Chapter Nine: James Leonard and Teresa Cox

James (Jemmy) Leonard (1891-1974) 


Teresa Agnes (Tessie) Cox (1896-1979)

Our parents

James and Teresa Leonard, and we their children, are the ‘Leonards of Kinglass’ the central point of this family history. James, (Jemmy), probably named after his maternal grandfather, James Breen, was born in Melbourne, Australia. He returned to Ireland as a small boy with his parents to settle in the family home in Clonursin, Mackin in the parish of Killesher, Co Fermanagh. He married Teresa (Tessie) Cox of Derrychurra, Arney, Co Fermanagh. They settled on a farm in Kinglass in the adjoining parish of Kinawley where they lived out their days together.

James 2        James 3

James and Tessie circa 1967

According to his birth certificate, James was born in 76 Dank Street, South Melbourne, County of Bourke, Victoria, Australia, on 4 August 1891, the third child of Philip Leonard and Margaret Breen from Ireland. Dank Street is a suburb of Melbourne. I have read recently that Dank Street was a grim area in those days, site of the city gas works where many Irish were employed who spent much of their earnings in a nearby shebeen.[1]. This confirms the family tradition that grandfather Philip worked in a gas works. But the evidence is that he was a saver who spent little of his spare money in the pub or anywhere else.

In 1981 James’s’ granddaughter Dympna Leonard Thompson visited and photographed 76 Dank Street, a pleasant timber structure with an Australian style wrought iron decorative finish. A somewhat unfriendly old lady next door claimed her father had built both houses in the 1890s and neither had ever been occupied by an Irish family. The houses may have been replacements for earlier structures or the house numbers may have been changed.

James’’s parents had returned to Ireland at the birth of the next child, Maggie Anne in 1894 when James was six years old. James therefore had little or no memory of Australia and never referred to his life there.

James lived with his parents and his grandfather Philip on the farm in Clonursin, Mackin, parish of Killesher, Co Fermanagh until 1919 when at the age of 28 he married Teresa Agnes Cox from Derrychurra, Arney, in the adjacent parish of Cleenish also in Co Fermangh. Teresa was born on 23 October 1896, the youngest of nine children of Philip Cox and Ellen Gilligan. James and Teresa (Jemmy and Tessie) set up home in Kinglass where they lived out their days and where we, their eleven children, the Kinglass Leonards, we were born and grew up. To neighbours and friends they were Jemmy and Tessie Leonard. In later years some of the grandchildren, nicknamed my father ‘Jamsie’ as a term of endearment. The name stuck. Within the family in their last years they were ‘Jamsie’ and ‘Granny’ to all.

James died in the Erne Hospital 24 August 1974 and Teresa at home in Kinglass 10 May 1979. They are buried in the new graveyard beside the RC church in Kinawley

The Leonard children in order of birth were Philip Eamon (Philip or Eamon), Margaret, Eileen, Dermot, Nora, James Justin (died at birth), Moira, Sean, Kevin, Aidan and Bertha.

Life in Kinglass

Father and Mother would have started life in Kinglass with high hopes. Father had inherited a good farm by local standards, stocked and equipped with a horse and machinery a fine dwelling house and adequate office houses (houses for stock). Mother brought some money. Yet for the first twenty years it was one long struggle to survive. The economic condition worldwide went from bad to worse in the slump of the 1920s and 30s that followed the First World War. A succession of bad seasons, of floods, failed crops and dying cattle reduced farming to a subsistence level. Produce was minimal and markets uncertain. There was no alternative source of income. The only crop that did not fail was children. They appeared with unfailing regularity to reach a total of eleven between 1920 and 1938, all through the years of the depression. It was not until the last child was born that conditions began to improve. It came about mainly through the Northern government’s marketing acts of the late 1930s, which, for the first time gave farmers some security in the way of fixed prices and a guaranteed market, followed by the war years from 1939 when prices soared. The assistance of the children with the farm work as they grew up and the earnings of the older children as they got employment also helped.

In those days there was no welfare state, no dole, no safety net for those who failed. Every now and then a family in the area was evicted, usually by a bank for debt unpaid. The news would blow through the community like a winter shower, sending shivers of fear into the stoutest hearts. The wholesale evictions of the famine years and the deaths that followed were still fresh in the people’s memories. Normally, evicted families became caretakers on an outfarm (known locally as ‘herds,’ pronounced  ‘hurds’) who got a rent-free house from the owner in return for tending his stock. To descend to the status of a hurd was a step down on the social scale. One such evicted family, I remember, resorted to the time-honoured tactic of pitching camp at the farm gate. In this way neighbours were deterred from purchasing the farm and the bank was left with a useless asset. This family lived there for several years, with their children, huddled under a rude shack of old iron sheets and packing cases while their house lay empty a short distance away.

In addition to the uncertain markets there was the hazard of diseases of stock, then rampant, but scarcely known today due to drugs and more enlightened management. Cattle could die from liver fluke, black leg, red water, mastitis or the murrain, which was general term for a wasting disease, probably bovine tuberculosis. On our farm liver fluke was the killer. This parasite needs two hosts for its life cycle, the water snail and cattle. Our flooded grazing land teemed with water snails. In the snail the fluke goes through its cyst stage; the snail is swallowed by the grazing cattle and cysts developed into the fluke worm which makes their way to the liver where they mature and multiply until the liver virtually disintegrates. The beast quickly wastes away and dies.  In those days there was no effective cure: I have a memory of my father, near to tears, tossing into a common grave the bodies of the calves (skinned so he could sell the hides) he had reared to provide cash for our winter needs.  Each year the liver fluke took its toll.

James 3

Above: The view westward from our Kinglass farmyard with the familiar two humps of  ‘Binn,’ as we called Benaughlin, ‘ the mountain of the white horse’ To the right of the picture is Belmore mountain, near Belcoo, the homeland of the ancient Leonard clan. To the left is the Carroo mountain, much nearer, and behind it, the crest of Cultaigh mountain.


Below: The view to the east — Kinglass lane, in our day a rutty cart-track winding over headlands for a mile to the Enniskillen road. The stretch ahead between the trees (centre picture) is ‘Crozier’s Brae’’ The bit-mac surface, the concrete margin the post-and-rail fence (and the electricity pole!) are new. Otherwise the outlook is unchanged. See the outline of Knockninny Rock behind the trees lower right.       

 James 4

 Our farm is on the downstream edge of a flood plain on the Graffy River. In autumn and winter it was not uncommon to waken up and find our lowland crops and meadows area under a large lake, which, when it receded, left the grass coated with mud and unfit for grazing. After 24 hours potatoes and other root crops would begin to rot. My father would stand on the hill by our house anxiously watching the flood levels. Too often he saw great portions of the crops destroyed, the hard work of a season literally go down the drain.

In spite of all their setbacks Jemmy and Tessie were by nature humorous and outgoing. They loved good company and revelled in ‘laughter and the love of friends.’  Throughout their married lives they were remarkably close. Only once, when I was very small, did I know them to quarrel. It had something to do with my father going off one Sunday to referee a football match. I was terrified. My reaction must have shocked them, for never again did I know them to openly show anger to one another.

Everything they did was done together. They were workmates, helpmates and soulmates all in one. In addition to her housework my mother helped out in much of the farmwork — milking, calf feeding, pig rearing, and in the hayfield. When night came she would sit by the feeble paraffin lamp, sewing, darning, or knitting. Father would sit near the open-hearth turf fire, repairing shoes or sharpening scallops for thatching the roof. They worked from dawn till bedtime. My mother was musical and would sometimes sing for us in a sweet voice. My father had not a note but occasionally, to our amusement, he would break into a parody of song through a mouthful of sparables or sprigs, as he called the small shoenails. His repertoire was mercifully restricted to one song, half recited, half chanted, ‘The Lass from Killiecrankie’ “..And as her little nose was wet I handed her my hankie”. My mother would giggle at this. I thought it must be some private joke. At bedtime we knelt down for the rosary, in a semi-circle, feet towards the fire. Mother would lead and add on a string of prayers for special intentions at the end.

The Gathering Storm

There was for our parents however a bigger cloud in the sky than the losses of cattle and crops.  It was their chilling suspicion of an ongoing campaign of activists in the Protestant community to drive us out of Kinglass. Of the twelve or so families in Kinglass ours was the only Catholic family. We were the last farm on the Kinglass Lane and felt isolated. There was a history relating to the purchase of the farm, which we children were not aware of then.  My grandfather purchased our farm after he returned from Australia from a Protestant family called Veitch. Normally he could not have done so.  In that divided community one of the most entrenched laws is that land is never sold to the “other side”.  This applies to both Protestant and Catholic camps[2]. There were a number of reasons why tradition was flouted in this case. Firstly the farm lay alongside his cousin John’s farm in Graffy (the ancient Leonard home).  Secondly he outbid all other contenders at the public auction. It is possible that his arrival at the auction as a potential buyer with the necessary money was a surprise to the Protestant community. Thirdly the vendor was emigrating with his family to Canada and did not have to live with the opprobrium that would surely follow for betraying his own community.

Nevertheless the brazen purchase of one of the best local farms across the divide was certain to arouse undercurrents of sectarian hostility amongst the Protestant people. A divided community develops certain rules for living amicably together. Grandfather had overstepped them. The sensitivity towards this might have something to do with the fact that the Leonard family did not occupy their new farm for almost twenty years[3]. It might also have something to do with the sale, ten years later, of the Leonard family home in Graffy to a Protestant family (as it happened another Veitch) which somewhat softened the blow. One unfortunate legacy was that father always harboured a deep-seated suspicion of hidden enemies amongst his Protestant neighbours.

The first indication of a possible cold war against my father was the sequestering of his peat bog.  At the time of the sale of Irish farms to the tenants as part of the Lands Act, many farms (ours amongst them) were given turbary rights — that is, a given plot of peat bog usually some distance from the farm, from which turf could be worked for fuel.  These plots were on the lands of other people who, when the turf was ‘cut out’, would take over the residual land as their property for cropping and normal farm use (but not for the extraction of any remaining peat). Our plot was on the lands of a Crawford family, the Crawfords of Cam.  At some time in the twenty years between the purchase and occupation of our farm when the peat bog was not being utilised, these Crawfords began cropping the area with potatoes and corn as if it had been ‘cut out’ even though there was sufficient good quality peat underneath to provided us with fuel for at least thirty years. His lawyer advised my father that it would take a court ruling to restore his rights to cut turf there, presuming he could win the case. He could not afford the possibility of losing. The result was that we had to use limited finances to buy turbary rights, ironically from the same Crawford family, and we were perpetually short of the amount of turf we required.  (Years later we discovered that the Ministry of Finance had an obligation to find an alternative source of turf when a bog was cut out – something his lawyer failed to advise!)

My father, not unreasonably, suspected that the filching of his turbary rights resulted from a conspiracy to make life difficult for him. The peat in the plot was part of our farm property and nobody, including the Crawfords could legally take turf from the plot without our permission. However, so long as they cropped the plot we could not cut turf there. It was a dog-in-the-manger act on their part, which deprived us of much-needed fuel. To add salt to the wound, father was forced to go to the same Crawford family for a right to crop turf on a yearly lease adjoining the plot where his own turf lay untouched! Nevertheless there was no proof of a Protestant conspiracy. Catholics often did equally mean and damaging things to each other. Father however had his suspicions, which were to be fuelled by a more sinister development nearer home.

The farm adjacent to ours was an unoccupied outfarm, the property of a neighbour, one Robert Crozier, a thickset, domineering, well-off Protestant farmer.  The laneway to our farm ran through this outfarm before it reached our property. In winter Crozier began to release his housed cattle onto the laneway to drink from pools along the margin and exercise themselves for a few hours every day. On the face of it this would appear an innocent act and entirely within Crozier’s legal rights; but the effect of a herd of cattle penned on a stoned laneway in winter was disastrous.  The cattle cut the stone surface to pieces till it became a muddy quagmire through which our horse could scarcely drag an empty cart.  In the days before Wellington boots, walking through it meant slimy mud-covered footwear.

It would have been quite easy for Crozier to find an alternative drinking-place for his cattle, but he treated with disdain all requests from my father to do so. It was of course a mischievous and callous act of malice towards our family and in father’’s view, quite unprovoked. Hitherto his relations with the Crozier family was most neighbourly and cordial. Again my father was advised that his case in law was weak; he resorted to the only tactic he knew, which was to verbally attack Crozier at every opportunity in private or in public in terms, it must be said, that were outrageous and embarrassed all within earshot. Crozier had to literally run for cover every time he saw my father, especially in public. The war between them went on for years but the cost to us was a serious loss of peace within our household throughout those troubled times. In spite of the hardship involved we no alternative but use the laneway for vehicle access. We did however have another access in the opposite direction by way of a pass or right of way by foot over Veitch’s fields (the old Leonard homestead) to school and church and the shops in Kinawley village.

Battle Lines

Then disaster struck. At the height of the quarrel with Crozier, the Veitchs — hitherto the best of neighbours — out of the blue challenged our right of way over their lands. On our way to school one morning we were confronted with a barbed-wire fence erected across the farm-road entrance to Veitch’s farmyard. Father arrived in a towering rage with wire- cutters. Lined up on the opposite side of the fence were the three Veitch sons, William John, Alfie and Tommy, strong men in their thirties. Alfie, armed with a billhook[4], was their spokesman. There was no right of way here and never was. Any attempt by my father to cut the wire would result in his arm being cut off with the billhook. Father threatened to bring the police. The Veitch’s invited him to do just that. It was agreed that I would be allowed over the fence to go to the police station. In due course Sergeant Flannigan arrived. He made it plain that violence or threats of violence were illegal and advised the Veitches to remove the fence and sue for trespass. They agreed. The fence was removed and we proceeded to school.

The next move confirmed father’’s suspicion that the Veitch men were being advised by someone more able than they were. Alfie and his brothers were decent farming people, but virtually illiterate and certainly incapable of any degree of legal strategy. They did not sue for trespass. They had a natural reluctance to initiate legal action and felt it much easier to let Father make the running. There was also the possibility that Father would be equally reluctant to take the risk of a legal action, in which case they would succeed in their objective without having to appear in court. They resorted to a subtler tactic.

There was on open watercourse across the farm road at the spot where the fence had been erected. Walking on stepping stones placed along one side of the road crossed this. What the Veitchs did was to build a dam across the stream downstream of the farm-road so that the stepping-stones were inundated effectively making the road impassable. Father had no option but to sue for the removal of the dam. The Veitchs were right about his reluctance to go to law. He had already backed off in the case of his turbary rights and challenging Crozier on the destruction of his farm lane. But now he had no option. He was convinced of a conspiracy to put us out of Kinglass. Crozier was a regular visitor to Veitch’s and it was obvious that his sinister influence was behind the latest development.

Our house became convulsed in the battle to win. It became a lawyers’’ meeting-place. Friends and (Catholic) neighbours gathered round. Old ex-sergeant Reilly, our neighbour in Graffy, and Uncle Patrick Cox, another ex-policeman, directed strategy. Their advantage was that their familiarity with court proceedings. Paddy Reilly, son of Sergeant Terence and close friend of our parents, was a sort of anchorman. Humorous, intelligent, shrewd, with an instinctive feeling for the local underground and contempt for the low intelligence the Veitch connection, he helped to stiffen the resolve of our parents through this difficult time.

The objective was to establish that this pass had been in continuous use over a sufficient length of time to establish a prescriptive right of way. It was not going to be easy but the sergeant was confident. He had been reared in the next townland and remembered using the pass as a boy, and more importantly he remembered the names of people still alive who had travelled it in those days. These were rounded up. The result was that we had to hire a motorcar to convey a load of octogenarian witnesses to the court. Most of them were deaf and conveniently could not hear the cross-examining solicitor. The ex-policemen were impressive in the box, particularly Sergeant Reilly. He recalled negotiating stepping -stones over a ford across the pass: ““I clearly recall as a boy holding on to a branch with my finger and thumb like this (demonstrating) to keep my balance on the stones.””

Our opponents had poor witnesses. Their case was simply that the pass never existed as a right of way. One, Tom Maguire, known to us as ‘Tom Farrad’ (long Tom) not noted for his intelligence, tripped himself up when he claimed to know the area well because he gathered sticks there for firewood. “”And what way did you go to get the sticks?”” asked our solicitor. ““I went by the pass”,” said Tom. “”Is that the pass you said didn’’t exist, Mr. Maguire?”” Other witnesses for Veitch fell into similar traps, including references to the ‘stepping stones. “If there was no pass why were stepping stones there?” But not Mr. Robert Crozier.

Crozier was the best witness for Veitch, self-assured and articulate.  His knowledge of the area came from owning the adjacent land. In all his life he had never known of a pass there. Then came an incident when we knew the case was going our way.  He was being cross-examined by our solicitor, Richard Herbert, the sharpest court solicitor of his day, who changed tack to work on the ‘conspiracy’ theory. Crozier admitted to penning cattle on our laneway so that it was rendered virtually impassable.  He admitted further, something our parents had never disclosed to us, that in the early days of the quarrel about the laneway he had sent my parents a solicitor’’s letter forbidding us children to go through his lands to school as we sometimes did when Veitch’s pass was flooded. At this point the judge, Judge Green, interrupted.  “Mr. Crozier, you rendered this man’s laneway almost impassable, you forbade his children to cross your lands to get to school; now you are supporting a case to deny him access over Veitch’s land.  How is this man to get in and out of his farm?  Will he have to fly?”

Judgement was given in our favour; but I mischievously borrowed a florin from our cousin Andy Murphy, to send the Veitch family a telegram saying that they had won the case. It was a childish and cruel act, which I have since regretted, but I believe it had an unforeseen impact on the whole business of our position in Kinglass. When my parents, unaware of the telegram, returned from the court over Veitch’s pass, they were surprised to find the Veitch family in obvious good humour preparing for a celebration. The Veitchs on the other hand were equally surprised to see our parents use the path and regarded it as a last act of defiance. A short time later the chastened Veitch party themselves arrived by car from the court and were amazed to find a massive celebration under way; they were greeted by gun shots, probably from B-Specials’’ rifles, and a tar barrel was blazing on the hill above their house. Robby Veitch was famous for his far-carrying high-pitched voice and he gave vent in language that was, to say the least, lurid even by today’’s standards. The celebrations came to an abrupt end.

Not only had the poor Veitchs lost the court case but also they were now the laughing stock of the country, and there is nothing quite so cruel in a rural area!  As the psalmist said, ‘‘You have made us the taunt of our neighbours. Our enemies laugh us to scorn’.’ The celebrations exposed the sectarian elements the case had aroused in the community. The effect was to raise father’’s status in both communities with a corresponding slump in the status of Crozier, believed to be the mastermind behind the Veitch campaign. Within twenty minutes of the judge’’s verdict the telegram arrived at the local Post Office, run by a Protestant family and the news spread like wildfire. In the ensuing excitement the telegram disappeared and was never seen again, much to my relief and the relief of my parents.

The Veitch’s’ attempt to block our path was almost certainly inspired by sectarian mischief-makers. They attempted to disguise this by calling Catholic toadies as witnesses, Tom ‘Farrad’ Maguire and Mary Anne Duffy, the local gossip monger (a crude move which proved unfortunate in court) and by employing a Catholic civil engineer, a Mr. Donnelly from Enniskillen. Our engineer, Major Crozier, was a Protestant but selected — indeed quickly snapped up — at the behest of our ‘advisors’, not for his religion but for his known ability as an expert witness in court.

Before the law-case, the Veitchs had been our best neighbours, friendly and helpful.  Throughout the dispute there had happily been no recrimination or personal abuse on either side. We had a strong suspicion that both Veitch parents, Robby and Mina, were never in favour of the action precipitated by their family. Within a short time the friendship was restored.  It was the Veitch family, and their neighbours, the Burleighs, who in later years offered my father a roadway over their lands, which he accepted and which is now a private road to our Kinglass farm. Years later Crozier was dying of cancer; he sent for my father and they made their peace.  In his will he left my father a sum of money to repay the financial expenses he had caused.  My father gave it all for Masses for the repose of his soul.

Looking back the episode could be dismissed as a typical rural squabble. But it was a crisis in the life of our parents, in their particular context, a fight for survival. As Kavanagh said quoting Homer, “I made the Iliad from such a local row. Gods make their own importance.”[5] When it came to the test father showed real grit. The words of another poet come to mind:  “Some village-Hampden that with dauntless breast/The little tyrants of his fields withstood.”[6]  It should be said that in spite of my father’s belief in a conspiracy against him, he and all our family were conscious the undeniable goodwill from the majority of our Protestant neighbours.  These were kind, reliable and trustworthy people whose friendship we enjoyed and valued.  This was true especially of the Rooneys, who were the nearest of our neighbours, generous and helpful always.

About that time my father became a member of the local council and used his influence there to have the laneway adopted as a public road. No question of penning cattle on it now; you cannot put gates across, or pen your cattle on a public highway!  Today there is a ‘bit-mac’ surfaced public road right to our door.  My father signed up for an electricity supply when it was unheard of in the area.  As a result our farm was one of the first to be connected to electricity mains, at that time without capital charge.  He was also one of the first to connect a public water supply, which has the greatest modernising effect on any farmhouse.

Aidan and Josie and their family live in the Kinglass home, now a comfortable reconstructed farmhouse, and run a dairy farm.  The land is well-managed and used to the maximum.  They use oil and coal for heating and are largely indifferent to the plot of turbary granted to the farm by the NI Ministry of Finance to replace the lost turbary in Crawford’s land. The homestead of Robby and Mina Veitch, and the site of the barbed-wire fence and the infamous dam, is now abandoned and the house (the ancestral Leonard homestead), a ruin. Crozier, who had no family, and his wife are long dead. He left his land to the Rooney family, Aidan’’s nearest neighbours in Kinglass.

However, even when all the problems were overcome, my father remained an angry man.  Maybe he was born that way.  He had a habit of talking to himself, not quietly musing as most of us do, but at the top of his voice.  We would approach him working in the fields to hear from afar the sounds of heated argument, like two men in a fight.  When we got to him there would be a sudden silence and we would find him alone, a little shamefaced.  Probably he worked his anger off this way!

In his younger days he was an athlete, a runner and a footballer; the mile was his best race. It was said that his fleetness of foot was acquired in his youth running every day from his home in Clonursin to the out farm in Kinglass, a three mile round trip. While my mother, like me, was always overweight, my father remained of slight build. He was a restless being constantly chivvying us to “get a move on”, “lift your feet”, “run, run, nobody walks in the hayfield.”

Through all their trials my mother remained totally loyal, encouraging and supporting him.  I suspect that she tempered some of his wilder ideas, but he could always rely on her. Once during the laneway troubles he arrived at the market in Enniskillen with his cartwheels dripping with muck from the broken-up laneway.   A tweedy upstart from the market staff began to admonish him on the state of his cart, and my father reacted like a mad wasp.  The frightened official beat a hasty retreat.  My mother was proud of him for that and related the story to us with relish.

In August 1974 Jamsie died suddenly in Enniskillen hospital following an operation for an internal ulcer. It happened during the night, when none of us were there, which gives me pain now. It was almost to the day the anniversary of his father’s death, also in Enniskillen hospital, sixty-five years before.

After his death, my mother’s world shrank and dwindled. All of her family and most of her childhood friends were gone.  She found consolation in her grandchildren, the family of Aidan and Josie, who cared for her till her death, five years after Jamsie’s. She died peacefully in her sleep on a May morning when the hawthorn was in bloom. All their battles were over at last. They are united, now and forever, in Kinawley graveyard.

My fondest memory is of them walking arm in arm like young lovers on the headlands of the crop-fields in summer, the growing crops leafy and full of promise. There they found renewal and their hope restored. I remember Kavanagh’s words:


                                      “And I think of you walking along a headland

                                      Of green oats in June

                                      So full of repose, so rich with life…”


[1] “Tiger’’s Eye” by Inga Glendinnen. The Text Publishing Co. Melbourne 2000

[2]It may be difficult for some that did not live there to appreciate the degree of hidden ‘apartheid’ that existed. The fact that both sides shared so much in common — colour, language, living conditions — disguised a total cleavage in religion, culture, politics and personal values. Most critical was a basic lack ot  trust.

 [3] In the intervening years the holding was farmed as an ‘out’ farm in the care of a ‘‘herd’ who occupied the house free of rent in return for looking after the stock. (See “Life in Kinglass”) At the 1901 census the herd on the Kinglass farm  was a Mr McCaffery and family.

[4]A bill-hook was a curved iron blade on a wooden shaft about three feet (one metre) long used for trimmng hedges.

 [5]”Epic” Collected Poems p136.

[6]Thomas Gray, “Elegy in a Country Churchyard.”