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Thursday, 14 December 2017

14 December 1831: The Carrickshock Massacre on this day. A party of the Irish Constabulary was ambushed at Carrickshock [carriag-seabhac/‘the hawks rock'] Co Kilkenny and three of the attackers and fourteen Constables were killed in the affray. It happened at the height of the ‘Tithe War’ as catholic farmers and tenants resisted having to pay a ‘tithe’ or tax to the local clergy of the Church of Ireland.

Dr Hans Hamilton, the Rector of Knocktopher in County Kilkenny insisted that it be collected from the locals. He appointed his Land agent James Bunbury to see it done. Bunbury in turn employed one Edmund Butler, a local butcher, to serve these processes to the tenants. The local R.M. (Resident Magistrate) Joseph Green, authorised a Constabulary escort for Butler as he went about his task. At first all went well as Butler made his way house to house serving notices but soon resentment grew and by the third day of his travels hundreds of men had gathered to follow him and impede his progress. Everywhere he went the alarm was raised and people mobilised to stop him.

Things came to head as the procession made its way through a Boreen (a narrow country pathway) that was flanked on both sides by walls. Butler was accompanied by 38 constables under the command of a sub-inspector, Captain James Gibbons but by this stage the crowd had swelled to some two thosuand men. The cry went up ‘We will have Butler or Blood!’ and one young fellow (James Treacy) ran forward and grabbed at Butler. He was brutally baynotted and fatally shot. At this the crowd erupted and a torrent of stones were flung upon the target and his escort, one of which brought down Butler. The Constabulary were then overwhelmed and attacked with mallets and hurleys and stab wounds from pikes and scythes. It was all over in minutes and at the end of it all James Treacy, Patrick Power & Thomas Phelan were dead from amongst the atatckers as well as Butler, Gibbons, and 11 constables who had been killed or mortally wounded, with 14 constables severely injured. A curious note is that of the 38 constables, 24 were Protestants, of whom 9 were killed and 11 wounded, while of the 14 Catholics only 2 were killed and 4 wounded!

A number of men were brought to Trial the following year but at the end of it all no one was ever convicted. Daniel O’Connell defended some of the men and successfully argued that under the circumstances that they could not get a fair trial before packed juries and all the adverse publicity surrounded the events of that day. Dublin Castle realised that any convictions and executions would only inflame and excaberate the situation further and the whole matter was dropped with the collection of Tithes suspended. Eventually in 1838 a compromise was put into practise whereby Landlords would collect the amounts due from their tenants and pass them on in turn and the whole sorry saga stopped. There ended The Tithe War - a period of intense violence in Ireland akin to ‘The Troubles’ of latter years that is now almost forgotten by the general public.

* Image from Relief on the base of the memorial cross at the site of the incident
Courtesy of: By IrishFireside - Flickr: Carrickshock Monument, CC BY 2.0,