WHILE Ireland wrestles with a growth in evictions, Irish author Dennis Carey has penned a pertinent historical story of the eviction of a young family from the 1870s. His newly-published book, An Untilled Field, is set in Mayo in the lead up to the Irish Land Wars of the 1880s.
In the story, 16-year-old Liam Walshe’s family are violently evicted from their Mayo home. His parents are taken away by the Royal Irish Constabulary and Liam is left destitute and homeless and caring for his sickly four-year-old brother, Aiden. Liam forms a plan, just as his father taught him to: keep his brother alive, find his parents, and come back to avenge his family’s eviction.
Though a fictional novel, the story is inspired by true events and it is set on and around the Farmhill Estate in the barony of Tirawley that belonged to notorious landowner of the day, Harriet Gardiner. Gardiner, a larger than life character in Irish history, died in 1892 and Carey draws on some of her antics to bring the history of this period to life.
A feared landlord, her tenants were often subjected to prosecution in the courts, intimidation by the Royal Irish Constabulary and imprisonment to make her one of the most abhorrent figures in land ownership.
“Irish history is a rich source of fascinating characters and stories,” Carey said. “I enjoy blending historical fact with fiction and I have drawn on Gardiner’s drinking, her willingness to yield firearms and her determination to achieve what she wanted, specifically the eviction of tenants unwilling or unable to pay the rent she demanded.
“She was reported to have staggered through the streets of Ballina, a shotgun cradled over her arm, shouting abuse at anyone who would listen. She certainly does this in the book.
“Whilst researching the book, I visited the site of Farmhill House, Gardiner’s home at the time, near Kincon. The house has gone but the 20ft-high garden wall, erected in 1824, still stands and features in the story.”
Gardiner’s behaviour was regularly documented in contemporary editions of The Connaught Telegraph by its owner and editor, James Daly, who also features in An Untilled Field.
Carey, a native of Mayo, moved to Coventry when he was three and now lives with his wife in Northamptonshire. He has been writing full-time since leaving education in August 2014. This is the second book. The first, The Ditcher, is an account of Bord na Móna establishing its milled peat extraction site in Bangor Erris in the 1950s.
An Untilled Field is available to order at Carabine's Centra in Bangor Erris, Eurospar in Belmullet, and to download or order in paperback from Amazon.