Callinafercy is a small townland between Milltown and Killorglin in County Kerry, the year 1909 a very significant year in the history of the place.
It was the year in which the people of the place finally became owner occupiers of their lands, no longer tenants of the Leeson-Marshalls as they had been for so long.
It was the Wyndham Act of 1903 which gave legal expression to the policy of land purchase on behalf of the Conservative government of the time. One of the most noteworthy features of the Act was that it encouraged the sale of entire estates, not just piecemeal holdings.
Such sales could proceed if three quarters of the tenants on the estate agreed. The prices ranged from 18½ years purchase to 24½ years purchase on first term rents, those fixed in the year 1881, longer for lower-second term rents, those fixed in or after l896.
The money was to be advanced to the purchaser by the state and paid back in fixed sums annually at the rate of 3.25 per cent. When the landlord parted with an entire estate, he too received a bonus from the state.
By 1909, some 270,000 purchases had been negotiated, while a further 46,000 were pending. A meeting in Callinafercy National School early ln1909 was attended by most, if not all, of the former tenants of the Leeson-Marshalls, among them John Stephens, D.Langford, Frank Roberts, Daniel Roberts, Patrick Heffernan, Frank Twiss, D. Kelliher, John Heffernan and Thomas Reid.
One of the tenants, Timothy O`Sullivan, introduced the first speaker, Father Carmody, adding that he himself had only a short time before ‘fought Mr Marshall” and fought hard with him, but all of that was in the past.
Denis Kelliher echoed these sentiments. He too, had fought Mr Marshal and received some hard blows in the fight, but he did not mean to keep the wounds open forever.
Father Carmody thanked Mr Marshall for allowing the judgement of the purchase terms to be fixed by an independent tribunal. He need not have accepted the decision of the Land Commission, but he had done so.
Father Carmody also applauded the local MP Mr Tom O’Donnell, for his part in the negotiations. By his tact and perseverance they had got terms which they might not have otherwise hoped for.
Captain Leeson-Marshall, addressing the meeting, said that it was his wish to live among the people as a neighbour and a friend. He hoped to live and die in Callinafercy of which he was so fond.
A great many hard things were said about landlords, but they were pressed by Government for income tax and title rent charge, as well as by holders of head rents and mortgages.
Though he did not give specific examples in his speech, the Marshalls had in fact paid head rents for Callinaferey to the Godfreys of Kilcolman Abbey, as well as to Lord Headly, for other property.
Captain Marshall referred to his grand uncle John Markham Marshall, whom he credited with draining bogs, improving the river banks and building roads. When he died, John Markham Marshall left the estate to his nephew, Richard John Leeson, on condition that he adopt the name of Marshall, which he did by Royal Licence in the year 1852.
It was this Richard John who built the country house in 1861 and who died suddenly while visiting the Knight of Kerry in Valentia in the year 1877. He is buried in the White church Milltown, where a Celtic cross marks his grave, his wife, Rebecca, originally from Lismore, County Waterford, buried there.
Captain Leeson-Marshall did not, of course, allude to this family history in his speech, but rather recommended to his former tenants to invest in their property. “Your Land is now your own. Every penny you put into it in lime, in manure, in drains, will be there for the good of yourselves, your Sons, your grandsons.”
He himself had put £100 into a Scottish railway and £45 into a hay barn in Callinafercy. The dividend from his railway investment went down and down till it stopped entirely the previous year. His hay barn, however, continued to give a return of £8 a year.
They were badly served by the system of National Education, good as it was, it did not help the farmer. It might suit the English middle classes, who had hopes of becoming clerks and artisans, but “Our children should learn something that would be of practical use to them in the open air.”
M.P. Mr O’Donnell cited the example of Denmark as an instance of what might be achieved. The size of Munster, its butter exports to England were three times those of Ireland. The Danes were better farmers, simply because they were better trained, which was why the Dept. of Agriculture should send out instructors to teach improved methods of farming. Finally, he encouraged everyone to “Buy lrish” a sentiment that surely has a resonance for our own times.
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