Calm after the eviction storm as Strokestown property reoccupied

Broken glass and burnt-out vehicles bear witness to violent confrontations

“Panes of glass had been smashed outwards and shards littered the path around the building. Net curtains billowed through the shattered windows.”   Photograph: Peter Murtagh

“Panes of glass had been smashed outwards and shards littered the path around the building. Net curtains billowed through the shattered windows.” Photograph: Peter Murtagh

 

For a property fought over so intensely and violently in recent days, the farm bungalow at Falsk on the outskirts of Strokestown was abandoned and strangely quiet for most of Monday.

The front door, an upper panel punched out, was wide open. The windows of rooms on either side of the hallway (in which there stood a modern grandfather clock that had stopped) were broken.

Panes of glass had been smashed outwards and shards littered the path around the building. Net curtains billowed through the shattered windows.

Inside was a complete mess and shambles – a scene like the aftermath of a teenage rave.

Or a riot between security men and baseball bat-wielding attackers, going at each other amid a hail of petrol bombs and an inferno of blazing vehicles.

Around the side of the house there was more broken glass and, at the rear, the window to the bathroom had also been smashed.

In the large concrete farmyard beside two large and undamaged wooden garages, there stood four transit vans completely burnt out, plus two cars (one a BMW), equally fire-destroyed.

A very large farm shed on the far side of the yard, behind the burnt out vehicles, was kitted out for cattle but was bereft of animals. But a large pile of firewood and machine-cut turf was evidence of human habitation.

The only life about the place was a group of kittens scampering in the soot-blackened squelching mud, in and out of an open-sided barn, and in and out of the house itself, stopping occasionally to lick milk in a tin of USA biscuits or sit at the feet of anyone who happened by and stood surveying the scene.

Until last Tuesday, this was the home of the McGann siblings – brothers Anthony (58) and David (64) and their sister, Geraldine, believed to be in her 50s.

For most of the day yesterday, there was no one here, apart from occasional reporters dropping by to look and linger a little. But as dusk fell, several men and a late middle-aged woman arrived in the late afternoon when almost everyone else had left.

“The family don’t want to make a statement at this time,” Donal Hanley told The Irish Times. “They are very traumatised, as you can imagine. They are appealing for privacy at the moment. They are trying to get their house back in order. They never asked for any of this to be brought on them. They’d like to thank all the people for their support.”

Substantial sums

The late middle-aged woman in an overcoat walked in and out of the house while talking on a mobile phone. She was not Geraldine McGann, said Mr Hanley.

Within an hour, however, it was being stated on social media that the family had reoccupied the house. Gardaí were present and a McGann family supporter, Anna Kavanagh from Longford, was reporting the gardaí told the family they were now in illegal occupation because of the court order that led to their eviction and they should get a solicitor to advise them.

Burnt-out vans and cars in the yard of the house which was the scene of an eviction in Strokestown last week. Photograph: Brian Farrell
Burnt-out vans and cars in the yard of the house which was the scene of an eviction in Strokestown last week. Photograph: Brian Farrell

The air of Appalachian-like rural dereliction of the house and its immediate farmyard surroundings stands in contrast to the very substantial sums of money connected to the farm, however.

Anthony McGann and the Revenue Commissioners reached a settlement totalling €429,501 – €177,00 in tax owed, nearly €75,000 in interest owed and €177,000 in penalties – in 2015.

According to local sources, a debt to KBC bank, which led to the eviction order executed last week, stands at some €400,000. This could not be confirmed and local sources said the eviction order appeared to be linked to taking possession of just the house and some 30 acres.

Mr Hurley declined to get into the specifics of the McGann debt.

“As far as they’re concerned, its a private matter,” he said, adding as the woman and two others surveyed the scene, “they are hoping to move back in. As far as they’re concerned, its still their home”.

Two rounds of silage wrapped in back plastic, that were allegedly used to block the L1420 road leading to the house as an estimated 20 men armed with baseball bats attacked the security men at the house at 5.30am on Sunday, lay in the ditch by a narrow bridge over the Falsk river about a kilometre from the house.

Local sources described the McGanns as large-scale farmers who own a substantial acreage between various locations scattered around Strokestown.

Large farm

“They sold 65 acres some years back and that wouldn’t have made much of a dent in what they have. They’ve a large farm by local standards,” said one Strokestown resident who asked not to be named.

The men who effected Tuesday’s eviction, and were then attacked and beaten by up to 20 others on Sunday, were apparently from Northern Ireland and described themselves as British to people who confronted them at the eviction.

After the counterattack of Sunday, social media was replete with comments praising the Irish “patriots” who had retaliated against the security guards enforcing the eviction and pouring scorn on the Garda Síochána.

Echoes of Famine-era evictions, as well as of political and cultural troubles of more recent decades are reflected also by local TD Michael Fitzmaurice.

“We’re heading back rapid into landlordism,” he says, “and if that happens you won’t have villages and towns [in rural Ireland].”

He cited farm owners from more prosperous parts of the country accumulating large tracts of land in counties like Roscommon, giving as one example a man from Kilkenny who has amassed some 600 acres in the county and, Mr Fitzmaurice fears, will plant forest on it and have little if anything to do with the remaining community.

“On 600 acres [now] you’d have 10 families. That’s 10 families going to local shops and local schools. What sort of Ireland are we heading to? What’s the vision for rural Ireland?” he asked.

He said the problem between the McGanns and the bank had to be talked through.

“Everyone knows you have to sit down and negotiate a debt. But the big sore point here is, three weeks before Christmas, three people living in a house that’s not a Dublin 4 house – it was probably built in the 1950s – to peg them out on the side of the road, what’s Ireland coming to?”