THE TITHE WAR
Tithes were taxes levied for the upkeep of the Protestant Church in Ireland. In 1831 the Tithe War began in earnest, when the Irish Catholics, spurred on by their priests, refused to pay their tithes. Le Fanu, Protestant rector in Abington speaks of how almost overnight the demeanour of the people changed from one of friendliness and good-will towards the protestants to one of insult and hate. He says "the people would not speak to us and scowled at us as they passed by".
He continues to describe the amusing story concerning Fr. Hickey's cow. Fr. Hickey was parish priest in Doon at this time and was very outspoken in opposition to the tithes. Rev. Charles Coote was protestant rector in Doon and was very strict in enforcing the payment of tithes. Up to now the two clergymen were on friendly terms and Coote never exacted payment from his catholic counterpart. However, all this changed when Fr. Hickey, in a fierce sermon denounced Coote from the altar and told his listeners that anyone "who paid a farthing to that scoundrel Coote was a traitor to his country".
"Take example by me, boys", he said, I'd let my last cow be seized and sold before I'd pay a farthing to that scoundrel Coote".
Coote, being highly insulted, acted swiftly and had his bailiff impound one of the priest's cows, before anyone thought he would make the attempt. He had notices posted saying that the cow would be sold at an auction in Bilbao. Fr. Hickey posted counter notices encouraging the people to turn up in their thousands by way of demonstration. He was sure that the cow would not be sold, as no one would dare buy the cow.
On the morning of the auction four companies of Highlanders marched from Limerick to Bilboa fearing trouble. Thousands had gathered to await the developments. When the cow was put up for sale, 'Canting' was the term used at the time (ceant i.e. auction), a local man bid £12, a sum far beyond the value of the cow, under the mistaken belief that the cow could not be sold unless there were three separate bids. Much to his dismay the cow was knocked down to him. He had no option but to pay the auctioneer and the tithe was paid.
Trouble then broke out as the people began to throw stones at the soldiers. The soldiers returned fire and three people were wounded. One lad who received a slight leg wound was bandaged up, placed in a cart, covered with a blood stained sheet and was paraded up and down with a placard proclaiming "The Blessings of the Tithes".
Meanwhile the cow was dressed up with coloured ribbons and streamers hanging from her horns. She was paraded around by the huge crowd amid much merriment and laughter.
Coote now was treated very badly by the people of Doon. Whenever he or his family were seen they were greeted with shouts and yells and cries of "Mad dog! mad dog! to hell with the tithes! Down with the tithes" Le Fanu describes how his family were threatened, that if they visited Coote in Doon again, that they would be treated in a like manner. Sure enough on their next visit to the rectory, they were accompanied all the way home by crowds screaming, shouting and cursing at them.
Coote was now boycotted and could get no one to work for him. However, some years previously, he had saved from transportation six brothers, named Lysaght from Doon. They had been tried on some false charge and, being convinced of their innocence, Coote intervened and was successful in having them acquitted. The brothers now felt they owed something to Coote and assembled with some protestant workmen in the bog to cut his turf. At about mid-day a crowd converged, shouting, firing shots and throwing stones. The brothers ran for their lives. The crowd destroyed the turf and broke the implements that were left behind. Le Fanu mentions that these same Lysaghts had been among the bravest of Reaskawallahs in many a faction fight with the Coffeys of Newport.
This sort of agitation was carried on countrywide and ended with the abolition of tithes by Parliament some years later (1838).
The following report from "The Evening Mail", April 16th, 1832 describes the incident :
LIMERICK TITHE AFFRAY
At four o'clock on Tuesday morning two pieces of artillery, sixty of the 12th Lancers and a section of the 92 Highlanders proceeded from Limerick garrison towards Bilboa to attend a sale by distress for tithes due by the Parish Priest of Doon to the Rector Rev. Mr. Coote. It had been previously known that the peasantry resolved to assemble in vast numbers for the purpose of intimidating any person from purchasing at this sale and thus defeating the legal claim of this minister to his tithes. Upwards of 6,000 people were in the village when the priest's cow was brought out for sale, and the surrounding hills were covered by at least 10,000 more. However, the imposing force that drew up prevented any opposition from the crowds and the sale went ahead. The troops soon withdrew but they had not proceeded above half a mile on their return when they were called back to the village on the news that a tremendous and combined attack was being made on the police. They rode to Bilboa at a rapid trot and found the country-people flinging stones and missiles of every sort at the chief constable and his police party. The whole village exhibited one scene of terror and confusion. By the prompt exertions of the Lancers, who galloped through the assailants and the timely influence of a Roman Catholic clergyman something like tranquility was restored. Six policemen are now stationed in Rev. Mr. Coote's house for protection.