26 July 2011


In the late 19th century, the Anglo Irish landlords were broadly resented for their indifference to the plight of the ordinary people during the Great Famine, despite the fact that there were many individual reactions to it, from sponsored emigration to heartless evictions of penniless tenants.
Ownership of land became a near obsession with the dispossessed native Irish.  Under the Land Acts (1885 – 1907) the carving up of the great estates began, but for some lawless factions, this was not a sufficiently speedy solution.  This gave led to the further growth of secret agrarian societies like the Ribbonmen, the Whiteboys and other shady sects, who acted as vigilantes and meted out a rough fate to those who they counted as enemies of the people.
One of the most gruesome Gothic tales of this period is the story of Wildgoose Lodge, which takes place 30 October 1816 near Louth Village, in the east of Ireland.  The story is based on a true story and retold by William Carleton.  Running through the tale is the motif of hell and fire – the Ribbonmen meet in a church, they profane the church by drinking whiskey on the altar and celebrate ‘dreadful rites’ by swearing oaths to obey their hellish leader, who leads them to Wildgoose Lodge – and it culminates in the burning and slaughter of the Lynch family who live in the lodge of the Great House belonging to the Filgate family.  At one point a father begs for mercy for his child, thrusting it from the flames only to have it spitted on a pike and thrown back into the house with the chilling words – "Your child is a coal now”.  

This systematic eradication of the Lynch family of Wildgoose Lodge has lodged itself in local legend where it still casts long shadows.  The tale is still told locally; the only significant deviation from the Carleton version being the words spoken by the Ribbonman who kills the child – ‘Nits breed lice’ – the chilling rationale for the complete eradication of the family.

Today, the sad ruins of the lodge are the sole architectural testament to this most bloody, barbarous and Gothic tale. 

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