After the Great Famine a period of reorganisation and prosperity was experienced until further famines occurred in 1878-81 and on several occasions during the 1890s bringing hunger and deprivation. The academic Roy Foster explains why this occurred:
‘With a disastrous harvest in 1877 and an inadequate recovery in 1878, a very different picture was presented by 1879. Potato yields suffered particularly. Freak rain and cold throughout the summer and another hopeless harvest were accompanied by a drastic fuel shortage’
Events compounded the situation:
‘This coincided with falling prices brought about by the entry of American grain, and even beef, on to the British market…Potato production had fallen by three-quarters, and starvation loomed in the west…The fall in income and cattle prices desperately affected the small farmers who supplied graziers with stock; credit, easily available from joint-stocks banks and shops throughout the 1870s, began to be called in’
The conditions described by Foster were prevalent in Addergoole right up the mid 1880s. The county of Mayo had been an active belligerent in national politics, from land agitation, to violent Fenian movements as outlined by Roy Foster, ‘Mayo had a history of tenant organization; it had a strong local tradition of Fenian influence mediated through politics by people like John O’Connor Power and Matt Harris’.
During this period the Mayo Land League was formed by local activists and members of an active local press in the form of the Western People and the Connaught Telegraph. James Daly was born in the townland of Boughadoon, Addergoole in 1838 and became the most influential editor of the Connaught Telegraph in its history and a central figure in the Mayo Land League movement.
James Daly campaigned against rack rents, absentee landlords and evictions and later became synonymous with the establishment and the running of the Mayo Land League and the subsequent national organisation. His influence on Irish history has been summed up by historian Gerard Moran:
“As emphasis of the Land League began to spread to the farmers in the east and south of the country. Daly felt the organisation had deserted the group it was originally set up to serve. This lost the movement much of its appeal. Daly was also critical of the organisation’s finances and the drift towards physical force and the centralisation of the political movement”
“The initiation of the Land War and the beginnings of the Land League are all traced back to the works of James Daly. His input into activities which changed the course of Irish history has never fully been recognised”.[iii]
The influence of James Daly on the population of Mayo and that of Addergoole was buttressed by an appearance by Parnell, in the village of Lahardane not long after giving a speech at one the many mass meetings on this occasion held in Newport and a subsequent rally Glenhest.
The rise in land agitation and political advocacy was as a result of the worsening impoverishment of communities in Mayo as 1880s progressed. Such impoverishment ensured many of those who could, emigrated. Those who lived in poverty but had neither the means nor the will to emigrate remained. An article in the Western People entitled ‘Evictions on the Arran Estate’, 1886’ details the actions taken by landlords and their agents in the area to receive payment of rent in arrears:
‘At an early hour on the morning of the 27 of March, 1886, the accustomed repose of their country village of Lahardane was broken by a cavalcade of cars passing with forces of sixty or seventy police armed and officered a guerre! The minions of the law were abroad this early to help to wreck the dwellings of more than a score of peasants in the neighbourhood, whose only crime against the Constitution was their inability to manipulate the causes of the general depression, or avert its consequences’
Western People, 3 April 1886
The article detailed those who were evicted and those who were able to offer a compromise of rents due but also illustrating the desperate plight those who could not offer any compromise.
‘The evictions proceeded to the house of Pat Monnelly. The rent £3:5:0., reduced from £4:0:0., and rose from to the amount from £1:0:0. There are nine inmates in this house, one over eighty years and another bordering in the patriarchal span – the parents of the tenant. His youngest child is two years. This man has no means under heaven but one barrel of potatoes to serve for sod and food. He could not make an offer of one penny’
Western People, 3 April 1886
(More to follow on James Daly and the work of the Land League in Mayo)