Father Hickey’s Cow.
This is the story of the circumstances surrounding the sale of the most famous cow in the history of Doon. Ask yourself, when did the sale of any cow that you have owned attract approx. 20,000 people, and hundreds of soldiers and police. The sale in question refers to that of Fr. Hickey’s cow, sold by the Tithe Proctor on behalf of Rev. C. Coote in April 1832. The following excerpts from the letter by Fr. Hickey to the Tipperary Free Press puts the occurrence in context. The original letter was far longer – one could not accuse Fr. Hickey of being “brief and to the point”, so pity those who had to suffer his sermons!
Having this day seen, in the last number of the Limerick Chronicle, an article purporting to give an account of the melancholy affray that took place in the village of Bilboa on Tuesday last, I feel myself called on to make a few remarks and place the matter in its true light before the public……. You would be induced to believe from the article in the Chronicle that the Parson of Doon is liberal and disinterested; that he is a generous soul who never cast a longing eye on the tenth sheaf and tenth potato of my seven, and let me say, rack rent acres. But this delusion will vanish when I assure you that he not only did demand, but that four years tithe were paid by me previous to the year 1827. Must not parishioners and myself be delighted with a Parson, who has been through his loathsome Agent, to have taken, not only the tenth potato but even the iron pot in which they were boiled from a half-famished creature of the name of Fitzgerald near this village. Must we not, forsooth, be in love with him when he seized the goat of the lonely widow who lived on the bounty of the Marshall family. But to finish the climax, must we not be lower than brutes not to cherish, in our very heart’s core, this worthy member of the low church, whose proctor evinced such dexterity in conveying away the threadbare and yellow blanket from the bed of the shivering wretch whose only covering it was from the piercing cold of the winter. Stand forth Rev. C. Coote, and deny, if you can, the thousand and one sickening scenes that might be here cited. This Reverend gentleman holds a double commission; he wields not only the spiritual but also the temporal sword. ................. In war times – when Bonaparte was in the full tide of victory, - when agricultural produce carried the highest price- the tithes of this parish, in the hands of Mr. Chadwick veered between £300 and £350. But when the Rev. Coote came to point the way to Heaven to the two or three Protestant families of this parish, the Rev. Gentleman seemed to have got hold of Alladin’s lamp; bank notes came from mountain and glen, as if by enchantment; the tithes swelled under his fostering care so enormously, that the people were driven almost to despair and were at length obliged to take refuge under the composition act, and thus give him the first claim to all the land in the parish;- When this meek Parson condescended to receive £900 a year from the broken-hearted cottiers of this parish, he is reported to have said “By Jove, you should be ever grateful that I pare down my income and limit my demands to the paltry sum of £900 !!”. ...............
Is it not heart-stopping; is it not almost maddening to think that the man who possesses a complete sinecure – who lives in all the luxury of a Dives – who draws a splendid income from the labour and sweat, from the bones and sinews of a Catholic people, should be among the foremost to grind and crush them and consign them forever to the pittance of a slave.
It is true that the seizure of my cow by the Parson caused a lively sensation; that the report spread through all parts of the country with the rapidity of lightning; and that it became the topic of conversations in every circle within fifteen miles around. Hence it was that, when the day of sale arrived, thousands upon thousands were seen to flock over hill and dale, over moor and bog to witness the unusual sight of the Parson canting the Parish Priest’s cow for the tithe of seven acres of land. Curiosity, and curiosity alone brought them to behold the scene. There never was a greater falsehood than to insinuate , as the Chronicle does, that the twenty thousand people, who were congregated in the village of Bilboa on Tuesday last, were there for the purpose of intimidation. If intimidation could be the object, would they not come armed with the rustic weapons that can be found in every cabin. Would they not have sent off the women and children, the aged and infirm, if violence could at all be contemplated. No! No! the people are too well instructed to resort to violence. Let me assure the enemies of Ireland that their old game shall not and will not succeed and that moral resistance is the only resistance that will be offered. I have been assured by hundreds of honest and well-conducted men that two ruffians, seen busy at the cant (if indeed that can be called a cant, where there were only two bidders) were the cause of the carnage that ensued. These ruffians are well known to be in the pay of two worthies I will not here name and who, no doubt, instructed them in the part they were to act in the late tragedy in Bilboa. I am informed that they were the first persons to fling stones at the Police and a few Lancers who remained behind the main body, and thus brought their sabres and bullets on the innocent and defenceless people who had the misfortune to fall in their way. Colonel Weymess is praised by the Chronicle for his forbearance and humanity ................But how did the gallant Colonel act when my cow was canted? Coote’s creature offered 10s for the cow, my brother was the second bidder and offered £12; a wretch, on the part of Coote, then offered 15s. – this offer was of course, only laughed at. Thus the matter rested for nearly twelve minutes, when out steps the gallant Colonel and offers £2. He was instantly told that his offer was of no avail, unless he exceeded the bidder of twelve pounds - The gallant Colonel then bethought himself, and began to insist that he was the second bidder- but his assertion was instantly contradicted by every person present. So much for the mock sale of my cow, but I shall take care to have the matter sorted before another tribunal. Now I humbly conceive that the gallant Colonel was ordered to Bilboa for the sole purpose of preserving the peace and not of mixing himself in with the filthy business of a tithe proctor. If Colonel Weymess be the high-minded officer that the Chronicle would insinuate, he must have felt humiliated indeed, when his assertion was met by the indignant denial of all present. .........................
I am indeed no eulogist of the Police or their leaders – their conduct in numerous instances has consigned them to disgrace and execration – ................ The eyes of all are now intensely fixed on the Lord Lieutenant of Limerick, Colonel Fitzgibbon. Will he permit the Rev. C. Coote any longer to hold the commission of the peace? Will he allow him any longer to ascend the bench of justice? The groans of the dying and the moans of the butchered are calling aloud on him for an instant dismissal of this clerical crusader This Parson’s tithes were hitherto wrung from misery and wretchedness, but they are now sprinkled with human blood.
I am Sir, Yours etc.
P. Hickey. P.P. Doon.
13th April 1832.