In the previous piece, we reported that Martin Ward had a hardware business in Loughrea under the tenancy of Lord Clanricarde. His refusal to leave when issued with an eviction notice caused his business to come under siege by the police and bailiffs. After the police were attacked with stones, there was a lull in the fighting.
n the previous piece, we reported that Martin Ward had a hardware business in Loughrea under the tenancy of Lord Clanricarde. His refusal to leave when issued with an eviction notice caused his business to come under siege by the police and bailiffs. After the police were attacked with stones, there was a lull in the fighting.
The landlord’s agent, Shaw Tener, then made his way towards Ward’s barricaded shop smoking a cigar, as if his coolness was going to make a difference. One of the defenders hung out a window swinging a frying pan, shouting at him, ‘Come on; bring on the planters’. Tener’s coolness left him and he decided to not get too close to the ‘insurgents’. He retreated when the crowd in the street began shouting abuse at him. Another defender shouted at Inspector Tyacke, ‘Hurry up, will you, the gruel is getting cold!’
Despite overwhelming numbers, the police and bailiffs were unprepared for such resistance and decided to keep their distance. The defenders then began singing patriotic songs, much to the annoyance of the police. The shop looked impregnable and great beams of timber with iron spikes were erected abound the ground floor windows. Planks with logs covered with coils of barbed wire acted as buttresses. A group of defenders armed with long ‘pikes’ were stationed inside the barricades should it be breeched by the police. Behind them was another line of defense. These men were armed with ‘reaping hooks, scythes, pitchforks and blades fashioned into rough swords’. A local musician moved around inside the fortress playing patriotic tunes and a variety of dance melodies of the day. This gave even more determination to the insurgents and was an annoyance to the police.
Inspector Tyacke sent for more reinforcements before storming the shop. A police scouting party, who had made their way to the rear of the building, returned and reported that a storeroom at the back of the shop was left unguarded. Tyacke immediately ordered District Inspector Duffy to take 30 men and attempt a surprise attack at the back of store. They smashed a window to gain access, which attracted the attention of some of the defenders. One of them grabbed a bottle and hit a policeman on the head. He retreated with blood ‘streaming’ down his face.
Bailiffs now joined the police, forcing their way into the building and helping break down the barricades. Meanwhile, the battle also raged in the streets, lanes and archways of the town, with police baton-charging the crowds of demonstrators supporting Martin Ward.
There were severe injuries on both sides, but eventually the shear mass of armed police managed to restore order. It is unclear as to how the siege continued, as one report indicates that Martin Ward watched as his fertilisers, police and bailiffs removed farm implements and other goods from the storeroom. What is certain is that the besieged ‘garrison’ held onto their positions and the police withdrew.
A victory parade was held through the town and bonfires blazed around Loughrea. Martin Ward emerged and addressed the crowd. ‘My heart is full and I am proud of the way the people of Loughrea and the surrounding districts have expressed their approval of the line of action I took in this fight,’ he said.
News of the ‘Siege of Loughrea’ spread internationally. In the British House of Commons the following day, John Redmond, leader of the Irish Party asked what the Government was going to do about the situation as the ‘story of defense of the Ward Fortress was being flashed across the world’. The Chief Secretary for Ireland, J. Bryce, said the law had to be enforced regardless of ‘our opinion as to the justice of that law’. He said that all they could do was to amend laws in cases where it constituted hardship for the people. News of this statement brought new hope to the defenders and the people of Loughrea.
However, this was short-lived, and on Thursday 31 May, a new force of police poured into Loughrea and even more arrived by train. Some people estimated that when the entire force was assembled, there were almost a 1,000 police preparing for an assault on the ‘Ward Fortress’. Nevertheless, they held off attacking when more and more people also began arriving in the town. There was an atmosphere of violent tension over the town. The garrison in the shop became stronger as a rota was drawn up as new men arrived to relieve the others guarding the windows and doorway.
The Bishop of Clonfert, Dr O’Dea became so concerned that he offered Martin Ward a site for a new house or business. However, this was not the answer to the situation; it was now a political and nationalist conflict and Ward and the people of Loughrea were not going to surrender one inch of ground on this issue. They were determined to stand firmly together and their courage held.
Offers of volunteers to support the besieged shop came from as far away as counties Mayo and Clare. Volunteers from around the county were already making their way on foot to Loughrea. Later that day, a bow of black crepe was hung on the door of the besieged shop with the inscription ‘In Memory of Michael Davitt – No Surrender’ as the great Land League Campaigner had died the night before. Public demonstrations of support for the men defending Ward’s Fortress continued in Loughrea every night and parades led by brass bands marched through the streets. Bonfires also raged in the streets.
The British Prime Minister, Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman sent Sir Anthony McDonnell, the Under Secretary for Ireland to Loughrea, with ‘an olive branch and a promise of a ten pound subscription to the Martin Ward fund’. The ‘olive branch’ was the promise of legislation that would be passed immediately to change the law regarding the protection of tenants. A committee was formed to meet with the British Government representatives to arrange a settlement. In his statement, McDonnell said to Ward, ‘You have won and there is no point in going on. Your resistance has impressed on the Government the necessity for immediately passing legislation to prevent recurrences of such cases.’ Thus, ended the Siege of Loughrea.
The green flag continued to fly proudly over Ward’s Fortress for some time after the siege. The window that had been broken at the back of the shop remained in the same condition for over 50 years as a reminder of the fight for justice. In an interview many years later, Martin Ward stated that, while the legislation was passed, ‘the ten pound note stayed in Sir Anthony’s pocket.’
Events of note: The Galway Archaeological & Historical Society Lecture, ‘The History of St Mary’s College, Galway’ by Peadar O’Dowd will take place on Monday, 8 October at 8pm in the Harbour Hotel, Dock Road, Galway. All are welcome to attend.
For those would like more information on Michael Davitt, read Bernard O’Hara’s excellent book ‘Davitt’.
Special thanks to Norman Morgan, Loughrea for his photographs and support with these articles.