The Battle of The Pound

Bunclody's infamous 'Battle of the Pound'

IN THE 19th century the Catholics of Ireland were subjected to a Tithe system that compelled them to support the clergy of the Established Church.
Bishop James Doyle, who was a native of New Ross, described it as "unjust in principle, destructive of religion, and subversive of the peace and happiness of our native land."

It was inevitable that a flash point would ensue and it occurred one Saturday in 1831 at Bunclody, or Newtownbarry, as it was called back then. It was alleged that the tithes were being demanded before they were due and payment was refused. Consequently, two head of cattle, worth less than 3, belonging to Patrick Doyle, Tombrick, and another belonging to a man named Nowlan were seized and were sold in Bunclody on June 18th.

The sale was anticipated and there was considerable opposition to the practice. Placards had been printed and posted up in towns and villages announcing that the cattle were to be sold for tithe. The local magistrate was prepared for trouble too. Upwards of 200 yeomen were concentrated in Bunclody, as well as thirty-seven policemen. There was some misunderstanding as to where the sale would take place, but at the Pound the crowd was increasing in size and at the arrival of the yeomen they became noisy.

Capt. William Graham of the yeomanry told the people to disperse 'or we will have to use violence'. An altercation broke out. Firstly, stones were thrown at the yeoman and some jostling occurred, an order was given to 'fire', and following a single shot a volley rang out. Soon people were running in all directions for safety cover. A yeoman, William Rogan, died from a musket ball to the head, which local lore claims came from one of his companions. Three or four lay dead on the road, while a great number were mortally wounded. It was a 'Black Saturday' in the town.

Among the dead were Andrew McDonald, James O'Neill, Stephen Whitty, Michael Doyle, Thomas Butler, Myles Dillon, James Doyle, Philip Redmond, Patrick Leary of Rossard and another man named Leary, Mary Mulrooney, the mother of six or seven children who was pregnant, and a boy named Thomas Waters from Barnahask. A boy called John Byrne, who was hit in the chest, died the following Tuesday, and John Doyle was blinded in both eyes. An investigation was called into the terrible circumstances. The inquest opened at the Courthouse in Church Street and the jury consisted of twelve, six Catholics and six Protestants. It was a waste of time.

The foreman became ill and was allowed to go home. The other jurymen were discharged, but refused to be sworn to secrecy. There was little probability of agreement being reached. The Protestant jurymen were for finding that the people were killed by persons unknown belonging to the yeomen and the police, while the Catholic jurymen wanted to include the names of the several yeomen who were sworn to as having fired shots at the people, and that neither had acted under the command of their captain.

Nobody was prepared to compromise. Father Walsh tried to quell the tension by asking his parishioners from the pulpit to do nothing that would disturb the peace. While the community was in shock in the wake of the terrible events that occurred, there are no acts of retaliation on record. However, some strange happenings occurred. A yeoman fired a shot in the air during a funeral service, and while a horse and cart was on its way for a load of turf, the linchpin accidentally fell out of the axle and a wheel came off. Nobody would help at the scene!

Agitation against the tithes continued to increase and meetings were held all over the country to demand their abolition. There was a large anti-tithes meeting held in the chapel yard in Clonegal on January 24th 1832.

In 1838, partial relief from the tithe tax was granted by Act of Parliament, and with the Church Disestablishment Act of 1869, the tithe system was abolished for ever.