Terry Alts

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The Terry Alts were a nineteenth-century secret society in County Clare in Ireland. They were allegedly[according to whom?] named after "Terry Alt" a man who lived in Kilnaboy directly across from the blessed tree and holy well of St. Inghine Baoith. He was a Protestant army pensioner and an ardent loyalist. He had come upon the scene of an assault on a man in Corofin, and was, by coincidence, dressed similarly to how the victim described his assailants. Locals picked up on the irony, resulting in all violent attacks being attributed to the innocent Terry Alt.

The Terry Alts were one of many clandestine societies founded in Ireland from the 18th century on, all involved in agrarian agitation in pre-Famine Ireland. They tended to have colourful names such as the "Whiteboys", "Oakboys", "Rockites", and "Ribbonmen". These agrarian societies all had their own characteristics and specific origins, relating to fair rents, traditional access to common land or payment of tithes to the established church and other similar issues.

The Terry Alts movement was begun in 1828, in the Corofin area and raged through the rural communities of Clare until 1831, escalating in the first half of that year. The origins of the society can be traced back to the collapse of the tillage system after the Napoleonic Wars, and an increase in cattle rearing, which resulted in labourers losing their means of making a living. These unemployed labourers suffered serious distress in 1830 when the potato crop failed and they were forced to borrow money from prosperous farmers. Disputes arose with regard to the repayment of these loans which took the form of high rents, and in retaliation, labourers grouped together to protect their rights.

Collectively known as the Terry Alts, they engaged in terror activities against prosperous farmers. The labourers levelled the field walls of cattle owners, intimidated prosperous farmers, maimed livestock and attacked landlords in search of weapons. They demanded land to be rented to them at a fair price and achieved a high level of success.[citation needed]

The nocturnal activities of the Terry Alts peaked during the period January – May 1831, resulting in 19 homicides. The murder on January 21, 1831 of land agent William Blood even caught the attention of the authorities in England. The arrival of General Arbuthnot and martial law in late May of that year saw a decline in unrest.

A judicial commission was established under justices Jebb and Moore. Viewing the agitators as common criminals, they were dealt with accordingly, with 119 prisoners convicted, 21 condemned to death, with the rest either transported or jailed. Law was restored but almost nothing was done about the causes of the unrest.[citation needed]

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