Islands of Ireland: When evictions ruled the islands of West Cork

Islands of Ireland: When evictions ruled the islands of West Cork

Feral goats on Mannin Island, Co Cork. Picture: Dan MacCarthy

A passing sailor of this rugged island in Roaringwater Bay in West Cork will notice plenty of movement in among the furze bushes and ferns. Not some lost tribe but an altogether more self-contained party: wild goats. These caprine citizens cast a quizzical glance at any approaching boat but they are quite tame in fact.

They are magnificent animals and elegantly turned out with snow-white coats and dapper goatees. Their arced horns wouldn’t look out of place in a pirate’s scabbard. When they mount a rocky outcrop to survey the horizon it is a declarative moment: it is we who reign here.

There was a population of four people in 1841 on the 14-acre island. By 1853 this had reduced to three. There were Timothy and Michael Driscoll and a Timothy Crowley. The landlord was a John F Townsend. This island is very close to shore and lies just outside an even closer one in Mannin Beg.

Both islands are owned by actor Jeremy Irons, but while the lesser island contains a castle, the major one just has the ruins of the Driscoll cottages amid some fairly dense thickets of vegetation.

Dan McCarthy: Both islands are owned by actor Jeremy Irons, but while the lesser island contains a castle, the major one just has the ruins of the Driscoll cottages amid some fairly dense thickets of vegetation.
Dan McCarthy: Both islands are owned by actor Jeremy Irons, but while the lesser island contains a castle, the major one just has the ruins of the Driscoll cottages amid some fairly dense thickets of vegetation.

Kilcoe Castle which fell to British forces in 1603 was the last stronghold of West Cork castles to hold out after the Battle of Kinsale. It is thought that the clan’s chieftain ended his days on Mannin Island, though no trace of any form of dwelling that would have been associated with this occupancy is evident. Perhaps, if those goats would obligingly clear a few acres something may emerge.

In the latter part of the 19th century Mannin island was the property of a landowner from Ballydehob called Henry O’Mahony who was a suspect of the police under the Coercion Act. Numerous of these acts were in place in the country for most of the 19th century culminating in Arthur Balfour’s 1887 Act to prevent boycotting, intimidation and unlawful assembly as the people resisted the monstrous injustices of tenancy visited upon them. There were evictions on several of the islands in Roaringwater Bay, most notably on Castle Island. On Dick’s Island beyond Schull, there was a major gathering to inspire resistance to the laws. It was addressed by National League MPs James Gilhooly and John Deasy and created momentum to bring about positive changes in later land acts.

The British government employed gunboats with large numbers of soldiers and police to carry out the evictions. The law was the law. And in 1872 they had the occupants of Mannin Island in their sights.

And this ‘shrieval party’ as the Cork Examiner described it, meant business. The sub-sheriff John Gale, accompanied by several bailiffs left Cork for Bantry. On arriving at the West Cork town they were escorted to the gunboat Hawk which would bring them around the Mizen Head to land at Schull and commence a series of evictions. Gale was supplied with 50 sailors, and 20 police were added to the force at Schull. The evicting party threw out of their houses two farming families on Shountullig Mountain nearby.

One family resisted, with the newspaper reporting that “courage oozed out of their fingertips”. Families were turfed out of their homes and timbers were nailed across the door to stop them returning. Each ‘emergency man’ was fully armed with a Snider rifle, a sword bayonet, and a plentiful supply of ammunition.

The next morning at 10, the eviction party headed for Mannin Island about 2km from Ballydehob. A large number of cattle were found on the island which persuaded the police to visit O’Mahony’s lands on shore. They then evicted a Jeremiah Gallagher and a John O’Sullivan before returning to Mannin Island.

The cattle had, in the meantime, been removed and the house was seized and given over to an agent of the judge called Shannon. The evictions concluded with this sordid episode.

Mannin has a few satellites in Illaunrahnee and Ardillaun. Logainm gives many versions of Mannin Island including Manninge Island, Manning Island and Monnin Island. Footnote: The island is not visible on the main page of Google Maps.

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