The Little Famine of 1880, Bonniconlon in Co. Mayo

The period from 1880 to 1910 proved to be a turbulent one in the Bonniconlon area or the parish of Kilgarvan. The name Bonniconlon also comes into official useage, since older names were Kilgarvan and Ellagh.

The first RIC Barracks were located in Beaufield House, a residence built 2 miles from Bonniconlon Village by Edward Howley. Bonniconlon was just emerging from the ravages of the Great Irish Famine and the resultant downfall of the O'Dowda family. These thirty years were concerned with the land struggle and the right to survive. Exciting times to be alive but also very tense ones. Through these historical events runs the drama of conflict between priest, people and landlord.

The little famine of 1880 was the beginning of a new era in local politics. Due to the charitable work of Thaddeus O'Dowda of Bonniconlon House, also called O'Dowdas Town, the worst effects of the famine were not felt in the estate area under his control. The O'Dowdas were well thought of in the area and Thaddeus was responsible, along with Rev.Mullaney for building the first Bonniconlon National School in 1843.

The Great Famine bankrupted this family and the estate was sold to Charles Downing in 1859. Twenty years later, famine conditions prevailed in Kilgarvan Parish and in response to this, a local relief committee was formed on January 31, 1880. £500 was received by the committee from the Mansion House Relief Fund but it would appear that the funds were not distributed equally.

Charles Downing claimed that many of his tenants were taken off the list while a number of tenants in Glenree felt so underrepresented that they wrote directly to the Mayor of Dublin. Needless to say the scheme was not without its difficulties. Initially the supply was not sufficient since new cases were appealing to the committee on a daily basis, there were fifty extra cases in a week.

Despite two hundred families living in deplorable circumstances, there had been refusals from The National Land League. Many of these families lacked proper clothing and were living on Indian meal.

At the height of the famine in April, Downing resigned over the unequal relief distribution, his lack of voice on the committee, and a land dispute between himself and Rev.Harte. Downing also highlighted a number of abuses; a gombeenman with £60 - £70 on loan to others and a turf seller making 20 - 30s per week were both receiving relief from the local committee. Rev.Harte hoped that developments in May would ease matters when relief works would begin and the males would find work in England. It seemed that things were beyond the control of the people as they depended on government money and emigration to sustain them.

The Baronial relief works finally began after a Summer of distress and very wet conditions, they lead to the building of Glenree Road in 1881 and Thompsons Bridge in 1882. Rev.Harte was responsible for building the Old Bonniconlon National School in 1890 and the present Bofield School in 1895.

The Lodge where Charles Downing lived is now owned by John Treacy and is in ruins. Downing also built Oatlands House, which is still inhabited by Patsy O'Kane. Downing was escorted from Bonniconlon in 1904. He was hiding in a two-storied house; still standing when the Ballina Red Coats came to protect him as far as Ballina.

Folklore tells us that he was building a lodge close to the Ox Mountains in Bonniconlon East. He had some personal belongings there and wished to return but was told that the Red Coats would only escort him as far as Ballina - Bonniconlon border. He died in the West Indies.