In Ireland, tithes were not introduced until the Synod of Cashel in 1171, and then were confined mainly to areas under Anglo-Norman control. In theory, the revenue from tithe divided into four parts: one for the upkeep of the clergyman, another for Poor Relief, a third for Church Maintenance and Education and the fourth for the Bishop. Practice did not follow theory, and by the 18th century, the tithe had become the exclusive property of the clergy. From Tudor times on, the Church of Ireland became the established church and consequently, the Tithe revenue went to the upkeep of the clergy of that church.
The roots of the Battle of Carrickshock can be traced to the implementation of the iniquitous tithe tax that came into being in the difficult harvest which followed in the immediate aftermath of the Napoleonic wars.
The opposition was a compound of religious and economic objections. Catholics, Presbyterians, Quakers, Methodists and other non-Anglicans considered having to contribute to the maintenance of a Church of which they were not members. This factor aggravated the basic economic objections on which opposition to tithes was chiefly based. This was also a separate payment from the rent owed to landlords. This event was very much borne out of the collision between the policy of the Crown and local emotion. Frustration among the locals was rife, who felt they were the victims of an unjust taxation regime.
On 12 December Edmund Butler set out, protected by 38 constables under the command of a sub-inspector, Captain James Gibbons, a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars. Although the notices were delivered peacefully for two days, a group of locals gathered on the evening of 13 December. The locals had been exasperated by insulting behaviour from Butler. A man wearing a sash warned the collectors that trouble would ensue if they returned the following day; this man was later reputed to be William Keane, a hedge schoolmaster and veteran of the 1798 United Irishmen Rebellion who had arrived in nearby Ballyhale in 1830.
On 14 December, Butler’s party was followed through the morning by bands of locals in paramilitary formation, summoned by blowing of horns and ringing of bells in the local Catholic chapels. About midday they were on the way from Ballyhale to Hugginstown when they were confronted in a boreen in the townland of Carrickshock Commons. The lane was flanked by high stone walls, and one or two thousand locals barred the route and surrounded Butler’s group, shouting “We’ll have Butler or blood!” A youth ran into the party and grabbed Butler, who was pulled back by a constable. The youth was bayoneted by two constables and shot by Gibbons. Butler was struck on the head by a stone hurled from the crowd. Captain Gibbons ordered his men to open fire; they got off 20 rounds but could not reload in the confined space. The crowd began hurling rocks from the walls onto the party. Within five or ten minutes the affray was over; Butler, Gibbons, and 11 constables had been killed or mortally wounded, and 14 constables severely injured, by blows from rocks, mallets and hurleys and stab wounds from pikes and scythes. Three locals were killed and an unknown number injured.
The trials of the Carrickshock defendants took place the following July, with Daniel O’Connell appearing for the defence. A lady named Catherine Danagher, age 20, a native of Hugginstown, reputedly of easy virtue, was the girlfriend of Thomas Keegan, a local policeman. She was present at Carrickshock and known to have made statements identifying people present. It was conveyed to her that discretion might be advisable, and she agreed to emigrate. A passage to Newfoundland, in the name of Mary Ryan, was booked on a ship out of Waterford. She was given £40 from the defence fund and accompanied by two men and a woman, taken to Waterford and put on board the ship as it was about to sail. Apart from the police, the crown were now unable to procure any independent witness for the prosecution. Good homework by the defence gave O’Connell an opportunity to use with effect his favourite tactic of impeaching witnesses and destroying their credibility. There were four separate trials, on each occasions the jury refused to convict. The release of the prisoners met with wide rejoicing and was a serious blow to the authorities.
The tithe system spoke volumes of the stance adopted by British officialdom in Ireland during the period. The so-called Tithe War ranged from 1831-1836 featuring numerous instances of violence.
Then lithe as mountain hare –
‘And that is not a vaunt –
James Treacy grabbed the proctor,
Saying: ‘This is the man we want!’
A peeler grabbed the proctor back,
’Twas but a brief respite,
For Butler’s skull was broken
By rock and mallet smite.
Pitchfork, scythe and hurley
Were used to maim and kill
In that brief but savage battle
That makes one shudder still.’
Image | Battle of Carrickshock monument, Carrickshock Commons, Kilkenny, erected in July 1925, in memory to the three locals killed: James Treacy (the bayoneted youth), Patrick Power, and Thomas Phelan | Photographer: kevinb1115