The Whiteboys were a so called secret society which was formed in the the middle of the 1700's in Ireland...usually refered to as Levellers by the authorities and as Queen Sive Oultaghs children by the Whiteboys themselves, they were intent on targeting the landlords and the tithe collectors.

They concentrated on filling in the ditches which closed off the common lands to the tenant farmers and dug up the orchards belonging to the landlords because growing fruit meant less grazing land for their own animals...but eventually their methods of rebellion became more violent...in particular the houghing of cattle and sheep...a deliberate maiming of the animals during the night so they could not be sold or traded.

Proclamations were posted to persuade tenants not to pay their rents and not to pay any tithes nor collect the tithes demanded by the Anglican Church...these proclamations were often signed by a 'Captain Moonlight'...they sent threatening letters not only to the landlords themselves but to their bailiffs and debt collectors...

The threat of violence was always there and it was when the Whiteboys marched on military barracks in remote towns...firing their guns and taunting the troops while playing the Jacobite tune...The Lad with the White Cockade...that the authorities decided enough was enough and sent a force of militia under the Marquis of Drogheda to Munster to finally crush the Whiteboys...

By the following month scores of Whiteboys had been arrested but it was a priest who suffered the most, Father Nicholas Sheehy had supported the general principle of the Whiteboys campaign against the payment of tithes and had collected money to defend some of his parishioners who'd been accused of rioting...the priest was found guilty on a fabricated charge of murder and was hanged, drawn and quartered in Clonmel in 1766.

One can only presume that the captured Whiteboys suffered the same fate.

I suppose the history of the secret societies...after the Whiteboys were crushed came the Steelboys and the Defenders and the quaintly named Peep-O'-Day Boys...is difficult for us to grasp...the wanton violence they used for instance...deliberating maiming cattle, sheep and horses...the cruelties they meted out to bailffs and debt collectors...burying the naked men in deep pits filled with thorny branches was a favourite...we might recoil with horror and disgust but you need to always keep in the back of your mind the severe oppression suffered by all of Irelands poorer classes at the hands of the wealthy landowners.

As I wrote the other day, Paddy's barn was used as a meeting place for the local group of Whiteboys...odd to think of them just up the road from us meeting together dressed in their 'uniform' of a white top shirt, planning a raid on the local landlords cattle or marching to the barracks to harungue the Light Dragoons with rebel songs and the beating of drums...perhaps they sat at a wooden table with clay pipes lit and rush lights casting a wavering light as they composed the latest threatening letter to the bailiff or the local tithe collector...

By the 1800's the rebellion against the oppressive landlords had reached new heights with the blatant murders of the worst of them and the deliberate destruction of the big houses...

It is only by seeing how the rich lived in the few remaining furnished houses which are open to the public...and then travelling the back roads and catching sight of whole townlands deserted and ruined...abandoned by their tenants during the Great Famine years or simply left to rot after evictions...that you begin to slowly understand the divide between those who owned huge portions of Ireland and those who laboured daily to keep paying their rent and to keep a roof over their heads.