by Tara Brady, BA History Student
This blog post is concerned with a letter received by the Carrol family of Lissenhall House, Lissenhall, near Nenagh, County Tipperary from Irish republican forces in 1923. Letters such as these would have been commonplace during the revolutionary and Civil War periods in early twentieth-century Ireland. This letter now forms part of The O’Carrol Papers collection at UL’s Special Collections and Archives.
The Carrols at Lissenhall
In 1853, William Hutchinson Carrol (1817-1895) purchased Lissenhall demesne and other adjoining properties amounting to 242 acres through an Encumbered Estates Commission sale. He had a decorated military career in the British Army. When the family moved in, they updated the layout of the original house, adding extra rooms. The gardens were superb, and it is reported that the donkeys wore leather socks to walk on the grass of the gardens of Lissenhall. Exotic fruit and plants filled the gardens that were souvenirs of Carrol’s expeditions throughout the British Empire.
William Hutchinson Carrol died in 1895, leaving the house to Alice Isobel Carrol (1865 1940), his eldest unmarried daughter. From 1910, Alice actually lived in Nenagh with her cousin, Monica Maxwell. Alice’s sister Maud Rose (1865-1942), her husband George Maxwell Angas (1855-1928), and their family became caretakers of Lissenhall, where they stayed until 1922 when the Irish Republican Army (IRA) occupied at least half the property. Alice eventually sold the property to the Land Commission in 1927. 1
The letter which is of most interest here was sent in 1923 but it was not the first such letter received by the Carrols. A letter dated 1 July 1918, from a group named ‘The Sinn Féin community’, and sent to the Derry Castle stated that they wanted none of their ‘sort or class in Ireland at present time’, a similar sentiment to the 1923 letter from the IRA. The 1918 letter also makes a reference to a maid at Derry Castle called Kate, who they believe to be a spy or informer, and recommend that she is ‘taken away’.
The 1923 letter is actually a handwritten copy of an original letter sent by the IRA to the residents of Lissenhall House. The copy is handwritten in black ink, on a small sheet of paper that appears to have been ripped out of a notebook, or from a larger sheet of paper. The paper the letter is written on is a slightly off-white colour. The words ‘Copy of anonymous letter received 10 March 1923’ is written on the top of the letter, and the writing is quite difficult to read in some areas, as the size of the paper is probably too small for the length of the letter.
‘Death is your doom if you pursue this matter further.’
The contents of the letter include a warning to Alice Carrol not to evict a man named William Gorman from the Lissenhall gate lodge as ‘he is far better entitled to it than you or your equals’. The IRA also refers to an eviction in 1910 of carpenter Denis McGrath and his family from the same gate lodge that William Gorman is being threatened to be thrown out of. ‘Times are not so favourable as when Denis McGrath was blaguarded’. The letter finishes with the threat: ‘Death is your doom if you pursue this matter further.’
From the mention of Denis McGrath’s plight in the 1923 letter, it is clear that for the local IRA in Tipperary, past grievances were there to be resolved. McGrath had been a carpenter at Lissenhall House and was evicted as a result of attending the re-interment of the Cormack brothers of Loughmore.
The Cormacks, then aged twenty-three and eighteen years, were hanged in 1858 after being found guilty of the murder of John Ellis of Kilrush House. Ellis, a Protestant Scot, was a land agent for a local landlord, John Trant of Dovea, for twenty-seven years. Evidence of the Cormack brothers’ culpability for his murder was very limited and the people of Loughmore subsequently campaigned their exoneration. The Cormacks were buried at Nenagh Jail after their executions but fifty-two years later their remains were exhumed and reinterred in a specially constructed mausoleum in the grounds of Loughmore Roman Catholic church.
As a result of his presence at the 1910 re-interment, which was a massive public display of Irish nationalism that caught international newspaper attention, Denis McGrath, his wife and their family of five children were evicted from the Lissenhall estate. 2 The local IRA were clearly not prepared to allow the same thing to happen to William Gorman at Lissenhall.
The letter also makes an underlined reference to ‘the beloved Oliver Chrom’, meaning Oliver Cromwell, who, in the seventeenth century, drove Irish people off their land and distributed this land to British soldiers and settlers loyal to his regime. Although Cromwell came centuries before the Carrols, the local IRA, and possibly the wider community, believed that all landowners in Ireland were cut from the same cloth. It is clear that for many in the area, the mismanagement of land and tenants by landlords had continued for long enough and any estate owners who prevented the IRA from carrying out their activities in the locality would become a target for punishment.
The determination to see through the demise of large landed estates and destruction of country houses continued after the revolutionary era in Ireland. These properties were seen symbols and physical manifestations of British occupation. In 1943, Mr Blarney O’Driscoll bought the contents of Lissenhall House that were auctioned at a demolition sale in June 1944. 3
- Mining the Past: the History, People and Places of Silvermines District. Nenagh, Co. Tipperary: Silvermines Historical Society, 2015/16, pp 2 – 5.)
According to a 1927 newspaper report on her departure from Ireland in 1927, Alice Carrol had been locally regarded as ‘kind’ and ‘generous’. ((Irish Examiner, 19 July 1927[↩]
- Mining the Past: the History, People and Places of Silvermines District. Nenagh, Co. Tipperary: Silvermines Historical Society, 2015/16, p. 6.[↩]
- Ibid, p.7[↩]
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