Rev. Thomas Quinn

"How long are these things to continue? How long are we to be left to the mercy of such hands?" (Fr. Quinn, 1858)

Fr Thomas Quinn
Fr. Thomas Quinn

Rev. Thomas Quinn was parish priest of Inagh and Kilnamona from 1841 to 1870. Born c 1805, he was a native of Lemenagh, Newmarket-on-Fergus and was educated in Maynooth. He graduated in 1830 and served in Mullagh and Sixmilebridge, before he was appointed parish priest of Inagh and Kilnamona on the 25th February, 1841. He built churches at Kilnamona (1842), Inagh (1858) and a school in Kilnamona in 1859 [1]. He is listed in the Griffith's Valuations as living in Ballyashea, but later moved to Inagh.

He is best remembered for his tireless work on behalf of tenant farmers and the poor of the parish. Through many letters he wrote to the local and national press, he always argued the case for the weaker sections of society and his burning sense of indignation at their plight is always evident. He corresponded with national land movements such as the Irish Tenant League and helped to raise funds for the O'Connell monument in Ennis and was present at the unveiling of the statue of "the Liberator" [2]. Throughout the years after the famine, he continued to protest at the evictions and poverty that blighted the region for the next few decades. He died in the sacristy of Kilnamona Church after saying mass in 1870. Some of his correspondence is produced below.

Fr Quinn and the Great Famine

Fr. Quinn earned a reputation as a champion of the downtrodden; nowhere was this reputation better earned than his trojan work on behalf of the dying and destitute during the famine. The letters he wrote during this time to newspapers give us an insight to the appalling conditions prevalent in the parish at the time.

A letter by Fr. Quinn to the Clare Journal in early 1847 gives us a primary source of the state of the parish in "black '47":

Kilnamona Cottage, Feb. 3, 1847.

MY DEAR SIR-May I trouble you to inform me whether the Relief Committee of our Barony have made any arrangements for procuring a supply of food for our people?

I regret to say that fever and other diseases, produced no doubt by exposure to cold in this mountainous region, together with an insufficiency of food, have fearfully increased amongst my poor people, so much so, that I and my assistant are so constantly engaged in attending to the sick and the dying poor, as to render it impossible for us to have been present at the meeting of the Relief Committee for several weeks past.

In the absence of a resident gentry, or of any person from whom relief might be expected, removed far from the advantages of a market, had we even the means of purchasing food, and surrounded by a population of 8000 individuals almost without an exception requiring aid-can it be wondered at that famine and its consequences are making fearful ravages amongst us? Unwilling as I should be, under ordinary circumstances, to seek for sympathy for strangers, and desirous to avoid as much as possible creating unnecessary alarm, by giving publicity to details of wretchedness which I daily witness, yet I feel bound to request you will make a request to the Government, and to the several Relief Committees, beseeching of them to render us some immediate assistance by a supply of food, else some of my poor people, who are now pining away patiently, will ere long cease to trouble with importunities their fellow men.

Knowing your anxious desire to render to the destitute every assistance in your power, and fully relying on your ability and judgment in taking such steps as will secure us relief,

I am, my dear Sir, with very great respect, yours faithfully,

THOMAS QUINN, P.P., INAGH.

To John Cullinan, Esq, Secretary to the Relief Committees [3].

Another such letter describes the "fearful ravages" of the onset of disease on a population almost entirely dependent on aid. By 1849, Fr. Quinn was forced to bury some of his parishioners by night. In a letter to a poor law inspector, he explained the desperate condition of the parish with the onset of cholera.

"The cholera is spreading to an alarming extent during the past ten or twelve days, some dying by the roadside, others in their own wretched hovels, no persons to bury them. I had together with my curate, Revd Mr Reid, to convey by torchlight two successive nights , between the hours of one and two o' clock, the remains of two persons who were abandoned by their own immediate family and friends" [4].

In 1849, a National Conference was organised for Irish nationalists to avert the progress of another year of famine. Fr. Quinn had his name appended to the resolution and his correspondence was published in the national press. Again, he provides an insight into the crushing poverty of the parish in the famine years:

"I and my assistant most cordially attach our humble names. Never was there a period when the combined exertions and energy of every true lover of Ireland were more called into requisition than on the present momentous occasion. I preside over one of the most impoverished districts connected with the Union of Ennis, where the last rate struck has been £1 4s. 2d. in the pound all owing to the great misfortune of having to be obliged to derive under a class of middlemen. But I trust their reign, a reign of extermination, is fast approaching to its end" [5].

Fr. Quinn Post Famine

Fr. Quinn continued his work in arguing the case for his poverty stricken parishioners after the famine had ended. Tenants had essentially no legal rights at the time and depended on the goodwill of their landlords. Fr. Quinn's ire was especially raised after an unjust eviction in Knockatemple. This is probably his most passionate letter in espousing the cause of the destitute.

July 3, 1858

To the editor of "The Nation"

The Crowbar at Work

Dear Sir,

On Thursday week, the anniversary of St. John the Baptist, the herald of our divine Redeemer's coming, and of peace and goodwill amongst men, Mrs Jane Studdert's land manager James Mahon, of Bible notoriety, from the town of Ennis, accompanied by the under sheriff, Michael Molony, Esq, and a party of police, with three or four unfortunate poor labourers from the town (I am sure against their will) constituing themselves a crowbar brigade, proceeded to Knockatemple, in the parish of Kilnamona, to unroof and level the houses of three unfortunate poor widows above them and their helpless orphans.

I must observe to you that one of these widows over them and their hapless orphans. I must observe to you that one of these widows was over eighty years of age, and had been living in the house for the last sixty years. I need not tell you, as there are neither Russians nor blood thirsty Sepoys to resist them, the flag of England was in the shape of an official warrant hoisted on the smoky walls of the houses of these poor widows, without much trouble. Now I made it my business to visit the scene of action on the evening of the day in which these poor unoffending creatures were evicted, and instead of the bonefire of exultation commemorating the vigil of the Baptist, greater than whom there has not been seen amongst men, what did I behold? Poor widows and their orpans sitting shelterless outcasts, with only God's firmament over them, bemoaning their sad condition and keeping guard on their little pallets and blankets and their other humble little household furniture, by the side of their dillapidated houses, which bore against the thunder and the lightning, and the storm, for more than sixty years. Good God! How long are these things to continue? How long are we to be left to the mercy of such hands! Are we ever to expect that the legislator will interpose in our regard? It would require the pen of our countryman, William Russell of the Times to depict the scene I've witnessed on this truly melancholy occasion.

The poor people of the surrounding neighbourhood coming stealthily from behind the hedges to offer these poor creatures comfort and consolation in their forlorn and heart-rendering condition. I say stealthily, for they were apprehensive least any spy or informer might make this charitable land manager acquainted with their sympathy for these poor forlorn beings and indeed I have every reason to believe that there was a regular system of espionage established amongst them. What, I ask, is to become of these poor creatures? God alone only knows. These poor people owed no rent and there could be no just cause for their evictions; as there never was even a suspicion of a crime laid to their charge by any of their neighbours, or by any other person. This is the way in which church property is managed in this part of the country. The right of Mrs. Jane Studdert to evict the tenants and level their houses is derived from the representatives of the church by the law of England established.

What has caused from time to time the much to be deplored agrarian outrages that have taken place throughout the length and breadth of this unfortunate country? The answer is the unfortunate relations between the landlord class and their tenants. All agree to the necessity of a legalised system of Tenant Right.

I leave an honest public to judge of this case; but I should in justice observe, that up to the appointment of Mr. James Mahon, Mrs. Studdert enjoyed the character of being a kind-hearted good lady-I am, dear sir, your obedient servant,

Thomas Quinn, P.P., Inagh and Kilnamona [6].

In 1863, Fr. Quinn sent a letter thanking the Central Relief Committee on behalf of Inagh for their donation to "the starving poor of the district". Fr. Quinn also expressed the hope that this aid would stimulate the landed proprietors of the district to also donate [7].

Death

In January, 1870 Fr. Quinn took ill while talking to parishioners after saying mass in Kilnamona. He died in the sacristy; the cause of death being heart disease. He was 64 and was in his 40th year as a parish priest and his 27th as parish priest of Inagh-Kilnamona [8].

References
  1. Murphy, Ignatius. (1995) The diocese of Killaloe, 1850-1904. Dublin: Four Courts Press.
  2. October 5, 1865 Freeman's Journal
  3. February 4, 1847 Clare Journal
  4. Murphy, Ignatius. (1992) The diocese of Killaloe, 1800-1850. Dublin: Four Courts Press.
  5. November 10, 1849 The Nation
  6. July 3, 1858 The Nation
  7. July 12, 1863 Freeman's Journal
  8. January 12, 1870 Freeman's Journal