Tag Archives: Eviction

Derryveagh Evictions:Walking to remember

In Donegal,Ireland this weekend there will be a walking event to mark the  150th anniversary of the infamous Derryveagh Evictions.

Deserted Road in Derryveagh. Image commons.wikimedia

The walk will trace the footsteps of the 85 adults and 159 children who were brutally evicted from their homes and livelihoods by their cruel landlord in April 1861. ( See my earlier ‘trilogy’ posts here, here and here).

The townlands of Derryveagh where the evictions took place. Click to enlarge. Compiled from Historic and OSI maps - With many thanks to Sara Nylund

The memory of this event is deeply rooted in the surrounding area. On the long car journey from Carrigart to Glenties in the 1950s my late father used to tell us children the story of Adair as he pointed out the ruined and deserted cottages in the lonely landscape. I had imagined then in my child’s mind that was the end of the sad story for these poor people.
Decades later on revisiting this story, it has been exciting to discover that the people who used to live in those destroyed homes are remembered still; that their tragedy has been researched, documented and recalled and that they have been honoured at the 150th anniversary of the event in April of this year.
Their descendants and extended family proudly remember them.
James Sweeney lived in Altnadogue(9). He was evicted with his wife and 8 children and the house was locked.  Two of  James’ sons – Edward and James – later lived in Stramore, an adjoining townland , and married their 2nd cousins Bridget and Grace Sweeney. Bridget and Grace had a sister Fanny, whose grandson, Petie McGee represented that family at the commemoration events in April.
A small number of families were readmitted as tenants, some until the following November and some as weekly tenants. On the shores of Lough Barra is Bingorms (10) with two families the McCormicks  and the M’Awards. The McCormicks were evicted but then reinstated as caretakers. Bingorms was strategically located near an access path to the castle in Glenveagh, and it is thought that Adair wanted someone to look out for sheep stealers using this path and so the McCormicks were spared.  It is hard to imagine what they must have felt as they saw their neighbour the Widow Hanna M’Award and her 7 children being pulled screaming from their house that was levelled to the ground. John (Joseph) McCormick and his wife Grace are the great grandparents of Susan Hemming who represented that family at the commemoration in April.
Susan writes: ”With my 21st century hat on, I am not at all sure that I like the idea of my great, great-grandfather being so “helpful” to his terrible landlord, but then I ask myself “What choice did he have?”. Stay on the land, or be thrown off like so many others?
I hope that he stayed as tenant with a heavy heart, that he and his wife were moved to tears as they witnessed the eviction of the widow McAward and her children. I wonder also, had Owen McAward still been alive, would Adair have chosen that family to stay as caretakers of this lonely route out of Glenveagh? Would the McCormicks have been evicted?”
Also in attendance were two great granddaughters of evictee Catherine Ward, who had travelled from Australia for the 150th anniversary commemoration. To see a TV news report on their setting foot at the site where their ancestor was thrown out,click on this link .
The work and research of many people has served to keep the Derryveagh story alive and has been inspirational to many.  Susan Hemming acknowledges the work and help of Paddy McCormick of Inniskill, Sally Greene (nee McClafferty) of McClafferty’s bar in Churchill in her research.
Two other names are inextricably linked to the ‘rediscovery’ of the events in Derryveagh in 1861:
Lindel Buckley’s ancestors emigrated to New Zealand from this area. Lindel, through her amazing website Donegal Genealogy Resources,  has been instrumental in linking many descendants of the evicted families back to their roots in Derryveagh. Lindel has located and transcribed hundreds of  historical records from Donegal and of relevance to Donegal, and they are available without charge on her website. Her work has been an inspiration to many, including this writer.
May McClintock of An Taisce, has a passionate interest in the Derryveagh Evictions and was instrumental in having a permanent plaque put in place to remember the families.  Through her writing and efforts she is highly regarded by anyone who delves into the story of  the Derryveagh evictions.
A local school teacher Christy Gillespie and his pupils  have documented the personal stories of the people who were evicted in Derryveagh. The book,  “A Deathly Silence”will interest a new generation and give new insights into the people who are the key figures in this story,the people of Derryveagh.
Today, Saturday August 27th 2011 May Mc Clintock  will participate in the ‘We Remember’ commemorative walk that will begin at the ruins of  Bradleys Cottage in the townland of Cleggan, and follow a route to Churchill. She will add insights along the way and at Churchill graveyard she will deliver a short talk. The commemoration of the 150th anniversary will draw to a close tonight with a musical gathering and fitting tributes.
This post is in tribute to the tenants who had to endure this dreadful event in 1861, to their descendants who have discovered who they are, and very specially in appreciation of the people who continue to freely give the benefits of their extensive research and knowledge that is an inspiration to us all.
Dolan, Liam. 1980. Land War and Eviction in Derryveagh, 1840- 65. Annaverna Press.

McClintock, May. After the Battering Ram- the trail of the dispossessed from Derryveagh, 1861- 1991. An Taisce Pamphlet

Vaughan, William Edward. 1983. Sin, Sheep and Scotsmen: John George Adair and the Derryveagh evictions 1861. Ulster Historical Foundation. Accessed at TARA: Trinity Access to Research Archive

Families evicted from Derryveagh

Donegal Genealogy Resources – The work of Lindel Buckley
Special thanks to Susan Hemming and Petie McGee for sharing their stories.


Filed under Genealogy, Ireland, Irish Heritage, Irish History

Derryveagh Evictions II: Shattered Hearths

On April 9th 1861, the second day of the Derryveagh Evictions, the Deputy Sheriff and his 200 men, armed with battering rams and crowbars made their way through the townlands of Derryveagh. Their purpose was to clear the land of men, women and children to make way for the flocks of sheep that landlord John George Adair had imported from Scotland. Convinced that one of his stewards had been murdered by his tenants, and vexed that the murderers had not been identified by police, he set in train a legal process to evict all of them from his lands.

The townlands of Derryveagh where the evictions took place. Click to enlarge. Compiled from Historic and OSI maps - With many thanks to Sara Nylund.



According to the official report, 37 Husbands, 35 Wives, 159 Children and 13 ‘Other Inmates’ were evicted – a total of 244 people. Of these, 31 people, representing 4 families, were readmitted into possession as tenants, and a further 28 people, representing 6 families, were readmitted into possession as caretakers. These numbers include children. Eventually however, only 3 of these families were permanently reinstated, the rest were removed in the months after the main evictions. In Derryveagh, on those 3 terrible days, 28 of the 46 houses were either levelled or had the roof removed.

Accounts of the evictions and the effects on the families concerned make for harrowing reading. The first house to be levelled was that of a 60-year-old widow, Hanna Ward (Award), her 6 daughters and one son. Eyewitness accounts tell of the wailing and deep distress as they were forced from their home. When the ‘crowbar brigade’ began to demolish the house, the family ”became frantic with despair, throwing themselves to the ground; their terrifying cries resounding along the mountains for many miles”. It was said that ”those who witnessed their agony will never forget the sight”. This scene was repeated over and over again during the following few days. It was reported that the scenes were so harrowing that the policemen carrying out the evictions were moved to tears. In one house, an elderly man was repeatedly told by the sheriff to leave the house, and “the old man in doing so, kissed the walls of his house and each member of his family did the same”. There was no regard for individual circumstances  – no mercy was shown to Rose Dermott, an orphan, whose house was levelled just the same as those of 3 of her close neighbours, although a brother and sister who were both deaf and dumb had their house spared.

Such unimaginable terror was in itself bad enough, but the evicted families and their children had to find someplace to live. In the townland of Altnadogue for example, three Sweeney families with 18 children between them, were locked out of their homes. They moved to nearby Glendowan, away from Adair lands, and built sod houses for themselves. Hearing of the evictions, people in nearby Cloughaneely provided temporary shelter for some of the families. One family in Staghall, a man his wife and two children,were found to still be living in the ruins of their house some time later. The family had lived there for generations. A further group of five men were discovered huddled around a fire with no shelter as they were unwilling to move away. A month after the evictions, 14 families were still unaccounted for or were wandering through the ruins of their homes.

Six families found shelter with or near to, relatives and friends, but 13 families had to take refuge in the Workhouse in Letterkenny. In the Workhouse it was reported that the Derryveagh people sat in a huddle weeping, and were so distressed that they were unable to eat. The elderly John Doherty of Castletown died only days after being admitted to the Workhouse and Michael Bradley is said to have gone insane.

News of the evictions and the desperate plight of the dispossessed reached Irish people across the world. In Dublin, in France and in Australia  money was collected. The Donegal Relief Committee assisted young people from Derryveagh in making new lives in Australia. On January 18th 1862, emotional and heart-rending scenes once again broke the hearts of the people of Derryveagh as parents and friends bade farewell to 68 young men, 70 young women and a young married couple with their 2 small children, as they left Derryveagh forever on the long journey to Australia, probably never to return.

Over the next few years, many mostly young people emigrated from this locality – they headed to America, to Australia, to New Zealand.


Dolan, Liam. 1980. Land War and Eviction in Derryveagh, 1840- 65. Annaverna Press.

McClintock, May. After the Battering Ram- the trail of the dispossessed from Derryveagh, 1861- 1991. An Taisce Pamphlet

Vaughan, William Edward. 1983. Sin, Sheep and Scotsmen: John George Adair and the Derryveagh evictions 1861. Ulster Historical Foundation. Accessed at TARA: Trinity Access to Research Archive

Official Statistic Report of the Evictions

Donegal Relief Fund- Australia. Accessed at Donegal Genealogy Resources


Filed under Family History, Genealogy, Irish Australian, Irish Diaspora

Derryveagh Evictions I: Shattered Homes, Shattered Lives

April 8th 1861,150 years ago, marked the beginning of three days of terror for tenant farmers and their families in a beautiful scenic part of Co Donegal. By April 10th, 85 adults and 159 children had been evicted from their homes by their landlord, John George Adair. In this,the first of 3 posts to commemorate the evictions, I will look at the circumstances leading up to the event itself.

John George Adair hailed from Co. Laois (then Queen’s County) and was a land speculator who purchased land all over Ireland, including Tipperary, Kilkenny and Laois. His family had been engaged in managing estates for absentee landlords and as a result, made enough money to acquire property of their own. John George Adair married a wealthy widow in the USA and in 1857 he began to buy up property in Donegal. By 1859 Adair was landlord of the Glenveagh, Gartan and Derryveagh estates and had hunting rights on some adjoining estates, in a barren but spectacularly beautiful part of  County Donegal.

Donegal,Ireland and location of Evictions

He imported great numbers of  sheep from Scotland together with Scottish shepherds to tend them. Some of these shepherds were men of dubious repute. His near neighbour, Lord George Hill, had acted similarly on his Gweedore estate lands, and that resulted in great unrest among the tenants who were  fearful that their mountain pastures and small strips of land would be confiscated to make way for the grazing of sheep. So too, on the Adair estates, the tenants were fearful of losing their tenancies to make way  for sheep.

The relationship between Adair and his tenants was fraught right from the beginning. He was a quarrelsome and deeply suspicious man; there were confrontations  about  straying animals and at one point he was convinced that he was the victim of a deliberate arson attempt, when in reality a fire was started accidentally in the house in which he was living. He generally treated his tenants with disparagement.

In January 1860, he served notice to quit on his Derryveagh tenants, with a view to ‘rearranging the holdings’. In November 1860 however, all the tenants were left in place with no evictions. But, just two weeks later, one of Adair’s Scottish shepherds – a man named Murray – was murdered and Adair suspected that he had been killed by one or more of the tenants. When the police failed to find the murderer, Adair decided that all of his tenants would be evicted for harbouring the wrongdoer. They were served with summonses and by the beginning of April he had obtained a decree for the repossession of his lands in Derryveagh, in an area near Gartan Lough.

Gartan Lough, the general area of the clearances. Photo courtesy of Petie McGee.

A posse of some 200 police and the Deputy Sheriff marched into the Derryveagh valley on the morning of April 8th, to begin the evictions. According to press reports at the time, there were harrowing scenes as the misfortunates were dragged from their homes by a ‘crowbar brigade’. Battering rams were used to drive holes in the walls and in some cases to demolish the buildings altogether. At the end of 3 days, 244 people from 47 families, had been evicted from 46 houses, and 28 of those houses were either totally destroyed or de-roofed.

Evictions were  relatively common in Ireland up to the 1850s, with 45,000 families dispossessed between 1845 and 1853. By 1861 evictions were usually confined to people who were troublesome or in rent arrears, but there was still an astonishing number of people removed from their homes. In 1863 for example, 1,522 families were evicted in Ireland and in 1864 the number was 1,590. Mass evictions however, such as those in Derryveagh were unusual. Tenants faced with eviction would normally (in Ulster at least) be allowed to sell the tenant-right to their plot of land, giving them some money when they were put on the road. This did not happen in Derryveagh.

The Derryveagh evictions caused widespread dismay. They were debated in Parliament; they were discussed and dissected in the newspapers of the time; they were the subject of correspondence between Adair and the Irish parliament, his estate management was investigated by the police. All of this was of no help to the hapless and unfortunate people who lost their homes.

John George Adair went on to build Glenveagh Castle on the shores of Lough Veagh, some miles from the area of the evictions. He died in the USA in 1885. The Glenveagh Estate and Castle are now in the ownership of the People of Ireland, thanks to one of the subsequent owners of Adair’s lands, Henry McIlhenny of Philadelphia, whose father was born some miles away. As I was growing up nearby, it was said that Henry McIlhenny was a descendant of an evicted Derryveagh family. He was not, but it was a good story! I like to think though that that this beautiful estate is in the care of the people of Ireland to honour those who were evicted. It is indirectly in the ownership of their descendants, wherever they may be, for they are scattered all over the world  – in Ireland, England, Canada, the United States of America, Australia and beyond.

The next post in this short series to mark the 150th anniversary of the Derryveagh Evictions will take a closer look at the the men, women and children evicted from their homes on those fateful days in April 1861.


McGeady, Paul J. The Derryveagh Evictions. Accessed at Donegal Genealogy Resources

Vaughan, William Edward. 1983. Sin, Sheep and Scotsmen: John George Adair and the Derryveagh evictions 1861. Ulster Historical Foundation. Accessed at TARA: Trinity Access to Research Archive

Family History Ireland a blog by Darren McGettigan

Glenveagh National Park


Filed under Family History, Genealogy, Ireland, Irish Australian, Irish Diaspora, Living in Ireland, Oral History, Social Change, Social Justice