The aristocracy and humbler classes unite their voices (1840)

Siobhan McAndrew
41 min readMar 3, 2024

The following is a remarkable account of a public meeting protesting the proposed formation of a Poor Law Union uniting Erris with Newport, a town about 40 miles south of Belmullet. The meeting may well have succeeded in its mission, because Erris ended up being split between Ballina and Westport Unions, Ballycroy forming part of Westport.

This account is notable for its vividness, raising the question of how the reporter was able to capture such detail: it may have been that Dean Lyons shared a copy of his speech. It also appears to be the first public meeting of Denis Bingham (1818–1902), grandson of Major Denis Bingham, then aged just 21. Major Bingham died in 1842 and was perhaps too infirm by that point to serve. Major Bingham had been disqualified as a magistrate, so it may have been more useful to have young Denis preside, as heir to the vast Bingham properties in Erris.

The story is also remarkably long at over 10,000 words, comprising as much as a quarter of the space allocated to the whole edition of the newspaper. The Telegraph, established by Frederick Cavendish in 1828, had a reformist agenda with a serious interest in the plight of the impoverished and dispossessed. Finally, the storycaptures the voice of the pre-Famine rural poor of Erris, both named individuals and collectively.

Within just a few years, many of those who attended and participated so vigorously had died. Dean Lyons died in 1845, at the age of 47, at the start of the Famine. William Bingham, young Denis’ uncle, died of fever in early 1848, shortly after leasing his storehouses for use as an auxiliary workhouse for Belmullet, for which he had been appointed as acting superintendent. In 1847, the Quaker philanthropist James Hack Tuke reported that of the 28,000 population estimated as living in 1846, 2,000 had emigrated in the past year, and 6,000 had died. A full half of the remaining 20,000 were at risk of starvation.


The Telegraph, 8 January 1840, pp. 2–3.

A meeting of the Clergy, landed proprietors, cess-payers, and other inhabitants of Erris, was held pursuant to requisition, at the Court-house, Binghamstown, on the 1st of January instant. Denis Bingham, Jun., Esq., was invited to take the Chair, amidst the acclamations of the meeting. He returned thanks in very appropriate terms for the unexpected honor done him, and trusted that his conduct trough life would be such as to merit the approbation of his countrymen (cheers). He was proud to see such a vast assemblage of the inhabitants of Erris meet to maintain their rights, and to repel calumny and misrepresentation — and he hoped the proceedings of this day would convince their opponents that Erris could not be tramped on with impunity (cheers.)

At this period the crowd, in and about the Court-house, was so dense, that the twentieth-part of them could not witness the proceedings. It was requested, therefore, of Doctor Lyons to permit the meeting to adjourn to his Chapel, to which he cheerfully assented, on the ground that the question to be discussed was not of a political character. In a few minutes the Chapel, which is a spacious edifice, was crowded almost to suffocation, by a dense mass of persons pressing forward to witness, or take part in the proceedings of the day. Doctor Bourns was appointed Secretary; and the Chairman having again stated the object of the meeting, Wm. Bingham, and James O’Donel, Esqrs., moved that the Very Rev. Dr. Lyons be requested to answer the commentaries of the Mayo Constitution of the 17th ult., and give such other information to the meeting as he might deem necessary on this very interesting and important occasion. The Rev. Doctor instantly presented himself to the meeting, and was received with enthusiastic cheers. He spoke for upward of two hours. The following is but an outline of his very able statement:

Mr. Chairman — It gives me great pleasure to obey the call of this numerous and respectable meeting; and as they are pleased to confide to me the task of answering the assertions (for arguments I cannot call them) of the Mayo Constitution, I will cheerfully undertake it, irksome thought it be, and shall endeavour to discharge my trust in such a way that the Editor himself, if he be open to reason and conviction, will see cause to retract them. But, Sir, before I come to this knotty subject, let me premise that I rejoice sincerely to see you in that Chair as the representative of one of the great landed proprietors of Erris, and commencing your public career by making common cause with the people of your native district. This is as it should be — union is strength — and while the aristocracy and humbler classes unite their voices as upon this occasion, and firmly demand their rights, they will be irresistible (hear, hear, and cheers.) I wish also to observe that we ought to make a distinction in the case now under consideration, between the Proprietor and the Editor of the Mayo Constitution. I am satisfied the former person never penned a line of the article we complain of — nay, I have good grounds to doubt that it is the production of the Editor himself — for I heard nearly all the assertions in that article made, and a good deal of its identical language used, by certain interested individuals in Castlebar — and if I am not greatly mistaken, the Correspondent of the TELEGRAPH, who calls himself “A Landed Proprietor of Erris,” and the writer of the structures in the Constitution, will eventually be found to be one and the same person. If I am correct in those conjectures, the Editor of the Constitution is double accountable to us. — First on his own account — and next, because, regardless of the excellent political maxim, that “Public men should have public minds,” he has made himself the partisan and catspaw of certain persons, who wish to serve their private ends at our public cost. But his and their efforts will not avail. Nature herself has isolated Erris, and separated it from the rest of Mayo, by a barrier of everlasting hills, and an extensive tract of marsh and moor. It is a remote and distinct country, and common sense as well as common humanity forbids the banns of union between it and Newport, or any other place in the County. The public voice cries shame on the heartless proposal; and the Editor of the Constitution must deal less in assertion and more in arguments and facts, before he can persuade even the most partial of his own readers, that there is either justice or charity in the intended arrangement (loud cheering, and cries of “We will never submit to it”) — I hold in my hand the Constitution of the 17th ult., containing the obnoxious article which sets out with stating that “the project has been attacked with the weapons of misrepresentation and abuse.” Men of Erris, is this true (no, no, he is telling his own story?) It was not our object to misrepresent, but on the contrary to expose present, and prevent future misrepresentation, by placing the truth, at once, before the Commissioners and the public; and the vast trouble taken by the Newport party to make the worse appear the better cause, is a manifest proof of our success. They feared, it seems, to allow our statements to go forth, even for one short week, without the countervail of the Editor’s strictures; but those strictures, like foil to a gem, have only served to set off our plain and honest case to advantage, and to increase its effect upon a discriminating public (hear, hear). If the advocates of Erris were guilty of misrepresentation, the Editor would have adduced some proof or instance of it but having failed to do so, the charge recoils on himself (great applause.) The imputation of abuse is equally unfounded. We held two public meetings on the business, and I feel justified in stating that if the most test and fastidious of the party opposed to us, were present, they could not take offence at aught said of or about them, by any of the speakers (true, true, we let them down too softly). What are the facts of the case? The Newport party went to work privately against us. They sought to pre-occupy and prejudice the mind of the Assistant Commissioner, and to persuade him that it would be utterly impossible to muster a sufficient number of respectable or intelligent persons in the entire barony of Erris to constitute an unexceptionable or efficient board of Guardians. Notwithstanding this extraordinary conduct which, it is manifest, they adapted to promote their own private views, without any relevance to, or the slightest regard for the feelings, opinions, or interest, of the inhabitants of Erris, we treated them with respect and forbearance; and merely predicated of them that, in seeking to unite Erris with Newport, they are not actuated by philanthropy towards this remote district, but by a selfish desire to make it subservient to the aggrandisement of Newport, for which they are and morally ought to be more deeply interested (hear, hear, and loud cheers). This predilection for their own district is a natural infirmity — we touch it, therefore, with a light and gentle hand — our language was decorous, and we used no weapon but truth (immense cheers). They are angry, it seems, because we designated their project a job; but we gave it the right name. What else is it but a job? And the worst species of job too? A heartless scheme which has for its object to sacrifice the opinions, feelings, comforts, convenience, interests and independence of twenty six thousands souls, to gratify the interested views of three or four individuals, who have property in the barony of Burrishoole, and who imagine they will derive great advantages from having a workhouse at Newport (cries of “we will have nothing to do with them — no union — let them mind their own affairs.”) Having thus removed the charge of misrepresentation and abuse from the advocates of Erris, I consider it due to them, and to the district at large, to expose the real culprits, and call them up for trial at the bar of public opinion. Let the editor of the Mayo Constitution, therefore, and the party whom he advocates, stand forward and plead to the indictment — for they are the men. The counts are many against them, and if irrefragable proofs can insure a verdict, they cannot escape conviction (hear, hear, and loud cheers). 1st misrepresentation — Certain individuals of the Newport party, stated to the Commissioner, that the population of Erris, exclusive of Ballycroy, was about twelve thousand; but, joined with that place, that it would amount to eighteen. The Editor, however, having discovered an error in this statement, assigns three thousand and upwards to Ballycroy, and nineteen thousand to the rest of Erris. He approximated, but did not give the exact truth in either case. The persons who took the census for 1831 in Kilmore and Kilcommon are here present, and they state the amount to be 20,161; and I find elsewhere that the population of Ballycroy wanted 75 of three thousand. The whole, therefore in 1831 exceeded twenty three thousand; and, if the increase for the last nine years be added, the population of Erris may now be fairly estimated at twenty six thousand souls. The object of this misrepresentation was to impress the Commissioner with the idea that Erris, as compared with Newport, was of very little importance, and therefore should go with that place, as a natural adjunct or appurtenance (cheers — and a voice in the crowd, “Oh, how kind they are now — but sure they ought to count fair at all events — may be it is all for love, they want to make little of us” laughter and cheers.) The 2nd misrepresentation is of a place with the foregoing. The Editor states the population of the Newport district to be 46,000 some hundreds; but takes care not to intimate to his readers, that more than one half of that number reside in Erris; and of that half, that 9–10s are to be found upon or close to the Eastern shores of the bays of Blacksod and Broadhaven, and within the Mullet; at an average distance of 40 miles from Newport, by the only practicable road between that town and Belmullet. — The object of this obscure statement was to conceal the real population of Newport, and yet make appear that it was too populous to be united with Castlebar or Westport; and therefore that though it is only six miles from the latter town, and nine from the former; it is expedient to form it into a distinct Union — and thus place three workhouses upon a triangular area of less than 24 miles, the central point of which will not be more than five miles from any of the forementioned towns (hear, hear).

Pat Gallagher — Well, Sir, the job won’t be complete until they put Erris upon that point in the centre and make it fool [?] in the middle between them. It is then they will play real hort a brogue with it, and give it a whop wherever it turns (shouts of laughter, followed by enthusiastic cheers.)

Doctor Lyons — Indeed, Pat, your view of the matter is not less just than it is comical, for if they do not make fool [?illeg.] in the middle of our barony, they at least intend to make it the fag end of Newport; and the editor of the Constitution argues most logically that it is easier for our 26,000 Errisonians, spread as they are over an area of 222 square miles, to travel by land across rivers, bogs and mountains, or by sea, through all the intricacies of the Bull’s mouth and the Sound of Achil, and the labyrinths of Clew Bay — a distance of forty miles by land and upwards of fifty by water — than for the good folk of Newport to travel six miles to Westport or nine to Castlebar (vehement cheering.) Verily the gentleman must conceive the Commissioners to want both common sense and common humanity. If he hoped to obtain their assent to so absurd and iniquitous an arrangement.

Michael O’Donel — The best way, Sir, to bring that man to his sense will be to make him walk from Newport, by the old track, to Bangor and from that to Bawr Roosky; and then make him get into a curragh, in a stiff breeze, and go round Erris head, and the Enneskeas — and, if he does not choose to venture by Achil head, let him get up the Sound, and row against the tide to Newport. That one trip, you may depend upon it, will banish all his foolish dreams, and make him stare in astonishment at his own absurdity (cries of “bravo, Mick — that’s the right penance for him,” followed by laughter and cheers.)

Doctor Lyons — The 3rd misrepresentation to the Assistant Commissioner was, that the inhabitants of Ballycroy had little or no intercourse with the interior of Erris, and that the way between them was so long and difficult that a certain gentleman, interested for that district, had to pay the car hire and other travelling expences of the Ballycroy cess payers, when summoned to attend Special Sessions at Belmullet.

A voice — I am from Ballycroy, Sir, and I make bold to say there never was any such thing. The man that could tell such a bouncer may swear, without scruple, to all the meetings in Erris! (hear, hear, hear.)

Dr. Lyons — Well, my good fellow, the editor of the Constitution goes still farther and affirms that the inhabitants of Ballycroy have no intercourse with Belmullet at any season of the year. How, I ask, are such statements to be designated? If the editor believes them, he knows nothing of Erris — and if he does not, the sooner he relinquishes his office of public instructor, the better. So far is his statement from being true, that the contrary only is deserving of credit: for so frequent and constant is the intercourse of the inhabitants of Ballycroy with the rest of Erris, that some of them may be met at all seasons, and also on every day in the year, not only in Belmullet and Binghamstown, but in the most remote villages of the Peninsula. There are 44 markets and fairs for stock, and for merchandise, of every description, held annually in Erris, and every one of them is numerously attended by women as well as men from Ballycroy, and the Erris shopkeepers count largely on their customs.

T. Cleary — Sir, there is plenty of us here today buying and selling — and why shouldn’t we? Aren’t we Erris men as well as any others? What a fool he must be to think we’d stay away from the fairs in that way — bedad then we won’t — if all the cudgels in Newport were on the brink of the Avonmore to stop us. But I believe all this graw of the grand gentlemen up the country, is to draw water to their own mill — and faix [?] they must be badly off now, if they can’t do without our poor custom. They want to skin us, I suppose — (cries of well spoke Cleary, and cheers for several minutes.)

Dr. L. — I now come to the 4th misrepresentation. In stating that the nearest point of Ballycroy to Belmullet is 12 miles distant, the Editor did not exaggerate much; but he omitted, at the same time, to mention that seven-eights of the inhabitants of that district, are to be found immediately in the neighbourhood of the point he alludes to; and that from Doona or Tallagh, it is not more than six miles across Blackheadbay to Tarmon, within the Mullet. He also conceals from view, that the solitary village of Dookeel [?Dooreel], in the nook at the mountains, at the southern extremity of Ballycroy, is far removed from the populous portion of the district, and is nevertheless as distant, on that side, from Newport, as Croy Lodge is from Belmullet on the other (hear, hear.) Now, what is the object of all this concealment and mystification? The Editor glides as smoothly across all the barren moors, and rugged passes that intervene, in a direct line, between Newport and Ballycroy, as if they were the lawns and avenues of a fertile and Champagne country, and he bounds over the range of Maum Thomas, 1630 feet high, almost without an effort; and yet he finds the Avonmore an insuperable barrier to intercourse, between Ballycroy and the rest of Erris, though the inhabitants, on its lands, on each side, can converse with each other with ease, and cross it in many places on horseback — (a voice “I often crossed it in a tub.”) The reason is obvious. It was to persuade the Commissioner, that because one little solitary village of Ballycroy approaches as near Newport, on the South, as the great hulk of the population of that district approaches to Belmullet on the North; therefore, that not only the whole of Ballycroy, but the entire of Erris, should be annexed to the Union of Newport, for the purpose of saving the good folk of Burrishoole from being placed under the surveillance of their neighbours, at Castlebar or Westpot (hear, hear, hear). It must be a desperate cause which demands such wretched shifts to support it.

Hugh O’Malley — “Oh, mille murthur, how sick they are to blind us out and out. Arrah, sure the Commissary won’t listen to such nonsense — ‘troth, Sir Samuel put his foot on it. We’ll have nothing to do with himself or his Poor Law, at all at all — he’d bother us with his long winded speeches, which nobody understands but himself. — If he gets the union, Sir, the De’il himself won’t get it back out of his clutches — he’ll make a Grand Jury Job of it, and put taxes upon taxes on us, and banish us all to Merica or Wan Diamond [?Van Diemen]. — Bad scraw to him and to Mr Edithor, whoever he be, that don’t mind their own business, and let poor Erris alone. — Stop then, Sir — stop them. All Erris is against them. We all say no union, and let us see the spalpeen that will say against us. “ (This appeal was received with tremendous applause, and bursts of laughter, which continued for several minutes.)

Dr L. — Mr Chairman, I am delighted by these interruptions; for they place, in the strongest light, before you, the opinions and feelings, not only of the peasantry, but of all classes in Erris. In the cry of no union, we are perfectly unanimous (here a tremendous shout was raised, and ‘no union’ was vociferated from every tongue in the assembly, and responded to by the multitude in the street.)

When the noise subsided, Dr. Lyons continued as follows: — Sir, not content with the suppression of the forementioned important circumstances, the Editor suggests what is not the fact — namely, that the people of Ballycroy have a strong objection of being joined to Belmullet, and separated from Newport. I am greatly mistaken, if even one man, not a driver or paid servant of the landlord or agent, ever told him so. At our last meeting, we had a respectable muster of the men of Ballycroy, who vehemently declared the very reverse of his statement; and expressly stated they would not think of severing themselves from the rest of the barony, to become the humble servants of the people of Newport. If there are any from that quarter here today, let them now come forward and declare their feelings upon the subject. (A crowd of Ballycroymen then presented themselves, and were hailed with repeated cheers; and their spokesman said, ‘we are here, Sir, and we will be always ready to do the same as our neighbours — We do not want a poor law at all — for we are willing and ready to support our own poor people without compulsion (cheers,) but if the law must come into this backward country, why, then, it is our wish to have all the barony in one Union, without having any thing to say to Newport, or anywhere else. There is not one man in Ballycroy, unless he is a driver or a follower, that is not of this opinion (cheers.) — Another person then stepped forward and stated ‘that if the people of Ballycroy are permitted to follow their own inclination, without dread of the landlords or their agents, there can be no cause to fear they will join with Newport against Erris: but he apprehended coercion on the part of their landlords; for the sub-agent had been already amongst them — and their neighbours might guess the rest. Nevertheless they would fight hard and give nothing but its due to Newport (hear.) — they belonged naturally to Erris and it was useless to think to separate them’ (great cheering.) At this period there was a great crush at one of the doors, and upon inquiry it was found to have been caused by a body of Ballycroymen, endeavouring to gain access to the meeting. They succeeded at length in gaining the body of the chapel — and upon being told the sentiments expressed by their headsmen, they signified their approbation in a HURRA FOR ERRIS — in which they were enthusiastically joined by the rest of the meeting. Silence having been at length restored Dr. Lyons resumed, — I knew, Mr. Chairman, the affair would turn out as you see, and I fancy that the Commissioners and the public will attend more to this express declaration of the inhabitants of Ballycroy than to any opinions coined for them by the editor of the Constitution. But, Sir, you cannot be surprised that he misrepresents the men of Ballycroy, when he ventures to publish the following, viz.: — ‘The advocates for Belmullet say, “we don’t want Ballycroy — let it be joined to Westport or Newport”.’ Now, this statement has not a particle of truth in it: for, in the first place, we are not the advocates of Belmullet or Bingham’s -town, or any other particular locality — but the advocates of Erris at large — leaving it entirely to the Commissioner, who is an honourable and high minded gentleman, to select the site for the work house wherever he considers it will best suit the general convenience and interests of the whole district. — In the next place, we have not taken upon ourselves to place a Union for either Westport or Newport — for we presume the inhabitants of those places are quite competent to manage their own concerns without our interference — and we insist, on our part, that they shall not interfere with us; and lastly, we have not recommended the junction of Ballycroy with either of the forementioned towns. We merely stated that if the inhabitants of Ballycroy were themselves anxious to be united with Newport, it would be our duty to acquiesce, because they are the best judges of their own convenience and interests, and we are too much the friends of fair play and rational liberty, to put any restraint on their inclination. — Will the landlords of Ballycroy and their agents take example from our moderation, and leave their tenantry free to follow the dictates of their own judgment? Report says they will not; and though Fame is generally a liar, I apprehend she is the herald of truth on this [illegible]. [Here the Very Rev. gentleman requested the meeting would be more moderate in their plaudits and permit him to proceed with less interruption, as the day was getting late, and he had still a great man points to advert to — besides there were many other gentlemen present who would have to address them after he had done. The Chairman said he trusted they would take the advice now imparted to them for though he most cordially approved of their enthusiasm; still it was necessary to restrain their exuberant acclamations, in order to allow sufficient time to get through the business of the day. A voice from the crowd, ‘We don’t grudge a piece of the night itself, Sir. — It is better be here than at Mollyranhee [Mulranny], on the long road to Newport — hear, hear] D. Lyons — Now, Sir, to the sixth, and not the least, misrepresentation. It was urged most strongly on the Commissioners that there were only three or four persons in the entire barony eligible to be appointed Guardians of the poor (cries of ‘oh, oh, oh,’ and hisses.) The editor, not only reiterates this gross libel upon the inhabitants of Erris, but adds considerably to it, and concludes as impudent a paragraph as ever flowed from the servile pen of the tool of a party, by stating that the entire district is sadly in want of such persons as are required to work out honestly and efficiently the details of the Poor Law Act’ (groans and hisses.) — Truly this scribe writes very foolishly as well as very falsely; and I trust that when the Commissioner visits Erris, in the course of this month, he will see ample cause to judge differently of the inhabitants of this district (hear, hear.) There is no part of Mayo, for the extent of its population, in which it is easier to procure a Committee or Board to manage any public business. It is not confined to ten nor to twenty. A hundred persons can be had in the present assembly, fully qualified to act as Guardians; and who will not lose by comparison with any board in the county (vehement cheering.) But for what purpose is all this abuse heaped upon the inhabitants of Erris? To prove forsooth that, like minors or lunatics, they are incapable of managing their own affairs, and that, if they are armed with power to tax themselves, they will madly swallow up half the rental of the barony, and bring upon landlord and tenant, and eventually upon their improvident selves, inevitable ruin (hear, hear, hear.) Therefore, to prevent all this certain mischief, it is humanely proposed to unite this barony ‘for better for worse,’ with Newport-pratt, the good people of which, if we believe the Constitution, have in perfect readiness a complete and adroit Board of Guardians, to take immediate charge of the Erris Poor Rate; and, in gratitude for that treat, to bestow strait waistcoats on such of the Errisonians as will be mad enough to imagine they have either talents or integrity to qualify them to become Guardians of their own poor; or the common sense to be more zealous than strangers, for the protection of their own property, or for promoting the prosperity of their native district. [At the conclusion of this passage the groans and hisses became astounding. At length Charles Daly’s shrill, but powerful voice became distinguishable over the din of the excited multitude. We did not catch all he said — but the following are some of his flowery periods. ‘That printer, Sir, can rival Foorock, the monarch of Ireland’s story teller, who swore he heard the grass grow — but the credit that is got by a lie only lasts ‘till the truth comes out; and he that says what he likes, must hear what he does not like. Of all impudence the greatest is to deny the truth. But a thousand assertions will not make one good argument. What fools himself and his patrons are! They want to court our alliance — and they begin by knocking us down. If they are now so unceremonious with us, it will be a real ‘taming of the shrew,’ after the union. What does he mean by saying, ‘the entire district is sadly in want of persons to work out honestly the details of the Poor Law Act’? I suppose he means that we are all such rogues as to rob ourselves and run away — or such idiots as to starve ourselves in order to still feed our paupers — or such asses as to believe that the Newport Guardians would be more sparing of our persons than we would ourselves: This is not nonsense, Sir, but it is arrant knavery, and long headed humbug — but it’s no go. We are not sheep enough yet to permit the wolves to become our guardians. I hope Dr. Lyons will pardon me for interrupting him — but I could not refrain from giving tongue to my overflowing heart, which is ready to burst with indignation against the libeller of my native district. It will be satisfactory to him to know that what I feel, is the feeling of every honest man in Erris. Our watchword is ANEWINTHER, and with the Dean at our head — a fig for the Nabobs of Newport.’ This spirit stirring address brought down thunders of applause, and the excitement continued so long, especially in a distant part of the house occupied by females, that the Chairman was frequently obliged to call to order, and ask what the noise was for, upon which Mr. E. C. said it was a debate among the ladies whether the editor of the Mayo Constitution was yet a bachelor — and if so, not to look for a wife in Erris; for that they had resolved unanimously, from the Queen of Erris down to the humblest peasant girl, to reject his addresses until he made the amende honorable for his unwarrantable attack on the gentlemen of the district (peals of laughter and cheers) — and silence being at length restored, Dr. Lyons proceeded –

Mr. Chairman — Those interruptions are appropriate and useful episodes in the business of the day. If properly reported, they will be a treat to the public, and be in themselves a proof that the editor is a stranger to the genuine character of the inhabitants of Erris. Indeed he admits we may succeed in getting a sufficient number of elective guardians, by the magical interlocution of the priests, whom he charges with promoting unworthy persons elsewhere, but insinuates that they will be mere machines, for the purpose of unduly taxing the landlords. Leaving him and the Catholic clergy of other district to settle accounts with each other, as best they may, I confidently assert that his insinuations are utterly inapplicable to Erris. We are here a united people — there is no discord between us (hear, hear). Those who are best suited by intelligence, integrity, respectability and habits of business, for the office of guardian, will be chosen without regard to party or persuasion, and the less this charitable editor, or any other violent party man, interferes in our concerns, the better for the peace, union and harmony of all classes in Erris. The Protestant clergy here are always ready to promote the general interests, and they co-operate most cordially upon this interesting occasion; and let me tell the editor that the priests’ talisman is to be always ready to sacrifice their personal interests and convenience to promote the public good. That is the secret of their influence; and while they pursue that course, the sneers of hostile persons will only serve to give them additional claims to the confidence and veneration of the people (hear, hear, and repeated cheering). But, Mr. Chairman, besides this sweeping general declaration of the utter incapacity of the inhabitants of Erris to manage their own affairs, without being put into leading strings by the editor’s patrons; that courteous personage takes special exception against all and every one of our magistrates, on the ground that they are disqualified by law. Now, the qualification for an ex-officio magistrate is ‘to be a justice of the peace residing in the union, and acting for the county — not being a Stipendiary magistrate, or an Assistant Barrister, or in holy orders, or a minister of religion.’ But Mr. Cruise alone is the only magistrate in Erris, who comes under the designation of Stipendiary. — He therefore cannot be an ex-officio guardian. But there is nothing in the act to prevent his becoming an elective guardian. Captain Nugent and Lieut. Henry are differently circumstanced — they are not Stipndiaries, within the meaning of the Act — they reside constantly in the district — they hold lands and pay cess — and, notwithstanding the assertion of the Constitution to the contrary, they are as fully qualified by aw to act as ex officio guardians as the owners of Ballycroy, and have a deeper interest in the prosperity of Erris than three at least of the Burrishoole magistrates, whom the editor is so anxious to place over our poor rates (hear, hear).

Patt McDonogh — ‘I beg your pardon, Sir — if the law be as you state it, then, Sir, Richard can’t be an ex-officio — for he gave up acting at the courts, and has turned Darby, and become a preacher — and does not that make a minister of him? — and as for Mister Connell O’Donel, does not every one know he is dying this long time past, and more was the pity — and sure he can’t act. Then as for the rest, sure we don’t know them all — for Newport is entirely out of our way in a corner — it is not on our road to Westport or Castlebar — the gentlemen there may, sure enough, be very good men for all that — but we will not give up our own for love or money — long life to them and you, Sir -between ye all and the Major, Erris will be again a gramachree country’ — (loud cheers).

Doctor Lyons — Well, Pat, you take a fair view of the matter; and there is good sense in what you say. The Newport would-be ex-officio guardians for Erris are themselves liable to objections as valid as those urged against our Magistrates by the Constitution. What do you think of the logic of the editor who wants to persuade us that Mr Crampton is no magistrate, because his name is not in the list of last year — and that because he is Mr Carter’s agent — he has no residence in Erris, and is not going to live amongst us, though himself says the contrary?

Patt McDonogh — Oh, Sir, he must be either a knave or a fool — or perhaps a mixture of both (laughter).

Doctor Lyons — He also says Pat, that because Captain [Henry] Bingham did not say, at our last meeting, he would come and live in Erris, it follows that he will stay away.

Patt McDonough — That’s more of the yarn, Sir — you said it for him -and when he said nothing against it, sure by the old rule, silence gives consent — and I think that is as good logic as the editor’s new method — but if it was even true for him is not young Denis, the Chairman there, God bless him, going to take out the commission next week? But maybe the editor will say he is not qualified — truth, he may say anything he pleases, for he is the boy that won’t stop at a trifle (laughter, and cheers.)

Doctor Lyons — Indeed it seems so; for he lays violent hands on Mr. Parker, and insists on chaining him down to his residence at Westport — and even threatens him with the loss of his commission of the peace next month, unless he resigns being agent for Lloyd’s. Now, he is quite aware that Mr Parker is indissolutely connected with this district, which is his native place, and in which his property is situated; and that he is a constant attendant, for the greater part of the year, at our Petty Sessions; he is also, or, at least, ought to be, aware that no man, not a magistrate, can discharge the difficult and responsible duties of agent for Lloyds, with efficiency, upon this remote coast — and notwithstanding any interference of any intermeddlers, the government will take the same view of the matter; and continue the commission to Mr Parker, if for no other reason than because he is agent for the underwriters (hear, hear).

The Chairman — I regret you have been so frequently interrupted — and regret I must myself trespass for a moment upon you, for the purpose of hearing my humble testimony to the merits of Mr Parker, as a magistrate of this district. He is indefatigable in his exertions to preserve all property cast on those shores; and in his magisterial capacity he is above reproach. In fact, if he is deprived of his commission for being agent to Lloyd’s, he ought also to be deprived of the agency for want of the commission. If he is permitted to possess one of those offices namely, the agency, the other ought to follow as a matter of course; for, as you justly observed, he cannot be an efficient agent in this country, unless he has within him self-sufficient authority to punish lawless violence and depradation (hear, hear).

Doctor Lyons — I am much gratified, Sir, by your very just and appropriate observations; and as to the interruptions I have experienced, permit me to say, that yours and all the rest, are all most efficient aids towards accomplishing the task with which I was honoured by the meeting. From what has been said, it is plain that we have a sufficient number of resident magistrates to act as ex-officio guardians, and the worthy editor may permit me to whisper in his ear, that we will shortly have others to add to the number. The Erris Board, if one there will be, will consist of 8 or 9 elective and 4 ex officio guardians, and that number is sufficient for any practical purpose, and will work better, at least for Erris, than three times that number at Newport (hear, hear). That board will have the merit of domestic nomination to recommend it — it will be a purely Erris board, deeply interested in the prosperity of the district, and enjoying the unlimited confidence of the inhabitants. The guardians can hold heir meetings regularly; for let the board room be where it will in the barony, all the members of the board however distant, may attend there for the despatch of business, and return the same evening without inconvenience, to their respective domiciles. Thus the business of the Union will be transacted in the sight, I may say, of the cess payers; and the poor inmates of the work house will have the consolation to behold their former neighbours and patrons now administering to their comforts, and blessing their latter days with abundance and peace (cries of ‘we’ll have no other — that’s the only plan for Erris.’) Yes, it is the only plan for Erris; for let me suppose the union with Newport carried, what will be the consequences? First, our native poor will never be induced except by absolute coercion, to immure themselves in a work house so far away form their friends, and out of view of those local objects, with which their earliest and fondest recollections are associated. Next, either there will be no local guardians at all for Erris; or if any accept the office they can never attend the meetings of so distant a board, with the regularity or efficiency necessary to accomplish the important objects of their appointment. Consequently the intern management of this barony will necessarily fall into the hands of strangers, in whom it is unnecessary to say the landed proprietors and cess payers, can repose little confidence; for it is manifest it will be their interest to get all they can from us for the benefit of their own district, and make therefore the least possible return (hear, hear, and cries of ‘that’s the fact, Sir, that’s the fact.’) Under these circumstances therefore, the proposed union with Newport bodes nothing but evil to Erris. It would subject us to foreign domination — entail upon us an uncontrouled expenditure — reduce our peasantry from poverty to destitution, and spread discontent and ruin throughout the district. It is absurd, therefore to expect we will quietly submit to so iniquitous a measure. We will do no such thing; but will resist it to the utmost of our power by all legal and constitutional means. The law was intended for good and not for evil. The commissioners, I presume, are inclined to carry the law into effect with as little delay to the people as possible. Shall we then permit the Newport party or any other [illegible], to pervert that law and seduce its ministers into instruments of oppression, against the inhabitants of Erris? (great sensation, and cries of ‘never, never — no union, no union.’)

Edward McNally — You tell the truth, Sir, and more power to you. If we wanted any help from the Newport gentlemen they would not own us; they would pretend, as they often did before, that they had more than enough to mind at home, without giving themselves any trouble about us. This is only a scheme of theirs to escape being thrown into the Westport or Castlebar union. But, like all their schemes for the last fifty years, it will end in a bottle of smoke, and give the mastery now, as well as heretofore, to Westport. This, Sir, is the thorn that lies in their side; but we will take care they shall not transfer it to us; we wish them no evil, but still less do we wish evil to ourselves. We refuse, therefore, one and all, to have anything to do with them (cries of yes, yes, yes — no union, no union).

Doctor L. — The extent, Mr. Chairman, to which we might expect to be taxed by our would-be rulers, may be conjectured from the published estimate of their organ. He calculates the destitute poor of Erris (not including even Ballycroy) at four hundred, and the annual cost at three thousand pounds. In both cases, he nearly trebles Mr Nicholl’s estimate. That experienced and talented gentleman states as follows, in the memorandum concluding his first report — ‘I assume that work house accommodation may occasionally be required for one per cent of the population.’ — Taking credit for good economical management, I assume that the average cost of maintaining the pauper inmates of the work-houses, will be 1s. per week for each person. I assume also that the average weekly cost of the establishment, including salaries, clothing, bedding, wear and tear, furniture, fuel, and other incidental expenses, will be about half that amount, or 6d. per head weekly, page 64.’ Now, taking those assumptions as the proper date to go by, and estimating the population of Erris not at nineteen or twenty-two thousand — but at what it really is, twenty-six thousand — the number of destitute poor will be 260 — which at 1s 6d per head weekly, will be 1041l. per annum. But if we suppose with Mr Nicholls, as the more probably approximation to truth, that the workhouse on an average of the whole year would be only accompanied by three fourths of that number, viz., 193, the annual rent would be 760l. 10s.

Anthony Tighe — ‘It is clear, Sir, that the Editor only learned multiplication; his Arithmetic is as faulty as his arguments are illogical.’

Dr L. — You are wrong there, Sir, for he knows to subtract, when it suits his purpose (laughter). HE states pretty accurately, that Ballycroy is about the one-fifth of the extent of Erris — and, for aught I know to the contrary, it may be true that Sir R. O’Donel and his uncle derive two thousand a year from that distract. From those data, he assumes that the rental of the rest of Erris is only eight thousand per annum — and here he shews his knowledge of subtraction. The Peninsula of the Mullet, in its whole extent, contains but eighteen acres — and yet its actual rental approaches six thousand per annum. Kilcommon is more than thrice the extent of Ballycroy, and contains nearly five times as much arable — and yet by the Editor’s Arithmetic, it is estimated at less than 3,000l. a year. But both his subtraction and addition, have the very same object — namely, to shew that Erris is too insignificant a territory to be formed into an independent union (hear, hear, hear.) The next [illegible] presentation regards the difficulty of procuring provisions, especially in times of scarcity, ‘so frequent in Erris.’ ’Tis true there was distress upon two or three occasions in Erris, occasioned by want of money, than by any actual scarcity of provisions; for upon all those occasions, more grain was shipped from our quays than would be necessary, if retained in the country, to supply all the wants of the inhabitants. — And the Editor ought not to forget that upon all those occasions, Newport was in still greater distress than Erris; and even last year, when distress prevailed there, and throughout the greater part of Mayo and Galway, Erris had a superabundance of provisions; and potatoes sold here for half the price they fetched at Westport. And it is a fact, that in times of greater scarcity, provisions are cheaper in Erris than in any other part of the Province (hear, hear.) Erris corn brings 4d. in the bushel more at Liverpool than any other from Connaught, owing to its superior excellence for milling. And let me tell the Editor, that more grain was shipped last year from our quays, than for the last seven from Newport. He talks of the facility of approaching Newport by sea — but without meaning to depreciate its river or port, what are they, compared with the bays of Blacksod and Broadhaven, between which Belmullet is fixedly situated, and to both of which there is access in places innumerable throughout the district, the most remote point of which is not more than six miles from some inlet, crick, or harbour (hear, hear, hear.) There is no probability of actually scarcity of provisions at any time in Erris; but if there should, we have the high road of the world at our doors; and as Newport is such a plentiful place, it will be as easy to go there for provisions, as to transmit our paupers to it (hear, hear).

Mr Luke Lyons — “I wonder such an objection has been made. — There is no part of Ireland which has greater facilities for an abundant supply of such provisions as will be wanted for the workhouse. I will engage to supply all that will be wanting, for the next seven years, on as moderate terms as can be obtained any where in the county, and will give ample security for the fulfilment of the contract. And there are other merchants in Erris, equally willing to enter into the same engagement. He also talks of the want of mills here. I shall only say, that if there be a demand for meal, there will be no want of mills. They will be erected in sufficient time to prevent the necessity of sending elsewhere (great cheers, and cries of bravo, that’s a gagger.)

Mr J. O’Donel: If it becomes once apparent that there will be a remuneration for an outlay on Mills, you will have them in abundance — and in my humble opinion the erection of the workhouse within this barony will eventually have the effect, not only of calling mills into existence, but also of creating a home market for the sale of our surplus provisions; instead of being obliged, as at present, to send them to Westport and elsewhere at considerable loss. The editor says that paupers could not be conveyed to Newport in five or six hours. Now I would ask him, if Newport be so plentiful, and the time of passage so short, could we not have provisions down as quickly as we could convey paupers up? And will not the workhouse itself create a market if there were none before in the country? But on every day in the week potatoes may be had at the crane in Belmullet, and the only thing we have to regret is that the demand does not equal the supply. The truth is, after all, we would gladly do without the poor law altogether until it is seen how it will do elsewhere — but if it be forced upon us, who will be more cautious in taxing the people? The landlord, who has a direct interest in the opulence and solvency of his tenantry — and the tenant who is anxious for his own personal happiness and the property of his family? Or the stranger who is not bound to the people of this district by any such endearing ties, and whose feelings must flow in an adverse channel? — The editor talks of the danger of giving power to seven or eight persons in Erris to tax the entire barony. Now what security can he give that it will no be more dangerous to entrust the taxation to his committee of twenty-one? Let the tax be what it may, if the workhouse be in Erris, the sum will flow brisk on the contributors — but let us be once united to Newport, and our money will pass away like yesterday, never to return. The people at large will exclaim against the impost and discaution, and agitation will prevail throughout the country (vast applause). I have to apologise, Sir, far adding mine to the many interruptions you have already experienced — but the objections of the Constitution are so perfectly ridiculous that I could not longer contain myself — and I know that an interruption will put you out of the thread of your discourse (cheers). Dr Lyons — The more we have of such interruptions the better. They are the honest expression of your indignation at this monstrous attempt to subject us to the controul of a party with which there is not even a good pretence to connect us at all -and if we are only to have a choice of evils, and that, notwithstanding the peculiar claims of Erris to particular indulgence, we must submit to be joined with some other district. Then Ballina should, by all means, have the preference — for notwithstanding the assertion that the passage to Ballina is tedious and dangerous, it is in every way, by land or water, more accessible to us than the decayed village of Newport (hear, hear, no union with either). Yes, I say so too — let it be in Erris or nowhere — but it is right to let the Newport folk know that if we were bound to make a choice, Ballina would have a decided preference (cheers). Having thus got through this farrago of misrepresentations, every one of which I have fairly placed at the door of the editor and his party, I beg to observe in conclusion that in charging them with interested motives, it was not my intention to impute any thing dishonorable. It is not because they wished to serve themselves at the expense of this district, that I blame them, but because they went covertly to work, and forestalled, if I may so speak the opinions of the Assistant Commissioner, and because they have recourse — not to facts and legitimate arguments but to misrepresentations and ridiculous sophistry. I trust the proceedings of this day will teach them to be more cautious in future, and prevent them from attempting any further trespass on the feelings of the inhabitants of Erris. Dean Lyons then sat down amidst the most enthusiastic cheering of the assembled multitude.

The Rev. Mr. Kelly — I earnestly request you will moderate your feelings. It is not by cheers but by calm discussion and just arguments we can achieve our objects (hear, hear.) I acknowledge you have just grounds to complain of the conduct adopted towards you; I heard myself a young gentleman at Castlebar, who I was told was Mr Clendining, jun., make use of disrespectful language towards the inhabitants of Erris; but I replied to him on the spot and told him plainly how much he was mistaken, and how improper it was in him to take such an unwarrantable liberty with a people, among whom there were many more respectable than himself. Our proceedings this day, will I hope, open his eyes, and let him and his partisans see that we will not permit ourselves to be trampled upon by any faction. I recommend, Mr Chairman, that our proceedings be published in two of the county and one of the Dublin Papers — and that a subscription be set on foot among the gentry and clergy, to defray the expence, without trespassing at all on the people at large (cheers and cries of “well done Father Kelly, you are always ready to take your share of any public burden.”)

Mr. Wm. Bingham — I move Mr. Chairman, that we memorial both the Lord Lieutenant and the Commissioners of Poor Laws to protect Erris from the machinations of the partisans of Newport — we do not seek to interfere with their particular interests or concerns; but we have no wish to promote their views at our proper cost — Erris must not be sacrificed to benefit Newport, or any other place whatsoever; and it is absurd to suppose that either the Commissioners or the Government will sanction any such unjust arrangement. They will listen to reason, and take the peculiar circumstances of this rising district into consideration. We can do very well without the law at all — but as it is probable no exceptions can be made, we are ready to submit at once, and to take the management of the workhouse upon us, under the guidance of the Commissioners. But we positively refuse to assent to a union with any place beyond the precincts of Erris (great cheering.)

Mr. James O’Donel — I cordially second Mr. Bingham’s motion, and fully agree in his sentiment. We will cheerfully tax ourselves to support the poor of Erris, but we have no notion of permitting the Newport party to interfere at all in our concerns; for if we did, we would have to support our poor at home, and still be liable to them for at least one half the expense of the workhouse at Newport ([from the crowd:] no union, no union.)

The resolution was then put from the chair and carried unanimously.

Mr. John Loftus, a farmer, then asked if he would be permitted to address the chair, and put a few questions for the information of the peasantry.

Dr. Lyons — Certainly Mr. Loftus, you have the same right to address the chair, with any person in this assembly — come forward and speak your mind freely.

Mr. Loftus — I wish to know in the first place, why we should not now support our poor as we did evermore?

Dr. Lyons — The Imperial Parliament has willed it otherwise, and it is our duty as well as our interest to obey the law.

Mr. Loftus — I know, Sir, we should obey the law. But why did not the law impose this burden on the Landlords, who spend their rents everywhere but in Erris?

Dr. Lyons — The law, John, has met your wishes half way, for the Landlords must bear the full half of the poor rate — the tenants will only have to pay the other half.

Mr. Loftus — So far so good Sir; but will not the Landlords contrive to saddle the tenants with the whole burden as they did with the tithes?

Dr. Lyons — I hope not, John, for it is not the intention of the Parliament that the Landlords should shift their fair portion of the poor rate to any other shoulders — and absentee that you perceive, will be one effect of the Poor Law on the Landlords, who contributed nothing heretofore, towards the poor, must now put their hands into their purses, and bear half the burden.

Mr. Loftus — Who will have the appointment of the Guardians? The rate payers or the landlords?

Dr. Lyons — Both Landlords and tenants will be rate-payers. I answer you, therefore, correctly by saying that the rate-payers will have the appointment, and that the tenantry will have as great, if not a greater, share in the selection than the landlords. There will be fair play depend upon it, and I feel confident there will be no disputes amongst us on that subject.

Mr. Loftus — I am now satisfied, Sir, and I begin to think better than heretofore.

This dialogue gave great satisfaction to the assembled multitude, and was followed by thunders of applause.

Mr Edward Cormick then moved that Mr Bingham do leave the chair, and that Captain Hyland be called thereto.

Captain Hyland — It is charming to witness such a scene as this. The voice of such a multitude must be irresistible — one good result from the attempts of the Newport party. It shows that Erris unanimous, and that the inhabitants will not permit their rights to be filched from them by any party whatever. (cheers)

The Rev. Mr. Kelly then moved the cordial thanks of the meeting to the Chairman.

Dr. Lyons — I second that motion — we are greatly obliged to our young Chairman. His conduct has been admirable, throughout our very protracted proceedings, and deserves unqualified approbation. It is a fair promise of much future good to Erris, and I rejoice sincerely at so pleasing a prospect.

Mr. Bngham — I return heartfelt thanks for the feeling shewn towards me here this day, and it will be my study to merit your approbation. I trust I will be always found ready to promote the interests of the inhabitants of Erris.

This was followed by three cheers for the Chairman, three for Dr. Lyons and Mr. Kelly, and three groans for the libellers of Erris, after which the meeting separated, without a single accident, notwithstanding the crowded state of the house and the approaches to it.


To the Honourable the Commissioners of the Poor Laws, the Memorial of the undersigned Inhabitants of Erris, respectfully Sheweth,

That the half-barony of Erris is a remote and isolated mountainous district, on the North west coast of Mayo, and separated from the rest of that county by a vast tract of bog and a chain of lofty mountains.

That the superficial contents of Erris are two hundred and thirty thousand statute acres, or nearly 360 British square miles, containing a population by the census of 1831, of upwards of 23,000 souls; nine tenths of whom reside upon or close to the Eastern shores of the Bays of Blacksod and Broadhaven, and on the Peninsula of the Mullet; at an average distance by the present roads, of 40 Irish miles from Newport, and 33 form Ballina.

That Memorialists have heard with great surprise, that it is the intention of your Assistant Commissioner to connect Erris with Newport or Ballina; and to place the work house for such Union at one or the other of those towns.

That such an arrangement would be manifestly injurious to the best interests of Erris; for, on the one hand, its native poor would never be induced to immure themselves in a work house so far away from their friends, and out of view of those local objects with which their earliest and fondest recollections are associated; and, on the other, it would be unreasonable to expect that the local Erris Guardians could attend the meetings of so distant a board, with either the regularity or the effect necessary to insure the important objects of their appointment. That consequently the management of the Erris portion of such union would pass into the hands of strangers, the inevitable effect of which would be to entail a vast and uncontrouled expenditure on the district, with little, or at least, no adequate return in the shape of relief to its destitute poor.

That Memorialists therefore most respectfully solicit from our honorable Board, to induce your Assistant Commissioner to alter his intention (if such he really have) with respect to the projected Union of Erris with either of the forementioned towns, and either to leave them free form the operation of the Poor Law act, until it is seen how it will work in the other parts of the County — or if that be inexpedient, to form Erris into a distinct Union, unconnected with and independent of any other district.

And Memorialists as in duty bound will ever pray.

A similar memorial, with the necessary changes have been forwarded to the Lord Lieutenant, and both are covered with the autograph signatures of 180 subscribers, of whom two-thirds at least were deputed by the villagers of the barony to express their wishes at the meeting; and of the remaining portion more than half the number are possessed of landed property in Fee, or upon Leases for Ever. Such is the district which has been represented as unable to supply a Board of Guardians for a Poor Law Union!



Siobhan McAndrew

I research in the social science of culture and religion, moral communities and civic engagement. PPE, University of Sheffield