Much has been written; regarding the Irish Potato Famine and the subsequent destruction it caused to the indigenous Irish between 1845 and 1852. Similarly much is known of the ill-feeling and discontent between the Irish and the supplanted English who had control of Ireland, her resources, finances, governance, religion and indeed people during this time.
It should then come as no surprise then that we have been able to find at least some of the role that our Larkin family played in resistance during these dark times. Our Larkin’s were agricultural people. Small tenant farmers in the county now known as Offaly but at the time King’s County in the province of Leinster. The area is located in the Irish midlands. Ferbane itself being a small land-locked rural village. Eighteen-forty-nine found the Irish deep in the grip of the famine. Food was scarce and similarly the more-wealthy land-lords were now actively using their agents to forcibly remove tenant farmers and their families from their small-holdings and were ‘throwing-down’ their houses once they were emptied. The term throwing-down meaning to destroy the home so that it could not be reinhabited once the agent and constables had left. A widely unpopular move that caused extreme hatred amongst the poorer people towards these agents and indeed the land-lords. The constabulary of the day were engaged in carrying out these reprehensible actions. The newspaper I have used for research here discusses in other articles the wide practice of night-time raids on properties of wealthier farmers and land-lords and ‘carrying away their corn’. This meaning that bands of the poorer people would gather under the protection of night and numbers and then raid these crops and steal away the food for their own and neighbours use. A highly risky activity that if caught in the act would see you most likely shot at and if you were taken into custody you would appear before the quarter-sessions. The sentence could range from imprisonment, hanging right through to transportation to the colonies. Back in England there was a dearth of compassion for the plight of the Irish which exceeded even the grim attitudes they held towards their own English poor at the time in its cruelty.
One night of the 14th October, 1849 around 1am a group of about thirty-men from the local villages travelled to Killoughey. They were not meaning to carry away in their arms the crops either. They took with them horses and carts so they meant- business. The property they assailed was that of a tenant named John Keys who asked the constables who attended to let this be, however the constable would not and a fight ensued. Keys was a tenant of the Reverend John Baldwin so who knows whether this had been set up beforehand? Anyway shots rang out between both sides and one constable was killed and four more wounded in the affray. The constables wounded were Balfour, Gleeson, Doyle, Hall (who had argued and scuffled with Keys) and sub-constable Patrick Mortimer who was shot dead. By this time the mob who appeared to be well-organised and well-armed had swelled to about fifty. The constables retreated to their barracks and it was believed that some of the mob members must have been injured, some perhaps grievously as blood marks were later found along the road-ways in the light of day. Following the mob outbreak significant numbers of armed reinforcements were brought into the area and stationed whilst a thorough search was done in the district for any who might have participated. A coroner and magistrates were also brought in. Offenders located were brought to Tullamoore where they were held pending their appearance at the assizes. A hand-picked ‘suitable’ jury was rapidly put together. Eleven Protestants, eleven Catholics and one Quaker (all deemed to be respectable men, made up the jury). During the court-case the witnesses for the prosecution stated that about thirty shots had been fired in the affray to the best they could recall.
The witnesses would also state that they did not fire until they were fired upon and that they had thought it was John Keys who gave the mob the order to fire upon them. They also stated there were between 100 and 300 people in the field and on the road-ways they felt that night. Men who were charged with being at the affray were relatives of John Keys, being Joseph Keys and Michael Keys. Joseph Keys property was searched, a gun was found, the coroner stated that the gun was the gun used in the murder of Mortimer (bullet matched gun and recent evidence of firing). As a result Joseph Keys was committed to stand trial for his murder.
Following the incident, a head-constable and ten constables, were brought in from Dublin and stationed at Killloughy. Now here is where it gets interesting. John Keys was located in the searches. He was found and believed to have been ‘being hid’ by Patrick Larkin at Cornamona near Shannonharbour. Another prisoner was found hiding at Michael Larkin’s home in Ferbane. (We have to think that this is our Michael Larkin, father of John Larkin (who came to Australia). Given the rapacity with which the constables were gathering together any and all offenders or those they believed to have been involved it is highly likely that the Larkin’s found themselves swept up into this mix. Particularly as they were harbouring fugitives. Killoughy to Ferbane is 26 mile.
Now on the day preceding the nights affray an agent of Sir Gore Booth, Charles Gage, Esq (denoting that he was considered a man of respectable means) was shot dead on his way to prayers.
Sunday, October 14, 1849 – This morning as this unfortunate gentleman was riding to prayers on one of the tenants’ horses, he was shot dead on the road coming out of Creggan townland, a little above the bridge which divides Ferbane townland and Curraghdown. He fell dead off his horse, and was completely riddled from under his ear down to the lowest rib, on the left side. There were two shots fired at him both at the same instant. It is supposed three men were engaged in the dreadful affair; they were behind the ditch on Ferbace or Corr side, a place well selected for such a villainous deed. There was a country-man chatting him along at the time, and he fell completely over on the man, who being on his right side, received no injury. It is an awful sight. I was out and saw the poor fellow lying on the road just as he fell. His neckerchief was blown into bits, and some of it got in Royston’s field on the opposite side. As yet (4 o’clock p.m.) no clue to the murderer. The police are all out. The fellows fled in the direction of Corr or Ballinahown. Escape of Mr. Cage was impossible, as he could not have been more than five yards from the muzzles of their deadly weapons; and the villains were so completely concealed behind the hedge escape was impossible. We are all excitement here. – The Kings County Chronicle and General Provincial Intelligencer
Wednesday 14th November 1849.