I brought my family back to Kerry in the following summer, and after I had rebuilt Edenburn I lived there until I gave it to my elder son, who has it to this day and resides there in peace.
Matters were very different to that state of idyllic simplicity in the critical times on which I am still dwelling.
One night, while in London, I was at the House of Commons, and the London correspondent of the Freeman, being presumably extremely short of what he would term 'copy,' he proceeded to make observations about me after this fashion:—
'Over here Mr. Hussey is something of a fish out of water. It would be hazardous to say that if he was to begin his career as an agent again he would eschew the system that has made him famous, but his present frame of mind is unquestionably one of doubt as to whether, after all, the game was worth the candle.'
That young man will go far as a writer of fiction.
I received, among more pleasant welcomes on my return to my native land, the following delightful blast of vituperation from the Irish Citizen, and beg to tender the unknown author my profound thanks for the diversion his ink-slinging afforded me:—
'Here is something about a man who ought to have been murdered any day since 1879—indeed we don't know that he should have been let live even up to that date, and as for his family, their translation to the upper regions by means of a simple charge of dynamite, which nobody of any sense or importance would even think of condemning, has been most unaccountably deferred to the present year. This man is Mr. S.M. Hussey, the miasma of whose breath, according to a well-informed murder organ in Dublin, poisons one-half of the kingdom of Kerry. Let any man read the speeches delivered in Upper Sackville Street, and the articles in United Ireland against Mr. Hussey, and he must ask why the fiend incarnate has not been murdered long since. The infamy of persistently turning hatred on a man like Mr. Hussey, and then escaping the consequences of having thereby murdered him, has no parallel in any country in the world. Inciting to murder is practically reduced to a science in Ireland. That Mr. Hussey has not been murdered years ago is not the fault of the scientist, but the watchfulness of the police.'
My experience while in England had been that few people I met really appreciated what boycotting was like, so how are my readers of twenty years afterwards to do so? Yet when I went back to Ireland, it seemed to me even more cruel than when I had grown comparatively accustomed by sheer proximity to it.
Mr. Parnell had himself given the order in a public speech:—
'Shun the man who bids for a farm from which a tenant has been evicted, shun him in the street, in the shop, in the marketplace, even in the place of worship, as if he were a leper of old.'
This was done with the thoroughness which characterises Irishmen when back-sliding into unimaginable cruelties. Should a boycotted man enter chapel, the whole congregation rose as with one accord and left him alone in the building. Considering the sensitive and pious disposition of the average Irishman, such ostracism was even more poignant than it would be to an Englishman.
Only two families in Kerry, possibly in Munster, at Christmas 1885, had the courage to resist the National League police, commonly called moonlighters. These two were the Curtins and the Doyles. The Curtins had to be under constant police protection, were insulted wherever they went, and their murdered father was openly called 'the murderer.' As for the Doyles, the Board of Guardians was urged to harass his unfortunate children, who were both deaf and dumb.
The same Board of Guardians was most lavish in its relief to any man evicted for declining to pay his rent. In one case they gave a man fifteen shillings a week—or treble the ordinary out-of-door relief—for over six years.
Sir James Stephen, a man of acute discriminations, who has done more justice to the Irish problem than any one else, wrote:—
'The great difficulty the Land League and the National League have had to contend with is that of hindering the neighbouring farmers, peasants, and labourers from frustrating the strike against rent by taking up vacant farms, however they came to be vacant. Boycotting never succeeded unless crime was at its back. The Crimes Act cut the ground from under the feet of the boycotters, not so much by its direct prohibitions of the practice as by making it unsafe to commit outrages in enforcing the law of the League. The Land League and the National League were nothing else but screens for secret societies whose work was to enforce the League decrees by outrage and murder.'
Whenever the 'History of Modern Ireland' comes to be written, that glowing outburst of truth ought to be quoted.
There were some evictions carried out at Farranfore on the estate of Lord Kenmare, by the sub-sheriff, Mr. Harnett, and a force of military and police numbering about one hundred and thirty.
During the eviction of one Daly, horns were blown and the chapel bell set ringing. These appeals drew about three thousand people to the place, who groaned and threw some stones, besides growing so menacing that the Riot Act had to be read, upon which the whole crowd moved off.
This brought a characteristic effusion from United Ireland:—
'We remember the time when Kerry was a county as quiet as the grave, when its member, Henry A. Herbert, in the debate on the Westminster Act of 1871, was able to rise in his place and boast that in purely Celtic counties like his there was no crime, and that agrarian outrages was confined to districts infused with English blood, like Meath and Tipperary. What has changed it? Principally the malpractices of a couple of agents ruling over half its area, whose bloated rentals grow swollen under their hands with the sweat of dumb and hopeless possessors.'
Whatever else he possessed, that writer had not one vestige of truth with which to cover the indecency of his misrepresentations.
He did not mention that Mr. Matthew Harris, a Member for Galway, had publicly observed that if the tenant farmers of Ireland shot down landlords as partridges are shot in the month of September, he would never say a word against them.
It is a fact that the convulsion of horror at the murder of Lord Frederick Cavendish alone prevented an organised campaign for the 'removal' of Irish landlords on a systematic and wholesale scale.
By the way, according to his son, it was quite by chance that Professor Mahaffy—that illustrious ornament of Trinity College—was not also murdered. He had intended to walk over with poor Mr. Burke after the entry of the Viceroy and Chief Secretary, but he was detained by an undergraduate and so found it too late to catch the doomed victim before he started. Had he walked with them, it is questionable if the murderers would have attacked three men: on the other hand, he might, of course, have been added to the slain.
There was a meeting of Lord Kenmare's and Mr. Herbert of Muckross's tenants at Killarney addressed by Mr. Sheehan, M.P., who advised them, as the landlords refused 70 per cent, only to offer 50 per cent., and nothing at all in March (1887), as by that time the new Irish Parliament would have allotted the land free to the present holders, without any compensation to the landlords.
Despite the efforts of traitors on both sides of the Channel, that Irish Parliament has not yet been summoned.
The parish priest, Mr. Sheehy, stopped the Limerick hunting, and so took £24,000 a year out of the pockets of the very poor. That man did more harm than the landlords, who alone gave the poor work, and there is no doubt that many of the worst crimes were instigated and indirectly suggested from the altar.
At this point I want to interpose with one word to the reader to beg him not to regard this as either a connected narrative of crime, much less a regular essay with proper deductions—the trimmings to the joint—but only a series of observations as I recall events which impressed me, and which I think may come home with some force to a happier generation that knew neither Parnellism nor crime. To write a consecutive and connected history of these atrocities would be to compile a volume of horrors. I prefer to give a few recollections of outrages, and to let the direct simplicity of these terrible reminiscences impress those who have bowels of compassion.
A gentleman named Nield was killed in Mayo, simply because he was mistaken for my son Maurice. This was in broad daylight, in the town of Charlestown. It was raining hard at the time—a thing so common in Ireland that no one mentions it any more than they do the fact of the daily paper appearing each morning—and the unfortunate victim had an umbrella up, so the mob could not see his face. They shouted, 'Here's Hussey,' and tried to pull him off the car, but the parish priest stopped this. However, before he could reduce the villains to the fear of the Church, which does affect them more than the fear of the Law, they gave poor Nield a blow on the head, and, though he lived for six months, he never recovered.
Another time, when returning to his house in Mayo from Ballyhaunis, on a dark night, my son Maurice found a wall built, about eighteen inches high, across the road, for the express purpose of upsetting him. It was only by the grace of God—as they say in Kerry—and his own careful driving, that he was preserved.
In those same Land League times, my son was a prominent gentleman rider. At Abbeyfeale races he rode in a green jacket and won the race, which produced a lot of enthusiasm, the crowd not knowing who it was sporting the popular colour. They only heard it was my son after he had left the course, whereupon a mob rushed to the station, and the police had to stand four deep outside the carriage window to protect him, to say nothing of an extra guard at the station gates.
The cordiality of my fellow-countrymen also provided me with another disturbed night at Aghadoe, which I had leased from Lord Headley.
To quiet the apprehensions of my family, and also to relieve the mind of the D.I. from anxiety about my tough old self, there were always five police in the house, and two on sentry duty all night.
On this particular date, about two o'clock in the morning, we were aroused by hearing shots fired in the wood below the house, the plan of the miscreants being to draw the police away from the house. As this did not succeed, a second party began a counter demonstration in another quarter. The theory is that a third party wanted to approach the house from the back in the temporary absence of the constabulary, and disseminate the house, its contents, and the inhabitants into the air and the immediate vicinity by the gentle and persuasive influence of dynamite.
However, the police were not to be tricked, and soon the fellows, having grown apprehensive, or having exhausted all their ammunition, were heard driving off. Signs of blood were found on the road towards Beaufort next morning, so the attacking force suffered some inconvenience in return for giving us a bad night.
Lord Morris, among a group of acquaintances in Dublin, pointing to me, said:—
'That's the Jack Snipe who provided winter shooting for the whole of Kerry, and not one of them could wing him.'
'Mighty poor sport they got out of it,' I answered, 'and I have an even worse opinion of their capacity for accurate aiming than I have of their benevolent intentions.'
Other people know more of oneself than one does, and I was much interested to hear that, in this year of grace, the editor of the Daily Telegraph said of me:—
'Sam Hussey, yes, that's the famous Irishman they used to call "Woodcock" Hussey, because he was never hit, though often shot at.'
I always thought 'Woodcock' Carden had the monopoly of the epithet, but am proud to find I infringed his patent.
I was benevolently commended by a vituperative ink-slinger, Daniel O'Shea, in his letter to the Sunday Democrat in 1886, but none of those he blackguarded were in the least inconvenienced by 'the roll of his tongue,' as the saying is:—
'A vast number of the Irish have been heartlessly persecuted by the most despotic landlords of Ireland, such as Lord Kenmare, Herbert, Headley, Hussey, Winn, and the Marquis of Lansdowne, all of whom are Englishmen by birth, and consequently aliens in heart, despots by instinct, absentees by inclination, and always in direct opposition to the cause of Ireland. Poor-rate, town-rate, income-tax, are nothing less than wholesale robbery, and is it any wonder that some of the people who are thus oppressed should be driven to desperation? It is deplorable to learn that they should have had any cause to commit what are called "agrarian" crimes. Why not turn their attention to these landlords, the police, the travelling coercion magistrates, not forgetting the emergency men? These are the people to whom I would direct the attention of the men of Kerry.'
I have given a number of examples of how I have been genially appreciated in the hostile Press, but my family are of opinion that it would not be fair, considering how many kind things were published in loyal journals, not to render some tribute to them too. I was sincerely obliged when I received a good word, but, frankly, the bad ones amused me much more. However, I am not ungrateful, and I have specially prized one able description of my attitude which appeared in the Globe, the manly strain of the writing of which is in healthy contrast to the hysterical effusions tainted with adjectival mania of those who wanted me shot, but were too cowardly to fire at me themselves:—
'Mr. Hussey is admittedly fair and just in his dealings with his own tenants. But he is only just and fair, which, in the ethics of Irish agrarianism, is equivalent to being a rack-renter and a tyrant. He refuses to let his own land at whatever the tenants think well to pay for it. He persists, with exasperating obstinacy, in refusing to sacrifice the interests of the landlords for whom he acts. In short, Mr. Hussey is one of the most determined and formidable obstacles to the success of the Land League. While such men have the courage to face the agrarian conspiracy, that grand consummation of patriotic effort—the rooting out of landlordism—must be a somewhat tough and tedious business. He has lived in the midst of enemies, who would have murdered him if only they had the opportunity. His life, it may be safely said, has had no stronger security than his own ability to protect it.'
And yet some one ventured to call Irish land agents 'popularity-hunting scoundrels.'
'Popularity and getting in money were never on the same bush,' as I told Lord Kenmare, and if I had stopped to think how I should make myself popular, I should have bothered my head about what I did not care twopence for, and provided an even more easy target for firing at at short range.
Drifting from a man who paid no heed to scoundrels, I am led to allude to the attitude of a profession, the members of which profited by their amenities—I, of course, mean solicitors—because some one put a question to me on the subject only the other day.
My answer is, that none of the solicitors were in the Land League, and they did not instigate outrages; but they drew comfortable fees for defending the perpetrators.
Swindlers and murderers never agree, for they practise distinct professions.
We were fighting a Land War, and though I have kept back land questions as much as I can, in order not to weary the reader with what never wearies me, I have one or two examples to give which cannot be omitted if I am to portray the true facts.
My firm was agent for an estate in Castleisland, the rent of which, in 1841, was £2300. I exhibited the rental, showing only three quarters in arrear. By 1886 it was cut down by the Commissioners to £ 1800, and the landlord sold it for £30,000, for which the tenants used to pay four per cent, for forty-nine years, to cover principal and interest.
There was a tenant on that estate named Dennis Coffey. He took a farm at £105 a year; the Commissioners reduced that rent to £80. He purchased it for £1440—eighteen years' purchase, for which his son has £42 a year for forty-nine years. The father had purchased a farm for fee-simple of equal value for £3000, which he left to two others of his sons. So that one son, by paying half what he had covenanted to pay, and which he could pay, gets a farm equal in value to what his father paid £3000 in hard cash for. The man who is paying rent has his farm well stocked; the others are paupers, and one died in the poorhouse.
That may belong to to-day, and not to the period of outrage with which I have been dealing; but it duly points the moral, and is the outcome of those times.
At the Boyle Board of Guardians in 1887, upon a discussion over the Kilronan threatened evictions, Mr. Stuart said:—
'There was one of these men arrested by the police. His rent was £4, 12s. 6d., and, when arrested, a deposit-receipt for £220 was found in his pocket.'
This case had been freely cited at home and in America as a typical instance of the ruthless tyranny of Irish landlords.