Brian McEnroy 

By Geraldine McGovern
 

Geraldine McGovern is from Ballinamore, Co. Leitrim and continues to live in the townland where she grew up as a child.  Her mother’s grandfather (Brian McEnroy) moved to Ballinamore in 1882 from his native Glenade, also in the county of Leitrim.  

While carrying out research on her family tree in 2021, Geraldine discovered that her Great Grandfather was indeed a political pioneer in his day.  

She has submitted a condensed version of the full article of events that spanned a year from 1880 – 1881 and chronicled how Brian McEnroy resulted in being imprisoned in Sligo Gaol and handed the harshest sentence for his “crime”.       

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 Brian McEnroy 1854- 1932    

Background

My Great Grandfather Brian (also recorded as Bryan) McEnroy was an inmate at Sligo Jail from March 12th to June 6th 1881 as a result of the first prosecution under the police acts in Ireland for “illegal assembly”.    

There was extensive coverage of the court case by numerous publications both on the island of Ireland and mainland UK, and, depending on the paper and the reporter, opinion leaned either towards the accused or the prosecutor (the Crown) and the Landlord involved in the incident.  

In the course of my research, I found that some newspapers did not report the entire facts of the proceedings that happened in court.  Both the Landlord and the Land Leaguers wrote letters to various newspapers putting their side of the argument in print because the newspaper had not fully reported what was said in court.  Headlines of articles reporting the proceedings included the following: “Agrarian Intimidation”, “Extraordinary Proceedings in Co. Leitrim”, “Alleged intimidation in Co. Leitrim”, “A curious affair in Leitrim”         

Brian McEnroy was born circa 1854 in Aghalateeve, Glenade to Bryan McEnroy and Catherine Rooney. Brian had at least two brothers and two sisters and was not the eldest son.  They were tenants on the land. 

Brian was Secretary of the Glenade Land League and was very prominent in voicing his opposition to high rents and the eviction of tenants. 

On August 8th 1880, a land demonstration was held in Glenade, Co. Leitrim.  A very large number of persons gathered from all the surrounding districts.  Amongst those present on the platform was my Great Grandfather Bryan McEnroy (Hon Secretary), the Honourable Judge James Crowell from Plaquemine, Louisiana in the United States of America and Edward Gayer of the Sligo Champion newspaper.  The newspaper reported that in total, there were about five thousand people at the demonstration.  


A large number of the Constabulary were also present along with a Government Reporter which was now common case at all land meetings.  Letters of apology were read out and speeches were made and a number of resolutions were also proposed.  Bryan McEnroy proposed the first resolution of the Land League which was as follows:


“Resolved – That as the system of land tenure in this country has proved productive of the worst evils, we pledge ourselves to use every just means in our power to abolish that system and substitute one which will secure the proprietorship of the soil to the man that tills it”

Edward Gayer seconded the proposal and gave a speech in support of the Land League.  


Another speech was made about how the people had suffered quietly at the hands of Landlords and no one had come to their relief, the crowd was counselled to go home quietly, which they did and proceedings were terminated.  

Court Case at Kinlough Petty Session October 14th 1880

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An Irish Petty Court Session, Image copied from Irish Genealogy Toolkit.com

On October 14th 1880, a case was heard at the Petty Session Court in Kinlough, Co. Leitrim.  Bryan McEnroy was one of 23 men charged and appeared as a defendant before three Justices: HM Beresford, HM Malony and HM Dickson.  The complainant was The Queen at the prosecution of Sub-inspector Frederick A. Whyte, from Manorhamilton.  The cause of complaint was the following:

“That on the 1st day of October 1880 at Cleighragh in the County of Leitrim, the defendant did unlawfully assemble with other persons to the number of One hundred or more for the common purpose of driving Robert Corscadden of Hollymount, Manorhamilton off his farm of Cleighragh aforesaid, and. Of preventing him from saving his crop of hay on his said farm aforesaid by their mumbling, turbulent gestures, shouting, groaning, and booing so as to endanger the public peace and to cause terror and alarm to her Majesty’s subjects.

Mr. O’Doherty of Ballyshannon represented the defendants and Mr. Croker Sessional Crown Solicitor, prosecuted.  
A huge crowd gathered in the town with a large number marching in processional order four deep from outlying districts of Glenade and Manorhamilton, wearing green laurel leaves and Land League membership cards in their hats.  Messrs Travers, Cullen and McEnroy drove up and announced that the policemen who were to give evidence, had to march from Glenade due to no cars being available and the announcement was met with cheers.    
 
Mr. O’Doherty called for all of the cases against the defendants be dismissed on the basis that the court had not assembled until an hour after the appointed time.  Croker countered that two magistrates could make a court.  Croker went on to say that he would ask for an adjournment as the two witnesses (Corscadden and son) could not attend as per the affidavits that he would show.  The affidavits spoke of the great difficulty that the witnesses had in procuring transport to the Court that day.    

Finally, it was agreed that the case be adjourned until that day month in Kinlough.

When the parties left the courthouse, they were met with loud cheers and speeches were demanded by the waiting crowd.  Mr. O’Doherty addressed the crowd, he stated the current state of the case and said that “Mr. Corscadden was justly watched”.

According to the newspaper article, “he advised the people to meet, protest, and agitate and to convince landlords that they must have right done.  Fixity of tenure, free sale and fair rents were good but the people must get peasant proprietorship.”     
Cullen (one of the defendants) said that they opposed oppression by all, not just landlords but hireling magistrates and buckshot warriors.  He advised the crowd to join the Land League and informed them that branches would be formed all over Co. Leitrim within two months.   

Brian McEnroy then spoke to the crowd, he said that what the people asked for before as a favour would now be demanded as a right, he advised that everyone join the Land League and that they would soon put down British misrule.  “As to Corscadden - (groans) – the people only went to remonstrate with him that human beings were superior to brute beasts”.

Other speakers followed and there were loud cheers when the following names were mentioned: Mr. Parnell, Mr. O’Doherty and Captain Dickson.  

Second Petty Session Court case at Kinlough Thursday November 11th and Friday November 12th 1880

 

23 defendants appeared at the Petty Session which was adjourned from the previous month. A number of cars were brought from Carrick on Shannon to Manorhamilton to bring the Corscadden witnesses to Kinlough. Robert Corscadden and his son Thomas had to “put up” in the police barrack for fear of “molestation” but none was attempted.

 

About 150 police were drafted into the village as a disturbance was anticipated.

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Mr. O’Doherty made a number of attempts to have the case dismissed, there were arguments over whether it was a “preliminary investigation” or an indictable offense.  The validity of summonses was queried and some were changed to include additional townlands and places.

 
All of the witnesses were examined, the Corscadden’s were kept apart so as not to interfere with each other’s evidence.    
Mr. O’Doherty along with Messrs McEnroy, Clancy and McGowan went down the street and asked the crowd to leave the town in order to allow the witnesses to go up to the Barracks.  They obliged immediately and Major Beresford accompanied the witnesses up the street. 


The case continued the following day (Friday 12th 1880) and Constable Murray of Glenade was called as a witness.  He stated that the crowd did not run after the Corscadden’s car when it passed them, they only groaned, they had no weapons or stones.  
Another policeman was examined as a witness.  Again, he spoke of booing and groaning from the crowd and identified defendants as being at Cleighragh and identified Bryan McEnroy as being in neighbouring Clontyprucklish.  He confirmed that the crowd did not “molest” the Corscadden’s.  


Two more policemen mentioned McEnroy in their witness account, one said that a Land Meeting was held after the fracas at Cleighragh and that they had heard McEnroy tell the crowd “Not to commit any outrage on bullocks or sheep”.  The other recounted that he saw McEnroy booing into Owen Harte’s face (a witness) and telling him that Corscadden had put his (Harte’s) father out of land.  


Owen Harte confirmed this as part of his evidence, but he only identified McEnroy as being in the crowd and what he had said to him about his father.  He confirmed that the Corscadden’s had not been called names by the crowd.  
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Robert Corscadden was the last witness.  He said that he could not identify any of the defendants as being present at Cleighragh on the day in question.  He spoke of not feeling safe enough to go back to the farm to finish the work he had started or to check where his sheep were.  He also said that the could not get any men to cut meadows for him and that they lie uncut.
Mr. O’Doherty then cross-examined Robert Corscadden and asked him specific questions about the way in which he had treated certain men who would not finish off work for him.  He claimed that none of his tenants were in the crowd and that he did not believe that it was his unpopularity that made the crowd groaned at him.  


A very heated exchange then resulted whereby Mr. O’Doherty gave specific examples of rents being overcharged to tenants and irregularities in the issue of receipts and the omission of “gales on them”.


Towards the end of giving his evidence, Corscadden said that the tenants on his property were becoming the “worst tenants in the county”.


O’Doherty replied that “Yes and it is the like of you that gets other landlords cursed”.


This concluded the evidence.  As a result of eight defendants not being identified by the witnesses, and 1 bad service of summons, the magistrates decided to send 14 defendants (of the 23) to the next Leitrim Assizes at Carrick on Shannon.  Bryan McEnroy was one of the defendants sent to the Leitrim Assizes.  


Mr. Maloney (one of the magistrates) spoke of the highly gratifying way in which the case had gone off so quietly and congratulated Mr. O’Doherty on how he had conducted the case and Mr. McSharry the clerk for the way in which he facilitated business.  
As the court rose, Thomas Corscadden complained about having a policeman constantly by his side during the two-day case preventing him from speaking to his father and even sleeping in the same room as them.

 

  

The County Gaol (former), Carrick-on-Shannon, image NIAH

Leitrim Assizes March 1881 Carrick on Shannon


On March 10th 1881, Brian McEnroy was convicted (along with 7 others) of partaking in “riotous assembly” at the farm of a notorious Landlord (Corscadden) at Cleighragh in Glenade the previous October.  He was sentenced to three calendar months imprisonment with hard labour.  He was directed that at the end of the period, he had to find sureties himself in £20, and two sureties in £10 each, to keep the peace for three years.  

Two others (Clancy brothers) were also sentenced to jail.  None of the newspaper articles directly explain how or why only three of the 14 accused were sentenced to imprisonment or why Brian McEnroy was given the harshest sentence.  It appears that the defendants were not required or given an opportunity to take the stand and defend themselves.    


He spent two nights in Carrick on Shannon Jail and was then transferred to Sligo Jail where he completed his sentence.    

Life in Sligo Jail

Brian McEnroy was most likely engaged to or at least committed to marrying Brigid Baxter when he was in prison.  They met at a Land League meeting in her local town of Ballinamore also in Co. Leitrim.  This meeting was likely that of when Charles Stewart Parnell visited in April 1880.  

According to the Friends of Sligo Jail, Brian would not have been allowed visitors and may not have received letters either.     
It has been handed down through the family that Brian was put on the treadmill while imprisoned, this correlates with the “hard labour” part of his sentence.  

 

Two others (Clancy brothers) were also sentenced to jail.  None of the newspaper articles directly explain how or why only three of the 14 accused were sentenced to imprisonment or why Brian McEnroy was given the harshest sentence.  It appears that the defendants were not required or given an opportunity to take the stand and defend themselves.    


He spent two nights in Carrick on Shannon Jail and was then transferred to Sligo Jail where he completed his sentence.    

Photo taken from RetroScience website

The “tread wheel” was invented by an English Civil Engineer by the name of Sir William Cubitt in 1818.  Its purpose was to reform convicts.  


According to the above-mentioned website, Prisoners were forced to climb the spokes of a large paddle wheel known as the “eternal staircase.” The resulting energy was used to pump water or crush grain (hence, the eventual transition from “treadwheel” to “treadmill”).


One prison guard claimed that it was the treadmill’s “monotonous steadiness, and not its severity, which constitutes its terror.”
The use of treadwheels was abolished in Britain by the Prisons Act of 1898.


Brian McEnroy was released from Sligo Jail in June 1881.  He continued his work as Secretary of the Land League and made a notable speech at the Glenade Land Demonstration on August 21st 1881.  


He married Brigid Baxter in Drumlea Church outside Ballinamore on 16th February 1882.  Brian moved to his wife’s home in Carrickmakeegan where he lived with Brigid and her father, James Baxter on the family farm.  James remained living with them until his death in 1896.


Brigid and Brian had eleven children.  Brian was very active in the community and was a prominent figure in the South Leitrim area while still maintaining links with and visiting Glenade.  A strong interest in politics and sense of patriotism was handed down to all of their children.  


Brian died on 19th December 1932 at age 78. His Obituary in the local newspaper conveyed the high esteem and respect that Brian was held in.  

Sources of Information

Petty Session Records via Ancestry.co.uk
Prison Register via Ancestry.co.uk
National Archives website
Irish Newspaper Archives website
British Newspaper Archives website
The Leitrim Advertiser (Local Studies Section, Leitrim)
Friends of Sligo Gaol
Carrick on Shannon Local History Centre, Co. Leitrim
Leitrim Genealogy Centre, Ballinamore, Co. Leitrim

If you have an interesting story relating to the gaol or the people who worked or were incarcerated there, we would love to hear from you.  

Just email us at info@sligogaol.ie