Fr Joyce, Louisburgh PP (1875-1905) in Co. Mayo

Father Joyce came to Louisburgh in 1873 initially as an administrator and then as Parish Priest in 1875. He was an honest and forthright man, who was deeply involved in the land politics of the time, he worked tirelessly for the poor but his outspoken manner often led to difficulties with other clergy and his superiors.

The scourge of absentee landlords had continued to haunt the tenants in the area. Tenants at will made up eighty per cent of the people on the land, the remainder had lease agreements, which offered some protection from eviction. These people lived at subsistence level however; any failure in crops or reduction in income left them facing starvation.

In 1879 both of these factors played a part in bringing many people to the poorhouses however higher rent demands played a major part, and evictions were on the increase. Father Joyce, with others formed the Tenants Defence Association, and meetings were held in the chapel yard with the Parish Priest as chairman. In 1880 the association was revised as a branch of the National Land League, which called for Fair Rent, Free Sale and Fixity of Tenure.

These proposals were met with resistance from landlords so the clergy arranged the essential relief to reduce the number of starving people. The National Land League Committee again evolved into a Relief Committee, later the same month another relief committee was set up obviously with the intentions of increasing the amount of aid that could be brought into the area and also to distance itself from the political situation. Fr Joyce was a member of both.

The 1881 Land Act reduced the power of the landlords and led to state aided land purchase in 1885. Fr Joyce continued to be actively involved, encouraging people not to take holdings from where other families had been evicted, this led to boycotts and resulted in violence during which Fr Joyce presence was noted.

Fr Joyces involvement continued into the 1890's and in 1898 boasted that he was chairman for every national meeting in Louisburgh for the preceding 25 years. In 1897 he was responsible for the building of a new church at Killeen for which he was praised highly by Bishop MacEvilly, however previous years had seen him at cross-purposes with the archbishop and by 1900 Fr Joyce's jurisdiction as parish priest was removed.

By Bernie O'Malley

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