‘O’Donoghue of the Hills’: The Knocknaboul Eviction

On 18th May 1881 about sixty police under the command of Sub-Inspector Davis assembled at Knocknaboul near Kingwilliamstown on the Cork/Kerry border with land agent Arthur Edward Herbert JP of Killeentierna to evict Denis O’Donoghue and his family of nine children.


The scene was described by one who witnessed it:


There was no occasion for such a military display in that peaceable district although about five hundred persons were present, not to resist the law but to sympathise with their neighbour …The Rev M McMahon PP and Rev J O’Leary CC and the members of the Kingwilliamstown Land League were also present.  When the agent arrived, Donoghue (whose rent was £26 and the valuation £8 5s) offered to pay what the other tenants paid at last gale, a valuation and a half, but it would not be accepted.[1]


After declining O’Donoghue’s offer to pay, ‘six fiendish looking men whose services were engaged to do the dirty job, got up on the house and tumbled it down’:


The policemen, though hard-hearted enough to take part in the eviction, were moved with compassion on seeing the pitiable condition of poor Donoghue and his family, and made up a subscription for them on the spot.


The following day, about three hundred men (armed with spades) headed by the Kingwilliamstown Band proceeded to the scene of the eviction and ‘in a few hours a house was fitted up for O’Donoghue and his family convenient to his old home where he intends to remain.’[2]


Parish Priest Rev Matthias McMahon was also present:


W O’S Hartnett now insists on getting the full rent from his other tenants at Knocknaboul which they refuse to pay.  He then offers an abatement which they justly refuse to accept and offer a valuation and a half for mountain reclaimed land on which they can only secure a miserable existence by their hard toil and industry, for which they are remarkable.


Denis O’Donoghue would remain out of his property for almost a decade.  In 1899, Maurice K Hogan, Vice President of the United Irish League, speaking at a public meeting in Castleisland, alluded to the case:


He was glad to see the evicted of Knocknabowl reinstated.  O’Donoghue of the Hills, not ‘of the Glens’ who was evicted by the late Arthur Herbert and lived in a Land League cottage built for him by the young men of the district was now in his home after being evicted for nearly ten years.  If the tenant farmers of Ireland had the pluck of the fight in them like poor O’Donoghue victory would be theirs all along the line.[3]


Harnett Estate


Magistrate Arthur Edward Herbert was agent for the small Harnett Estate. The following year, on 30 March 1882, Herbert was shot dead as he walked home from Castleisland to his residence at nearby Killeentierna.[4]  In the aftermath of the murder, it was remarked that ‘shortly before his death there was a bitter feud between him and the tenants at Knocknabowl.’[5]


Six years later, at the Parnell Commission, the suggestion of a link between the eviction and the murder persisted.  District Inspector Davis, who was stationed at Castleisland from December 1880 to May 1887, gave evidence that he had seen a letter from Timothy Horan, Secretary of the Land League, calling on Mr Herbert to attend a meeting at Knocknaboul on 5 June 1881.


Harnett Family


At the time of the 1881 eviction, the landlord was William O’Sullivan Harnett of 127 Fenchurch Street, London.  He was the eldest son of magistrate Edward Harnett Esq, of Sandville, and later of Castleview, Castleisland, and Mary Ellen, eldest daughter of William O’Sullivan Esq of Carriganass Castle, Co Cork.[6]


William O’Sullivan Harnett, whose daughter was author Cynthia Mary Harnett, and daughter-in-law novelist Dorothy Grace Waring, seems to have resided mainly in England.[7]  William O’Sullivan Harnett died at 10 Pembroke Gardens, Kensington, on 16 March 1908 aged 67.[8]


In 1912, the Chief Secretary, Mr Birrell, was asked if he was aware that landlord and tenants on the estate of Mrs Clara Harnett (William O’Sullivan Harnett’s widow), Knocknaboul, had agreed to sell and purchase through the Congested Districts Board.  Maps of the estate had been lodged with the Board and a preliminary inspection was anticipated.[9]


By 1930, the Harnett Estate was evidently held by Mrs Harnett’s son, Edward St Clair Harnett.[10]  In that year, Mr F H Crowley asked the Minister for Lands and Fisheries when he intended to vest the St Clair Hartnett Estate at Knocknaboul and if he would give assurance ‘that the necessary bog passages to the twenty-two turbary plots on this Estate would be constructed.’[11]


The Minister replied that ‘the prescribed schedule of Edward St Clair Harnett comprising 23 holdings on the townlands of Shanavallen, Knocknaboul and Aghanacrinna’ had been lodged in the Land Commission under the Land Act 1923.[12]


The Family of Denis O’Donoghue of Knocknaboul


George Daly, Knocknagoshel, is a great grandnephew of Denis O’Donoghue evicted in 1881.  He advises that most of Denis O’Donoghue’s family emigrated to the USA.  Of those who remained, one family suffered great tragedy when four of their children died very young from tuberculosis.[13]  The last survivor at the native place, also Denis O’Donoghue, died unmarried in the 1960s, and the land changed hands.[14]


Jim O’Donoghue, who hails from Ballinard, Cordal and resides in Dublin, shares a recent experience where past reconnected ‘immeasurably’ with present:


Denis O’Donoghue was born in Tooreenagown around 1835, one of six boys and two girls born to James O’Donoghue and Johanna O’Connor.  Denis married Hannah Crowley, who had a farm in Knocknaboul.  His daughter Hannah, born on 15th August 1869, emigrated (as did most of her siblings) to Springfield Massachusetts USA.  She married Michael Quinn whose ancestors emigrated from Northern Ireland (possibly County Tyrone).  Their son Thomas Quinn had daughters Mary Rose (Quinn) Paster and Kerry (Quinn) Apicella, living in USA.  The Quinn girls knew their grandmother was an O’Donoghue from Ireland, but that was all.

At the beginning of last December I came across an Ancestry DNA (Green) HINT showing that I was a distant cousin of Mary Rose (Quinn) Paster.  She has an excellent ‘tree’ on her Donaghy ancestors from Northern Ireland and Scotland, but Hannah is only mentioned by name and date of birth.  Mary Rose responded to me immediately.

I sent her our full O’Donoghue Tooreenagown ancestor ‘tree’ containing hundreds of cousins.  I also sent her literature published by Castleisland District Heritage containing an account of the tragic eviction at Knocknaboul.  She came back delighted saying “It’s wonderful now to rejoice at Hannah’s survival in USA having gone through that traumatic eviction experience at a very young age“.  Mary Rose immediately contacted her sister, Kerry (Quinn) Apicella who was due in Ireland in February 2024 on a pre-arranged vacation.

I met Kerry Apicella at a Dublin hotel when she arrived.  She was overcome with emotion at meeting an Irish cousin she did not know existed.  Her pre-booked vacation rail tour included two days in Killarney, so her ‘Kerry cousins’ sprang into action.  Her cousins, Eamonn O’Donoghue, Ballinard and Mike Brosnan, Cordal West met her at her Killarney hotel.  Her Tooreenagown cousin, George Daly, took her to see Knocknaboul, Kilmurry graveyard where her O’Donoghue ancestors are buried and Castleisland Church where Denis married Hannah Crowley.
Kerry Quinn Apicella (centre), great granddaughter of Denis O’Donoghue, evicted in 1881, photographed with George Daly, great grandnephew of Denis, and great grandson of John O’Donoghue of Tooreenagown, Knocknagoshel which lies close to the site where Denis and his family were born.  Kerry and George stand at the Celtic headstone of their great great grandfather, James, in Kilmurry.  Above left, an illustration of an eviction scene at knocknaboul in 1880 courtesy George Daly, and right, Knocknaboul Cross, close to the site of Denis O’Donoghue’s home, demolished in the 1980s


Jim O’Donoghue has assisted many of the Irish diaspora in their quest to understand the tragedies of their forebears:

Over the past twenty-five years I have linked many American cousins to our paternal and maternal ancestors.  Without exception, their joy at meeting us is palpable and immeasurable.  I would strongly urge the younger generation to become involved in genealogy.

It is so easy nowadays with DNA testing and websites like Ancestry, My Heritage, etc – millions of interesting records, and Ancestry is now uploading some of Dr Albert E Casey’s 16 million records on Sliabh Luachra families.

My thanks to the late Castleisland historian, T M O’Donovan RIP and to the team at Castleisland District Heritage for their excellent research of eviction, not forgetting Dick Johnny’s Kilmurry and Harringtons in Knockachur.[15]

A Note on Rev Matthias McMahon, Parish Priest of Boherbee


‘He was one of the sternest haters of the landlord class in Ireland’


Rev Matthias McMahon, Parish Priest of Boherbee and Kingwilliamstown, was present at the eviction of Denis O’Donoghue in 1881.  His character would seem to fit the mould of other members of the clergy whose names come down to us in heroic terms for their defence of their parishioners during the struggles of the nineteenth century.  The efforts of Rev Arthur Murphy, Parish Priest of Brosna and Rev William Casey, Parish Priest of Abbeyfeale are two prime examples and have recently been recorded on the website of Castleisland District Heritage.[16]


In the year before Denis O’Donoghue’s eviction, in a report to the Mansion House Committee in the early months of 1880, the want of food and clothing in the Kingwilliamstown district was recorded.  Less than fifty per cent of children were attending school as they could not be clothed.[17]  In June 1880, an open air meeting presided by Rev McMahon was held at Kingwilliamstown calling on the government to open up public works and introduce temporary measures to prevent eviction ‘in this time of trial and struggle for farmers.’[18]  James Byrne JP of Wallstown Castle, Shanballymore, Co Cork, President of the Mallow Farmers’ Club, attended in support of the tenant farmers.[19]  Also present were Rev Father Green CC Newmarket, Rev Father Reardon CC Boherbee and Rev Father O’Leary CC Boherbee.


Rev McMahon summarised the meeting in a letter to the press from the Presbytery, Boherbee:


The first condition of civil society, the great end of its existence, is the preservation of human life and that, therefore, the late government, after the full notice they had of the impending calamity in allowing our people to perish of hunger or its consequences during the last winter, stood guilty before God and man of a shameless and infamous dereliction of duty as rulers … When shamed into action by the charities of the world pouring in for the relief of our famishing people, the measures they adopted were a mockery and an outrage.[20]


Rev McMahon stated that of the three-quarters of a million voted to meet Irish distress only £30,000 to £40,000 was laid out in wages for relief works.  He described the rulers of Ireland as ‘torturers and executioners … lower than the Roman Emperor Maxentius who rid Rome of the poor by sending them en masse to the bottom of the sea in scuttled vessels.’


The Seed Bill he described as ‘evil’ because a resulting taxation would prove crushing, and he mocked the notion that Mr Forster was ‘looking out’ for the people:


Looking out from an observatory upon a ship in distress will not keep it from sinking.


Rev McMahon observed that John O’Connor of Laharan, a working farmer, had done more drainage works in mid-winter than all the landlords of the parish:


The cruel-treated small farmers have turned the moor and swamp into green land, they have made swelling rentals out of wastes under great difficulties, and yet they are condemned to idleness and misery by the territorialist masters for whose benefit their burning sweat has been shed, their life-long toil expended … The farmers are without means, or credit, or employment, or poor law aid … many of them must be lost between this and harvest … the creation of a peasant proprietary is the only radical cure.


On 17 October 1880, a ‘monster meeting’ of the Land League was held in Kingwilliamstown to establish a branch there.[21]  At a meeting of the League a few months later, President Rev Matthias McMahon passed the following resolution:


That we call upon every friend of the tenant farmers in town and country not to give any law business in any shape or form, court or chamber, to any solicitor who will prepare or issue a writ of ejectment on behalf of the landlord against a tenant for rack-rent.[22]


Ministry of Rev McMahon


Rev Matthias McMahon was educated in the Irish College, Paris, a contemporary of Rev Dr Croke.  He was ordained in Killarney in May 1847 and ministered as curate in Causeway (from where he may have hailed), Ballybunion, and Tralee where he was held in high regard,[23]


In 1850, he addressed a Tenant Right meeting in Listowel, remarking, ‘I feel reluctant to come forward, I would prefer to labour in the quiet and unostentatious discharge of my religious duties, in keeping with my vocation.’  Notwithstanding, he felt his ‘heart beat with pride’ at the imposing assembly of three thousand people who were undeterred by ‘the not unnatural terror’ that their attendance may further render them victims of the landlords.[24]


In 1862 Dr Moriarty appointed Rev McMahon to the parish of Boherbee ‘from which hour he devoted himself heart and soul to the welfare of his people’:


He carried his political creed before the world like the chivalrous soldier that he was, and in the glorious era of O’Connell, in the end days of 1848, to the recent troubled times he was ever to be found doing his share and doing it manfully for the country which he loved so well.[25]


Rev Matthias McMahon died on Thursday 23 August 1888.  He was recalled as having ‘a simplicity of character and lovableness of disposition that gave him a place in the affections of all who knew him … the poor were his true friends.’[26]  ‘To those who think that the bonds which unite the priests and the people of Ireland have grown weak,’ wrote one commentator, ‘go now to Boherbee and all the deanery around, and when you have heard from each one, from old and young, from rich and poor, from the educated and the ignorant, the words of bitter sorrow, of sincere regret, you will learn the folly of that thought.’[27]


Rev McMahon ‘lived long enough to merit a saint’s death’:


When the last benediction was given, and the last prayer offered for the mercy and rest, the grief of the people broke forth in one loud wail of sobbing and weeping as if all belonging to each were being buried with the descending coffin.  For a full hour this scene of anguish prevailed … it may be truly said that Ireland has lost another of the bright constellation of her sons who have given all the power of original genius to the advocacy of their country’s cause.[28]


The funeral obsequies were celebrated at the Chapel in Boherbee where Rev McMahon was subsequently interred.[29]


[1] Irish Examiner, 23 May 1881.  Letter to the Editor from ‘One Who Witnessed The Scene, 19 May 1881.’  The burning of Donoghue’s house was still being discussed in 1904; see Kerry Evening Star, 18 February 1904.

[2] One of Lord Ventry’s tenants, a woman named Catherine O’Leary, ejected from her farm near Kingwilliamstown, was also reinstated by a body of armed men who ‘removed her furniture from the roadside into the house and placed new locks on the doors’ (Rutland Echo, 16 September 1880).

[3] Irish Examiner, 30 March 1899 and Kerry Sentinel, 5 April 1899.  Thomas Kearney of Kingwilliamstown, who held the meeting in connection with his candidature for Scartaglin, said he was on the committee that brought Mr Biggar, Michael Davitt, T D Sullivan, William O’Brien and others to put down land-grabbing around Castleisland with the recent result that there were ‘several evicted farms in the district for years on the landlords’ hands as no one touched them.’ He made particular reference to the farm of James Power [sic – Powell] a Protestant tenant farmer, ‘for years on the landlords’ hands like white elephants.  No one touched them.’  An obituary to Castleisland merchant Maurice K Hogan was published in the Kerry Evening Star, 26 April 1909.

[4] http://www.odonohoearchive.com/the-murder-of-arthur-edward-herbert

[5] Kerry Evening Post, 24 May 1882. 

[6] Edward Harnett and Mary Ellen married on 30 April 1836.  Announcements of sons born at Sandville were published in March 1841 and September 1843.  There were also daughters of the family: Ellen, eldest daughter of Edward Harnett Esq of Castleview was married to Louis Kuhling Esq of Hull by Ven Archdeacon O’Leary at the RC Church in Castleisland on 12 August 1862.  Another daughter, Minnie, married Christian Kuhling Esq of Cottingham, Yorkshire in 1874.  Edward Harnett Esq died at Castleview on 1 May 1871.

The Harnetts of Sandville were, according to T M Donovan, a Protestant family: ‘This Sandville Hartnett was a middleman for the Herberts of Kilcow and towards the close of the 18th century he had rented the lands of Kilcow, Bullockfield, and probably that part of the Sandville House estate known as the Big Dairy to the Nolans and Caseys … During the wildest days of the Land League a full company of English soldiers were stationed at Sandville House … Bob Finn having a good  intelligence officer in the enemy camp, always led his merry band of Moonlighters in an opposite direction to that taken by the English garrison at Sandville’ (Kerry News, 19 September 1930).

[7] In 1875, William O'Sullivan Harnett married Clara, daughter of George Stokes and Mary Ann Puddick.  A son, John Harnett, was born on 16 May 1876 at Florenceville, Surbiton, Surrey.  John died in 1905 age 29.  Second son, barrister Edward St Clair Harnett (1881-1964) was born on 25 March 1881 at 44 Manchester Street, London.  A daughter, writer and illustrator, Cynthia Mary Harnett (1893-1981) was born on 22 June 1893 at 10 Pembroke Gardens, Kensington. In 1971, speaking from her home at Binfield Heath, she said ‘My brother wrote two or three novels and some law books.’  The Reading Evening Post, 30 October 1971 includes a photograph of Miss Harnett.

[8] Funeral Kensal Green.

[9] Kerry News, 27 March 1912.  In November 1918, Mrs Clara Harnett sought possession of Catherine Sullivan’s farm at Knocknaboul from for non-payment of rent.  A decree was granted (Kerry News, 4 November 1918).

[10] Wing Commander Edward St Clair Harnett, CBE, RAF, also a barrister, was married in 1916 to the novelist, Dorothy Grace Waring of Lisnacree House, Co Down (https://www.dib.ie/biography/harnett-dorothy-grace-a3810).  They had one son, Denis Henry Waring (1917-1964) but the marriage ended in divorce.  Edward remarried in 1927.  In 1960, the directors of a new company, The Northern Plant and Machinery Co Ltd, were Denis Henry Harnett, Liliane Harnett of ‘Viewfort,’ Dunmurry, Co Antrim and Edward St Clair Harnett CBE, ‘Hillstone,’ Osborne Road, Shanklin, Isle of Wight.  He died c1964 or 1965 at the age of 83.   His grandson, Michael Henry St Clair Harnett was Managing Director of Harmann Systems Ltd, Moira, in 1990.

[11] Fred Crowley, Fianna Fail TD referred to here, died in 1945 and was succeeded by his wife Honor Mary (Boland) Crowley who was the first spouse of a deceased Irish TD to win a by-election.  The Minister was Fionan Lynch TD.  Reference courtesy Jim O’Donoghue, Dublin (by email 13 March 2024) who canvassed for Honor Mary (Boland) Crowley in his youth.

[12] https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/dail/1930-02-26/36/#spk_139

[13] John O’Donoghue, son of Denis, whose wife also died at age 45.  They were buried in Kilmurry.

[14] Information courtesy George Daly by email 12 March 2024.  George advised that he recently had the pleasure of meeting Kerry Quinn Apicella, great granddaughter of the Denis O'Donoghue who was evicted.  She visited the graveyard at Kilmurry, Knocknaboul and Castleisland parish church where her great grandparents married.   

[15] ‘Harrington’s eviction passed off quietly, possession being rendered up peaceably.  This is the second time that the tenant has undergone eviction.  He was ejected out of the same holding, which is on the Drummond Estate, as far back as 1880, and was reinstated in 1898’ (Kerry News, 7 June 1909).

[16] http://www.odonohoearchive.com/father-arthur-the-true-and-tried-champion-of-the-people1/ http://www.odonohoearchive.com/too-honest-for-the-shoneens-father-murphy-roman-catholic-curate-of-castleisland1/ http://www.odonohoearchive.com/the-peoples-priest-rev-william-casey-of-abbeyfeale/

[17] Freeman’s Journal, 3 March 1880. It was recorded that 765 stones of Indian meal had been distributed to families consisting of 860 members, and many refused for want of funds (only £4 on hand).  Want of seed potatoes and clothing was noted, ‘In the Kingwilliamstown schools the attendance of the children is not half what it was last year at this season and the invariable answer of the parents is, We cannot send them to school they have no clothing. It was also observed that no plot of garden had been tilled by rich or poor, ‘during the last fourteen years fully half the gardens of this parish were tilled every year at this season.’

[18] Nation, 19 June 1880.

[19] James Byrne of Wallstown Castle, Shanballymore, Co Cork was a well-known agriculturalist, his herd of shorthorns at Wallstown, established in 1854, being famous among stockbreeders.  He was Chairman of the Cork Farmers’ Association.  He was coroner for Co Cork, and conducted many notable inquests including that of James Donovan of Glenlara who was murdered in 1894, for which murder John Twiss of Castleisland was hanged an innocent man, and Posthumously Pardoned by President Michael D Higgins on 16 December 2021 following a campaign by Castleisland District Heritage.  James Byrne was married to Kate, his known children were Isabella, eldest daughter, who died at Wallstown, Sandycove, Dun Laoghaire, on 20 February 1955; Agnes Frances, who died at the same address on 13 December 1949, Emily Kate, Kathleen Mary, Dr John Columbanus Byrne, Birch House, Attercliffe, Sheffield who married Lizzie Thornhill youngest daughter of John Thornhill of Kildorrery.  Lizzie died in Sheffield on 9 June 1901 aged 34.  Her remains were returned to Cork for burial in the family grave at Kilgullane.  At the funeral Mrs Hickey, The Close, Castletownroche, sister of Dr John C Byrne, was present. James Byrne died on 29 December 1916 at Ballyhooly House, Ballyhooly, Co Cork to where he had retired in about 1913.  In his will he left provision for his widow and five children.

[20] Irish Examiner, 14 June 1880.

[21] Notice of meeting in Irish Examiner, 7 October 1880. ‘God save Ireland and the People.’

[22] Irish Examiner, 14 December 1880.  The resolution was proposed by Timothy Jones and seconded by John Murphy.

[23] The Great Famine in Tralee and North Kerry (2017) by Bryan MacMahon.  On Rev McMahon’s departure from Tralee, he was presented with an Address, dated 7 September 1862, by the members of the Tralee Young Men’s Society of which he was director.  The Address was in gilt letters on green satin with emblems on the heading of an ancient Irish Cross, with the harp, round tower and crozier, the work executed by Mr P Moore, Lithographer, Cork.  See Kerry Star, 12 September 1862 for Rev McMahon’s reply to the Address.  On 27 April 1868, the estate of Jeremiah McMahon, late of the city of Elmira, New York, was released to Matthias McMahon of Boherbee, Co Cork.

[24] Kerry Evening Post, 2 November 1850.

[25] Irish Examiner, 29 August 1888. 

[26] Obituary, Kerry Sentinel, 1 September 1888.

[27] Irish Examiner, 29 August 1888.

[28] Obituary, Kerry Sentinel, 1 September 1888.

[29] Funeral report, Kerry Sentinel, 29 August 1888. After the death of Rev McMahon, the parish of Boherbee was divided into two distinct parishes, Rev Cornelius Sheridan (Sheahan?), Parish Priest of Castlemaine, was appointed to the Boherbee portion, and Rev Denis J O’Riordan, CC, Millstreet, was appointed to the Kingwilliamstown part.