DUBLINTIMEMACHINE: Another day, another British atrocity. Todays is the anniversary of the Rathcormac massacre in 1834. Although this one occurred in Cork it had an immediate and series effect on Dublin. During this nightmarish dark time in the country, with the spectre of the Great Famine already falling like a dark curtain across the land, peasants were hungry and greatly indebted to their absentee British landlords.
Yet despite this poverty Catholics were forced to pay tithes to the protestant Church of Ireland parish, whose land they occupied. Adding insult to injury, this land had originally been their own but was stolen from beneath their colonial masters. The Tithe was like a tax paid to the C.O.I, usually one-tenth of the already starvation rations of the produce wrung from subsistent peasant farms. This tax was paid twice monthly. As punishing as this was many were able to scrape it together, but when the British decided they wanted a cash levy instead the burden became a booth on the throat of the Catholic Irish.
Faced with no other option they refused to pay what they physically didn’t have. This was as much an act of helplessness as it was rebellion. This desperate withholding of payments melodramatically labelled “The Tithe War”.
The particular robber baron demanding financial tribute in Gortroe, a little hamlet near Rathcormac, was Archdeacon William Ryder. On this day in 1834 the fabulously wealthy and powerful “man of god” rode in to Gortroe with a company of soldiers of the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards on horseback, a unit of foot soldiers of the 29th Regiment, and the every present heavy-handed local Royal Irish Constabulary.
Imagine how intimidated the ragged, starving natives felt as these heavily armed and well fed cavalry swept in to their precarious settlement. They had gathered in pathetic little groups around Bartlemy Cross in Gortroe, wielding the crude wooden spades and sods of turf of the peasant farmer. Imagine how helpless they felt knowing they could do nothing to protect their families, hopelessly outnumbered in the face of battle hardened armed soldiers.
The Archdeacon drew his eyes across the villagers of Rathcormac. His pitiless gaze first met that of the widow Johanna Ryan, and he demanded her tithe. Much to the shock of the assembled small army a group of villagers stepped forward. There`ll be no tithe today sir. We have nothing.
Archdeacon sneered at the trembling men and women as if they were dirt on his expensive boots. He turned to the man commanding his escort of soldiers “Captain Bagley, have your men draw bayonets!”. At the sight and sound of dozens of gleaming, sharp, bloodthirsty blades being produced the humble protestors scattered, running for their lives, many retreating in to the nearby home of the widow Ryan.
Furious at these impudent peasants the Archdeacon shouted “Captain Bagley, demolish the house!”. Surprisingly despite the might of the attack, the dwelling was not giving up its terrified occupants. Frustrated by this Captain Bagley roared at his men, ‘You must dislodge the peasants from the haggart and the yard. If they do not go quietly, you must try the bayonet. If that is not sufficient you must fire!” The peasants fought back, defending themselves against hopeless odds.
After the bullets and the blades and the fire and the screaming the Archdeacon and Captain Bagley got their devils due. They returned to their warm comfortable lives and left a dozen Irish families forever blighted. And so in that little corner of our island, as has happened thousands of times before and since, on an ordinary day of British justice, between 12 and 20 people were shot dead and 45 were wounded with three more dying later that day. All because they had nothing, having had their food, land and dignity stolen by their masters, all that they had left to take was their lives.