Peter was probably born on the Lough Rynn Estate in Leitrim County, Ireland. (See Note below.).
In 1901, he was a mason’s labourer and, later, a gasworks labourer.
The 1901 census has a wrong birth year. (According to the Census, he was 44 in 1901 – in fact, he was 36.)
Peter MacFarlane’s birth registration shows his place of birth as “Rinn, Leitrim”. This is probably the Rynn Lough Estate of the Earl of Leitrim which is about three miles from the town of Mohill (near the Shannon River) in County Leitrim.
In 1854, the Estate was inherited by William Sydney Clements who was one of the largest landholders in Ireland and who became infamous as one of the most callous and merciless landlords in Irish history.
The labourers on the Estate earned from 6d a day for threshing or pulling turnips to 10d a day for tending cattle. A loaf of bread cost 8d; eggs were 1d each. Each labourer had his own small holding for which between £2 and £5 a year was deducted from his wages. On top of this, work was seasonal and labourers might not get any pay for significant periods of time. They lived in small thatched cottages – often with just one windowless room about 4 metres square. The only furnishings were straw bedding and a cooking pot over a fire. A hole in the roof let out the smoke. They lived on potatoes and milk with occasional herrings or bacon. Lord Leitrim distributed meat as a Christmas treat.
These conditions had come about from the rapid rise in the Irish population which had followed the introduction of the potato. Increasing population led to ever smaller land holdings being inherited. When the “potato blight” ruined the crop in 1845/46, Ireland lost more than a quarter of its population. Initially, the Government established soup kitchens and workhouses for the poor but in 1847, it decided that the cost was too great and passed responsibility to local committees of wealthy landlords. Many of the landlords failed to adequately fund the workhouses and saw emigration of the poor as a far cheaper option. Young women were encouraged to emigrate to America or Australia, while young men were encouraged to seek work in Northern Ireland or Scotland.
The common people also tried to improve their situation, at least for their children. Birth rates decreased through later marriages and education became highly valued. Children learned English (rather than Irish) and literacy rates soared with two-thirds of men being able to read by 1861. Lord Leitrim provided schools for the children on his estates but forbad them from owning books on the grounds that his tenants shouldn’t be able to afford them or have time to read.
Lord Leitrim also attempted to contribute to population control by forbidding tenants increasing the size of their houses to accommodate more children.
The “potato famine” had caused many tenants to fall behind in their rent and Lord Leitrim began to summarily evict them – often by way of a note on the back of a rent receipt. He progressively extended these evictions to anyone who occupied land which he wanted or who disagreed with his policies. At one point he even attempted to evict the local church. (With a force of a thousand soldiers and police confronting six thousand local protestors, the parish priest managed to negotiate a settlement.) Some lucky evictees were given financial assistance in migrating to Scotland.
Lord Leitrim’s policies made him increasingly unpopular. He travelled with an armed bodyguard – with good reason; in 1878, three of his tenants ambushed and killed him. The assassination was seen as a landmark in the fight for Home Rule. (Lord Leitrim’s body was found clutching a handful of red hair and a piece of the scalp of his assassin, so the police expected it would be easy to locate the killer. But it is said that within hours every red-haired man in the county was missing a handful of hair and a piece of scalp. The killers were never convicted.)
Lord Leitram’s successors reversed his harsh policies, allowing evictees to return, giving tenants seed to establish their own crops and an area of bog from which to collect peat for heating.
The 1901 Census shows Peter McFarlane’s parents, James and Bridget McPartlin, still living in the Mohill area as farmers.
Note on the Note:
Lord Leitrim is remembered in many ways:
There is a well-known Irish toast:
“Here’s to the hand that made the ball that shot Lord Leitrim in Donegal”
There are several songs. The ballad “Lord Leitrim” begins:
“You gentlemen of the shamrock pay attention to my ditty
Be alive to your duty, be wise and be witty
Keep your powder dry and we’ll make the tyrants fall
And we’ll give them what Lord Leitrim got below in Donegal.”
Listen to Donal Maguire’s version:
Another song has the verse:
“The tyrant he gave orders before he went away
That evictions should be forced at once, without any more delay,
His bailiffs they should get to work as you might understand
To banish us poor Catholics from our dear native land.”
and listen to Jody Stetcher’s version of the “Lord Leitrim” ballad: