Revenue man in Kerry 1869 (1)

I would like to thank Dr. John Knightly for allowing me to copy this from his post in the Milltown & Castlemaine Down Memory Lane FB  page. In this first post this Revenue Officer paints a vivid picture of life in Milltown and its surrounds just twenty years after the Famine. Ebenezer Turner, the Inland Revenue officer, originally from Scotland who was resident in Milltown between 1869 and 1875, writes  his memoirs: Ebenezer Turner “Six Years in Ireland – Part One”, The Venture, Vol. 6, pages 93-111 (Edinburgh, 1897) Milltown is a place of some 700 or 800 inhabitants, situated about 12 miles from the towns of Tralee and Killarney. Its main street is not so wretched in appearance as in reality, being built of stone and roofed with slate: at least one side of the street is so constructed. These houses were built by an enterprising inhabitant[1] in the bad times of 1846-1848 when labour was paid for at the rate of sixpence a day.The back parts of the village are composed of miserable hovels, built very roughly of ill-shaped stones and poor lime; whitewashed sometimes and thatched with straw or reeds. A low door admits the human and animal occupants; a tiny window or two sometimes admits lights. There are of course degrees of wretchedness according to the means and character of the inmates; but none of the houses boast of any better flooring than the hard-beaten earth. A pig usually shared a corner of the one room, fowl commonly perched on the rafters and frequently room is made for a donkey, a goat, and, as I have seen, a cow. The rules of the Revenue Service require an officer to remain one year in a place before asking to move. On reaching Milltown, in the middle of a blustering March day, travelling from Killarney in a covered car like nothing so much as a small prison van, we thought only of the time when we could request to be removed from so undesirable a residence. For three weeks, we lodged at the so-called hotel[2] where the landlord’s sister[3], intensely interested in the unpacking of boxes, thought we could scarcely be properly married, because my wife’s wedding dress was not or bright red, green or yellow silk. Afterwards, we rented a portion of one of the before-mentioned houses, the rooms of which we had to provide with locks, wall-paper and paint, and then had the good fortune to succeed the Methodist Preacher in the occupancy of a cottage with over a quarter of an Irish acre of garden[4] I should say that by this time our ideas of removal had become modified. A few friendly families – two especially – made us feel at home even amid such unaccustomed surroundings and by the time the twelve months had expired we thought no more of an immediate change. A few words as to the social condition of the Irish people may help to explain this. In the more thinly populated districts such as Kerry there is no middle class. All belong to either the “Quality” or to the lower ranks. The few exceptions such as small farmers and the large shopkeepers lean in their habits and sympathies rather to the lower than to the higher stratum. In the district with which I was acquainted, almost all the better class of people were Protestants, by better class I mean the wealthier, more educated and intelligent, I make no reference to morals and character. There were very few poor Protestants. There was one small class known as “Soupers” applied derisively to those who in the famine years relinquished their Roman Catholic faith and joined the Protestants for the sake of the soup which was supposed to be more plentiful or perhaps richer in the latter church. There may have been such cases, of course, but I believe some were so miscalled very unjustly. Another name given to them was “Black Protestants” and as a whole, the class, though small, was very little of one thing or the other – “neither flesh nor fowl, now good red herring”. [1] Cornelius Murphy who built an extensive range of houses during the Famine on the site of the old Tanyard [2] The Godfrey Arms Hotel, The Square, Milltown [3] Helen Isabella Godfrey “Auntie Helen” (1827-1895) [4] 4-8 Church Street, Milltown, location of Methodist missionary in the 1860s  

2 Comments

  1. Eileen Gallagher Eileen Gallagher
    January 24, 2017    

    I loved the article. Thank you. Could you kindly elaborate on the reference to “covered car…not unlike a prison van.” I am of the understanding that cars had not yet been invented,

    • Kay Caball Kay Caball
      January 24, 2017    

      Eileen,I thought it was fascinating too – a stranger tsking it all in. The ‘car’ was not a motor vehicle. It would have been horse drawn but obviously nothing very posh in this case. Another post (no.2) to come before the end of the week.

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