The Dempsey Eviction, Balla in Co. Mayo

Just one month after the foundation of the Land League the family of Anthony Dempsey of Loona More townland near Balla was to be evicted by Sir Robert Blosse Lynch. The Dempseys relied on potatoes for their staple diet and grew oats as a cash crop to pay their rent. In 1877 and 1878 the crops were bad and they lost their grain crop before it was due to be harvested. By May 1879 Anthony owed £26 and Sir Robert issued a decree against him. Dempsey explained the situation regarding his grain crop to Sir Robert but he still decided to go ahead with the eviction. In the autumn of that same year the Dempsey family were struck down with fever and measles. On Saturday November 15th the sheriff arrived but on seeing the plight of the family decided to postpone the eviction for one week.

Land League activists from Balla heard of the forthcoming eviction and posted up notices of a Land League rally on the Dempsey property at Loona More on the following Saturday. On the day of the proposed eviction a large gathering of reporters from throughout Ireland and England arrived to cover the event. The rally, which was led by the Fenian leader PW Nally from Balla, consisted of a large body of men all armed with sticks. Charles Stuart Parnell was also sent for and Michael Davitt arrived by train in Balla. As the column of men, marching four deep, approached the Dempsey residence they were met by the RIC who challenged them with pointed rifles. Parnell ran to the frontline and ordered the Land Leaguers to fall back.

According to the report of the RIC Inspector Wise the rally was a fairly large gathering. It was chaired by John J Loudin and a number of resolutions supporting the aims of the League were passed. It was felt by the organisers to have been a success and the movement increased considerably in size with many new branches being formed.

After the glare of the media attention had died down the eviction went ahead. The Land League realised that mere rallies would not be sufficient to stop the evictions and if news of the Dempsey eviction spread it would not augur well for the movement. Therefore it was decided to pay the £26 rent out of League funds. The legal costs of nearly £8 were raised in a local collection. Following the payment the Dempsey family was allowed back into their cottage.

By Brian Hoban