Notice to Quit

26 June - 30 September 2003
National Photographic Archive

A Family before eviction, Coolgreany.A Family before eviction, Coolgreany.

The National Photographic Archive’s exhibition Notice to Quit, which opened on 26 June 2003  for a three-month run, featured photographs of evictions taken between 1886 and 1890 by photographers from the Dublin-based Lawrence Studio.

These images are among the first examples of photojournalism in Ireland, and provide a unique record of the Plan of Campaign, a tenants’ rent protest that subsequently led to hundreds of evictions during the late 1880s.

The Plan of Campaign, which received widespread coverage in the British and Irish press, was led by prominent nationalists of the day. John Dillon, William O’Brien and Willie Redmond were the leading figures in the organisation. John Dillon brought the Campaign to public attention during a speech to the tenants on the Woodford estate in County Galway on 17 October 1886.

The Plan of Campaign marked an attempt to gain more favourable rents through a programme of collective bargaining. This was against a background where the prices being achieved for agricultural exports from Ireland had fallen dramatically by the 1880s.

While the Campaign operated throughout the country, it was mainly concentrated in the south and west. Specific estates were selected by the leaders, who then encouraged the tenants to adopt the principles of the Campaign. While the majority of tenants supported it, in some instances they were forced to join through a system of intimidation and boycott.

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Landlords on the selected estates were asked to reduce rents to a more acceptable level. If the landlord agreed and the tenants felt that the offer was fair, they then paid the rents. If however the landlord refused or the tenants didn’t agree with the offer, they withheld their rents and paid into a central fund to provide support for tenants who had been evicted as a result of the protest.

Some landlords settled on reduced rents in quite a peaceful manner. On other estates, the situation proved to be more acrimonious and was only resolved after protracted disruption and violence. Tenants were evicted by landlords with the active support of members of both the militia and the Royal Irish Constabulary.

Many of the eviction scenes featured in the exhibition depict the use of force against the protesters.

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It has been suggested by some commentators that the images were not in fact authentic. However, it is very difficult to believe that either the Lawrence Studio photographers or the local Plan of Campaign supporters would have had access to the uniforms of RIC officers and the elaborate attire worn by the military. Therefore the images can be regarded as an authentic record of the events of the period.

All of the photographs that featured in the Notice to Quit exhibition had been sold as photographic prints and as glass lantern slides and some of them had been used as a political propaganda tool against Queen Victoria: during the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations in 1897, Maud Gonne orchestrated public displays of images of evictions and deaths from starvation by projecting them on to the exterior of a building in Parnell Square in Dublin city centre.

The William Lawrence Photograph Collection is one of the most heavily used collections in the National Photographic Archive. The National Library purchased the collection, comprising 40,000 glass plate negatives, in 1943.

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As part of the main Notice to Quit event, the National Photographic Archive also mounted a small exhibition of prints from the Coolgreany Evictions Album. The album contains portraits of families evicted during 1887 on the estate of George F. Brooke at Coolgreany, near Gorey, Co. Wexford. It was donated by Mrs Brigid Hogan, Queensland, Australia, in August 1992.

The album was compiled by T Mallacy, and it is possible that he was the photographer. In 1888, Mallacy presented it to Father Farrelly, who was very active in the Plan of Campaign in County Wexford.

The Notice to Quit exhibition ran until the end of September 2003.

Back to Previous Exhibitions.