Tithes in the 1830s
In Ireland tithes were introduced at the Synod of Cashel in 1171, but were then confined generally to areas under Anglo-Norman control. Tithes were a tax required to be paid by farmers. The collected monies went to support the local Church of Ireland clergymen. Most of the farmers required to pay were either Catholic or Presbyterian which led to great resentment over this tax.
There had been trouble over tithes in the 1700s but it all came to a head again in 1830. In Graiguenamanagh, Co. Kilkenny some farmers requested a reduction in the tithe due to fallen incomes but the local rector refused their request. In order to secure his payments he requested that the police take the farmer’s cattle. So the farmers knowing the law only allowed them to be seized during the hours of daylight took to grazing the animals at night and keeping them in their sheds during the day. If the animals had come to market no one would have bid on them. The whole thing turned into a campaign and it quickly spread countrywide.
It eventually led to some secret societies becoming involved who looked for rent reductions as well as the tithes. It led to the country falling into disarray.
The government brought in troops to help the police collect the tithe. In one encounter in Newtownbarry, Co. Wexford in 1831 fourteen people were killed. The tithes collected dropped year on year. The government passed the Coercion Act allowing the police to arrest anyone found outside after dark in areas affected. In 1838 another act was passed which brought Tithes down by 25%, and it became a fee to be included in the rent which the landlord then had to pass on himself to the Church of Ireland clergy. This disappointed many who had hoped the fee would be distributed among other religious communities also.
In 1831 the “Tithe War” as it became known, began in earnest, when the Irish Catholics, spurred on by their priests, refused to pay their tithes. The civil agitation that followed was countrywide and eventually led to the abolition of tithes by Parliament some years later in 1838.
The Times, (the London Times) 24th May 1836:
Irish Municipal Reform ~ Provincial Agitation- County of Meath
It is quite manifest that Ministerialists of all shades including the Aristocratic Whigs, as well absentee as resident Irish proprietors, are determined to work up the agitation with vigour and earnestness. Meath is the first county to enter the lists as an auxiliary to the association recently formed at Corn Exchange, Dublin. The High Sherriff of County Meath, Mr. Henry Meredyth, has convened a meeting for Wednesday next, at the Court-house of Navan, to “petition Parliament for a speedy and satisfactory settlement of the tithe question, and also to express the strong sense we entertain of the injustice done to Ireland by refusing a measure of municipal reform based on the same principles as the acts recently passed for England and Scotland”. These are the words of the requisition to which are attached the names of
The Marquis of Headfort,
The Earls of Fingal, Milltown and Essex,
Lord Gormanston, Killeen, Cloncurry, Sherborne, and Talbot de Malahide,
John Cantwell the Roman Catholic bishop of Meath,
The Hon. T. Barnwall,
Sir Patrick Bellew MP,
Sir William Somerville,
Sir Thomas Chapman,
Morgan O’Connell MP
Henry Grattan MP
Then follow a number of deputy lieutenants, and magistrates, several parish priests, and upwards of 200 radical freeholders closing with “Robert Mullen” the secretary of the Meath County Club.
I am thus particular in describing this requisition in order to apprize you of the efforts thus early made to promote and extend the present “agitation campaign.”
The Times, (the London Times) 30th May 1836: Meath County Meeting
On Wednesday at 2 o’clock, a public meeting was held at Navan, to protest against Lord Lyndhurst’s bill and to petition for a total and unqualified abolition of tithes. Shortly after 2o'clock H. Meredyth, Esq., the High Sheriff, took the chair in the Court-house.
Dr. Mullen having been appointed secretary.
Lord Killeeen said he was proud to find so many of the men of Meath determined to protest against the injustice which it had been attempted to throw upon them, and as the courthouse was quite inadequate to afford accommodation for all who wish to be present at the proceedings, be begged to move “That the meeting do adjourn to the Fair Green” (loud cheers).
The motion was carried with acclamation, and the High Sheriff and the immense crowd proceeded to the large open space in front of the church. When the proceedings commenced we noticed, among many others, the following gentlemen:-
H. Grattan, Esq., MP for the county,
The High Sheriff,
Sir William Somerville,
Elias Corbally, JP,
M. Thunder, JP,
Robert Taaffe, JP,
S. Winter, JP,
H.B. Slator, JP,
The Rev. Mr. Burke, PP, Castlepollard,
The Rev. Mr Leonard, PP,
The Rev. Mr. Kelly, PP,
The Rev. Mr. M’Ilroy, PP,
The Rev. Mr. Farrelly, PP.
Lord Killeen rose to propose the first resolution. He had often addressed the men of Meath, but never under circumstances which he considered so important as the present (hear). He was delighted at the demonstration of public feeling which the meeting displayed. He had seen a larger in the Cobury-gardens on Monday last, but it was for the same honourable purpose. It was now the duty of the rich and the poor, of the high and the low, to resent the injustice which had been attempted against Ireland by the imputation we’re not as fit for civic powers as their brethren in Great Britain. He trusted the Lord’s mutilated bill would be rejected by the Commons (hear). He hoped from Lord John Russell’s speech he would himself move the rejection of it. (Cheers). If he did, the ministry would be secure. But if the entered upon any compromise involving principle, they would forfeit thereby the confidence of the people of Ireland (loud cheers).
His Lordship moved the first resolution demanding equal justice for Ireland. Sir Joseph Barnes seconded it.
Mr. Samuel Winter said, he and others had been opposed to repeal (hear), because the advocacy of it calculated to waste the strength of the popular party, and to retard the introduction and working of necessary reforms. If, however, those reforms were not introduced, he felt it his duty to say, that in justice to Ireland he must join those from whom he before stood aloof. (Loud cheers). He was a Protestant, and he thought himself its best friend by advocating the removal from it of whatever was calculated to bring it into dislike (cheers), and by seeking for its ministers some other support than which they got at the point of a bayonet (cheers).
Sir John Johnstone seconded the resolution.
Mr. Bevan Slator said he too was a Protestant, and was true to his faith, but he wished every man to have his own ideas, and as he paid his own doctor he should in like manner pay his own soul-saver. (Laughter and cheers). He did not ask the Catholics to support his parson and the Catholics did not ask him to support their priests. (cheers). He was delighted to see the High Sheriff in the chair (cheers). He not like that O’Fowler said that he (Lord Killeen) and the respectable gentlemen around him wanted him to call a meeting to create a riot and break the bones of the people. (Laughter and cheers). Let us have three cheers for our honest high Sheriff (The cheers were most cordially given). The resolution he held in his hand was not a bad one (Laughter).
It declared the necessity of getting a new set of corporations, and the sooner the better (laughter) for the old ones were the nests of the worst possible robbers (Laughter). If Ireland did not get justice, he would become, what he had never been, a Repealer. (loud cheers). I repeat it- I solemnly repeat it- if they don’t give us justice, they shall give us repeal (loud cheers). He would say, “ if you won’t give us justice give us our own Parliament, and we will do justice to ourselves” (cheers). This would be his course, and when once he called for repeal he would not easily abandon it. (cheers).
Mr. Michael Thunder seconded the resolution.
Mr. John Barnes said he had only just returned to the country after an absence of 20 years and he was happy to raise his voice in so good a cause. (cheers).
Mr. James Grenan of Rathcairn seconded it.
Mr Robert Taaffe proposed a petition grounded in the above resolutions. The Rev. Mr. M’Guire of Newgrange seconded it.
The conduct of the Lords had giveSir William Somerville rose, amidst great cheers, to propose the next resolution. He should appear before them with greater diffidence were it not that he had only to utter one word of the resolution to obtain for it their hearty assent, and that word was “tithes” ( Cries “Down with them”). He, Sir William, was a Protestant, and he did not hesitate to say he was a sincere one, for if a man was not sincere in his religion, in what would he be sincere? But as a Protestant he must say, that tithes were no part of the doctrine of his church, and as far as they were connected therewith, the sooner the unholy alliance was severed the better (cheers).n rise to serious debate in London; and again was this question mooted- viz., what is to done with the Lords? (Cries of “Out with them”). He knew this was a delicate question, but before a popular assembly he did not hesitate to broach it. (Hear). He would not burke the appalling interrogatory- but would ask “What is to done with the Lords”. He should regret the necessity for an organic change, and he hoped the voice of the people would so warn the peers that they would avert it. But, if a struggle must come, his course was plain- he would take his stand with the people. (vehement cheering). Yes, with the insulted, oppressed, patient, but high-minded, generous people of Ireland he would at once take his stand (Great applause). The Hon. Baronet concluded by moving a resolution condematory of the tithe system.
Mr. Cruise seconded it.
Lord Killeen having been called to the chair, the meeting separated.
Tithe Sale in the County of Meath.
The Times, (The London Times) 11th July 1836:
The following appears in the Freeman’s Journal of this morning:- The cattle of Mr. George Thunder, of Caucestown, county of Meath, were seized under an execution for tithe due to the Rev. Henry Fitzgearld rector of Castletowndelvin, on Monday last; and Wednesday being the day appointed for the sale, the following gentlemen and neighbouring farmers of the county attended in the town of Athboy for that purpose:-
Messrs. Joseph Brown of Elmgrove,
Patrick Barnwall of Grennanstown,
Charles and Richard Barnwall of Meadstown,
Richard Connolly of Ballinlough,
Doctors Burke and Ward of Athboy,
Michael Thunder of Lagore
At the hour of 1 o’clock four bullocks, being the cattle under seizure, were driven into the town, accompanied by a considerable number of the neighbouring peasantry, and in their way were branded by them with the odious word “tithe”. The sub-sheriff waited after the hour for an auctioneer having applied to several to act as such, but there was no one found willing to undertake the “dirty work” and indeed it is not to be wondered at, as the person so doing would, besides rendering himself obnoxious to the people, get very little other business. He was accordingly obliged to set the cattle up himself, when, no bidders appearing, they were driven through the town amidst the cheers of the people. The crowd immediately dispersed, and not a drop of whisky was drunk on the occasion. Upwards of 200 police attended from the neighbouring stations of Trim, Rathmoyian, Kells, and Navan, and were stationed outside the town, but in the words of their chief, Captain Despard, they had nothing to do but, like the King of France, march up the hill, and straight march down again.
A few days previous, a feeble old widow, aged 76 years, was arrested in the town of Navan, for £2 -10 shillings tithe.