Friday, 04 February 2011 10:27

From Donegal to Australia - the Derryveagh evictions of 1861

Written by  Darren McGettigan
Rate this item
(0 votes)

After the Great Famine of the 1840s many Scottish land speculators bought estates in County Donegal where they planned to replicate the harsh experience of the Scottish Highlands where the landlords evicted almost all of their tenants in order to graze more profitable sheep. However, the Donegal Irish proved to be much more resilient and resourceful than their Highland Scottish counterparts and successfully resisted most attempts to clear them off their own land.

In the valley of Glenveagh in the mountains of north Donegal in 1861, the Scottish landlord John George Adair, did succeed however in evicting 47 families from the beautiful valley. Adair had previously introduced sheep into Glenveagh and a small number of them had been killed. He had also gotten off to a bad start with some of his Glenveagh tenants by quarrelling with them. However, the main reason for the evictions, the murder of one of his Scottish shepherds, appears to have been a crime of passion carried out by a fellow Scot due to an affair with his wife. Adair blamed his tenants for the murder.

In April 1861 Adair acquired a force of 200 police and marched into the valley to begin the evictions. Journalists who covered the event record how the widow McWard a 'poor sixty-year old woman [who] lived with her six daughters and one son', was the first victim. The Newspaper reports indicate a harrowing scene in which 'the bereaved widow and her daughters were frantic with despair. Throwing themselves on the ground, they became almost unsensible, and bursting out in the old Irish wail'.

By the end of the process 47 families or 244 people had been evicted by John Adair, all to clear 11,600 acres on mountain and valley land.

Observers commented on the dignified conduct of the evicted people and there was no violence. Neighbours and relatives and even other local landlords who were shocked at Adair's conduct took in most of the evicted families. A few poor unfortunates ended up in the Letterkenny workhouse.

The plight of the evicted Glenveagh families touched a chord with Irish people all over the world. Money was collected in Dublin and France and the Australian Donegal Relief Committee was established to assist the emigration of the Glenveagh people to Australia. On 18 January 1862 the Glenveagh families left Donegal to begin their journey. It was said that there were very emotional scenes at the local graveyard. A dinner was held in their honour in Dublin and it was said of the Glenveagh emigrants that 'a finer body of men and women never left any country'. Once settled in Australia the newcomers from County Donegal established successful new lives for themselves and their descendants continue to thrive in Australia.

John George Adair's reputation never recovered from his evil deeds in Glenveagh in April 1861 and his name is reviled in north Donegal to this day.

Readers of my blog may like to know that my new book 'The Donegal Plantation and the Tír Chonaill Irish, 1610-1710' will be launched next Friday at 7pm in Renehan Hall, in Maynooth University South Campus. Professor Colm Lennon will speak and eight other books will be launched at the same time.

Last modified on Friday, 04 February 2011 12:27
Darren McGettigan

Darren McGettigan

Darren is an historian, author and genealogist from County Wicklow, Ireland. He provides genealogy services to help you discover your family history in Ireland.