Moate historical society hears of 19th century faction fighting

The final lecture of the season for Moate Museum and Historical Society Faction Fighting in 19th Century Ireland was presented by Vera Hughes. Vera, current Vice President of the Society, treated the audience to a very a thoroughly researched, interesting and amusing presentation on this known, but scantily researched, aspect of life in 19th century Ireland. Vera drew much of her information from a slim volume on the subject published in 1975, The Faction Fighters of the 19th Century, by Patrick O"Donnell, (Anvil, 1975) Vera"s own exhaustive research at Athlone and Mullingar provided whatever information there appears to be on this particular activity in the Midlands. What exactly was a faction? Why did these vicious and sometime murderous fights occur? When and where were the battles fought out? Vera outlined the social and political conditions of the period, where the faction fighting fitted into the social structures that existed at the time. Factions were formal entities comprising family or clan members or groups from particular parishes or baronies. Members swore loyalty, bore a collective name, had their own accoutrements, chants and other collective behaviours, even their weapons were named. Faction fighting was highly ritualised and took place at predetermined dates and venues, particularly fairs and patterns. Collective names included - the Caravats, the Shanavests, the Cooleens, the Geevaghs, the Magpies, the Bogboys. Their weapons, usually ash plants or blackthorn sticks, often had very descriptive names 'Bás gan sagart' (death without a priest), 'leagadh gan éiri' (down without rising) although a more common name was 'cleith ailpín' , the Irish for a knobbly stick . Different sticks were used on different occasions and seasoned fighters had their own tried and tested favourites. Vera pointed out that the fighting stick was never known as a 'Shillelagh'. This is an Anglo-Irish derivative used in Britain and the US and used in the tourist scene in Ireland today. Although not common, there were instances of other weapons, such as cudgels, scythes, pitch forks and reaping hooks being used in some parts of the country. The earliest recording of faction fighting was near Clonmel in 1805, with the formation of two factions, the Cravats and the Shanvests, on foot of a conviction of a member of the 'Whiteboys' (an illegal organisation) for the murder of a land grabber named Griffith. This fighting craze spread to other parts of Tipperary, then on to Limerick and Kerry. By the middle of the century faction fighting was a feature in almost all counties (with the notable exception of those counties in the north east of the country). One of the most frightful fights of all took place in June 1834, at Ballyeagh, near Ballybunion, between the Cooleens and the Lawlor Black Mulvihills, in which at least 20 men were killed and hundreds wounded. What of the Midlands? Vera"s research unearthed an instance of a tragic faction fight between the men of Banagher and Lusmagh in January 1814 that resulted in the death of five men. Nearer to Moate in Ballinabarna, faction fighting took place, as early as 1775, at the fair, which was held there every quarter. The factions were known as the 'Wood Boys' and the 'Hill Boys'. The fair of Kilgarvan, was the scene of many a faction fight between Clonfanlough and Castledaly, until forbidden by a member of the Dillon family on acquisition of the rights to the fair. Near Athlone, the Garrycastle race meetings of the 1860s came to an end because of the violence associated with them. The final meet in 1861 'was disgraced by a faction fight of more than ordinary fierceness, which is alleged to have resulted in several deaths'. The Garrycastle factions originated from Drumraney, Ballinahown and Glasson districts and were known as the 'Shanabeens, the 'Keils', the 'Black feet' and the 'White feet'. Faction fighting appears to have tapered out after the famine with the last recorded event occurring at Cappawhite, coincidentally in the county where it is alleged to have started -Tipperary. This article barely touches on the various aspects of the lecture, the extensive research undertaken and the expenditure in time and commitment by Vera Hughes were evidenced by the vast amount of detail presented in the lecture.