In June of 1857, William Steuart Trench and his son, Thomas Weldon Trench, set off in a horse and cart from Tullamore, King’s County and spent three weeks surveying the near 31,000 acre estate of Edward St Vincent Digby, 9th Baron Digby. Lord Digby, resident in Dorset, had appointed W.S. Trench as land agent on his Geashill estate with a view to improving its financial viability. Trench had a great reputation as an ‘improving’ land agent and also worked for the Shirley and Bath estates in Monaghan and the Lansdowne estate in Kerry. To ease his workload, and much the same as employing his other son, John Townsend Trench as agent in Kenmare, W.S. appointed Thomas as resident agent in Geashill, living as all Lord Digby’s agents before and after had lived, in Geashill Castle.
Between 1857 and 1872, the Trenchs transformed Digby’s landholding from a large, boggy and uncultivated midlands estate into a well-ordered and agriculturally productive estate with tidy and well-kept villages, the design of the latter winning numerous awards from the Royal Agricultural Society of Ireland. This was a huge achievement and certainly an improvement on housing conditions for the tenantry but the methods employed by the Trenchs to achieve their aims were controversial to say the least and the folk-memory of the Trenchs as tyrants persists to the present day. Large clearances of squatters from their ‘mud-hovels’ took place, leases were cancelled and rearranged, small holdings were merged into larger, more productive holdings, less productive tenants were encouraged to emigrate where possible and agitators were forcefully ejected.