William Steuart Trench


Life
1808-1872; b. near Portarlington; 4th son of Thomas Trench, dean of Kildare; ed. Royal School, Armagh, and TCD; land agent to estates of Marquis of Lansdowne in Kerry, 1849, and properties of Marquis of Bath in Monaghan, 1851, and Lord Digby in Offaly, 1859; also agent to the Shirley estates in Monaghan; object of several unsuccessful assassination attempts by Ribbonmen;
 
issued Realities of Irish Life (5 edns. in 1868), in which he spoke of it as his ‘lot to live surrounded by a kind of poetic turbulence and almost romantic violence, which I believe could scarcely belong to real life in any other country of the world; deemed by some to give the best account of pre-Famine Irish district; held that emigration ‘gives us room to be civilised;
 
also Ierne, a novel from the same material; d. Carrickmacross; bur. Donaghmoyne Churchyard, Co. Monaghan; he was directly instrumental in the dismissal on moral grounds of Peter Kevany, the grandfather of Patrick Kavanagh, from his post as headmaster of Kednaminsha Nat. School, Co. Monaghan. ODNB DIB DIW FDA OCIL IF

[ top ]

Works
Realities of Irish Life (Longmans 1868; 3rd. edn. 1869); Do., with Preface by Patrick Kavanagh (London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1966) [infra]; Ierne, A Tale, 2 vols. (Longmans, Green 1871).

Public Record Office of Northern Ireland holds Report on the Shirley Estate (1843) as D3531/S/55.

[ top ]

Criticism
Gerard J. Lyne, The Lansdowne Estate in Kerry under the Agency of William Steuart Trench, 1842-72 (Dublin: Geography Publications, 2001), lxxvi, 764pp. [winner if NUI Prize for best historical research, 2001];

See also num. studies of the Irish famine including Colm Tóibín & Diarmaid Ferriter, The Irish Famine: A Documentary (London: Profile Books 1999).

[ top ]

Commentary
Hubert Butler, Grandmother and Wolfe Tone (1990), “In Monaghan” [chap.], writes of Donaghmoyne Church, relics of W. S. Trench, author of Realities of Irish Life, under white marble Celtic cross; agent to Mr Shirley and Marquess of Bath, with a sway over 44,000 acres; Canon OHanlon, writing of Donaghmoyne, refers to him as the notorious calumniator and exterminator of the people of Farney, and DC Rush, historian of Monaghan, has him a liar and a briber of agents provocateur; Lord Bath, a humane and progressive landlord, thought highly of him. Hubert remarks, ‘his first book (1868), suggests that his considerable literary gifts tempted him sometimes to colourful exaggeration but [that] on the whole he brought peace to the barony and served an unpopular regime with a loyalty that was tempered by humanity. His son illustrated the book with a superabundance of filial piety. In picture after picture Trench, a figure of scriptural beauty, faces alone and unarmed a mob of drink-sodden paddies brandishing shillelaghs and hurling bottles and turnips. Though his shirt is torn from his back and his limbs are bleeding, he is undaunted. [...; 116] The ensuing pages contain a reference to a Thornton [O Draignean], called in Trench ‘an idle, good-for-nothing fellow, weak, small and cunning, who plotted to kill Trench, and next turned informer, so that two companions were hanged in Monaghan gaol [118]. Even Rush and OHanlon would not deny that ‘even at his worst he gave his tenants the care that a good stock-breeder gives to his stock. They prospered and multiplied &c. (p.118.)

[ top ]

Sr. Una Agnew, The Mystical Imagination of Patrick Kavanagh (Dublin: Columba Press 1998), gives an account of the disgrace of Kavanagh's grandfather Peter Kevany, Principal of Kednaminsha Nat. School, Inniskeen, ending: ‘The full tragedy of the story [of Peter Kevany and Nancy Callan] becomes evident from official records at the National Archives in Dublin. It was Stuart [sic] Trench, then manager of the Bath Estate schools, who compounded the injury further by reporting his teacher to the Commissioners of Education. [...; 144] On 4 April 1855, the Commissioners received a letter from Stuart Trench stating that he had suspended a teacher for “immorality” as “he has been for some time living with a widow who is with child by him and not married to him.” Trench enclosed a letter from Kevany requesting forgiveness and promising amendment. Three weeks later came the dreaded ultimatum that Kevany would be “immediately removed from the school [and that] they would not again recognise him as a National School teacher. This action ensured Kevany's public disgrace. His salary was suspended forthwith, and a notice served that the school would be closed until further notice. / Kevany was forced to leave the area though he continued to plead his case with the Commissioners [...]’. (pp.144-45.)

Gerard Lyne, review of L. Perry Curtis, Jnr., The Depiction of Eviction in Ireland 1845-1910 (UCD Press 2011), notes that Trench provided assisted emigration for some 4,000 evicted tenants who were conveyed by cart to ships in Cobh Harbour - rather than 14,000 who were forced to go on foot - as Curtis suggests. (The Irish Times, 1 Oct. 2011, Weekend, p.13.)

[ top ]

References
Henry Boylan, Dictionary of Irish Biography (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1988): William Steuart Trench, 1808-1872; land agent and author; b. Co. Laois, cousin of Richard Chenevix T.; ed. Armagh Royal Sch., and TCD; Agricultural medal for essay on land reclamation; agent of Shirley estate, Co. Monaghan, 1843; afterwards for Lords Landsdowne, Bath and Digby; Irish Realities (1868), a distillation of 20 years experience including the Famine; Edinburgh Review thought it had the force, humour and pathos of Dickens at his best; also Ierne: A Tale (1871). Sketches of Life and Character in Ireland, in the monthly Evening Hours, 18271-1872. d. Co. Monaghan, at Lord Baths seat, Carrickmacross. ODNB, nephew of Lord Ashtown.

[ top ]

Stephen Brown, Ireland in Fiction: A Guide to Irish Novels, Tales, Romances and Folklore [Pt. I] (Dublin: Maunsel 1919), gives bio-dates: 1808-1872; agent to Marquess of Landsdowne, Marquess of Bath, and Lord Digby; respected by the people; opinion of Irish character very high; views set forth in Realities of Irish Life. Brown also lists a novel, Ierne, 2 vols. (Longmans 1871) [study of agrarian crime using material collected for a history of Ireland not published owing to feelings over Land Bill; shows causes of obstinate resistance of Irish to measures undertaken for the benefit, and the method of cure, cited from Baker].

[ top ]

Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 2; selects Realities of Irish Life [145-58], ‘Dark whisperings and rumors of famine in its most appalling form began to reach us, but still we could scarcely believe that men, women, and children were actually dying of starvation in thousands. Yet so it was. They died in the mountain glens, they died along the sea-coast, they died on the roads, and they died in the fields; they wandered in the towns, and died in the streets; they closed their cabin doors and lay down upon their beds, and died of actual starvation in their houses. ... Why should these things be? ... Why should these people die? Irish Realities, Chap. VII, “The Potato Rot” (1868); 206: BIOG & WORKS [as supra].

[ top ]

Quotations
Potato Famine: ‘Nothing but the successive failures of the potato [...] could have produced the emigration which will, I trust, give us room to be civilised. (Cited in History Ireland, 1, 3, Autumn 1993.)

[ top ]

Realities of Irish Life (1868): ‘[H]aving resigned Mr Shirleys agency went to reside at Cardtown, his place in Queens County; ‘The reclamation of my mountain property [by planting potato tubers with guano] had been a subject of considerable interest to many of the most intelligent agriculturalist in Ireland [...] silver medal [...] gold medal [Royal Society of Agriculture in Ireland] [...] On August 1 of that calamatous year I was startled by hearing a sudden and strange romor [sic] that all the potato fields in the district were blighted [...] the fearful stench [...] my own losses and disappointments, deeply as I felt them, were soon merged in the general desolation, misery, and starvation which now rapidly affected the poorer classes around me and throughout Ireland [...] [dilates on economic changes following the Famine] [...] Rev F. Trench and Rev Richard C. Trench visit Skull [account of Famine, as above; ‘sliding coffins]. Chp. VIII, The Exodus, Kenmare. [Dealings with Lord Kenmare] the rememdy I proposed was as follows, That he sould forthwith offer free emigration to every man, woman, and child now in the poor-house and chargeable to his estate [...] with that kindness, good sense, and liberality which characterised all his acts [...] he gave me an order for 8,000 wherein to commence the system of emigration [...] A cry was now raised that I was exterminating the people. But the peole knew well that those who now cried loudest had given them no help when in the extremity of their distress, and they rushed from the country like a panic-stricken throng, each only fearing that the funds at my disposal might fail [...] I need hardly dilate upon the abuse and vituperation which the adoption of such an extensive system of emigration brought down on me from many well-known quarters [...] the most favorable accounts have been received - and are to this day coming back, - from every quarter to which the emigrants were dispatched [...] No one who has not tried it can conceive the difficulty in which an Irish landlord or agent is placed in regard to this mater [pernicious system of subdivision and subletting of land] [...] plot of land [be] scarcely sufficient to feed a goat, and the hut [be] of the most degraded kind [...] he is attacked with a virulence and bitterness of hostility which none who do not live in Ireland can imagine; sometimes by the local press; sometimes by local agitators, both lay and clerical, who hold him up to public odium and indignation as an exterminator, and sometimes (though not in Kerry) by the blunderbuss, or bludgeon of the assassin. &c. Note: FDA prints following a record account in Irish given by Donnchadh Sheáin uí Shúillíobháin in April 1945, in which Lansdowne is described as a Shylock, and the imputed purpose of the emigrations to fertilise the banks of the Hudson with Irish corpses.

[ top ]

Notes
Kith & Kin: Richard le Poer Trench, 2nd Earl of Clancarty, holders of extensive Clancarty estates in East Galway.

Patrick Hickey, Famine in West Cork: The Mizen Peninsula - Land and People, 1800-1852 (Mercier 2002), reviewed by Breandan Ó Cathaoir, in The Irish Times (22 March 2003), “Weekend”: '[.] F. F. Trench, a Protestant clergyman from Cloughjordan, Co Tipperary, organised “eating-houses” to feed 15,000 people in the Mizen Peninsula. The parish priest estimated that between October 1846 and May 1847, a quarter of the population of Ballydehob was swept away by famine and disease; mortality would perhaps have doubled but for “the noble and God-like exertions and benevolence of F. F. Trench”. / A year and a half later, Trench fell victim to compassion fatigue. True to the form of his controversial cousin W.S. Trench, agent of the Lansdowne estate in Kerry, he evicted about 250 children, women and men. As the crisis lingered and the struggle for survival intensified, the hearts of landlords and a traditionally hospitable people turned cold.’ (Ó Cathaoir; see also also under Robert Traill, supra.)

[ top ]