vicarsfield’ – and sent them away. He would only agree to meet with a ‘respectable delegation of tithe payers’. Failure to negotiate any reduction by these moderates threw the issue into the hands of the extremists led by William Keane, a local hedge school master. Keane arrived in the Ballyhale area in 1830. The vicar, Dr. Hamilton stated that Keane was ‘a man of bad character’ and had stirred up trouble since his arrival in the area.

Edmund Butler, a tithe proctor and process server, who was employed by the Rev. Hamilton’s tithe agent, James Bunbury, had been collecting tithes in and around the Hugginstown area on the previous two days. Butler was an obnoxiously aggressive man and his language was becoming increasingly abusive! He exasperated the long-suffering peasants beyond endurance. Of late, these tithe proctors were hated so fiercely by tenant farmers, that on several occasions when trying to serve a writ – they were forcibly fed their latitats!

Butler, flanked by 38 policemen for protection, and under the command of Chief Constable James Gibbons, (a veteran of the Napeolinic Wars), rode out from Kilmoganny around 10a.m. on 14th December. They took a right turn at the village of Newmarket, and travelled a mile and a quarter upwards through the village of Hugginstown. On hearing church bells ring-out, they halted at Billy Voss’s, a village publican and cooper, who briefly chatted to the men reassuring them the church bell was being rung for a funeral, and that the crowd following them up the hill were the mourners (which was untrue), and that he would see the constabulary on their return, at his establishment.

️James Treacy, a respectable farmer, and having good leadership skills, had organised a ‘football match’ which attracted many spectators, in his native Kilhurl that day. Both the vicinity and good timing of ‘the match’ enabled him and the ‘spectators’ to get to the battle boreen swiftly.

Even more men, women and children, lead by Keane, the hedge schoolmaster, joined the gathering. Billy Voss had also now joined this contentious group. They were armed with scythes, wattles, sticks, pitchforks, slash hooks, stones and any other weapons they could lay their hands on. Sensing imminent danger, Gibbons gave his men orders to halt, prime and load their arms. They then proceeded while still being followed by the mob increasing in number from four or five hundred to some 1500 people!

The police contingent halted on Boreen a Glough at what was thought (incorrectly) to be Dick ‘Waterford’ Walsh’s cottage. This was Kilkeasy Cottage; Butler dismounted and pushed a latatit summons under the door. Some of the mob by this time had congregated at the rear of the cottage, more were surging into the front yard, even more were swarming the lane outside as the guards attempted then to retreat. The mob started shouting: ‘Butler or Blood!’ They bartered that if Butler was handed over voluntarily, then the police would not be harmed . He was then dragged from his horse, but promptly snatched back into the ranks again; he got a sudden blow of a wattle, as Keane lunged forward, then struck with a stone and fell to the ground. Shots rang out after Butler lay dying, and a frenzy ensued…..
James Treacy was bayoneted by two policemen, in his attempt to drag Butler, the process server away from the police ranks – he was immediately shot by Capt. Gibbons. Gibbons, in retaliation was then killed instantly by the mob. The police fired some 20 rounds of bullets but couldn’t reload again as they were hampered by the mass of protesters swarming around them. The police were then reliant only on their bayonets, which were quickly snatched away from them. Primitive weapons such as sharpened pitchforks, scythes, wattles, mallets and hurleys and hails of stones and rocks were showered to inflict injuries and death. In the aftermath, both the wounded and uninjured, together with the inhabitants were fleeing side by side from the scene of carnage. Most fled into the Walsh mountains, a range which extends southwards towards Kilmacow.

The affray at Carrickshock was over in a matter of five or ten minutes and by noon on Wednesday 14th December 1831, eleven of the County Kilkenny Constabulary, Chief Constable James Gibbons, the process server Edmund Butler and three local men: Patrick Power and Thomas Phelan and James Treacy lay dead on the Carrickshock by-road.

Following the murderous altercation, the area around the scene was saturated with Kilkenny’s aristocracy, magistrates, dragoons, troops and constabulary, all conducting vigorous searches, and several arrests were made. William Maurice Read J.P., of Rossenarra House, Kilmoganny received death threats in return for ordering several arrests of the ‘murderers’ per se. Fearing for his life, the Rev. Hans Hamilton, and his wife abandoned Vicarsfield and fled to England.

Patrick Costelloe, from a firm of Kilkenny solicitors, and acting attorney for the Carrickshock prisoners did everything to secure their release from Kilkenny jail. In the following year, the prisioners had the support and council of Daniel O’ Connell MP, who defended them at the July court session, called Assizes. Having insufficient evidence for convictions, ‘The Orator’ was so adroit that no jury could be found to challenge him. By the fourth Assizes in succession, The Crown appeared to have abandoned the case and all eleven Carrishock prisioners were freed. William Keane remained on the run and emigrated to Newfoundland.

The affray at Carrickshock marked the beginning of the end of the unjust tithe taxation. By 1838 the Tithe War had ended and the ‘Poor Law Act’ was passed enabling assistance for the poverty stricken.

A Memorial Committee was set up, some 53 years later in 1884, and erected an obelisk to commemorate the locals who had fallen. Following on – a Memorial Committee was formed ninety three years after the affray, and a monument foundation stone was laid on December 14th 1924, performed by the Very Rev. Fr Patrick Treacy, nephew of James Treacy. During the ceremony these appropriate words were read:

‘All, are gone but still live on
The fame of those who died,
And true men like you men,
Remember them with pride”

James Treacy and Patrick Power are buried in Kilcurl old-graveyard; James Phelan in Kilcasey old graveyard.

Sources

  • ‘Butler or Blood’ by John Gaule, 2007
  • ‘The Mayor and the Outlaw’-a postscript to the Carrickshock Affray’ by Richard Lahart
  • Pat Molloy & Sons, Monumental Sculptors, Callan
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