THIS Sunday, July 9, a Mass of Remembrance will be offered at St Nicholas’s Church, Castlelyons, by its parish priest Fr Gerard Coleman, in memory of one of his predecessors, Fr Thomas Ferris.
A plaque will also be unveiled on the spot nearby where a hut once stood, in which Fr Ferris lived from 1880 until his death in 1891.
The story of how he came to live in this hut for 11 years is a remarkable one.
We are now certain that Fr Thomas Ferris was born in the Magnier’s Hill area of Youghal in 1830. This was not known until very recently — in spite of years of research, no definite place of birth was known.
We are also able to include a picture of Fr Ferris in this article, which has never been seen before, courtesy of the O’Loughlin family of Castlemartyr, who are descendants of Fr Ferris’s family, and who were traced ‘accidently’ through a concert in Castlelyons.
Our search had taken us well outside the Diocese of Cloyne, when no record of his birth could be found.
Fr Ferris became the parish priest of Castlelyons in 1880 and soon after his arrival, on June 5, 1880, the first meeting of the Irish Land League in Castlelyons was held.
Fr Ferris was elected chairman. The treasurer was Fr Michael Hennessy, C.C. and the secretaries were David Hegarty, Kilcor and Edmund Kent, High Park.
Fr Ferris recorded that the meeting was a grand success and that it gave a stimulus to a good cause.
The Land League movement had begun two years earlier and was a political organisation which sought to help poor tenant farmers. Its primary aim was to abolish landlordism in Ireland and enable tenant farmers to own the land they worked on.
The leadership of priests like Fr Ferris in the branches of the League was of tremendous value, as disputes were common among the members.
The Land League was strong in Castlelyons and surrounding areas, defending our nationality, our rights and our faith, and many families and individuals, including Fr Jeramiah O’Dwyer C.C., suffered much, including terms in gaol and hard labour.
No-one should forget the sacrifice these people made and what they endured to make Ireland what it is today so that we could be free, owners of our land and authors of our own destiny.
In Fr Ferris’s case, his involvement in the Land League was about to become personal.
As parish priest, he was a tenant of John Walter Perrot of Thorncliffe, Monkstown, who had a residence at Castlelyons, the Manor, and was owner of the former Barrymore estate in the district.
The parochial lands consisted of 14 acres. Griffiths’ ‘Valuation of Tenements’ in 1851 showed the two tenements in Bridesbridges, of which Samuel Perot was the immediate lessor, consisted of the Catholic Church and its yard, with an annual valuation of £40, for which a total exemption was granted and a portion of land of 2 acres 21 perches adjoining the Church at a valuation of £2 5s. The same book showed the Mohera property consisted of the parish priest’s house, known as Prospect Cottage, and 1 acre, 3 roods, 2 perches of land leased from William Fitzgerald at a valuation of £9.
After 1851, these properties passed into the ownership of the Perrots and a new lease was entered into by Fr McSweeney, parish priest of the time. The lease included the old tenements and the connecting lands which are today the site of the National School and the Co-op. The valuation of the additional land was £11 5s.
When the local branch of the League was formed, Fr Ferris followed the League rules and withheld payment of the rent demanded. Instead, he offered to pay Griffiths valuation of the holding. This was refused.
A writ of eviction was then issued against him. The holding was put up for auction and purchased on behalf of the landlord for a nominal sum of something like a pound.
Writs of eviction were very often left unimplemented as the threat of eviction was often sufficient to quieten the tenant.
In Fr Ferris’s case, an ejectment order followed in due course and the day of eviction was fixed for August 22, 1883.
That evening, the Rathcormac Band heard that the eviction had not taken place as anticipated. They concluded that the matter had been settled amiably by landlord and tenant. By way of a tribute to the priest, the band assembled outside his cottage and played a serenade of airs.
The eviction eventually took place eight days later, on Thursday, August 30, 1883. The landlord’s agent in Castlelyons, Perrot, an elderly man, and a Mr Lane from Fermoy, a solicitor, accompanied the evicting party to the priest’s house. The evicting party was under the command of sub-Sheriff John Gale. It consisted of four bailiffs, 50 policemen under the sub-inspector Fleming and 40 men of the 37th Regiment from Fermoy under Lieutenant Crofts.
A large crowd attended the eviction but no rioting took place. Nevertheless the eviction party was greeted with prolonged hooting, shouting and uncomplimentary remarks.
The chapel bell tolled incessantly as a signal to the people that the eviction was taking place. The bell was silenced when curate Fr Hennessy undertook to have it stopped in response to the sub-inspector’s threat to send five policemen to restrain the bell-ringer.
One account states: “Now for the eviction scene. It was a day never to be forgotten in Castlelyons. On the first intimation of the advent of the Myrmidons of the law, the chapel bell was tolled, which soon brought a gathering of some several thousand from the Parish and surrounding districts.
“Two bands, Rathcormac and Conna, contributed to enliven the scene by their inspiratory strains of Irish music, so that when the evicting party guarded by soldiers and constabulary arrived at the cottage to carry out the requirements of their felonious law, they met with a very warm reception, its warmth increasing as their vile work progressed.
“The old agent, a miserable creature, whose name is Perrot, also was present. The doors were locked and secured. We met the enemy outside and gave him a bit of our mind in the following terms.”
Fr Ferris went on to address his evictors and especially what they represented.
The eviction was completed by 2pm, Fr Ferris’s furniture was transferred to the hut in the churchyard in Castlelyons which his parishioners had erected in anticipation of this day.
Fr Ferris was escorted from the Parochial House by a very large crowd to the churchyard. Here he addressed the crowd, thanking them for attending and for their support.
A local man, the late Willie Mackey, was witness to the eviction as a child and remembered Fr Ferris and a very large crowd leaving the house and that the road coming from the Parochial House, “the priest’s hill”, was lined on both sides by priests from the Diocese.
Fr. Ferris lived in the hut, which had three rooms, for the rest of his life and died there on February 7, 1891, aged 60. The hut was demolished in 1935.
The Fr Thomas Ferris Remembrance Mass and plaque unveiling takes place on Sunday, July 9 at 11.30am. All welcome.