The Ejectment Books are a little-known resource, but they contain much information. There are 17 Co. Clare ejectment books (including two that are missing) for the period 1816-1850. There are another 28 books for the years 1850-1914. Co. Clare has the largest number of surviving ejectment books as they were not at the Four Courts when it burned in 1922. Also surviving are the Civil Bills of the Circuit Court.
Throughout the 19th century, Ireland's impoverished tenants eked out a precarious existence from the soil. Since the turn of the century rapid population growth had led to continual sub-division of farms and more marginal land being brought under cultivation. Townlands often teemed with tenants working uneconomic patches of reclaimed bog and mountain. The potato, which was the staple diet of the majority, was a crop subject to frequent blight. Harsh and oppressive laws, unfeeling landlords, the "hanging gale," and the fear of ejectment were features of daily life.
Random evictions had occurred throughout Ireland before the 1840s, but it was the dreadful famine years that turned a stream into a flood. Faced with a blighted potato crop, tenants were often forced to sell everything they had to feed their families. The ramshackle poor law which was intended to provide relief for the distressed now exacerbated a developing crisis. Landlords receiving little or no income from rents were still liable to pay rates on holdings rate at 4 pounds and under. The number of bankrupt estates under the Court of Chancery was evidence of the harsh economic pressures. For some landlords the choice was stark: evict the tenatry or face impoverishment themselves. For other landlords ejectment was an opportunity to be rid of an unnecessary expense. Numerous properties were sold under the Encumbered Estates Act at prices which failed to cover mortgages and debts The new owners, often from the merchant class, were even more relentness in their clearance of tenants than the established landlords.
The sessions in Clare took place at Ennis, Killaloee, Kilrush, Sixmilebridge and Tulla.
Below is a record of a proposed eviction:
Ennis Sessions, Tuesday, March 26th, 1833 - Case #5
M. Greene was the attorney for the plantiffs.
Wm. Causabon Purdon Esq., a prominent East Clare landlord, was the plantiff.
James Touhy and Michl. Ryan are listed and presumed to be legal officers, perhaps process servers or baliffs.
Tenants who are listed as defendants include:
Anne Toohy alias Finaun
John St. Laurence
The reason for the proposed eviction was as follows:
For non-payment of rent of all That and Those that farm in Belkelly formerly in the possession of Dominick Hogan and Peter Hogan, since decd., and now in the poss'ion of said Defts. (defendants). Bounded viz on the North and East sides by Patk. Kelly's farm and by James Barry's and Mathew Ryan's farms; on the South by the part of Doctor MacNamara's farm called Behernagh. Situated in the Parish of Ogonnelloe and Barony of Tulla. Yearly rent 35 pounds late Irish currency. Sum due 135 pounds Sterling present currency.
You can compare this list of the names of tenants being ejected in 1833 with the list of tenants assessed for tithes in 1825 in the tithe applotment book for Belkelly (Purdon) 1825:
James O'Dea, John St. Lawrence, Owen Tuohy, Michael Hourigan, Thos. Sheedy, and Patrick Coffee. Notice spelling variations from record to record. (Info. from article in "Irish Roots" genealogy periodical, 1997.)
The verdict of the court in this case was "Possession Decreed."