WDYTYA Molly Shannon

WDYTYA Molly Shannon

Much of the focus of our research for the WDYTYA Molly Shannon episode was to try and understand the relationship between her ancestors, the Cattigan family, and their landlords, the Pikes. An article discovered in the Connaught Telegraph (9th February 1889), published on the Irish News Archive, reported that the local relieving officer presented the Board of Guardians with a sheaf of eviction notices ordered by Pike against his tenants on Achill. This list included Hugh and Owen Cattigan among the estimated 300 people facing eviction ‘whom the exemplary absentee gentleman…[is] prepared to fling homeless, in their fierce wintry weather’.
WDYTYA Molly Shannon

Ejectment Books

Finding evidence of evictions can be difficult, but there is a much under explored source in the National Archives of Ireland that can, on occasion, be helpful and certainly proved of value for WDYTYA Molly Shannon. Ejectment books, which are part of the Crown and Peace collection in the National Archives of Ireland, can contain evidence of eviction or the threat of eviction.  The books are a record of cases taken, usually by landlords, to the Quarter Session courts seeking an ejectment notice against their tenants.  The books illustrate the often difficult relationship between landlord and tenant in the later 19th century.

Crown and Peace records in the National Archives of Ireland are organised by county and within the records for each county you will find ejectment books. In most cases these books only date from the 1880s or early 1890s but in two counties, Clare and Cork, a continuous record of ejectment cases date from the 1830s.

The cases are arranged by the Quarter Session of the court and there may be more than one Quarter Session court in each county. In Mayo, for example, there were Quarter Session hearings at both Castlebar and Westport relating to the Pike tenants on Achill. The ejectment books record the following:

  • The name and date of the Session where the case was heard.
  • The name of the Judge
  • The name of the plaintiff, usually the landlord or landlord’s agent
  • The name or names of the appellant/s (defendants). This could amount to a number of individuals
  • The cause of the ejectment case, usually for non-payment of rent or serious rent arrears
  • The precise name and quantity of the occupied land with which the case was concerned, this was usually the name of the townland, civil parish and barony, but local names might also be included
  • The yearly rent paid by the tenant
  • The amount of rent owing, if rent arrears was the subject of the ejectment case.

The Cattigan Family

In WDYTYA Molly Shannon, her ancestors, the Cattigan family, appear in the ejectment books for Co. Mayo in 1893 at the Easter sitting in Castlebar on 29th March 1893. The plaintiff was Mary Emily Todd Pike, widow and the defendants were Michael, Patrick, Owen and Nancy Cattigan, widow, who were charged with ejectment for non-payment of rent on the lands of Carrowgarve in the parish of Achill. The Cattigan family paid a yearly rent of £4.8s.11d. and were in arrears of £4.8s.11d. In the Hilary term sitting at Westport on 3rd January 1894 a Hugh Cattigan was charged by Mary Emily Todd Pike with non-payment of rent for his lands at Cloghmore in the parish of Achill. Hugh paid a yearly rent of £2.10s and had accrued arrears of £5.

Although possession was decreed in both cases and ejectment notices issued, neither Cattigan family actually departed their holding and the valuation office revision books record them in continuous occupancy of their property into the 20th century and both households appear in the 1901 census.  This means that although tenants appear in the ejectment books, they were not necessarily evicted. 

Landlord and Tenant Relationships

While researching another family in ejectment books for county Mayo I noticed that the landlord was taking out ejectment notices on the same tenants year after year. Studying the rent arrears that the tenants had accrued it would appear that the tenants were withholding rents and on receipt of an ejectment notice, paid a minimum amount of the arrears to delay an eviction before withholding their rent again. This may signify an antagonistic relationship between some landlords and tenants following the Land League and National League movements.   Large groups of tenants understood that they would not be evicted if they acted together withholding rents, paying the minimum once eviction notices were served, only to start withholding rents again in the following sessions.

Whether you are looking for a single tenant who may have been evicted or faced the threat of eviction or looking for a broader view of the relationship between landlords and tenants in a specific parish or townland, the ejectment books can be illuminating, even if they only describe the amount of rent which the tenant paid and the number of times he or she fell into arrears and faced the threat of eviction.

If you are interested in commissioning Timeline to investigate ejectment books for the area in which your ancestors lived, please contact us.