“Two historic hostings were held in the parish of Milltown in the 19th century, the great anti-tithe meeting at The Monument, Ballyglass in 1838, and the huge Land League meeting in Milltown in 1879. A tithe means one tenth, and in this context tillers of the soil were obliged by law to surrender annually to the local Protestant clergyman one tenth of the harvested crop.
From 1735 to 1825 pasture land was exempted from tithes, so rich Protestant graziers were not compelled to support their own clergy while impoverished Catholics were obliged to do so. This was a heavy burden on most tenants, but at least they held land and home in return. Paying tithes to an absent clergyman who rendered no service was naturally resented very much, as you may gather from this Emancipation ballad.
Now the day of ransom, thank God is dated
When tithes no more will oppress the land
It’s now those foreigners and proud invaders
Shall feel free the weight of each Irish hand.
No vestry-cess o tithes we’ll pay them,
We’ll banish Brunswickers out of our land;
We’ll free old Ireland from Orange traitors
Or die heroes on Slieve na mBan.
After Catholic Emanipation in 1829, opposition to the hated tithe system grew stronger by the day. The reviled tithe-proctors who collected the tithes on a commission basis for the rector or parson found they needed police and military support to enable them carry out their nefarious tasks. This led to violence and bloodshed, culminating in the massacre at Rathcormack in Cork where troops opened fire on neighbours bravely trying to protect a widow’s crops. Nine people were shot dead, and close on forty wounded.
Anti-tithe meetings, calling for the abolition of these crippling payments, were organised for many parts of the country, and over 20,000 gathered in Ballyglass in 1838. The chairman was Michael Blake Bermingham, Dalgin, and Capt. Blake of Belmont acted as secretary. Amongst the speakers were parish priests from the district, including Fr. P. Garvey, Milltown, Fr. P. Mullins, Ballindine, Fr. J. McHale, Hollymount, Fr.P. Joyce, Kilconly and Fr. P. Gavin, Crossboyne, and two well known local men, John Bermingham, Millbrook, the astronomer, and Luke Prendergast, Ballindine. The following resolution was proposed to the great assembly by John Bermingham and seconded by Fr. Mullins; “That the world has never witnessed or endured a more monstrous injustice that 8000 acres should be devoted to the sustenance of a religion of which the churches are almost empty, whilst not a sod is allowed for even a site for the churches of Catholic denominations, and that the capricious ministers of these empty churches should, in addition to such enormous landed property, draw an unnatural support in the shape of tithes from the sweat and industry of people who never feel their ministry except in the court of law, or in the dungeons, or in fields covered with blood,”