In 1878, a ”war” began between the farmers of Rush and the landlord of Skerries, Ian Hamilton. The farmers had long gathered seaweed, which grew plentifully around Shenick Island and was known locally as ”woar,” to use as a fertiliser for their crops.
Hamilton was trying to impose a payment for each load of seaweed. To enforce this he built a wall to prevent the farmers reaching the shore and blocked their route out to the island. The Rush men retaliated by breaking down the wall. This began a legal battle, which lasted until 1896, and it was fought with great bitterness both in the courts and on the ground.
Hamilton claimed ownership of the shore and the islands because letters patent, [documents from the government giving ownership], were granted to the Earl of Thomond, from whom the Hamilton family had bought lands of Skerries in 1721. The Rush men claimed that the shore was owned by the monarch on behalf of the people.
The case dragged on for nearly twenty years and Hamilton eventually won it in 1896. From that date the farmers had to pay one shilling, 6c in today’s money, for each load of seaweed. This payment lasted until 1946, when the seaweed war, was almost a forgotten memory.
The following poem was written at the time about an incident during the seaweed war, when the wall blocking access to the beach was broken.
Our seeds we all did sow
For a little recreation
To Skerries we did go.
The sea was smiling at our side
Our horses’ feet were dry
We demanded them a passage
To us they did deny.
”Pull down this pier
Leave this road clear”
The gentle lamb did say
”I fear your deeds are out of date
And I cannot find the key”.
Into our work like gallant men
We left it free and wide
And led our horses by the head
To wash them in the tide.
The police ran through Skerries town
At us they took a view.
It’s very strange to see them there
With little for to do.
They put on us the handcuffs
When they found the work was done.
What a great mistake they now did make
They did not tie our tongues.
We sang our pleasant little song
And danced the chorus neat,
The Skerries people, they came out
And cheered us on the street.
Rush, Skerries and Balbriggan
Are united brothers three.
We pay our rent and taxes
And live in unity.
But this new camp on Skerries strand
Disturbs our peace of mind
And makes us strong in unity
As long as we’re combined.
In 1917 the island was purchased by Lawrence McDonagh and was farmed by his family up until the 1950s. Since 1987 it is a wildlife reserve run by the Fingal branch of the Irish Wildbird Conservancy Council.
Published here: November 2002