Listowel Pitch and Putt club now maintains a course in the Cows' Lawn.
This was the location of much controversy 100 years ago.
PLOUGHING THE COWS LAWN
One hundred years ago this week, a remarkable event took place in Listowel. A courageous action by a group of leaders in the town, armed only with hurleys, struck a non-violent blow on behalf of the people of the town to be masters of their own destiny, and to ‘walk their own land’.
The event itself was the ploughing of the Cows Lawn, the property of Lord Listowel which was eventually to lead to the provision of probably the best loved amenity in the town - the present Town Park.
While a group of people ‘ploughing’ might seem a harmless enough activity, this ploughing was anything but harmless. It led to a number of clashes and confrontations between the police and a number of local men, thirteen of whom were sentenced to 12 months in Cork and Belfast Gaol
To understand what a momentous occasion it was we have only to see the headlines in The Kerryman the following week:
As World War I raged, shortages of food and rising prices in 1917 started to cause distress in the town. The British Ministry of Food set up a food control committee for Ireland on 31 August 1917 and many of its regulations, in theory, applied to this country. Sinn Féin established Food Committees throughout the country and started to organise local markets, distribution of local food at fair prices and arrangements for the poor of the town to get small areas of land or allotments to grow their own food.
In February 1917, Listowel Urban Council Chairman Jack McKenna had been involved in a fruitless exchange of letters with Lord Listowel looking for permission to use 15 to 20 acres of vacant land
to be distributed among ‘artisans, labourers and small traders of the town … on which they could raise food to supplement their small earnings’. While a number of small unsuitable fields had been suggested, these were not acceptable to the Urban Council.
The two fields identified as the most suitable for the purpose were called at the time the Back Lawn and the Front Lawn . These fields were at that time leased from Lord Listowel by two local men and ‘negotiations’ were opened with them to give up their tenancies. John Keane held the front lawn and was willing to give up his tenancy.’Mr Keane was prepared to forego his right for the purpose of enabling the Council to proceed with the scheme, provided that Lord Listowel was satisfied’.
Mr. Kenny who had the grazing of the back lawn was not keen to give up his title. He had a butcher shop – it was absolutely essential to enable him to carry on his trade as a butcher in the adjoining Church St., however he was persuaded to ‘do the right thing’.
On 25th February 1918, tired of waiting for permission, the Sinn Féin Food Committee with the help of the Irish Volunteers from Moyvane, Knockanure, Finuge, Rathea, Ballyconry and Ballylongford marched into the town ‘all armed with hurleys and headed by bands, while ploughs and horses brought up the rear. They were cordially received by the Listowel Company of Irish Volunteers with their brass band. The whole procession, composed of some eleven or twelve hundred Volunteers, marched to the estate office in Feale View at 1.30 o’clock where the above mentioned waited on Mr. M. Hill, who is Lord Listowel’s chief clerk’.
Although Messrs. Kenny and Keane had given up possession, Mr Hill refused to hand over the keys as he had not got orders from Lord Listowel. The Volunteers then broke open the gates leading to the back lawn near the National School house. The ploughs and ploughmen started operations and another section of Vounteers took over the front lawn. Over the following two months, local people continued with tilling the land despite visits from the R.I.C., and the threat of court proceedings which culminated in the imprisonment of thirteen of the ‘offenders’ in Cork and Belfast Gaols.
This was just the start of an endeavour that fifty years later culminated in the acquisition of the two lawns for the people of Listowel. It had taken from the twelfth century, firstly with the Fitzmaurices and then with earls of Listowel as overlords, to put the lands back into the hands of the people of the town.
An illustrated talk on the full history of the Cows Lawn from this event onwards, entitled ‘Sinn Féin v. Lord Listowel 1918’ will be given by Kay Caball at the Seanchaí on Sunday 22nd April 7pm.
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