Resisting the “Constable Leahy Tax”

On , police fired on rent strikers in Mitchelstown (Ireland), killing three, in what became known as the “Mitchelstown Massacre.” The authorities went above and beyond the usual whitewash of police brutality by awarding a £1,000 judgment to a constable who was wounded in the course of the massacre, which would be raised by an additional tax on the Irish — one that would come to be called the “Constable Leahy Tax.”

Naturally, the tax didn’t sit well in Ireland.

In , a Thomas Condon, a member of Parliament, appeared at a rally, where he was said to have told the crowd:

“You have heard from Mr. O’Brien and Mr. Healy that a tax of £1,000 is being levied off the barony for his unconstitutional conduct in being the first to lead the baton party that broke through your meeting on . I hope the men of the barony of Condons and Clongibbons will do in the future as they have done in the past — namely, organize themselves to make the collection of that tax as difficult and expensive for these landlords and for the taxgatherers. All this may be illegal. I do not know whether it is or not, and, furthermore, do not care. It is quite possible that you will have policemen out in a day or two, but I will ask you to feed yourselves and your families before you part with this money for Constable Leahy.… I hope that you will send back a message to the Grand Jury of Cork that by the time this tax is collected it will cost them ten times more than the original tax levied. I have not the slightest doubt but that you will make the collection of this tax impossible, and that before a few months they will have reason to remember it. This is no time to be mealy-mouthed in speaking on these subjects.

Condon was prosecuted for giving this speech, which the prosecutor characterized as engaging “in a criminal conspiracy to induce certain persons not to fulfill their legal obligations, to wit, to pay a certain tax” (and that furthermore the meeting he spoke at was itself an unlawful assembly of an illegal organization — the Irish National League). Edward Gibson, the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, characterized the case this way:

It was an offense so obvious and so patent that the laws of no country could exist if words recommending that taxes and rates should not be paid were allowed to pass without notice, and if such language was not to be punishable the laws of no country would be able to keep civil society together. The advice of Mr. Condon had, unfortunately, been taken, and efforts were being made to make the collection of that tax, as Mr. Condon had advised, as difficult as possible.… Placards had been posted within the last few days actually quoting portions of the speech… showing the danger of using such language and the necessity of bringing those persons who employed it to the test of legal examination…

I’ve found one or two references to Irish tax resistance that explicitly mention the “Constable Leahy Tax” in old newspaper archives.

Here’s one from the “Irish News” column of the New Zealand Tablet from :


At the recent Mitchelstown Petty Sessions decrees were granted against 40 farmers for non-payment of the Leahy tax. Mr. Eaton, R.M., said that if civil taxes were not collected there was an end to civil government in Ireland. As the presentment to the murdering constable was granted by a landlord Grand Jury the people see no moral obligation to pay it.

The Mayor visited the political prisoners confined in Cork Gaol on . Mr. Condon, M.P., who, during the three weeks of his incarceration has been sleeping on the plank bed, has been supplied with a mattress. In answer to an inquiry from the Mayor, the honorable gentleman stated he had slept well the previous night, and added that during the time he was on the plank bed he did not enjoy, on an average, two hours’ sleep each night.

That column also noted a strategy for evading property seizure in Kerry:

For some time past cattle-seizing for rent on the Kenmare estate has been carried on unceasingly, and the feeling of terror and insecurity which has been created by this spoiliation amongst the unfortunate tenantry can scarcely be realised by people outside the farming circle. In many districts, whilst the cattle are grazing during the day in the fields, sentinels are posted lest the landlord’s bailiff should pounce upon them unawares, and carry them off, and to such an extent has this feeling of insecurity reached, that if a number of strange men are seen approaching in the distance, the alarm is given by the blowing of a horn, or in some other significant manner, and the cattle are driven off the land, to escape being captured. Then again at night the same precautions are taken. The poor people are obliged to keep their cattle in their dwelling-houses until morning and where this can’t be conveniently done, for want of accommodation or otherwise, a close watch is kept on them, lest the dreaded bailiff should come “like a thief in the night” and sweep them off as his prey.

The “Dublin Notes” column in that same issue had this note:

Mr. Therry, and his sub-bailiff Dwane, continue to play the part of Highland caterans all around Fermoy and Mitchelstown, in the endeavour to collect the Leahy impost. They make forays at unearthly hours of the morning, under the protection of strong bodies of police, and seize the very best stock they can lay their hands on. The cattle thus taken are subjected to the roughest hurrying and chasing, so that by the time they are bought in at the pound, they must considerably be deteriorated in value. Removable Eaton continues his mingled policy of bullying and soft-sawder to secure a victory for the blood-stained coercionists. On , at the Conna Petty Sessions, he delivered another very eloquent homily, on the duty of the subject and the constitutional aspect of the question of resisting such imposts. He would grant the same heavy costs as he had already granted, he said, but he knew Mr. Therry wouldn’t press for them if the people would only pay the levy. This he was sure they would willingly do, but for the efforts of the agitators. It was folly, he added, to think that the tax could be successfully resisted, as the Government would give every assistance towards collecting it. Mr. Eaton’s memory is bad. He forgets that Limerick and Derry have successfully resisted taxes which they believed unjust. The next interesting phase of this contest will arise when it is attempted to levy the tax from the Fermoy Town Commissioners. This body held its last public meeting on , and while resolving to pay the ordinary county cess to the Grand Jury, it was decided to ignore the Leahy tax altogether. It was decided that if a claim were furnished for the tax by the Grand Jury the applicants should be told to “furnish again.” This resolution accurately reflects the sentiment of the immense majority of the people. A little incident which occurred at Fermoy a few days ago shows their determination. A farmer drove his cart slowly through the town, displaying on the back of his vehicle, the placard containing the extract from the Daily News, which the police have been so furiously tearing down, and besides it another, stating that the barony of Condons and Clongibbon would follow the example of Clare in resisting the blood-tax. This daring defiance of police sentiment was perfectly successful, as no attempt to interfere with the farmer or his placards was made.

The (Rockhampton, Queensland) Morning Bulletin published this note in its edition:

Mr. James Rice Kent, who has taken an active part in the resistance to the Leahy tax, was, at the Fermoy Petty Sessions, fined 20s., or, in default, a fortnight’s imprisonment, for blowing a horn after the police escort conveying a Leahy tax prisoner to gaol, and shouting “Remember Mltchelstown.” On the application of the Constabulary a warrant was issued, and the police searched several houses for the accused, who managed to escape.