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The following letter from Mr. O'Conor to Dr. Curry, dated 4th June, 1762, and therefore written soon after
White Boys). Being an Extract of a Letter from a Gentleman residing in Youghall to his Son in London." The following is a further extract from this authentic account of the proceedings of the early Whiteboys:
Their first rise was in October last , and they have ever since been increasing : they then, and all along, pretended that their assembling was to do justice to the poor, by restoring the ancient commons and redressing other grievances; for which purpose they always assemble in the night with their shirts over their clothes, which caused them to be called White Boys. Their number in the county of Waterford is computed at 600 or 700. They have done infinite damage in the county, levelling ditches and stone-walls, rooting up orchards, &c. On the 11th ult. [March, 1762], I saw several ditches they had levelled, part of an orchard destroyed, and two graves they had dug on the road between Clonmel and Cappoquin; the graves were to hold those that did not comply with their orders. Some time before this, they came by night into the town (a large village) of Cappoquin, where is a horse-barrack, drew up in the green near the barrack, fired several shots, marched by the sentry with their piper, playing the Lad with the White Cockade. The 13th, I saw a bier near Affane Church, which they had carried [caused ?] two days before to be made, to carry people alive, and bury them in those graves. An esquire at Cappoquin, when“a bachelor, agreed with a peasant for the use of his daughter, for which he passed the peasant his bond for 100l.; but on the esquire's entering the matrimonial state, he was compelled to take up his bond. They wrote to the peasant to refund the money, upon pain of having his tongue drawn through his under-jaw, and fastened with a skewer. On the 14th they assembled at Lismore (between Cappoquin and Tallow), posted an advertisement on the door of the post-office, requiring the inhabitants to have their houses illuminated, and a certain number of horses bridled and saddled, ready for them to mount against next night; which was complied with. On the night of the 10th they mounted, went to Tallow Bridge (near Tallow), where they levelled the ditches of several fine parks, and cut down a number of full-grown ash-trees (knee high); they then proceeded to Tallow; the horse marched to the West Bridge, where the commander called out, Halt, to the right about, and then proceeded into the market-place in a smart trot. They broke open the Marshalsea, discharged the debtors ; sent an advertisement to the justice, to lower the price of provisions one-half; which he tamely complied with, though a troop and a half of dragoons were quartered very near him. On the 22nd they came to the Ferry-point opposite this town, levelled the ditches of a small park opposite the back-window of my parlour, and a musketshot off the town; they made a large fire, dug a grave, and erected a gallows over it, fired several shots, and at each discharge huzza'd; and
the first outbreak of these disturbances, gives a perfectly similar account:
“ In relation to the disorders of the poor in Munster (he says), I assured him (Dr. Warner) that they proceeded from the throwing of that province, like Connaught and Leinster, into pasture-inclosures, which excluded these poor and reduced them into a state of desperation, and into that rage which despair on such occasions will dictate. I told him that the whole proceeded from laws which leave the better sort of our people no occupation in the inland counties but pasturage alone; agriculture being virtually forbid on account of the shortness of their tenures. That in such a state papists worry papists, the rich excluding the poorer sort to make room for flocks and herds, which are easily converted into ready money and find a ready market*.”
Arthur Young, in his description of the early Whiteboys, exactly agrees with these accounts; as he states that "
they began in Tipperary, and were owing to some inclosures of commons which they threw down, levelling the ditches; and were first known by the name of Levellers f.
A more detailed statement of the causes of the Whiteboy risings in 1762, but precisely agreeing with the accounts just quoted, is given by Crawford, in his History of Ireland, published in 1783. After having
sent several audacious letters to the inhabitants of this town, threatening to pull down several houses, particularly a handsome house at a small distance, which they said was built upon the waste.
The 29th, the ditches of Tirkelling and Ballydaniel, near Tallow, were levelled : 500 men in a day could not repair the damage."—Pp. 182-3.
* O'Conor's History of the Irish Catholics, part I. pp. 287-8. On the extent of pasturage in Ireland during the last century, see Newenham's Inquiry into the Population of Ireland, pp. 44-57.
* Page 75.- Arthur Young may be considered as an original authority on this subject, inasmuch as he travelled in the South of Ireland in 1776, and collected his information on the spot.
mentioned that there had been for several years preceding 1761 a murrain amongst horned cattle in England, whither it had spread from Germany and Holland, he proceeds to say
“ From this cause a foreign demand for butter and beef became uncommonly great. In proportion these articles rose in value, until at last they grew to an immoderate price. Hence ground appropriated to grazing was more valuable than that under tillage. Cottiers being tenants at will were everywhere dispossessed of their little holdings, which, in considerable tracts, were set by the landlords to monopolizers *, who, by feeding cattle, were enabled to pay them a higher rent. In this manner even whole baronies were laid open to pasturage. Pressed by want of subsistence, numbers of the poor fled to large cities, or emigrated to foreign countriest. Those who remained took small spots of land consisting of about an acre each, at an exorbitant price, [from] which they laboured to procure, if possible, the means of support for themselves and their miserable families. To lessen somewhat the burdens by which they were oppressed, some of their landlords granted them the liberty of commonage.
The relief was but temporary, for some time after, in breach of justice and positive compact, they were deprived of this privilege. Tithes, and the small price given for labour, which, notwithstanding the increased price of necessaries, did not exceed the wages given in the days of Elizabeth, were circumstances which aggravated their distresses. As the calamities of these unhappy creatures arose principally from the extravagant price of land, a number of them, either ignorant or incapable of the
* Plowden, Hist. Review, vol. i. p. 337, states that the early Whiteboys called these monopolizers land pirates. Land shark is a word now used with a similar sense in Ireland.
+ The number of those who emigrated was probably very inconsiderable. The Catholic peasantry of the South were too poor to raise the means of emigrating to America. The Protestant peasantry of the North were better able to emigrate, as will appear lower down, in the account of the Steelboys.
proper mode of redress, had recourse to illegal expedients, to oblige the proprietors to set it on more reasonable terms*.” The consolidation of farms, and the increase of
pasturage caused by a rise in the price of cattle, and the consequent dispossession of many cottier tenants, appear to have led to disturbances exactly similar in their character to those which occurred in England in the reign of Edward VI. ; and to mark a corresponding change in the manner of cultivating the soil t. The same transition likewise took place in Scotland towards the end of the last century; when the surplus rural population was absorbed into the towns, and employed in mechanical trades, or in the newly-established manufactures; so that the change was made without any violent reaction. In England and Scotland the new state of things has become permanent; in Ireland (as we shall have occasion to show) this transition has never been effected, and it is to prevent its completion that the Whiteboy combinations have principally been organized.
The proceedings of the Whiteboys, at their first appearance, may also be taken as evidence of the objects which they had in view ; since they seem, at first, to have met with scarcely any opposition, the rural police of Ireland having been in about the same state in 1761 as that of England was in the disturbances of 1830. They are stated to have gone about the country in large
* History of Ireland, in a series of Letters addressed to Wm. Hamilton, Esq., by Wm. Crawford, A.M., one of the Chaplains of the First Tyrone Regiment (Dedicated to Lord Charlemont). Strabane, 1783. vol. ii. p. 317-8.
of See the beginning of Hume's 35th chapter, and Campbell's Phil. Survey of Ireland, p. 294-7. The conspiring to put down all inclosures was ruled to be high treason in Burton's case, 39 Eliz. See 1 Hale's P.C. 132, 153.
bodies, throwing down fences, rooting up orchards, cutting down trees, destroying bullocks *, and doing various injuries to property. The general character of their proceedings may be collected from the preamble of an Irish Act passed in 1775, " to prevent and punish tumultuous risings of persons,” (commonly called the Whiteboy Act,) which recites that-
“ It has frequently happened of late years, in different parts of this kingdom, that several persons calling themselves Whiteboys, and others, as well by night as in the daytime, have in a riotous, disorderly, and tumultuous manner, assembled together, and have abused and injured the persons, habitations, and properties of many of his Majesty's loyal and faithful subjects, and have taken away and carried away their horses and arms, and have compelled them to surrender up, quit, and leave their habitations, farms, and places of abode; and have, with threats and violence, imposed sundry oaths and solemn declarations contrary to law, and solicited several of his Majesty's subjects, by threats and promises, to join with them in such their mischievous and iniquitous proceedings; and have also sent threatening and incendiary letters to several persons, to the great terror of his Majesty's peaceable subjects; and have taken upon themselves to obstruct the exportation of corn, grain, meal, malt and flour, and to destroy or damage the same when intended for exportation ; and have also destroyed mills, granaries, and storehouses provided for the keeping of corn; which, if not effectually prevented, must become dangerous to the general peace of this kingdom and his Majesty's government thereint."
It appears, both from this recital and from accounts of particular outrages, that from the very beginning
* This is stated by Crawford, vol. ii., p. 318. The Whiteboys of 1762 destroyed bullocks with the same view that the Terry Alts of 1832 turned up grass land, viz., in order that the ground being under tillage might be let at a cheaper rate for setting potatoes.
opo 15 & 16 Geo. III., c. 21.