A fascinating Mayo story of pipes and politics
How the discovery of a clay pipe in Ballyheane revived memories going back over 180 years
by Dolores Heneghan
In these days of seemingly never ending lockdowns and the general monotony of life at the moment, sometimes it’s the seemingly mundane things that provide interest.
A few weeks ago, my daughter Katie and my husband, Michael, were walking on family land, land which has been in the family going back at least 200 years plus.
Looking around the field my daughter noticed a white object sticking up out of the ground.
Upon closer inspection, she discovered a clay pipe, missing its stem.
She brought it home, and showed it to me. I washed it, and left it on the window sill, thinking very little of it.
A common find; nothing special. Yet, a few days later, when I examined the pipe again I noticed the number 43 on its bowl.
I assumed it was a manufacturer’s serial number but being curious I decided to find out more. I discovered that the ‘43’ referred to 1843.
In 1843, known as the Year of Repeal, O’Connell, as part of his Repeal movement, organised a series of more than forty enormous or ‘monster’ meetings across the three southern provinces of Ireland. This repeal movement was endorsed by the Catholic Church.
These gatherings were arguably the largest mass phenomenon in modern Irish history. Clay pipes were often given out at these meetings as a token, to mark the occasion. One of these meetings took place in Castlebar in July 1843.
Daniel O’Connell, known as The Liberator, established the Repeal Association in 1840 in a bid to repeal the Act of Union of 1800, which removed the parliament in Ireland to Great Britain.
Up to this point there had been a parliament in Ireland for just over 700 years. It was a bid to restore Ireland’s legislative independence under the British crown but this time with greater Catholic participation.
This was now possible following the Act of Emancipation in 1829 which repealed the remaining oppressive Penal Laws which had existed since 1792 and permitted Catholics to sit in parliament for the first time.
The Repeal Association was a mass membership political movement, with members paying subscriptions, collected by repeal wardens, and they were issued membership cards.
It operated at a parish level and was also known as Catholic rent.
O’Connell was opposed to violence and instead wanted to put pressure on the Crown to restore parliament by peaceful means, and monster meetings became a vehicle for mass agitation. O’Connell travelled up to 5,000 miles by coach, and addressed 31 of these meetings.
No mean feat for a man of nearly 70 years of age! Tens of thousands of people were reported to have attended these meetings. However, it’s difficult to be sure of exact numbers.
For example, one of the meetings held at Tara, County Meath, was reported to have between 500,000 and 800,000 in attendance.
The Castlebar meeting took place on July 31, 1843. Again, it’s difficult to get an accurate number of how many people attended.
Reports of attendance number vary from 7,000 to 150,000 (as reported in The Connaught Telegraph), depending on the political leanings of those reporting.
The meeting was held on The Mall (known then as The Green). A platform was erected which could hold up to 300 people.
At 12 noon, O’Connell approached Milebush, accompanied by Archbishop of Tuam, John McHale, whose residence he had stayed at the night before.
Archbishop McHale, born in Lahardane, was a staunch supporter of O’Connell. O’Connell dubbed him the ‘Lion of the Fold’.
At Milebush, O’Connell was met by the various tradesmen associations. These tradesmen formed a procession, each trade carrying their own banner.
The procession was made up of gardeners, linen weavers, victuallers, shoemakers, bakers, stonemasons, blacksmiths, carpenters.
In the procession were also tradesmen from Westport, Ballina, Foxford, Swinford, Kiltimagh, Claremorris, Ballinrobe, Kilmaine, Hollymount, and Cong.
These groups were accompanied by various bands, such as the Ballina, Kiltimagh and Galway Temperance Bands.
The Westport band was drawn in a boat, resembling a ship, drawn by four horses. O’Connell’s coach was preceded by the Castlebar Temperance Band.
Fr. Theobald Matthew, founder of the Teetotal Abstinence Society, had preached in Castlebar just three years previously. O’Connell had attended his sermon.
Upon reaching Castlebar, O’Connell attended a sermon in the Catholic church, preached by Dr. McHale.
Afterwards, on The Green, speeches commenced. O’Connell spoke at length about the Repeal movement and said he came “to know if the men of Castlebar area were as true to Ireland as the rest of Connaught.”
The crowd cheered. He emphasised the pacifist philosophy of the meetings, and criticised the men of Ahascragh for a riot that had broken with the authorities over the removal of a triumphal arch, erected for the occasion of the Galway meeting.
Their actions would mean their membership of the Repeal Association would be revoked.
He also quashed rumours that Protestants has been obstructed from attending church service by the Repealers. He said that in fact they had come out into the church yards to look upon the spectacle of the meeting.
Afterwards, there was a public dinner arranged by the Mayo Repealer’s Movement in Sheridan’s Great Rooms, catering for up to 300 people.
Amongst the attendees were Frederick Cavendish, editor of The Connaught Telegraph, estate holders such as Maurice Blake Esq, Ballinafad, Thadeus O’Dowda Esq, Bonniconlan, Valentine O’Connor Blake Esq, Carnacon, to name but just a few, and 80 clergy men. Toasts were made to the health of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband. Archbishop McHale gave a speech.
However, going back to the initial topic of the clay pipe. Pipe smoking was a socially prevalent activity in Ireland. Both men and women smoked pipes.
The tobacco smoked was predominantly Virginia tobacco. In Ireland, clay pipes were known as dúidins or Ha’ Mercy’s, as they were given out at wakes where upon the grateful recipient would say “Lord have mercy on them”- the person being waked.
In Scotland, they were known as cuttys and in England as nose-warmers. Peig Sayers was photographed smoking a dúidin.
The stem of the pipes was often dipped in whiskey or Guinness to add flavour.
Generally, the smaller the pipe bowl the older the pipe, as tobacco was expensive initially and as it became cheaper, bowls became bigger.
There was also a small spur at the base of the bowl, so that the pipe could sit upright when placed on a flat surface.
Clay pipes were cheap but one of the disadvantages of them was that the bowl would become very hot after a while. Also, the stem was easily broken and the pipe was then discarded.
This accounts for the large amount of broken pipes that are found. Clay pipes often represented an owner’s political affiliations and it was quite common for pipes to have a nationalist emblem such as a harp, shamrock, Red Hand of Ulster or inscriptions such as ‘Home Rule’, ‘Who Dares Speak of ’98?’, ‘Repeal’, or, as in the case of our pipe, a number representing the Repeal Movement.