Robert Bermingham, Viscount Clements 1805-1839
Robert Clements inherited his father's Whig seat and, except for a two-year break, held it from the age of 20 until his early death in 1839.
Robert combined his father's political outlook with a resolve to do something about the state of the land. He accepted the 2nd Earl's view that it was the sacred duty of a landowner to live on his property, give employment and see to the welfare of the people. He encouraged the most modern methods of farming and kept a close eye on his tenants.
The 'Castle' is built
In 1833, Robert built a comparatively modest tudor-revival style house overlooking Lough Rynn and set about improving farming methods on the estate. He shared the view of many that the explosive population growth and over-reliance on the potato could ultimately bring disaster. At this time, some 17,000 people lived in and around Mohill, the nearest town to Lough Rynn, making it significantly more populated than it is today. A major proportion of that population were families of poor labourers who relied on casual labour from small farms and who lived a wretched existence.
Life for most people in the area revolved around subsistence farming with few extra comforts. Sam Lewis, in his 1837 Topography of Ireland, describes Mohill as a `neatly built' town of 305 houses with the market on Thursday being `well supplied with grain and provisions of every kind'. There was a local dispensary that offered medical assistance and a loan fund with capital of £300. Schools were dotted around the area: 700 children were taught in the eight public schools sponsored by the 2nd Earl; a further 900 were taught in fifteen private schools.
A community desirous of improvement and charity?
But not much of a community spirit was evident: in the same year that Robert built his new home, an appeal was issued to the surrounding communities to ease the effects of the `present and impending danger' of cholera. The charity hoped to raise £150: `none whatsoever' was raised in Cloone; Mohill managed to contribute £30.
Robert's `exertions to improve the land - which had hitherto been much neglected' are recognised by Lewis, but observations on the condition of the estate by the Clements' indicate that much was yet to be done. Notes written by Robert and his father in 1838 show the sense of the annoyance and frustration felt by the landlords about the reluctance of the tenants to participate in the improvements. There are frequent suggestions that the tenants should be `spoken stiffly to' and in some cases evicted, such as those in Drumdoo and Errew. Of other townlands he wrote:
Anaghderg: There seems to be nothing done here lately. This is much to be regretted as the Morans began very well. I hope that Mr. Norris will explain to them that no indulgence can be given unless they exert themselves more to improve the land.
Cloonclare: This is in a most wretched state. I do not know what we can do here but I am quite sure we are wrong in not trying something.
Currycramp: The tenants here promise so well . . . should rebuild one of the houses and insist upon the farmers making their cottiers' houses less discreditable. (We should) eject cottiers sitting rent-free immediately and let them make what bargain they please for a new house elsewhere . . . (I) do not want to throw them off the estate or townland but break off their free rights.
In many ways, Robert was fighting a losing battle. The tenantry had reason to be suspicious of a reforming landlord and were loathe to hand over control to a new arrival, especially having been left to their own devices for many years. These people were not used to anybody directing their actions. Except perhaps for the local priest. Priests had power, not because of their religious authority, but rather because they were accorded near mystical power by a people who believed far more in fairies, magical cures, changelings and curses than in Catholic doctrine. The old ways still dominated, more even than in other parts of the country. One traveller to Leitrim remarked that he met few people who had heard of the Catholic Emancipation movement. This major national issue dominated social and political life across most of the country but seemed to have barely touched parts of County Leitrim.
In any case, at Lough Rynn, Robert Clements did not live long enough to carry through most of his plans. He suffered all his life from lung trouble - which may have been tuberculosis - and died from a severe cold when he was 33.