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Famine Clearances in Toomevara

During the Great Famine and in its immediate aftermath, Irish landlords engaged in a campaign of mass evictions that was unprecedented in its extent and severity. These mass evictions are known as the famine clearances. One relatively moderate estimate puts the numbers permanently expelled from their homes at about half a million persons. This estimate refers to legally sanctioned evictions and does not take account of the countless informal ejections and so-called voluntary surrenders of land during the period.

One of the most emotive aspect of the Great Irish Famine is eviction. The image of an emaciated family hopelessly standing aside as their cottage is demolished endures to this today. Dr Ciarán Reilly of Maynooth University estimates that over 250,000 people were made homeless as a result of eviction during the famine years. Some estimates put the figure at closer to half million. Tipperary was particularly hard hit. By 1847 Tipperary had the highest percentage of evictions in the country. The rate in Tipperary was 10 times that in Fermanagh, the county least effected. Tipperary Libraries

The famine clearance in Toomevara, County Tipperary, A book written by Toomevara native Helen O'Brien examines the effects of the potato famine and evictions from the village of Toomevara from 1845 to 1851, when close to half the population perished or left the area.

O'Brien's title refers to the eviction of 500 villagers on May 28, 1849. This event received coverage in local newspapers and even prompted a discussion in the British House of Commons.

In February 1850, a group of local recruits, known as the "hut tumblers," dismantled the makeshift shelters of approximately 20 evicted families who had chosen not to relocate to neighboring villages or the workhouse. 

Villagers had few options during the Famine, despite the upsetting situation. O'Brien details this with precision. The narrative features many villains, some of whom may be surprising. O'Brien highlights the inactivity of landowners, but the complex system of subleasing meant that agents and subagents made the decisions about who could stay or leave.

During the difficult times in the mid-19th century, some villagers in the area were involved in the destruction of homes during evictions. It is possible that some were motivated by a desire to protect themselves from eviction, while others were promised materials in exchange for their participation.

Toomevara, similar to many other parts of Ireland, experienced significant changes due to the crisis. O'Brien highlights that 187 surnames, which were recorded in parish baptism registers between 1831 and 1852, disappeared from the records after the Famine. This indicates the extent to which deaths and emigrations permanently altered the village. Resentment and bitterness persisted, not only towards the British and Anglo-Irish elite, but also towards fellow Irish who capitalized on the chaos and migrations to expand their own land ownership.

A Lecture by the author of "The famine in Toomevara"

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