The United Irish League

"We will soon be singing an excellent 'lo triumph' over the smoking effigy of what had once been tyrranical landlordism"

(Kilnamona U.I.L. May, 1902)

The United Irish League was co-founded by William O'Brien and Michael Davitt in 1898. It was O'Brien who felt that new life needed to be put into the Home Rule movement and the League was the vehicle chosen to achieve this. The League was interested in agrarian reform and hoped that this policy would provide the basis for reuniting the national political movement [1]. It became very popular with tenant farmers and branches of the organisation were established all over the country, including Kilnamona.

In October 1901, William Redmond sent a letter to the Clare Man newspaper calling for local branches to be set up in Clare where they did not already exist [2]. In response to a poster calling a meeting of parishioners to form a branch, every eligible member in the parish assembled after Mass and expressed their intention of becoming members [3]. Meetings were held fortnightly and took place in John Cahir's house. In early December 1901, the inaugural meeting was held. The officers and committee were elected as follows:

Officers

Name Rank
Owen Hegarty Co.C. President
Myles Keane Senior Vice-President
Thomas O'Brien Secretary
Pat Commane Treasurer

Committee

John Forde Michael Cahir
Pat Hegarty D.C. Thomas Hegarty
John Power Pat Mescall
Connor O'Neill Thomas Pilkington
Austin Kerin Pat O'Keefe
John Talty Michael Lucas

Delegates on the East Clare Divisional Executive

Thomas Galvin Myles Keane Senior
Owen Hegarty Co.C. John Power
Thomas Pilkington Denis O'Loughlin

During one of the first of the branch meetings, two policemen watched proceedings, but remained at a respectable distance away. At the same meeting, resolutions were passed supporting the candidature of Thomas Galvin, editor of the Clare Man, for the position of returning officer. A call was also made to County Councillor Michael Leyden of Inagh to support him. Also in 1902, Michael Leyden was re-elected as county councillor for the Dysert Division at a meeting attended by branches of the United Irish league from Inagh, Kilnamona, Clooney, Inch and Dysert [4].

The U.I.L. was a strongly nationalist association and this is reflected in some of the resolutions passed. Thomas O'Brien proposed a resolution in relation to the three Clarecastle members of the League who were jailed under the Coercion Act. He called on the Ennis District Council to co-opt them into the council as this would

"prove to the flunkies of Dublin Castle that we can reward and honour our soldiers as well as the English Government, if not with Victoria Crosses and distinguished service orders, by electing them to positions of honour and trust" [5].

In 1902, at a branch meeting, a member of the league gave a resolution to the chairman, Owen Hegarty, to read out. The resolution condemned the recent Clare Man article as insulting to the chairman of the Ennis Urban Council P.J. Linnane. Patrick Shannon proposed the resolution and Patrick O'Keefe, Ballyknock seconded it. Thomas O'Brien, the secretary and Myles Keane Junior proposed an amendment which condemned the attack on the only nationalist newspaper in Clare. The resolution won the resulting poll. The Clare Man was not impressed with the anonymous drafter of the resolution and got its revenge when writing up the Kilnamona branch notes for the meeting, insulting the entire locality in the process:

"It is to be hoped that the person who drafted the above resolution will before he goes about compiling another expend 2d on a spelling book and 3d on Murray's grammar, as indeed his latest production is not in a very presentable form to send to the public press. Perusing it, one would be almost inclined to think it to be a joint composition of the late Darby Durken, P.L.G. and Mullen, of Emerald fame. Great Scott! What a boon a cheap circulating library would be in the district" [6].

Branch meetings were not reported after this until 1908. Rev. Meehan C.C. had taken over as president at this stage, with Frank O'Halloran acting as vice president. The committee was made up of D O'Loughlin, P Naughton, M McTigue, B O'Loughlin, John Power, M Kerin, O O'Neill, Tim McKee, A Kerin and P Mescall [7]. In 1909, the first reference is made to the demands for land reform in the parish itself. The following resolution was unanimously passed:

"That we, the Kilnamona Branch, United Irish League, again demand the distribution amongst the uneconomic holders and landless people of this parish the untenanted lands of Caherbanna, Ballymongaun and Shallee. Considering the fact that three fourths of the holders of this parish are under £10 valuation, we are convinced that this is absolutely essential to the peace and prosperity of the people" [8].

The Augustine Birrell Land Purchase Act was introduced by the Liberal government in 1909. The act was watered down from its original form due to opposition from the Tory dominated House of Lords. Compulsory sale was now only limited to the most congested districts and provision for landless families was abandoned [9]. The chairman Rev. Meehan denounced in emphatic terms the conduct of the lords in mutilating the Land Bill and called upon the people to stand behind the Irish Party in the coming crisis [10]. Willie Redmond's letter to the branch was read out, in which he thanked the branch for their contribution to the parliamentary fund and though the Land Bill was wrecked by the Lords, the people would stand together and fight for their rights.

The officers and committee were elected as follows for 1910: (John Galvin, as outgoing secretary, was proposed, but declined the position) [11].

Officers

Name Rank
Rev. T Meehan C.C. President
Frank Halloran Vice-President
P O'Leary Secretary
F Lyons Assistant Secretary

Committee

D Rynne A Kerin
M O'Looney J Lyons
M Keane M Hegarty
T Hayes P Commane
P Mescall M Cahir
P McDonnell M Talty
J Power J Hegarty
J Meade

Delegates on the East Clare Divisional Executive

Frank Halloran P O'Leary
J Keatinge J Galvin
P Mescall Denis Rynne

1910-1912 is sadly dominated by an often bitter dispute with the Kilnamona branch of the Land and Labour Association over the dividing of the Shallee farm. The dispute was settled, apparently amicably, by the end of 1912 and peace was again restored to the region [12]. The League had asked Willie Redmond M.P. to look into the Shallee farm and he promised, in a letter read out at a branch meeting, to raise the matter before parliament [13]. The following year, the same officers were in place apart from Pat Kerin who took over as secretary and Pat Commane who served as treasurer once more. 1912 is the last year where the Kilnamona branch is mentioned in the local press. The coverage ends on a poignant note as a resolution of condolence to the mother of vice-president Frank O'Halloran, who had taken part in that famous event in Clare history: the Bodyke Evictions.

"The name and fame of Mrs O'Halloran and her patriotic family have beeen engraved in Irish history since those dark and hopeless days, when, during the Bodyke evictions, she and her little family by their gallant and valiant defence of their homestead directed the attention of Europe and European statesmen to the wrongs and the sufferings which the Irish tenant farmers had to bear, and did much to pave the way for the removal of the agrarian disabilities which then existed" [14].
References
  1. Beckett, J.C. (1981) The Making of Modern Ireland 1603-1923. London: Faber and Faber.
  2. October 5, 1901 Clare Man
  3. December 7, 1901 Clare Man
  4. April 26, 1902 Clare Man
  5. May 3, 1902 Clare Man
  6. February 22, 1902 Clare Man
  7. January 28, 1908 Clare Champion
  8. April 24, 1909 Saturday Record
  9. Jackson, A. (1999) Ireland 1798-1998: politics and war. Wiley-Blackwell.
  10. October 23, 1909 Clare Champion
  11. January 15, 1910 Clare Champion
  12. November 2, 1912 Clare Champion
  13. February 25, 1912 Clare Champion
  14. February 25, 1912 Clare Champion