Local History by Seán Beattie


Famine Rents in Inishowen 1845-46

Hugh Gordon ploughing in Clonmany, c. 1950

The Great Famine was the nail in the coffin of landlordism in Ireland and dealt a master stroke to the concept of Plantation. The Land Acts of the next 80 years finished the process. While rack-renting and landlordism go hand-in-hand in most of the history books, recent research provides a different perspective. Not all landlords pilloried their tenants during the Famine. For example, in Clonmany the Loughreys suspended rent payments for a period. My ancestors were fairly fortunate in that they were on the 6,000 acre estate of James Steele Nicholson of Falmore near Culdaff. I recently discovered a rare document from the estate which listed rents in the townland of Tirmacroragh where I live and provides conclusive evidence that a certain toleration was exhibited during the first years of the Famine. Most of the families still live here. All were permitted to go into arrears. Some tenants paid up on time throughout the Famine. One was Edward McFeely and his grandson Johnny, a neighbour, died in March 2012. I had shown him the document before his death. Miss Morfoy lived in the house now owned by Eileen Doherty. For her bizarre life story, see Brian Bonner’s OUR INISHOWEN HERITAGE. Robert Mitchell was a strong farmer and acted as an agent for Nicholson and their correspondence is still extant. His house still stands in Kindroyhead. The name Beatty does not appear here as we lived in Drumaville at that time but later bought the farm of John Lochery when he emigrated when he was unable to pay the rent. A neighbour later met him in America and told him that if he had remained another day, he was entitled to stay and could have avoided eviction. It is worth noting that wages varied from 8d per day to 10d for those lucky to find work on public schemes or with other farmers such as the Morfoys (Murphys) or Mitchells. I have been looking at the evidence presented to the Devon Commission when in Donegal in 1845 and the wages are from that source. It is interesting to note that the Chairman was a Carndonagh man John Pitt Kennedy whom I wrote about earlier. (see earlier blogs). He wrote a guide book for farmers and his ideas on the modernisation of agriculture would be adopted several decades later. The book was called INSTRUCT, EMPLOY, DON’T HANG THEM.  It was priced at 175 euro in a catalogue some years ago but is now available on Amazon for about 10 euro.

Tenants of Termacroragh and rents 1845 and 1846 (PRONI D1405/61)

Mrs. Morfoy £6.

John Lochery £2

Patrick McFeely £2.18

Michael McFeely £2.18

Charles McFeely £2.18

Widow McIntyre £8.13.8

Robert Mitchell £9.12.8

Shan McEleney £4.11.1 (arrears £6.16.7 in 1846)

Patrick McEleney £4.11 (arrears £5 14 .4 in 1846)

Daniel McEleney £2.3.6 (arrears £6.14.7 in 1846)

James Rodden £4,11.1 (arrears £6.16.8 in 1846)

Bryan Rodden £14.6.6

Hugh Toner £3.9.3 (arrears £5.18. 3)

Owen Rodden £3.19

John Doherty £2.12

Harry Doherty £11.17

Widow McLaughlin £7.18 (arrears £11.6.6)

Patrick McKeeny £2.10 (arrears £3.15)

Daniel McKeeny £10.8

Patrick McFeely £10.8

John Doherty £10.10

James McFeely £3.15.2 (arrears £5.4

Patrick McFeely £6.5

Con Doherty ££2.10 (arrears £3.15)

Hugh Heggarty £0. 10 (arrears £1.19.2

Edward McFeely £0. 10.0

It is fair to assume that similar rents were payable across Inishowen. The long drawn-out process whereby the tenants became owners was inspired by Charles Stewart Parnell, whose sister drew large crowds in Moville, Michael Davitt, who addressed after-Mass audiences in Clonmany and local activists. In Clonmany, they were Manasses Doherty, Philip Doherty, Edward McColgan, Isle of Doagh, William Diver, Urris and Philip Gibbons of Urris. There was considerable destitution in the famine of 1879 when a relief committee was formed. On 21 June 1881, John Loughery evicted some tenants for non-payment of rents. Afterwards, some of his servants left him and the blacksmith refused to shoe his horses. This was the boycott in operation. Evictions also took place on Loughery’s estate in August 1882 and also on the estate of Ernest Cochrane and Edward Doherty.

On 21 April 1888, an army pensioner called Patrick Kavanagh,who had fought in the Crimean War,was employed by the owners of the evicted farms to look after them. Loughrey provided him with a house. He died on 20 June 1888 and all the carpenters in the village of Clonmany refused to make a coffin for him. Everyone shunned the wake. The parish priest arranged for a grave to be dug but on the morning of the funeral, mourners found it was filled in with stones. Crowds gathered to stop the burial and eventually the sanitary authorities removed the body to the pauper graveyard in the Carndonagh workhouse grounds. Con Doherty and Owen Doherty were later sentenced to six months imprisonment.

As we commemorate the forthcoming centenaries, the fighting spirit of Inishowen tenant farmers may indeed be forgotten.






  1. Catherine McWilliams

    Thank you so much, Sean!
    What a wonderful contribution from primary sources to aid our understanding of this momentous period in Irish history
    The depth of your research is an inspiration to us all, and, with the number of families listed, an absolute bonanza for the family historian!
    We appreciate your role as Editor of the Donegal Annual and look forward to a new edition later in the year.
    We are very excited about a new 600 – page pictorial Atlas with 700 photos/images which we understand has gone to press!
    Keep up the good work!
    Catherine McWilliams

  2. Fearghal Mac Lochlainn

    Brilliant reading Sean. Thank you very much for a great bit of history.

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