Sunday 15 September 2019

Nicola Anderson in Strokestown: 'Emotions run high as eviction stirs up ghosts of an ugly past'

Locals rallying around family at centre of repossession dispute

Damage done to the property near Strokestown, Co. Roscommon.
Damage done to the property near Strokestown, Co. Roscommon.

Nicola Anderson in Strokestown

The town of Strokestown is subdued coming up to the shortest day of the year.

A covered stall of fluorescent jackets and checked work shirts stands in the square, and Christmas music plays from a speaker outside the florist shop.

A local woman orders tea for two in the Percy French hotel.

If local people are discussing the ongoing events of recent days, it is privately. But there is outrage here in Strokestown.

Many feel the plight of Anthony McGann and his family has been too harshly misunderstood by outsiders who are too keen to weigh the pounds, shillings and pence without taking compassion and humanity into account.

Three people forcibly put out of their house in the run-up to Christmas.

Disputed: An aerial view of the repossessed home of Anthony McGann near Strokestown, Roscommon. Photo: Colin O’Riordan
Disputed: An aerial view of the repossessed home of Anthony McGann near Strokestown, Roscommon. Photo: Colin O’Riordan

A terrifying fracas following.

It does not take much to understand why such an event has traumatised the local area as a whole.

Right in the centre of town stands the old 'Big House', Strokestown Park House and the National Famine Museum.

On prominent display stands a jar of Lumper potatoes - the crop that failed in the Gorta Mór.

An iron eviction crowbar is another exhibit - as well as the pistol used to assassinate absentee landlord Denis Mahon in Black '47.

He sought rent arrears when he inherited the place in 1845, just as Famine struck, and in his name, his agent evicted some 3,000 men, women and children in land clearance schemes. Those starving people had to walk to Dublin to catch the coffin ships to Canada. Many died of typhoid and cholera on the long sea voyage.

This remains highly emotive history - and Strokestown remembers.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of this case, the parallels with the tragic past reverberate.

The small house at Falsk, on a boreen some distance outside the town, still bears the scars of what happened last Sunday.

Two tattered bales of silage used to block the nearby little bridge remain at the side of the road. The windows of the house have been coarsely boarded up with plywood.

Six burned-out shells of vans remain in the yard, while mud outside has been heavily churned up.

In the morning, a van and a car, both bearing Northern registration plates were parked outside.

A impassive-faced man dressed in black, wearing a baseball cap, stood outside. It was not clear who he represented but it is believed he is a friend of the family, who have appealed for privacy.

A Garda car patrolled the area frequently.

Brothers Anthony and David McGann and their sister Geraldine were evicted from their home on Tuesday, December 11, when a private security firm, acting on behalf of KBC Bank, repossessed the property.

One exchange between a local man and a member of the private security firm, during which the latter said he was "British", prompted a furious reaction on social media.

Video footage posted on social media showed a local man being wrestled to the ground. The house was then occupied for a number of days by the security firm.

Emotions remained heightened in the Strokestown area as events took a dramatic turn in the early hours of last Sunday, when a large number of men arrived at the house, allegedly wielding baseball bats, and confronted the security personnel.

There is no suggestion that the family, who had been evicted from the house, had any connection with this incident or had any knowledge of it. Indeed since the events of last weekend, the family have said they don't condone violence and insisted they just want their home back without further trouble.

Two men in their 50s and 60s were arrested in north Roscommon in connection with the incident that occurred in the early hours of Sunday morning, as part of an investigation into alleged criminal damage and assault.

They were detained last Wednesday morning, after gardaí had carried out searches of four separate houses and outhouses in the area.

A Garda spokesperson said a firearm was recovered, along with a number of vehicles, including a lorry and a teleporter.

The McGann family are said to be traumatised by the events and both David and Geraldine are understood to have returned to the house on Monday evening last.

A public meeting is being organised by the local community in Strokestown to protest at the heavy-handed way the McGanns were evicted from their home.

In a statement, organisers said: "A family of three people were forcibly ejected from their farmhouse in a fashion that has not been seen in the region since the turbulent days of the Land War of the 1880s".

"Several van-loads of strange men in military-style uniform descended on the farmhouse near Strokestown and violently removed the occupants.

"One man, who was not a member of the family, was injured and had to be hospitalised as a result of the altercation," the statement read.

In difficult times, rural localities rally round like no other.

This time, it is no different.

Irish Independent

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